Architects for Urbanity (AfU) is a Rotterdam-based collaborative design and research office founded in 2015 by Irgen Salianji, Karolina Szóstkiewicz and Marina Kounavi.
AfU's work focuses on the analysis and design of cultural and mix-use buildings, as well as the research of the urban qualities that drive our contemporary cities.
Team: Irgen Salianji, Karolina Szóstkiewicz, Katarzyna Duliba, Adrianna Drohomirecka
Status: Competition project
Location: Krakow, Poland
The Center of Literature and Language ‘Planet Lem’is located on the historic 13th-century salt road from Wieliczka Salt Mineand the important site of the Salt Depot, which have always formed a communication and language exchange route. The sensible and compact extension of the existing building and the creation of green open public spaces around it aspire to regenerate the whole site and turn it into an important cultural laboratory for the city of Krakow. The new building is positioned on the back side of the Salt Depot followed bya new green square that is surrounded by trees andstairs. This public space is themed as the "Garden of Languages", a place where numerous open-air events, exhibitions and workshops will be organized. A linear pavilion facilitating such activities is also positioned on the eastern side of the garden. The public space in front of the Salt Depot was arranged as a representative square with elements of greenery and sculptures referring to the works of Stanisław Lem.
The main access by car and busses to the site will be provided froman internal road on the west side, which provides drop-off, parking spaces and a ramp to the underground garage. The access from the train station on the eastern side of the plot is designed as a boulevard filled with information about Polish language and tradition. The volumeof the new buildingis compact and modest, yet elegant and symmetric to perfectly match the restoredelevation of the Salt Depot. Both buildings are connected by a linear circulation zone merging their ground floors, so that after passing through the historical object visitors areled into the open and glazed hall of the new addition that houses the foyer and visitors’ services. The transparent façade of the new addition opens up to the "Garden of Languages" and the open-airpavilion for workshops onthe eastern side of the plot, creating a public continuum and a continuous flow between the activities offered to visitors.
The two main entrances are located on the west side for the old building and east side for the new. They are connected through a linear circulation "backbone" placed between the two buildings that creates a continuous flow between the old building and the new one, while containing staircases and elevators that enable communication of both parts of the project. The "backbone" functions also as an urban billboard for the whole project, while it provides panoramic views to the city towards the west. The new addition resembles a partly glazed cube that creates an abstract background to the Salt Depot. The ground floor of the new zone is 1 m lower than the level of the ground floor of the historical object, to create a more comfortable and monumental foyer. In the newly designed object, the ground floor has been designed as an open and transparent space that contrasts to the old building and visually connects the foyer with the outdoors spaces. An important element of the foyer is the circular stair that leads the visitors directly to the dedicated exhibition room where they meeting with Lem.
The design proposal suggests an organic connection between the historical building’s two floors with the newly designed part of three over-ground and two underground levels. The preservation of the historical Salt Depot building and the display of its assets has been an important aspect of the design strategy by placing the administration offices on the ground floor of the building, alongside the cloakroom and main sanitary services for visitors. The main exhibition dedicated to the work of Stanisław Lem occupies the first floor of the historic building, whose floor plan was cleared of the excess columns and its roof structure was revealed. The exhibition is continued in the new part of the building, while both parts are connected by the existing stairs of the Salt Depot and the new circular stair added in the foyer of the new building. Two zones of storage spaces on the southern and northern sides of the exhibition create isolation and frame the symmetric floor plan.
On the ground floor of the new building we can distinguish three important zones: the temporary exhibition, the multimedia space and administration offices, while there are also workshop rooms and multimedia studios on the first floor. On the 2nd floor, an auditorium hall for 400 people was designed to give the possibility of division into two smaller rooms. On this floor there is also the backstage, a library zone, storage rooms and toilets. On floors -1 and -2 located under the new part of the building, an underground parking for 109 cars with technical rooms was designed. All rooms have been designed taking into account the needs of disabled people and the requirements set by the organizers of the competition.
