Living Façades: Shades of Green in Polish Architecture
full-width, Living Façades: Shades of Green in Polish Architecture, Headquarters of the Foundation for Polish Science, photo: promotional materials, siedziba_fundacji_na_rzecz_nauki_polskiej_miniatura.jpg
The adjective ‘green’ is typically ascribed to buildings that are eco-friendly. However, some buildings are actually… green! Modern Polish architecture is teeming with various shades of green: their range and combinations fully depend on the imagination of their architects.
Some have introduced ecological motifs to original constructions, others have combined green grass with concrete walls, whilst others still have chosen natural elements to create friendly urban spaces.
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University of Warsaw Library (BUW)
In the first days after its opening to the public in 1999, the BUW’s new building proved surprising in many ways. It was the first library in Poland with free access to the entire book collection, and the building itself was unique – full of symbolism and innovations including a rooftop garden. Marek Budzyński, who along with Zbigniew Badowski is behind the design of the library, seems to be the only Polish architect who does not add greenery to his buildings. He simply perceives architecture and nature as one.
The BUW building is a perfect example of this philosophy. The impressive garden that stretches atop the vast rooftop – alongside vines of ivy making their way up the library walls and shrubs surrounding the building – are not decoration. Rather, they form part of the bigger architectural whole.
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The BUW garden was definitely ahead of Polish design trends – it was created long before the trend of introducing greenery into architectural projects was popular in Poland. Based on Irena Bajerska’s landscaping design, the plenitude of carefully selected plants come together to create a unique, relaxing space. The panorama of the right bank of the River Vistula can be admired from the rooftop – it’s the perfect spot for observation and photo shoots.
Ecological House near Pszczyna
To date, Piotr Kuczia, a graduate of the Silesian University of Technology, has carried out more projects in Germany than in Poland. Germans appreciate his innovative and ecological designs, as they have a great awareness of ecological architecture whose main principles are natural materials and energy from renewable sources. Poland is now catching up. However, crossing the Oder is not the only chance to see houses designed by Kuczia.
In 2007, the architect built a house at Łąka Lake near Pszczyna. The architect combined appealing forms with a wide range of ecological solutions. Part of the elevation is covered with raw larch planks, which age along with the house, giving it a noble air. A characteristic feature of the building is its central part − a black ‘tower’. It is a ‘chimney’ covered with fiber cement siding that either retains solar energy or releases its excess.
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The location of the house was thought to augment the absorption of solar energy, whereas its construction is airtight – its thick layer of insulation minimises heat loss. One of the walls is made of clay, which is a natural and cost-effective way to balance humidity levels. It lets the house ‘breathe’ without using complicated, energy-demanding devices.
Warsaw Headquarters of the Foundation for Polish Science
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Headquarters of the Foundation for Polish Science, photo: promotional materials
Until recently, an old, dilapidated residential building, battered by World War II, sat among the stylish pre-war villas and tenements in Krasicki Street in Warsaw. In 2009, Adam Białobrzeski and Adam Figurski, both from the FAAB studio, won a contest to convert the it into a modern office building which would serve as the headquarters of the Foundation of Polish Science (Fundacja Na Rzecz Nauki Polskiej).
So as to integrate the new building into a space brimming with greenery, they decided to cover its façade with plants – the elevation was turned into a vertical garden. As a result, the Mokotów district in Warsaw became home to the first Polish ‘living façade’. The plants grow on geotextiles with a rainwater irrigation system.
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The green is not only green in colour. It is also eco-friendly. The heating system uses heat pumps, whilst the light streams into the atrium, limiting energy consumption. The architects left some of the building’s pre-war decorations, such as the unique floor tiles called gorseciki – from the bodice-like shape they have.
Bałtyk office building in Poznań
The irregular shape of this skyscraper, built in late 2017 in the centre of Poznań, still sparks interest and surprise among the passers-by. Designed by the Dutch MVRDV studio, the office block brings to mind an abstract sculpture – it looks different from each perspective. But its unique shape isn’t the only thing that makes it special. The building obeys the strict rules governing energy and water consumption, as well as generating waste and other harmful substances (few people are aware how significantly buildings contribute to air pollution).
The office building has a BREEAM certificate, which is awarded according to the international system of evaluation that determines the extent to which a given building affects the environment. There are many certification systems, but the Bałtyk scored the highest possible note – ’excellent’ – according to the BREEAM evaluation, which means that it employs many eco-friendly architectural solutions.
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This concerns not only the energy and water saving systems or recycling, but also the use of building materials without harmful chemical substances, and recommending pro-environmental behaviour to people who work in the facility. For example, the buidling is not surrounded by parking lots but does offer a number of bicycle racks and showers for those who commute to work on two-wheelers.
