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Architects for Urbanity is celebrating Christmas Holidays with an abstract custom-made timber tree.
Documentation of the production process:

Cultural Centre 'Twórcza Twarda' in Warsaw

Team: Irgen Salianji, Karolina Szóstkiewicz, Katarzyna Duliba, Adrianna Drohomirecka

Status: Competition project
Location: Warszawa, Poland

The site of ‘’Creative Twarda’’ Cultural Centre is located in the heart of Warsaw’s city centre and is deeply affected by its eventful historical heritage and radical transformation following the destruction during the WWII and the subsequent reconstruction during the socialist period. Inscribed inside the former Warsaw Ghetto and within a short walking distance from the Palace of Culture and the Old City quarter, the site is part of the collective memory of the residents and it is surrounded by numerous monuments and significant institutions of the local Jewish culture and the broader artistic plateau of the city. The site is positioned right next to the historic Grzybowski Square and forms part of the wider cultural network of the area, including the Capitol Theatre, the Ethnographic Museum, the National Theatre, the National Art Gallery, as well as public institutions such as the City Hall, the Main Court and several Palaces and green public areas.

The site is hidden inside the urban block formed by the major streets Twarda and Grzybowska and it is surrounded by important buildings from each side. On the South and North edges it is framed by the low buildings of the gymnasium and kindergarten respectively, on the East side it neighbors with the historic Nożyk Synagogue, the "White Building" and the 44 storey high Cosmopolitan Tower, while on the West side there is the 16 floors socialist housing block ‘’ Za Żelazną Bramą’’ and the Spectrum Tower. The Cultural Centre faces therefore the challenge of both Integrating into its busy context and efficiently accommodating the two institutions that will inhabit its spaces: Młodzieżowy Dom Kultury (MDK) and Dom Kultury Śródmieście (DKS), as well as the shared Theatre and common spaces.

The project for the new Cultural Center is designed as a dynamic multifunctional assemblage of three diverse volumes that are integrated and interact with the surrounding buildings. The building is shaped in a way that emphasizes the separation and independence of each institution: MDK, DKŚ and the multifunctional auditorium, while at the same time it appears and works as a coherent object with its common spaces connecting all of the different zones. The building is connected to its surroundings through the sculpting and diversification of its volumetry, in order to emphasize and accentuate specific axes and relations that relate to it. The Cultural Center opens up to the south-east direction towards the Nożyk Synagogue and its square, the "White Building" and the "Zdrój" building, and links with the pedestrian path and axis of the Emilii Plater Street which leads to the Palace of Culture, as well as the west-east axis which connects it with the Old City and the numerous other public spaces and cultural institutions of the broader area. To solve the coexistence and parallel function of the two institutions, a height gradation was introduced in the section of the building so that the entire composition of volumes smoothly transforms from lower levels on the upper floors to higher ones on the ground floor and the street level. The building mass is also more compact on the West-northern side to relate to the larger urban scale of the "Za żelazną bramą" housing unit, while it is getting more porous and fragmented on the west side to relate to the low-rise human scale of the "Zdrój" building, the Synagogue, the kindergarten and the urban square. The Cultural Center has been therefore arranged in a way that the its overall shape is diversified and opens up to the surroundings as much as possible, while providing it with functionality and a unique identity of its own.

The building envelope of the Culture Center thus consists of three clearly characteristic parts, each with a different function, proportion and façade treatment. The ground floor is designed as a plinth that is intended to house the MDK, the main entrance and the public services. The largest and main volume hovering above the plinth accommodates the functions of DKŚ, offices and administration; while the third volume is the auditorium with rehearsal rooms positioned on top of it, forming a kind of chock or interlocking element. On the north side of the main building a backbone of shafts, vertical circulation elements and secondary spaces is positioned, protecting the building from the Northern winds, organizing efficiently the floor plans and permitting for the rest of the facades to be free of vertical elements. On the top of the plinth, a common public area is arranged, which provides direct access to the foyer of the theatre and the cafeteria and at the same time connects with the square and the space in front of the building. This elevated public space works as an organic continuation of the main square in front of the building on the South side and the open space in front of the Nożyk Synagogue on the East, creating a network of open air spaces that directly connects to the internal public network of the building, such as the atrium, the foyer and the cafeteria, which is positioned right under the inclined sitting area of the theatre.