The exhibition is placed both in the new and the old buildings to emphasize on the metaphor of two different worlds, which are undoubtedly visible in the literature and life of Stanisław Lem. An important aspect of the exhibition is the creation of contrasts that show the world of Klaupacjusz and Trurl, the two main characters of Lem's books and also the guides to the exhibition. The prologue and end parts have been specially placed in the new building to introduce an element of surprise for visitors. The first and second exhibition zones are located in the historic building, while the third and fourth parts are positioned together in the new building and in sequence to the final part of the exhibition: the meeting with Lem. The exhibition was designed in the form of a laboratory of experiences, a machine that opens with the discovery of successive layers of Lem's work. Each designed zone has many contrasting worlds referring to the author's life and his books, which we can see in the designed floor, furniture, and artistic installations. This exhibition is a space that can be easily modified and has a lot of flexibility.
Visitors can begin the experience of discovering the exhibition from the historical stairs of the Salt Depot or from the lifts located in the main hall of the new building. The Prologue presents basic information about the exhibition in the form of a room as a living machine with numerous buttons, traps, puzzlesetc. Next, visitors can go to the "Astrogation" zone located in the northern wing of the historic building - a space divided into six parts of various characters. In this part the visitor is in the space of a rocket, tunnel, magnetic field, inside the counting machine. In the southern part of the building, the "Labyrinth of chances" zone is located. The space is designed as a labyrinth featuring numerous holograms, robots and simulations.
The third zone called "Nikroevolution" is located in the new building. It is a place with many interactive points: biological riddles, constructing fauna robots, playing with Lego blocks and a spacecraft designed as a tunnel with a rescue mission. The fourth space "Land of cruel wonders" was designed partly in the form of the planet Solaris (tunnel), which materializes the thoughts of guests. This zone also allows for interaction with robots. The final part of the exhibition, meeting with Lem, is in the central part of the new object, based on a circular plan that symbolizes inclusiveness and the monumentality of time and space. It is a library of knowledge about the author and his books, designed as a cosmic space in which the visitor comes in contact with Lem himself. From this room we have a connection to the ground floor by the circular staircase, which is placed around the room of Lem. It is a very important element for the entire exhibition, therefore it was highlighted so that it would be visible in the façade and organization of the entire building.
Architects for Urbanity have revealed the updated images for their much anticipated Varna Library project, three years after they won the open competition and the subsequent commission to further develop the project. One of the few large public buildings to be developed in Bulgaria since the political transition of the last three decades, the new Library will shelter a wealthy collection of more than 860.000 books and items; it will provide activities for the local community and become a modest landmark for the maritime capital of Bulgaria on the Black Sea coast.
The mayor of Varna, Ivan Portnih, stated in the media that the construction of the Library will start later this year, following the approval of the Library’s building permit from the local authorities earlier last year. Named after the noted Bulgarian poet Pencho Slaveykov, the Regional Library of Varna was set up by the Varna Literary Society in 1883 and has been consistently searching for a new modern building in recent decades. The new building will bring together all the departments, books and archives of the Library, which are currently scattered in six different buildings across the city.
The construction of the Library has dominated the political agenda of the Municipality of Varna over the last years, as the need for a new modern building to house the Library’s large collection and services has been a constant and increasing demand over the past decades. The chief architect of Varna, Victor Buzev, emphasized the importance of the project for the city and proclaimed that efforts to secure the funds for the construction from the national and municipal budgets are ongoing, as it is a donation campaign among the citizens and businessmen of Varna. "We are talking about a contemporary building with advanced modern solutions, latest technology in the equipment, electronic register, multimedia, multifunctional training rooms, a shared workplace, children's playground, and facilities for all ages. There will be places where, apart from reading books, will also serve as cultural centers for social encounters", stated the chief architect in a press release for varna24.bg.
The project is characterized by its simple monolithic design and the feature of the transparent double-height void that runs through its section, almost as an over-scaled urban stairwell, providing a monumental public space in the interior and a direct connection with the street level and the city. As chief architect points out: "We united around this project as it fits in the surrounding area, including the building of the Municipality of Varna”. The building refers to its adjacent socialist tower that houses the Municipality and blends with its context by featuring large textured concrete panels and translucent aluminum cladding in its facades, while the diagonal void and the entrance lobby are transparent and welcoming to the urban context: “The materials in the assignment are close to the surrounding environment, there are suspended structural facades and a double façade, known as the so-called double skin of the open space at all levels of the building, which through long ramps allows for events with a large number of people - exhibitions, performances, concerts, etc", explained Victor Buzev.
