New perspectives on the urban semiotics of mass housing neighbourhoods in Slovakia: a case study of Petržalka

Keywords: urban semiotics, symbols, urban metatext, mass housing neighborhoods, modernism, Petržalka


The identity of a city is represented not only by its attractive historical centre with its landmarks, but also by the peripheral parts. Large parts of Slovak cities and neighbourhoods are covered by residential areas of panel blocks of flats built in the 1970s and 1980s. These communities and settlements are often more than 30-40 years old and have their own history, social climate and narratives. The unique and specific metatext of almost any Slovak city would remain unfinished without residential areas of panel blocks of flats. These areas have generated a specific identity based upon specific examples of urban semiotics. Urban semiotics considers the city/urban environment as a multilayer text based upon the social meaning and grammar of spatial patterns, signs and symbols. During recent years, it can be seen that Slovak mass housing neighbourhoods are not monolithic sense-less places, but rather chronicles of various stories and experiences which overcome the obsolete and uniform architectural language – landmarks and symbols of their identity are not only mere physical (architectural) forms but rather common experience and shared stories. It is obvious that Slovak mass housing neighbourhoods have failed to deliver the unique “tomorrow’s quality of life” as once declared but, on the other hand, they have never become completely excluded localities without any vital contacts with the city’s organism. Their semiotics have absorbed the overall societal development with all its ambiguity, manifoldness and uncertainty. Petržalka, as the largest Slovak mass housing neighbourhood, is particularly in the spotlight of this contribution. Once an alternative modernist vision of old Bratislava, then a drab grey dormitory without any flair, it is now transformed into a polyvocal and versatile urban environment full of opportunities, as well as challenges.


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