The main entrance of the cultural center is positioned on the south side in front of the public space and leads to the representative glazed atrium that runs vertically through all the floors and functions of the Cultural Center. The atrium contains the information and ticket desks, while it brings daylight and functions as a visual and physical link between the different parts of the building. The atrium is designed as an empty monumental space that enhances the public character of the building and concentrates the vertical communication routes on its two narrow sides. The horizontal circulation around the atrium animates its void and creates diagonal visual connections, while it links to the public staircases and panoramic elevators that are clustered on the north side of the facade. The atrium is also connected to the raised public space on the roof of the plinth on the first floor, which is linked to the urban square through a large double exterior staircase that is wide enough on each side to encourage the visitors to seat in groups and perform various activities, meetings, events and other forms of social interaction.

The form of the Cultural Center is therefore the result of context and programmatic analysis through the design process. It aims to create separation for each institution to efficiently perform its own functions and develop its own identity, while at the same time it provides direct connections and possibilities to collaborate by use of the shared network of common spaces. It is a multifunctional object with an extroverted identity and expressive façade treatment seamlessly related to the environment and corresponding to the urban context. The ground floor is primarily a representative space, including the common spaces and functional rooms belonging to MDK, such as artistic labs and many other workshops exposed to the city thanks to the perimetric transparent glazing. In the main translucent volume of the building, on the second and third floor, there are the rehearsal rooms, workshops and artistic studios of DKŚ; while the top floor is dedicated to the administration and offices of both institutions. The solid characteristic volume of the theater is primarily a multi-functional hall, with perimetric circulation, rehearsal rooms and performance facilities located above it and the foyer and cafeteria located under it. A large window behind the stage creates optional visual connections to the atrium and combined with the modular stage floor, the adjustable orchestra pit, the side stages and the flytower, it creates unlimited possibilities for all kinds of theatrical, musical and artistic performances in its premises.

 The main entrance of the Cultural Center is located on the side of the city centre and the public square on the ground floor, where most of the visitors are expected to arrive. The building has two secondary entrances from the East and West sides, which also function as evacuation exits. The eastern entrance also creates a direct connection to the Synagogue and its public space. Another entrance from the northern side is positioned next to the freight and the public elevators, for delivery, loading and back of house uses. The main public entrance is inscribed inside a large linear hall containing the information desk, ticket offices, cloakrooms and a place with benches to rest. This public zone connects to the atrium, from which the visitors get an overview of the circulation networks, the workshop rooms and the theatre stage. The atrium features a circular staircase which leads to the first floor cafeteria and theatre foyer, while two more sculptural staircases connect to the upper floors while offering an interesting routing inside the atrium. Therefore, the atrium becomes the essential component of the building, since it arranges its floor plans around it and connects all of the organs of the institutions. The ground floor accommodates the workshop and rehearsal rooms for MDK, as well as a conference room adjacent to the main entrance. In the northern part of the floor plan, on the axis of the main entrance, there is a stripe of utilities containing the sanitary facilities, the main staircase and public elevators for all the users. On the eastern side of the stripe there is the cluster of the staircase and the freight elevator that is only accessible to actors and the staff using the auditorium.

From the outside, the visitors can have a direct access to the first floor by using the external stairs and zone of outdoors activities on top of the plinth. The interior of the first floor is separated by the outside space only through glazed partitions, blurring the boundaries between inside and outside and giving the opportunity to organize exhibitions and events that merge the two conditions. On the first floor there is a foyer with cloakrooms dedicated to the theatre visitors, as well as a cafe and an exhibition area for the whole building. The cafe has the option of opening up to the outdoor spaces in the summer. From this floor, visitors can directly access the theater hall by using the stairs on either side of it or take the theatre lift positioned on the northern façade of the cafeteria.

