Keeping up the heat
Keeping up the heat
In the housing estates of Slovakia’s Košice, the buildings formerly used for district heating have become veritable cultural hotspots. It is the neighbors that fill them with life.
More than half of the Slovak population lives in housing estates on the fringes of towns or cities. However, today’s tenement estates are no longer what they used to be. The range of services is improving, there is more greenery and after many years they are also showing signs of community development efforts. One example of this is the city of Košice.
A group of architects in the metropolis of East Slovakia came up with the idea of using dilapidated and disused structures as cultural and artistic spaces: district heating transfer stations. Built during the 1960s and 1970s, these structures originally served the purpose of redistributing heat and hot water within the neighborhood. As new heat transfer technology requires much less space, these buildings can nowadays provide space for small focal points of local culture to evolve.
Breeding grounds for communal life Seven former exchange stations are now used for movie screenings, theatre, fashion shows, creative workshops, dance, embroidery, in-line skating and many other interesting activities. Each of the so-called culture SPOTs is dedicated to certain activities. Whilst in one spot the community skates and paints graffiti, the next specialises in drama. In another, residents work in a community garden and in yet another, they take part in creative workshops.
It was not overnight, however, that the culture SPOTs became an integral part of life in the four largest housing estates in Košice. Reconstruction of the premises alone did not do the trick. Instead, there was also a need for people who knew how to breathe life into the buildings and how to activate residents of various age groups. “It was an incredible challenge, including the question of how to work with local residents, NGOs, city officials and institutions located in the housing estates in Košice," says the former SPOTs project manager Blanka Berkyová.
Sceptics were in for a surprise
When in 2008 Košice won the coveted title of the European Capital of Culture for 2013, the hard work started. From the city total of 147 transfer stations, seven were selected to be transformed into SPOTs. "Together we planned what was to be done and where, which artists were to be involved, what artistic genres we would be bringing to the suburbs and in reflection what matters of interest would be given back to the city centre itself", says Blanka Berkyová.
This was the beginning of a marathon of meetings with mayors, NGOs, the local residents, with architects as well as artists. “Perhaps the most difficult thing was explaining to the people what the heat transfer stations actually were and what we would be doing there once they would be reconstructed – and how people would be able to become involved in the activities," says Blanka Berkyová.
However, the project was also met with scepticism. A number of activists and journalists did not believe that the heat transfer stations would still be used after the Capital of Culture year of 2013 – Capitals of Culture often fail in sustaining the energy of the respective focal year. In Košice, however, the sceptics were in for a surprise, as the residents are filling their SPOTs with life to this day – pooling their efforts and marching in the same direction.
Each of the seven SPOTs bears the name of the street where it is located. And each cultural centre is coordinated by a cultural mediator. He or she is responsible for addressing individuals from the community, establishing ties between artists and neighbors, and to support project participants in communicating with the local authorities. Finally, the mediator is also in charge of deepening the relations between existing communities.
Space and freedom for art
“The community that meets today in these housing estates is fairly diverse. It consists of artists, youths, even seniors with great ideas, which together they turn into reality", says the current SPOTs project manager Ján Hološ. To him, it does not matter whether it is music, literature, dance or theatre that come out of this joint planning, and whether these activities take place inside the culture SPOTs or in other public areas. “What matters is that our joint projects continue to increase cultural and artistic appetite, promote the courage to try and experience non-traditional art forms and bring more positive changes for the Košice suburbs”, Hološ explains.
The SPOTs project has introduced a unique and successful model of community development through the arts and culture. The renovated transfer stations are revitalizing public space in their neighborhoods and have thereby also changed the image of housing estates. Many professional and amateur artists - as well as talented people and students - have received huge spaces and freedom for their artistic work, which extends the centres’ sphere of resonance far beyond their immediate neighborhoods. "We have all grown incredibly in the SPOTs project and I am proud that we have created a large heat transfer family, which includes residents, scientists, artists, designers and musicians - both domestic and foreign," concludes Blanka Berkyová.