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"Architecture is a team sport". Interview with Maciej Dudkiewicz of Grupa 5 Architekci

26 of October '23
Technical data
Name: BaseCamp student house and hotel
Investor: BC Wrocław Sienkiewicza, BC Wrocław Sienkiewicza Hotel.
Location: Poland, Wrocław, 18-22 H. Sienkiewicza St.
Project: Grupa 5 Architekci
Interior design: Studio Aisslinger


  • design
  • implementation



  • usable

45 300 m²

The brick complex from the early 20th century, which from the beginning housed a bakery, ceased to serve its function in 2006. The section of Henryka Sienkiewicza Street in Wroclaw, whose frontage was formed by the industrial edifice, although perfectly located in relation to important urban spaces, was devoid of city-forming elements. Today, nearly 150 years after its completion, the complex, partially protected by the conservator, has been renovated and expanded, and most importantly its interiors are once again filled with people, students living in the BaseCamp dormitory. We talk about the challenges of working with historic buildings with Maciej Dudkiewicz, an architect from the Grupa 5 Architekci studio responsible for this project.

pierzeja ulicy Sienkiewicza we Wrocławiu

The frontage of Sienkiewicza Street in Wroclaw

Photo: Marcin Czechowicz

Ola Kloc: Monopolis in Lodz, BaseCamp in Wroclaw your studio's recent years have been filled with post-industrial buildings what are the challenges of working with historic fabric?

Maciej Dudkiewicz: Many colleagues think of Grupa 5 as an atelier that deals with historic buildings or existing buildings, but this is a complete coincidence. Indeed, we have had several notable projects related to monuments, such as the Main Railway Station in Wroclaw, Abram Gurewicz's boarding house in Otwock and Monopolis in Lodz. We are not afraid of challenges related to the existing tissue, because we have a systematized and proven way of working on many objects. The essence of working with existing buildings, especially historic ones, is to understand what they can give us in return for our efforts, what is the value on which we can build a new object, a new development or function. This story we are spinning is already started, we are not building on an empty plot of land, we don't need to look for context, new values. The existing object in itself already provides some value, a background, the rest is actually just a supplement.

This type of object, contrary to appearances, is easy to design, maybe not technically, but emotionally and ideologically the idea submits itself to the monument. We don't like to take shortcuts when it comes to monuments. In the case of the Wroclaw train station, which was our first such large building, it was clear that architecture is a team sport. In many cases, we simply relied on the opinions of invited specialists, including conservators.

Ola: What did this cooperation look like in the case of the Wroclaw BaseCamp?

Maciej: We had virtually no friction with the investor. The building was precisely studied by a team of experts we have been working with for years, Mr. and Mrs. Kirschke from the Wroclaw University of Technology. Their study was so extensive, presenting both the entire history of the buildings and a description of reconstructions or preserved elements, that it allowed us to make unambiguous decisions together with the investor, especially the key ones regarding the arrangement of functions and how much we want or need to restore the old image of the building.

Provisions in the local plan allowed the investor to build new tissue that would complement the quarter. Initially, another wing housing a hotel was to be built there, but after the pandemic that changed the culture of hotel construction, the investor decided to sell this part of the property for a residential development.

plan zagospodarowania terenu

site development plan

© Grupa 5 Architekci

Conservation expertise, greenery, terrain and so on, are time-consuming, and investors often do not understand the need for them, they would like to have the answers ready here and now to minimize the preparation and implementation time of the entire project. However, if we prepare well, survey the site and know what we are dealing with, the work is very similar to the work of implementing a new building. We just have two or three additional factors to consider when designing.


cross section

© Grupa 5 Architekci

Ola: You mentioned that the essence of working on historic buildings is to understand what you can give them and what they can give in return. How was it in this case?

Maciej: There is nothing to be charmed about here the investor comes to squeeze as much as he can out of the investment, so there is no need to be offended at them for that the investor is there to make money. The question is, what does he make money on on small "patom apartments" or on a valuable building in a fantastic location? The role of architects is, in a sense, to monitor these processes and stop some of the "caving in" of investors. However, if we abandon a subject, the investor will go to another architect who will do it. It happened to us that we did not agree with the investor on key issues and we withdrew from the cooperation  this is a huge luxury that studios cannot always afford, especially because of finances.

przestrzeń wewnątrz wytworzonego kwartału

space inside a manufactured quarter

photo: Marcin Czechowicz

Another thing is that we exemplify by our actions to change the face of the monument. One will consider it as its devastation, another as modernization. Every year we participate in a conference for conservators and architects "between orthodoxy and creation", very interesting arguments arise there. We try to be somewhere in the middle in all this. It is interesting that not infrequently certain historic elements we would like to leave original, without repairs, because the existing wall has a certain romanticism, but it is the conservators who do not agree to this, saying that if it is to be a conservation measure, we must renovate this element, protect it, so that it looks uniform. Investors, on the other hand, say straightforwardly, "we have monuments, we can do nothing with them, sell them, they will languish and no one will benefit from it". There are, of course, harsh voices saying" let them languish, it's hard, but at least you won't touch them with your scalpels and destroy them". Somewhere in all this, however, a consensus is possible.