On the second floor there is a space for musical and theatre rehearsals for the DKŚ. The rooms are arranged along the façade and accessed by the corridor facing the atrium, creating efficiency and interaction in the floor plan, and supplying them with daylight. On this floor there is also the stage and main sitting area of the theatre, as well as its technical rooms. The theatre sitting area has a slope and can host up to 330 spectators, including dedicated places for disabled people. A place has been designed for an orchestra in front of the stage, giving the opportunity to organize different kind of shows, while the stage features a fly-tower and side pockets that are directly connected with the back of house facilities and the rehearsal rooms. Both the stage floor and the orchestra pit can be adjusted in height for maximum flexibility.

The atrium has a representative staircase connecting the second to the third and fourth floors of the building. On the third floor, there are the workshop spaces of DKŚ. Some of the smaller rooms have a view to the atrium and some of the larger ones are placed on the façade. On the fourth floor there are the administration and office spaces of both DKŚ and MDK. On this floor, one can also find the changing and rehearsal rooms for actors, including wardrobes and storages. The actors have their own staircase and elevator which lead to the stage and the loading facilities on the ground floor. Each storey has been designed to be accessible for disabled people and meets fire evacuation standards.

The public space in front of the Culture Center has been arranged in a way as to encourage on the one hand relaxation and recreation, and on the other hand interaction and social encounters between the users and visitors. The platform, stairs and square are designed as one consistent unity and function as an extension of the internal artistic functions of the building, providing possibilities for all kinds of open air activities, exhibitions, meetings and events. The square is designed as a series of linear stripes with simple divisions highlighted by the careful use of materials, with no permanent obstacles that could disrupt the accessibility and flow of users, beside planters and urban furniture. More specifically, the paving is composed of two types of local limestone; one with a brighter tone and a smooth finish and a second with a darker shade and rough finish. These stripes emphasize important directions and connect the square on the West side with the "Zdrój" building and the Synagogue square. There are also two brown corten stripes positioned right next to the building. They underline the main pedestrian axis and refer to the facade of the auditorium by using the same material.

The urban furniture is designed and positioned in a way that enables the further organization of the space. Benches and flower pots with greenery and small trees are arranged to emphasize the entrance zone and expose the stairs connecting to the elevated public space above the plinth. The used materials, among others, are corten for vertical surfaces and wood for horizontal ones, so that the space and the building facades create a coherent whole, while sitting on the benches is comfortable. Other essential elements of the public space are the lighting and the element of water. Right in front of the wide stairs, the area was shaped into a shallow basin with small floor-integrated water jets and fountains, to provide cooling in the summer, create an attractive and playful environment for children and refer to the "Zdrój" building and the Synagogue, considering the importance of water in many aspects of the Jewish religion and tradition. The lighting is designed as stripes in the pavement and as vertical lamp objects installed on a regular grid imposed on the plan of the whole square. The remaining southern part of the square is designed with high greenery and becomes host to a playground for children. The required parking spaces for cars, including those for the disabled people, buses and bicycles are organized on the street and along the façade of the building on the west side. The loading areas of the building are located on the small street on the North façade of the building, next to the freight elevator and the escape stairs.

The design of the Cultural Centre aspires to integrate measures towards the energy efficiency of the building. All the facades of the building integrate shading measures: the plinth façade is shaded by the surrounding trees and therefore retains its transparency to create visual connections and animate the public spaces, the first floor façade is recessed and completely glazed since it is shaded by the cantilevers of the building masses above it and the DKS and administration façade has integrated vertical aluminum elements to filter and control the sunlight. Most of the materials and construction systems proposed can be supplied from national resources and factories, while the use of recyclable materials is integrated as much as possible in the design. The atrium can be used for natural ventilation in the summer and passive heat gains in the winter, while the consumption of energy can be further reduced by the installation of an efficient BMS system, the employment of LED lightning, a strict management of the use of each space etc. The roofs provide a minimum of 1.400m2 area for solar panels, while alternative energy sources such as geothermal energy could be further investigated. Green areas and the plantation of new trees have been proposed for the public spaces around the building.