Kindergarten in Żory, Kleszczówka district
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Kindergarten in Żory, Kleszczówka district, designed by Toprojekt studio, 2017, photo: Juliusz Sokołowski
Architecture for children has undergone considerable changes in recent years. It has shifted away from infantile and kitschy school or kindergarten buildings that astound with a riot of colours. Investors have come to realise that buildings for Poland’s youngest citizens also must be high-quality. After all, they shape the tastes of new generations who will one day decide the infrastructure of our cities and villages. The Topprojekt studio architects explain:
Pre-school education is one of the most important stages in the process of growing up. This is why we should take utmost care of the space in which it takes place. Children should not be ignored and put in garishly colourful rooms. A child is a serious and sensitive consumer who places the highest demands on designers.
In fact, these architects turned their words into action. Their kindergarten in the Kleszczówka district in Żory has numerous advantages which are noticeable at first sight: an interesting form, user-friendly building materials, a subtle shape, and integration of the building with its surroundings. The natural sunlight from the inner patio lights up the rooms so that children don’t have to spend too much time in artificial light.
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In order to create something functional in the very limited space of the building plot, the architects had to choose between two alternatives. They could either erect a tall, ‘thin’ building and squeeze in a playground next to it, or build a child-size building with the terrace on its rooftop. Judging by the outcome, it is obvious that their decision in favour of the second option was an excellent choice.
Ecological Incineration Plant in Kraków
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The Thermal Waste Treatment Plant in Kraków (ZTPO), designed by Jakub Baczyński (PROCHEM S.A.), Michał Teller (Teller Architekci), Filip Łapiński (Łapiński Architekci) and Bogusław Wowrzeczka (Manufaktura nr 1), photo: Prochem S.A. promotional materials
Many people are convinced that industrial plants are the biggest polluters. This happens to be only partly true, as a number of years ago, factories and plants had to replace their old technological lines with newer ones emitting less harmful substances.
A good example of the progressive view on an industrial facilities is the Ecological Incineration Plant built by Kraków Municipal Holding. The design of the plant was chosen during a competition. Competitions for the design of infrastructure or industrial facilities happen only very rarely. The jury chose an exceptional project created by a team including Manufaktura Nr 1 (Bogusław Wowrzeczka), Teller Architekci (Michał Teller), Łapiński Architekci (Filip Łapiński) and Prochem (Jakub Baczyński).
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Split into a series of smaller slightly shifted blocks, the facility matches the greenery that reigns in its surroundings. The architects said they were inspired by fields – a characteristic feature of the Polish landscape – as well as Polish folk costumes, with their multi-coloured stripes. The architects explained:
The incineration plant in Kraków was supposed to literally merge with the landscape – the colours of materials used to cover the elevation and roof were chosen in such a way that they match their equivalents in nature which, in turn, become an extension of the building.
Besides its original architecture, the eco-friendly Kraków facility was the first industrial plant rewarded with ‘green certificates’. They are proof that a facility can obtain energy from renewable sources. The plant was opened in 2015, and two years later, it nominated for the most significant European award in architecture: the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award.
A house made of waste in Mierzeszyn near Pruszcz Gdański
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House of Wastes in Mierzeszyn near Pruszcz Gdański, designed by Barbara Wojtkowska-Guichert, photo: Ekocentrycy Holistic Architecture&Design promotional materials
This may be one of the most unusual houses in all of Poland. It was designed by Barbara Wojtkowska, an architect who, during an apprenticeship at the studio of the American architect Michael Reynolds, discovered that waste can be used just like other materials, such as concrete, brick or stone.
As the head of Ekocentrycy Studio, which designs and builds eco-friendly facilities made of natural materials, Wojtkowska is an expert in implementing the principles of sustainable development in architecture. Interestingly, this innovative technology can be applied in constructing both detached houses and public utility facilities.
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The house in Mierzeszyn is a so-called ‘earthship’ – a fully self-sufficient and autonomous object which does not have any negative influence on the environment. It is essentially a hut made of waste. Even though you won’t find any electric wires or sewerage, the house is fully functional and can be inhabited year-round. There is an outbuilding next to it with a wind turbine that produces energy. The energy and heat are obtained from renewable sources; the water comes from wells and rainwater. During the coldest days of the year, the house can be heated with a fireplace.
While building the house, Wojtkowska had to struggle with Polish law that does not embrace her innovative techniques. The wall made of tyres posed a problem, but this is precisely what the whole idea of earthships is about. Houses should be built using waste: old tyres, bottles, tins and recycled materials.
