Vltavská Underground, transformation of an urban non-place

U / U studio, re_place,

Jiří Kotal,


Infrastrutture, Free Time,

Cement, Steel,

Refurbishment, Outdoor Design, Landscaping,

The architects of U / U studio and re_place worked on revitalisation of a classic non-place in the city: an underpass in a Prague metro station. Vltavská Underground had already become a mecca for street artists, and is now a public space inviting freestyle sports activities.

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Vltavská Underground, transformation of an urban non-place
What used to be a neglected metro station with a bad reputation but an essential spot for fans of street art has now been repositioned in Prague’s urban fabric with a new look. For some time, Prague City Gallery, in partnership with the Prague Public Transit Company, has undertaken an open-air gallery project here, using the supporting walls above the metro station, where each exhibition is shown for three months.
But art alone is not enough to dispel that sense of unease that accompanies certain urban places, especially when they lose their original purpose. This is what happened with Vltavska underpass on Prague’s C line: it lost its purpose of transit between the station and Hlavkuv Bridge, and became one of those places the citizenry of Prague tries to avoid when passing through Vltavska intermodal transit hub. 
This is where the architects of U / U studio and re_place intervened, managing to replace the emptiness and darkness of the underpass with freestyle activity points in two stages; the presence of the athletes who have colonised these unused, anguished spaces has totally changed the way the place is perceived, and its reputation.
1810 square metres have been redesigned by U / U studio of Prague, formed by architects, landscape architects and engineers who share a single passion: skateboarding. This passion gives rise to their philosophy of merging freestyle sports into urban planning, in search of the most attractive social milieu for the athletes and for all public users. „Our proposals bring innovative and professional solutions for each locality individually. Our goal is to design public spaces that support social interaction within the city,“ explain the architects, who were assisted by re_place in the concept for regeneration of the site.
In detail, the project includes an area for day use playing streetball, a dance floor with mirrors, a pole dancing area, obstacles for freestyle sports, a workout area, a bouldering wall and a public art gallery. 
The design is focused on skateboard, BMX and freestyle scooter riders, for those in need of covered areas with artificial light. The entire underground space has clearly been thoroughly cleaned up, and the surfaces adapted to new requirements, to ensure that skateboard wheels turn optimally. To ensure sustainability, that is, the durability and easy maintenance of the project, the main materials are steel and concrete, all dressed up with touches of warm, bold colour. 
New lighting with linear light fixtures throughout the area reinforces the sense of security for users. There are spaces for relaxation too: the club has a chill-out zone with a beautiful city view. The entrance area, closest to the public transport hub, is designed to host a „pop-up“ bar and bistro serving users of all kinds. The project also has an inclusive, social aspect: the sculpture of Ollie the Pig has a QR-Code which, when scanned, allows visitors to assist disadvantaged households in Prague 7.
Vltavská Underground, a place once perceived as unsafe, has thus been transformed into a meeting-place, a shared space for athletes, ordinary pedestrians and cyclists, a place that invites passers-by to stop. In the evening, when seen from outside, the underpass is lit up like a colourful lantern mirrored in the river.

Christiane Bürklein

Project: U / U studio, re_place
Location: Prague, Czech Republic
Year: 2022
Images: Jiří Kotal, www.jirikotal.cz