New Urban Centre of Veliko Tarnovo

Team: Irgen Salianji, Karolina Szóstkiewicz, Karolina Duda, Kyriakos Messios
Status: Competition project
Location: Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
Program: Masterplan and Expositions Centre

The master plan of the new urban centre (NUC) of Veliko Tarnovo is divided into four functional zones that are interconnected and each serves a different range of program, while together they form a unified urban tissue with a characteristic identity. The northern part of the scheme contains the zone of public buildings and landmarks, including the new Exposition Centre and the existing buildings of the University (VTU) and the District Administration. This area is green and contains generous public spaces for leisure and open-air activities, while large existing and new trees create shaded pockets and create framed views of the monumental buildings. In the middle of the plot there is the NUC, a rectangular tissue of urban fabric that has well-defined edges, high density and mix-use program. In the centre of this area there is a large central square that will become the new reference point of the city, while its variety of uses and functions will keep it active day and night.

In the southern side of the NUC there is a triangular Park that incorporates several indoor and outdoor cultural and sports activities. This zone aspires to generate a green heart for the city that will be used by visitors and all the residents of the wider metropolitan area of Veliko Tarnovo, and it also features an organic network of paths and attractive natural elements. The very southern zone of the master plan is designed as a residential quarter, featuring compact housing blocks and extending the trees and greenery of the Park and the context around it. This zone adopts a commercial character as well, by offering significant percentage of services for the residents and visitors. The phasing of the master plan corresponds with the four functional zones mentioned above. The phase one will include the construction of the new Exposition Centre, the renovation of the facades of VTU and District Administration buildings, as well as the development of the green public spaces between them. The second phase would include the construction of the dense urban fabric of the NUC and the main square. The third phase will involve the development of the sports facilities and the housing quarter in the southern side, while last will be implemented as the fourth phase the landscape design of the Park in the heart of the scheme.

The massing of the proposed buildings for the master plan of the NUC is compact and features variations of density across the different functional zones. The northern zone of landmarks features low density buildings such as the new Exposition Centre and three small pavilions servicing the public space around them. The NUC is the most densely designed area with building ranging from 5 to 8 floors and 4.000m2 to 16.000m2. The rest of the master plan is designed as a green and low density area, therefore buildings are positioned in considerable distances between them, appearing mostly as follies scattered in the nature.

The distribution of the program is developed in such a way that none of the areas of the NUC remains inactivated throughout the day and during the year, therefore creating a mix-use scheme and a micro-economy all across the master plan. The public and cultural functions are concentrated mainly in the central urban area of the NUC, directly animating the main square and the other public spaces around them. The administrative functions are accommodated in new buildings adjacent and connected to the existing District Administration building. Commercial and services spaces occupy most of the ground floors all across the master plan and specific building or floors in the urban part around the main square. The educational facilities, including the proposed new library building, stand in the centre of the master plan around the main square as well, while sports facilities are positioned on the eastern side of the central Park. To maintain an active flow of people all around the public spaces, housing program and hotels are distributed everywhere and particularly in the south, where living in the green city provides maximum quality and standards to future residents and guests.

The master plan is based on an efficient roads system that minimizes the presence of cars in the new urban centre, so that the pedestrians and quality public spaces become a priority. Traffic solutions are however offered for the circulation of cars and public transport.  A wide street is proposed to run through the centre of the scheme to connect it with the modernist centre in the west and the historic in the east, while a smaller low speed street connects the New Urban Centre (NUC) to the north and south sides of the city. Smaller single-way streets are planned in the perimeter of the NUC for restricted access to residents and visitors, mainly to access the entrances of the underground parking facilities. All buildings of the NUC are planned to have underground parking floors providing more than 1900 spots, while the new Exposition Centre building also offers 120 underground parking spots. Several aboveground parking spots are also provided on the sides of the streets around the NUC.  A new bus line is proposed to run through the NUC offering suggested stops in the Main Square and the Exposition Centre. 