The new Varna Library will provide a multitude of services and activities for the city and the citizens of all ages. A large municipal parking for up to 300 cars will be developed in three underground floors and a new landscaped plaza will accentuate the welcoming character of the Library’s entrance and lobby spaces. The ground floor of the building will accommodate the main lobby, the visitors’ services, a café, a learning centre, a temporary exhibition space and the 200 seats municipal auditorium. All the library functions are arranged on the five main floors above, including the children and teenagers’ areas, the adult collection, the Arts and Media center, the American corner and the Deutsche Lesesaal.
Various individual and group working spaces are scattered across the different levels of the building, while podiums and flexible spaces have been provided for smaller group gatherings and informal events. The Mediatheque is located on the fourth floor, alongside multimedia installations and teaching spaces. The fifth floor is dedicated to the adults collection and the main reading area for the books that are preserved in the large archive facility, which is designed as a backbone on the north façade of the building. A multifunctional pavilion with a cafeteria and outdoor landscaped areas are positioned on the last floor of the building, where users and visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of the city.
Other facilities and features of the project include a panoramic elevator on the front façade, a 24hours books return system, green roofs, warm materials on the interior spaces and an extended sequence of activities spaces and areas that can transcend the typical library functions and secure the building’s future flexibility and use as a vibrant social condenser. The public tender for the construction of the Library will be announced soon and the project will break ground later this year.
Design Development & Working Project phase: Project Architects: Irgen Salianji, Marina Kounavi – Team: Karolina Szóstkiewicz, Ferdjan Van Der Pijl, Venelin Dimitrov, Marco De Vincentiis, Maria Akrivou, Antonis Athanasiou, Harris Vamvakas
Local Architect: AM Project (arch. Alexander Minchev)
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.
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.
Szczecin has emerged as one of the most innovative cities in Poland during the last two decades, by investing in its cultural and architectural future with important projects such as the new Philharmonic and the National Museum in the historic centre. The district of Prawobrzeże, however, lacks similar institutional and architectural buildings that can strengthen its identity and enrich its loose urban fabric with cultural services. The new Municipal Public Library can become an important reference point for Prawobrzeże and a significant gathering epicentre for the local residents and the metropolitan population of Szczecin at large. The design of the Library takes advantage of the strategic position, the connectivity and the qualities of the site to create a unique building and a rich public space that is strongly rooted in its context. The site of the Library becomes a central point in creating the missing links between Jarosława Iwaszkiewicza street and the Catholic Church, as well as intensifying the public program and establishing a human scale in the entire area.
Modern libraries have lost their historic monopoly of providing knowledge and have been forced to reconsider and expand their range of services in the digital era. Nowadays people communicate and share information through the internet and social media, so much so that physical presence and human encounters have become a necessity in avoiding the alienation caused by the digital realm. The new role of libraries is to bring people together in the physical terrain and spread knowledge through mix-media and interactive technologies. Libraries today are shifting towards a more informal and creative position, one that stimulates people imagination and creates space for activities that are related to knowledge, education and culture. Therefore one could state that, even though books are not the only source of knowledge anymore and certainly not the most sustainable one, their importance however remains the same, but their presence is reduced so that they make space for encounters.
The concept for the new Municipal Public Library (MPL) in Szczecin is to create a social condenser and a new reference point for the district of Prawobrzeże, by compressing the traditional functions of the library into an efficient central volume and dedicating the largest part of the building around it into encounters and activities for the users. The volume of the Library is therefore designed as a simple and efficient elongated box that is positioned on the northern side of the site, allowing for a framed passage to the adjacent church on the north side and a large landscaped public space on the south. The volume of the building is divided in three functional zones that are interconnected by a large corridor on the south side. The western zone contains the entrance, the main hall and the adults’ library functions. The central zone comprises of two levels: on the ground floor it accommodates most of the library rooms that need isolation, the administration offices and the utility services – on the first floor it houses a large auditorium hall that can host big events or be divided by movable partitions into separate rooms for smaller gatherings. On the western zone of the building there is the children library, the staircase and the elevator to the auditorium’s mezzanine. The southern corridor that connects the three zones functions as an internal street of circulation, but also as an informal reading area with large bookshelves walls on the one side and playful movable furniture on the other side.