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Wojtkowska has a great deal of experience with many similar projects, and she is currently working on new ideas: houses made of agricultural waste, straw and hemp. In an interview, she underlined that ‘natural, healthy and unprocessed building materials are the future of architectural engineering world-wide’.
The International Congress Centre in Katowice
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The International Congress Centre in Katowice. Pictured: Robert Konieczny. Photo: Grzegorz Celejewski / Agencja Gazeta
Together with Silesian Museum and the headquarters of the new Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (NOSPR), the International Congress Centre in Katowice forms an exceptional complex located in the heart of Upper Silesia. Known as the Katowice Culture Zone, the buildings are unfortunately surrounded with many parking lots – but the architects devoted a lot of attention to the ‘green elements’ of each facility.
The Silesian Museum, for instance, is actually hidden underground to better display mining relics, but also to create a friendly public space around them. Another example is Tomasz Konior’s idea to design a fancy garden with trees, pools, and an amphitheatre around the NOSPR’s building.
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However, those who pushed the idea of integrating nature with architecture the furthest were the designers from JEMS Architekci Studio. The irregular building with a crack in the wall is partly covered with grass. This creates an impressive contrast with the rest of façade, which is swathed in black steel netting. These green islands located on the walls or rooftops not only improve the image of the facilities neighbouring the famous Spodek Sport and Show Arena, but they also quickly became one of Katowice’s favourite meeting spots.
Warsaw Public Library on Koszykowa Street
The Central Library of the Masovian Voivodeship on Koszykowa Street in Warsaw consists of a library and a reading room. It is very popular – many generations of students, academics and various enthusiasts (there is, for example, a separate reading room for strictly for materials focussed on the city of Warsaw itself) have poured over books in these rooms.
In 1907, the library’s first headquarters was a classicist building that underwent multiple changes and extensions. Over the past decades, the library expanded and was housed in a complex of buildings from different eras – and so was not very functional. After the 2005 competition for the modernisation of the buildings, the first segment of the ‘new library’ was opened to the public in 2013 (the following segments are still under construction).
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The Bulanda Mucha Studio architects, who were responsible for the design, suggested a wide range of possible changes that would make working and studying in the library more pleasant. Sunlight pours through a glass ceiling, whilst a three-floor-high wall actually breathes thanks to the plants that cover it from top to bottom. These features make this spot the perfect place for a short break.
The modernised reading room was well received by its visitors and rewarded with an Audience Award in the competition for the Architectural Prize of the Mayor of Warsaw. Judging by the number of readers in the numerous library rooms, this was a well-deserved honour.
The City Tree
The City Tree is not like every other building – it cannot house people, shops or even offices for that matter. In spite of this, it seems that such structures would be considered useful for our cities. It would be good if they appeared in many squares and housing estates.
The City Tree is not a Polish idea. It was designed by the German studio Green City Solution. However, it was in Kraków where the object gained popularity and stirred emotions. The capital of Lesser Poland, Kraków, is one of the most heavily polluted cities in the whole country. Smog poses an especially large threat (even though there are many different Polish cities that struggle with this issue). This is why in 2017, Kraków hosted a Smogathon – a competition for scientists, inventors and designers who were exploring ways of fighting smog pollution. And it was during the Kraków edition of the festival, that the City Tree − a tall structure covered in moss − was awarded the main prize. It was called a ‘pollution buster' for purifying the air in urban areas.
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The key element of its construction, moss, can absorb harmful dust. Similar examples of so-called ‘small architecture’ can already be found in different cities across the globe. Perhaps Poland will also see them in the near future.
Tarasy Zamkowe shopping mall in Lublin
Malls and large shopping centres generally have a negative influence on Polish cities – we have known this for a long time now. They kill small businesses and mom-and-pop shops, they take the people of the streets, and they often ruin the cityscape with their huge and, frankly, ugly buildings. Even though malls in the centre of big cities tend not to be a good idea, some of them at least try to be in tune with their surroundings and are interesting architectural pieces. This is the case when it comes to Tarasy Zamkowe in Lublin.
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The Tarasy Zamkowe shopping centre was designed by Bolesław Stelmach, a well-known Lublin architect. He designed an open garden with alleys, open recreational spaces and dozens of species of plants located on the rooftop of the mall. Stelmach explained his idea:
Mother Earth regained what the building developer had stolen from her.
In 2017, there was even a beach on the Castle Terraces’ rooftop. Also, the technical area on the roof, unavailable to mall-goers, was turned into a flowery meadow.
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Originally written in Polish by Anna Cymer, Apr 2018; translated by AS, June 2018