An elaborated network of new boulevards, sidewalks and cycling routes provide connectivity and direct crosses to the New Urban Centre, the main central square and the Exposition Centre. The wide boulevard positioned in the centre of the scheme addresses the primary public flows and functions as a connection backbone between the northern and southern poles of the master plan, while its intersection with most of the smaller paths and important public spaces generates urban vibrancy, clear views, efficiency of circulation and possibilities for activities. The smaller pedestrian paths crossing through the NUC are positioned on a grid and extend to the nearby context , while a diagonal crossing through the scheme provides direct connection from the city centre to the Exposition Centre through the main square and the ground floors of the neighbouring buildings.

The city of Veliko Tarnovo has been long missing a formal urban centre and public building that can offer spaces and facilities for large commercial events, political gatherings and cultural happenings. Our proposal suggests the creation of a modest landmark, a compact building that offers a multifunctional large hall, exhibition areas and event spaces, while at the same time engages with its context and gives back to the city open-air green areas. The Exposition Centre is designed as a compact three-dimensional routing along different experiences for the visitors, while it connects the level of the street with the accessible rooftop and frames spectacular views of the city and the surrounding nature.

Due to the height difference of the site, the Exposition centre has two main entrances- one from the street in the north and one from the NUC in the south- and two interconnected lobbies – one for the Large Hall and one for the exhibition spaces and visitors services. The ground floor of the building features the Large Hall for 1.200 people and all the relevant services to support its operation. The Large Hall is a multifunctional space equipped and flexible to host large events and up to six smaller ones simultaneously. The roof of the large hall is green and accessible to serve as a public space and outdoors exhibition space for the building operations. 

The first floor of the building serves as the Main Lobby when the Large Hall is out of operation, and it hosts temporary exhibition spaces, interactive boards and a souvenir shop. Large step-ramps lead the visitors to the second floor where the permanent exhibition spaces, press centre and large terraces for rest and observation are located. The visitors can access the third floor through the large amphitheatric staircase and visit the permanent exhibition dedicated to the history of Veliko Tarnovo while enjoying the impressive views to the city and the landscape. On this floor sanitary facilities, storage and equipments spaces, changing rooms and services spaces are located as well. On the fourth floor visitors can enjoy the thematic temporary exhibitions while the staff workstations are also located on this floor. On the top floor there is a café, a bookstore, a small exhibition space and a generous open air amphitheatre for small events overlooking the skyline of the city. The rooftop is accessible to function as an extension of the outdoor amphitheatric stair and enrich the network of outdoors spaces and terraces.

The quality of public spaces and their capacity to offer a wide variety of events and activities has been a priority of the proposal. A new main square has been positioned in the heart of the NUC, which is surrounded by large mix-use buildings that frame it, define its outline and animate its space. The square is 3.965m2 large and can extend beyond the low traffic streets that surround it to a total area of 5.950m2, hosting different kinds of large urban events and becoming the central square of the city. On the north side of the square there is a 10.000m2 stripe of green public space with large trees, paved areas and small structures serving coffee and leisure activities, at the same time functioning as a buffer zone between the NUC and the public buildings of the University and the new Exposition Centre. The roof of the Exposition Centre is also green and serves as an outdoors exhibition space for the activities of the building and the nearby community. On the southern side of the master plan there is a large triangular park that is surrounded by several cultural and sports facilities.

The main intention of the proposal is to accommodate the requested dense program and building masses in the most efficient and compact way, so that the original green and landscaped character of the site is preserved and further enhanced as much as possible. The NUC appears as a compact urban tissue that is surrounded by tall trees and vivid greenery, while most of the other buildings of the master plan are scattered in the nature and maintain a modest presence. The design integrates most of the existing trees of the site and suggests the plantation of new ones, aiming to diversify the species and provide shaded areas of activities for the local residents and visitors. Trees are mostly planted in spontaneous and irregular patterns to contrast with the rigidity and the compact character of the NUC, except of the cases of the two main boulevards, where they are positioned linearly to emphasize direction and perspective. A livable city is a green city, since greenery and trees in this case provide not only identity but also facilitate the uses and the activities of the public spaces. 

