In the last twenty years European cities have seen an incredible speed of development of suburbia. Following in the wake of post-war reconstruction of the city, where vast tracts of land were claimed by the developing industries, there came a period of rapid rise in the development of high-density suburban shopping malls, megastores and hypermarkets.
The 'new man' – this time the 'new consumer', accompanied by his most revered possession –The Car ('sacred cow of the western civilization'), recognized the opportunity for endless indulgence in the most pleasurable pursuit of all – shopping, without having to worry about finding a spot to park.
Architectural culture of suburbia became a question of scale – buildings as 'entities', contemporary landmarks in the landscape, not characterized by formal architectural appearance, but by sheer size and quantity of space, a turnover of activity they could contain per square meter of interior. The elevations of these buildings became billboards, condom surfaces flashing at 100 km/h.
The question of periphery in Nova Gorica is in itself a dubious term – the city itself, having risen as a political project after WW2, with its Real Self just across the Italian border, has suffered from a stream of sad architectural designs in the sixties and appears as suburbia itself.
In this condition of 'periphery of a periphery' Sadar Vuga architects have designed a new building for Mercator shopping center, a 'programmatic accumulation' of a hypermarket and shopping mall plugged into a regional road network surrounding the city.
It is, in fact, a renovation and reconstruction of an existing two storey 1970's industrial building, the space of which has been appropriated to house all of the shopping program, with an addition of a technical/communication core in front of it.
Two-level shopping program is a nightmare for every mall developer, since it implies a hierarchy of the spaces – one level (which has parking facilities) is always more attractive than the other.
Here, the architects have dispensed with this by forming a two-level parking plaza in front of the new building, thus establishing a sort of a 'double ground floor' condition, with both floors having direct access from the parking level.
This also establishes a somewhat unstable perceptive level of the entire complex – ground zero level remains 'lost' somewhere in the thousands of square meters of built space – the shopper is left suspended in the 'field' of consumer goods and food, unrelated to surroundings.
Lower level becomes the space of the supermarket, while the upper level is a shopping mall. The subdivision of spaces in the shopping mall, negating all reference to the orthogonal grid of the old industrial space itself, encourages the shopper to wander, like a flaneur or a 'permanent tourist' from one of the Superstudio projects from the sixties, nowadays hopping from shoes to perfumes, from t-shirts to sofas.
The new technical-communication core is added to the front of the old industrial building. Covering it in its entirety, it erases all of the perception of scale – an object lies next to the parking lot, like a giant stranded whale.
Elevation is nothing but a series of 'striations' of red planes ('Mercator red'), folded and broken, stretched and compressed, at points enabling one to enter the building/object, at points allowing for light to penetrate into the space of the hall. This skin becomes a kind of membrane, a border dividing us from the endless world of acquisition.
Folded surface of the 'entrance lobby' extends to cover all of the technical facilities of the center, freely following the contours of the program, like a giant wrapping paper - wherever more space is needed for an air conditioner, the skin is stretched to accommodate for it.
A casual observer is stunned by the brutality of the apparition – a strange 'object' (not a building, since there is not a single reference to the 'building' in this case – no window, no door, no roof, no wall), lying in the field of asphalt, swallowing its devotees (equipped with shopping trolleys, ready to sacrifice their credit cards) by the hundreds, like in some long forgotten ritual.
A last public space - strange, impossible, unrelated to economic generosities of the political elites, floating between ‘common’, ‘commercial’ and ‘public’ is enacted:between shelves and shopping counters, tills and parking machines a new kind of space, for a new kind of society emerges. Bound by credit limits of its citizens, not by political ideas of its voters, it is a temporary one – but nonetheless an important one – the only one able to ‘glue us back together’ on the way to ‘fourth way’, lying far ahead.
Kako velik je ta obred?
V zadnjih dvajsetih letih so bila Evropska mesta soočena z neverjetno hitrostjo razvoja suburbanega okolja. Arhitekturna kultura predmestja je postala vprašanje merila - zgradbe kot 'entitete' v prostoru in krajini, ki niso okarakterizirane z oblikovno arhitekturno pojavnostjo, temveč z golo dimenzijo in količino prostora, s sprevračanjem aktivnosti, ki bi jo lahko vsebovale na kvadratni meter interierja. Vprašanje periferije Nove Gorice je samo po sebi dvomljiv pojem. Mesto je utrpelo vrsto žalostnih arhitekturnih projektov v šestdesetih in se samo zdi kot predmestje. V teh pogojih 'periferije periferije' so Sadar Vuga arhitekti načrtovali novo zgradbo Merkatorjevega nakupovalnega središča.