In Western Europe, railway and bus station districts have been living a renaissance for some time, transforming from areas that are off-putting to most attractive places to live and work, as they surpass other parts of the city in terms of access to convenient public transport services. The Vilnius Railway and Bus Station district has also been getting ready to change its face and open up to Vilnius residents.
The Chief Architect of the City of Vilnius Mindaugas Pakalnis sees the potential of the Railway and Bus Station District, and plans the qualitative transformation of Vilnius based on the good examples of other European countries.
“Now the Railway and Bus Station district is basically a production area where locomotives are repaired a mere 500 meters away from the Old Town. But all this will change shortly. Spaces that were previously closed to Vilnius residents, which also hide symbols of history of the city, will open up. According to plans, many public functions, workplaces and residences will be created in the area. After the implementation of the project for renovation of the Vilnius Railway Station territory “Vilnius Connect” initiated by Lietuvos Geležinkeliai, this district will finally become a full-fledged part of the city,” said M. Pakalnis.
An international architecture competition to be announced shortly
A modern multifunctional mobility, business and leisure area with a vibrant territory open to residents will be created following the example of Western European railway and bus stations, offering a convenient access to other neighbourhoods of Vilnius and other cities of Lithuania and abroad.
“Currently we are getting ready to announce an international architectural competition for selecting the best architectural idea for renovation of the Vilnius railway station building and a new building for serving passengers on the rails, the public transport terminal of the city and the station square,” said M. Pakalnis.
A detailed plan of the territory is currently being prepared, which will lay down the guidelines on the size and volume of the buildings that could be developed in the area and possible connections via the rails.
The most ambitious conversion in the capital
According to M. Pakalnis, the conversion of the station district can be distinguished from others in terms of its ambition and the fact that the change was initiated by public institutions.
“In terms of the extent and the level of ambition, this conversion could possibly be compared to the Paupio district only. There is much more potential here – we have public transport, the district borders the Old Town, there is plenty of opportunities to create jobs and cultural spaces. The City of Vilnius and Lietuvos Geležinkeliai initiated the transformation of the railway and bus station district. The City of Vilnius was also the one having initiated the transformation of the Paupio district, however, the main difference is that in Paupio district, the City established clear rules, while most of the Railway and Bus Station territory is public property, therefore this project can focus on the needs and interests of the society even more,” the Chief Architect of the city explained.
This is why, according to him, the revival of the station is not a simple real estate project – it is a benefit not only for the district itself, but for the entire city and the country as well – after all, here we talk about a gate of access of the capital of Lithuania.
“There will be a bridge running across the so-called Iron River, which will connect Naujininkai, the Old and the New Town. Naujininkai can transform from a secluded district into an area radiating its character and unique nature. Good examples of such transformations are available in Užupis or the nearby Naujamiestis. Public spaces, for example the redevelopment of the square, which would become a point of attraction for recreation and other activities, are equally important in giving back the Railway and Bus Station district to residents. Moreover, the district will be built on the foundations of old Vilnius. We will use the available heritage to create a higher value of the district, preserving the uniqueness of the district and giving it a more attractive face,” said M. Pakalnis.
Historic industrial neighbourhood becoming a part of the city
Albertas Kazlauskas, the founder of the initiative of excursions around Vilnius “Gatvės Gyvos“ (English: “Streets Alive”) and a tour guide, says that before the railway was built in the second half of the 19th century, the area of the Railway and Bus Station was a suburb and a sparsely populated place. However, with the construction of the railway, the area became an industrial zone.
Kazlauskas compared the construction of the railway with the spread of the Internet – it accelerated the movement of cargo and passengers, factories were built nearby to facilitate transportation of manufactured products or to obtain the necessary materials, at the same time, intensively building residential houses for workers next to the railway.
The tour guide, which tells people interested in the history of the city about the Railway and Bus Station district, has no doubts about the potential of the district and waits for its revival.
“Houses in Šopeno, Geležinkelio Streets and the beginning of Kauno Street are amazing. But people rush through this part of the city without taking a minute to admire its architecture. If the district became more friendly to people, both locals and tourists, this would bring a huge added value to the city,” A. Kazlauskas noted.
In renovating the Railway and Bus Station district, the plan is to restore the historic length of Šv. Stepono Street – the railway cut this street in half.
“It used to be a very important historical road. Restoring old streets is worth for their spiritual element alone – traveling on such a street gives a special feeling about the surrounding historical objects, and there are plenty of them on Šv. Stepono Street, starting with the chapel pillar in Naujininkai and ending with the Church of St. Stephen. Moreover, the restoration of this old route would allow conveniently reaching the Old Town walking from Naujininkai on foot,” the tour guide explained.
With the expansion of the city, industrial zones have been moving away from the city center one after another, also opening up industrial spaces to residents. Soon the former Sparta factory in Švitrigailos Street and the Markučiai concrete plant will give way to a business center and residential projects, and the Railway and Bus Station district also follows the same path of renewal.