Rybnik Residential and Services Building

Team: Irgen Salianji, Karolina Szóstkiewicz, Karolina Duda, Konstantina Lola
Location: Rybnik, Poland
Program: Residential

    The city of Rybnik has a strong identity based on its history, industrial heritage and medieval urban fabric. Its historic centre is both picturesque and modern, it combines dense urban districts with green parks, riverfronts and significant landmarks scattered in close vicinity. Part of the city’s future development, the site for the new residential and services buildings at Ul. Gen. J. Hallera street is a strategic plot in the heart of the city centre that is currently empty and creates a discontinuity in the urban fabric. The site carries the challenge of becoming a strong urban connector between the northern and the southern parts of the historic centre, namely between the main square of the city, the market, the Magistrates Court and the other important buildings in the immediate surroundings. The construction of the residential blocks A, B and the new public spaces around them can generate a new reference point in the city, provide public uses that can stimulate vibrancy and offer a series of diverse public spaces and landscaped areas that can serve the citizens of all ages and preferences. The positioning of the two new buildings will define the way in which the site will be organized and will frame the urban connections between the public spaces that will be created.  

The residential and services buildings A and B are designed as two L-shaped volumes that form an clear urban block and enclose a green landscaped courtyard in the middle. The block is open on the two corners to allow for public access and create an urban connection between the Nacyna river on the west and the market on the south. The alignment of the two volumes takes into consideration the two historic buildings on Ul. Gen. J. Hallera street, the new multi-storey parking facility and the new Education Pavilion that are projected to be build on the site, as well as the other alignments that relate to the existing buildings and public spaces in and around the development. To further connect the buildings block with its context, the street no. 1 is designed to cross through the landscaped courtyard and connect with the street no. 2, which is framed by the Building B and is designed as a wide paved boulevard with trees, playgrounds, sitting areas and other activities along it. The project proposes a clear and efficient knitting of the urban connections and the building volumes on the site, in a way that they intensify the public character and interplay of iconic – yet modest in terms of building volumes - architecture in the city centre. 

The proposal gives particular attention to the distinct character of the city, the important elements around and the integration of the existing buildings on the site, so that a sensible and sustainable result can be achieved that binds the area together. In so doing, on the western edge of the development the element of the water appears to make a connection to the Nacyna river, alongside the break in the volumes and the landscaping on the route from the river passage to the southern side of the site through the public courtyard. On the southern edge of the Building A, there is a wide passage on the ground floor that connects the courtyard to the two existing historic buildings that are preserved and restored to accommodate services. The facade of the new development is cladded in coral colour bricks and is monolithic and textured on the southern side to connect to and at the same time stand out from the two existing buildings, which are also cladded in brown coloured bricks and bear a monolithic facade.  

Both the existing buildings and the ground floor of the Building A accommodate services, so that the space in between them can concentrate people and generate urban momentum. The eastern edge of the development frames the new pedestrian passage no. 2 and the outdoors public activities that are developed alongside it, emphasising the importance of the site as an urban connector to the market and the Magistrates Court in the south. A second brake in the block’s volume between the Buildings A and B connects the street no. 2 to the landscaped courtyard through a wide roofed portal, while around this side services are planned for the ground floor to generate public flow and attractions for the visitors.

The main material used for the cladding of the block is brick, a material that refers to the industrial heritage and the particular character of the city. The coral colour of the brick, however, provides to the project a distinct identity, it makes it stand out and at times appear as a generic background for the existing buildings. The public spaces inside and around the block are paved with different kinds of Silesian natural stones, such as sandstone, granite, marble etc. Most of the urban furniture are designed as precast monolithic concrete elements often finished in oak wood in the sitting areas. The street no. 1 in the courtyard of the residential block is paved with permeable concrete blocks that allow the grass to grow in between, retaining the continuity of the landscape and ensuring the slow traffic of loading cars and the vehicles of the residents with disabilities. The interiors of the apartments are simple and robust, using strong material that are durable and aesthetically pleasing, such as terrazzo or wooden floors, exposed concrete ceilings, plywood cladded walls, white stuccoed walls and large glass openings that allow natural light and ventilation for each apartment.