The interior space of the library provides large open spaces and a clear organization that is flexible to future changes and adaptations. The main hall is a double high space that offers grandeur and a sense of monumentality that highlights the public character of the building. The separation of adults’ and children area provides autonomy and sound isolation without interrupting the continuous flow of the spaces and while still maintaining visual connections. The internal street offers an informal reading and activities zone that can be ever changing and customizable by the users and the staff of the library. The central space of the library contains most of the bookshelves and closed rooms on the ground floor, defining the identity of the library and organizing its interior layout. The large auditorium space on the first floor of the central area works as a continuation of the main hall, by having its main access point through the podium of bookshelves and reading areas of the adults’ department on the western zone. The internal facades of the auditorium are glazed and open to the public spaces of the library, exposing its activity to the visitors and inviting them to participate – although visual separation is also possible through the use of curtains.
The envelope of the building is a simple rectangular form that adapts to the parameters set by the context, the internal organization of the Library and the continuity between the inside space and the exterior landscape. The north façade is 12 meters high to create an urban relation with the adjacent housing blocks and is glazed on the ground floor so that it can animate the street leading to the church and attract visitors to its welcoming interior. The small side facades are fully glazed so that they create a visual connection to the street and open up the Library’s activities to the city. The south façade of the building is the most iconic and the one that blurs the boundaries and establishes both a visual and a physical connection between the indoors and the outdoors activities of the Library. Opening up to the landscaped public space in front of the building, the south façade is 8 meters high on the west side and 5 meters on the east, creating a characteristic diagonal line across the elevation that relates to both the urban and the human scales of the site. The sloped roof enhances the domestic scale and character of the Library, makes more efficient the use of the interior spaces and creates a playful volumetric interaction with the roof of the central volume that accommodates the auditorium. The porosity of the façade and the extension of the interior space to the exterior highlights the public character of the Library and creates more possibilities for informal happenings and open-air events during the spring and summer months.
The outdoors public space of the Library is designed as a series of programmatic stripes that emerge from the interior of the building and extend to the exterior. The stripes contain outdoors public program and landscaped areas when intersected by perpendicular zones of activities, creating an urban patchwork of uses or a mosaic of events for the Library users and the district of Prawobrzeże at large. Starting from the West side, the first stripe contains diverse landscaped areas with trees and low vegetation that protect the public space from the noise of the adjacent street, the secondary entrance to the building, the bike parking area and a zone with gravel and benches for rest. The second stripe is paved and functions as the way leading to the main entrance of the building, while next to it there are two landscaped areas and an area dedicated to outdoors exhibitions. The central and wider stripe contains the most important uses of the public space: the outdoors reading area which works as a physical continuation of the interior informal reading area, a shallow 5cm zone of water which provides fountains, reflections of the building and the surrounding nature and a playful natural source of cooling in the warm summer days. The third zone of the central stripe accommodates the outdoor auditorium and its roofed stage, which can host large open-air events for an audience of more than 50 people. The last stripe on the eastern edge of the plot contains the outdoors playground for the children area, a botanic garden and a landscaped area with trees. On the north side of the site there is a parking area for 23 cars and 3 disabled spots, as well as another green area with trees. The public space of the Library is designed to be fully accessible for wheelchairs and cover the needs for rest, leisure and cultural development for all users and age groups, as well as to be used on daily base from all the citizens of Prawobrzeże, even when the Library itself is closed.
The materiality of the building is austere and limited to the fundamentals, so that the Library adopts a timeless and robust identity as a modest landmark in the city. The structure is out of concrete to provide thermal mass and reduce the heating and cooling demands in the winter and summer respectively. The exterior shell is composed of exposed concrete structural frames and zinc metal cladding for both high performance and endurance is harsh conditions. The lower parts of the façade are glazed to permit maximum transparency on the ground floor, while expanded aluminium mesh is provided in areas that need sun shading. In the interior, the structure and ceilings are left unfinished and rough so that they highlight the original texture of the exposed concrete, enhance the public grandeur of the Library and at the same time emphasize the evolutionary and informal character of the institution. The central box containing the closed rooms and the auditorium are completely cladded in local oak wooden finishes to create a warm, welcoming and poetic atmosphere in the interior. The main floor of the Library is out of granite, a material that is also used for the pavement of the public space and that creates both a public feeling and a sense of informality in the interior. Floor heating and a series of domestic and industrial carpets are proposed for specific sitting areas of the library in which users sit, lay or play - including the children area.
Specific design decisions have been made to provide an efficient and aesthetically neutral solution for the acoustics of the Library. Most of the interior textures of the materials are mat and rough to diffuse rather than reflect noise, while most of the fixed and movable furniture are made of sound-absorbing textiles or plywood finishes. The oak wooden cladding in the interior is perforated and combined with the sound absorbing qualities of the large bookshelf walls; they provide maximum efficiency for the absorption of the interior noise. All the floors are proposed to have rubber layers underneath for the reduction of the noise created by walking, while movable or fixed sound absorbing buffers and panels can be positioned at will in spaces that intense activity takes place. The auditorium solution combines sound reflecting oak wooden claddings and sound absorbing black fabric finishes, providing flexibility and potential for small and large events in different configurations.
The central idea of the project derives from the Lubomirski Princes Museum’s precious content of the exhibition material. A special box is therefore proposed to accommodate the treasures of the museum: the arts exhibition on the ground floor, the numismatic exhibition on the first, the treasury on the second and the Lviv panorama on the third and fourth floors. The treasury box (szkatuła) is placed inside a large void in the middle of the plot, as a totem, standing out of its surroundings, thus highlighting its importance. On the same time it allows the public flows to develop all around it, creating visual connections to the historic urban context around the building.
A linear and efficient core is developed at the north side of the plot, creating a clear separation between the public part of the museum and the back of house. Rather than scattering different vertical communications around the building, the single elongated core facilitates all the circulation needs, the shafts and service areas occupying a minimum footprint. In that way the maximum permeability of the ground floor is achieved and therefore the visibility of the treasury box from as many sides as possible both from the outside streets and the inside spaces. The treasury box of the exhibitions and the circulation core are in direct connection letting the visitors, the staff and the exhibits to enter its protected shell. This connection is achieved through bridges that extend from the core inside the exhibition spaces. A large freight elevator is positioned adjacent to the entrances of the exhibition rooms and a secondary panoramic staircase for the staff is located on the south-eastern side of the building.
The rest of the functional program is organized all around the treasury box and the perimetric atrium that is unfolding around the exhibition spaces. The atrium brings controlled daylight in the interior of the Museum and sheds direct sunlight on the wooden-cladded walls of the treasury box, thus enhancing its presence and sacramental character. The "programmatic rings" developing around the atrium contain all the main functions of the Museum and are stacked on top of each other in a logic of a vertical gradient. The gradient can be analyzed in multiple ways: public-private, specific-generic, open-protected, light-dark. From the ground floor to the last floor, each level gets lower in height and less transparent on the façade, corresponding to the needs of the function it hosts. All the functions are again connected to the main core that serves for the circulation of the whole building.
The facade is monolithic on its larger part, in order to protect the more sensitive functions that need no daylight and to create a unified identity for the Museum. The external solid shell is fitted as a hat on top of the building, enhancing the visibility of the treasury box and permitting transparency on the first levels of the Museum where most of the public functions are located. The façade follows exactly all the building regulations of the urban plan that applies to the area, creating a strong urban front on all sides and blending with the monolithic medieval character of the city. The sandstone-cladded shell gets punctured on the top of the atrium and pushed down to allow for the precious treasury box to emerge few meters above it, serving as a landmark to the cityscape as it will be seen from the riverfront. The lower part of the façade is transparent all around the perimeter of the building up to the middle of the second floor. In that way, the visibility of the tower from the ground floor is not only preserved but activates all the public vibrancy that is developed around it as a continuation of the city flows and life. Combined with the high ceiling of the ground floor, it creates a modest and inviting landmark that is placed in the middle of the public ground floor.
The materials chosen reflect the need for roughness and timelessness that highlights the historicity of the Museum. The concrete structure of the building is left exposed and becomes part of the interior aesthetics, the floor finishes are local natural stones on the ground floor and terrazzo and polished concrete on upper floors. The treasury box is cladded with dark real-wood finish to express a vintage character and the historical value of the exhibits. The façade is based on a curtain wall system on the first two floors and a monolithic solid part for the upper ones, which are cladded with local Silesian sandstone. The solid shell of the building and the large skylight provide controlled daylight and natural ventilation, which combined with the recyclable nature of most materials used provide a sustainable performance to the Museum.