The whole study of a monument must be verified not only in terms of whether something is valuable and from which year it is, but whether it is valuable as a whole or as a fragment, what element is most valuable, what arrangement? If such an evaluation is made, it allows for a certain exchange. For example, since the portals are important from a preservation point of view, we preserve them, and would like to be able to introduce a garage instead. Thinking structurally about the whole building is the key to start designing. If we are able with our design to highlight this most valuable element and make it accessible to the public user, for the preservationist this will be an advantage. If we are able to painstakingly restore a particular part, and in return we can expand a wing, rebuild an attic or superstructure a section, then this game begins to be fair. The conservator also understands this we highlight certain features of the building, and in return the developer goes about his business on parts that were less important or common and their reconstruction is not a drastic intervention. Design, therefore, must be preceded by a deep analysis of what we have and what is valuable.

historyczne budynki zostały uzupełnione zespołem nowo projektowanych skrzydeł

The historic buildings were complemented by a set of newly designed wings

Photo: Marcin Czechowicz

Ola: And what was most valuable in this case?

Maciej: The structure. The front structure was a flour warehouse, it had five silos inside, which made it impossible to build hotel rooms inside. One of the silos was preserved and in such a form that you can approach it. We proposed a screening in it that allows you to see its multi-story structure. This is also some variety for us in the building, because it shows its identity. The biggest problem was the central building, which has few windows, but a very large projection we couldn't put rooms there, so we created common areas, leaving this space as original as possible, with preserved vaults, floors, and historic elements collected from the entire building to make them accessible. This appealed very much to the investor, it also captivated the conservator, I think we got the effect we wanted no one doubts what is a monument and what is new tissue.

Of course, the architect still has to fight with the investor for the budget. Never the building that the architect comes up with will be built, he will always be just worse. I came to this insight only a few years ago, and I have been in the profession for more than 20 years. I will always be the aggrieved party I will draw something wrong, I will explain it badly, it is impossible to do something the way we assumed, then the contractor will still come, the investor, and finally the property manager will come and say that he will not open these entrances, he has no money to maintain public terraces... and in this way they will "spoil my project". All buildings for an architect, even the best ones, are messed up in some way.

architekci zaadaptowali dawną piekarnię na akademik

The architects adapted a former bakery into a dormitory

Photo: Marcin Czechowicz

Ola: What is broken here?

Maciej: There is not much, but we thought that the character of the existing fabric, would be more like a hotel in Znin. Of course, we fought with the conservator to leave unpainted old brick or damage from the period of warfare, but we did not succeed. On the other hand, there are different conservation doctrines  for example, 19th-century elements are restored, medieval ones are protected in conservation form, and so on. We have already encountered this at the Wroclaw train station, where in places historic polychromes were painted over from scratch, one to one, and it is still considered a monument. In our opinion, they could have been left as they were, under a piece of glass and said that this is the original polychrome.

There is also a little different landscaping, less furniture in the interiors, which were designed by the Aisslinger studio. These are minor things. Although we tend to complain, I think the process went almost exemplary, especially since there were changes in the conservation office along the way. There were also a lot of interesting finds during the process, we were able to identify the original colors, and find additional solutions. I think this is a great value of this building.

wnętrze i przestrzeń wspólna w akademiku

Interior and common space in the dormitory

Photo: Marcin Czechowicz

Ola: There have also been changes in the purpose of the building what was the first concept of the building, and what functions does it serve now?

Maciej: We did the first concept for a large academic quarter, 1200 similar, undersized rooms. Then we started correcting it and it came out to less than 1100, but still the scale intimidated everyone, so a decision was made that the exposed wing, from Swietokrzyska Street, should be treated differently. It was decided to separate this part of the development for hotel functions, and from then on the process was two-pronged it was two building permits. The pandemic ultimately resulted in the construction of a residential building on this site. On the remaining area we realized less than 800 rooms, which was to be a dormitory. However, the investor decided after the launch of the project to dedicate an additional two floors to premium hotel-like rooms. Here came an interesting lesson these are inevitable things, no one designs forever, permanently. Nowadays, there are claims that it is more environmentally friendly to build with concrete, if later, at no small expense, there will be an opportunity to reconstruct the building to new needs. We are closer to this way of thinking, so we designed a universal grid, and did not make reinforced concrete walls in the rooms in case we need to combine them into larger apartments someday. There's always some "chef" coming in and doing his order, even if that kitchen was perfectly tailored to specific expectations. That's something we don't get over. As designers we are actually a point in the whole life cycle of a building, only the property manager and its users for the next 20,30 years will fill it with content, and it is they who will say after a few years whether the building was successful. Other dorms have been successful, so I think we're moving in the right direction.

Ola: Times have changed a bit, though. Pandemic has already, I think, permanently opened up the possibility of studying online, and thus redefined the role of dorms, among other things

Maciej: They haven't changed that much. The pandemic accelerated certain processes that were being held back  to put it perhaps politically incorrectly by "white senior corporate executives" accustomed to the typical image of working in an office. The pandemic has shown that people can work from home, that we have the tools to do so and nothing will happen. I'm not saying, of course, that it works out for everyone, but we are generally able to work remotely. On the other hand, we have to live somewhere, get out of some house, we won't live with our parents indefinitely. We go to college to explore, and this is a certain archetype that hasn't changed since the Middle Ages. Dormitories don't change either. Adult dormitories or rental housing for nomadic people in the United States are obvious. In our country they are not yet. When I was on a foreign exchange in college, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was amazing to us that other students lived a little here, a little there. When we asked when they would settle down, they said "I don't know, yes in 20,30 years. I'll live out of suitcases that's how I grew up, in four apartments, here, there, and for holidays we went to my grandmother's anyway, once every six months we went back to this house". For us it was somehow iconoclastic, it broke the image of the family associated "with this land that has to be cultivated", no matter if it is an apartment in Ochota or a village near Lubartow, this archetype of the family was very similar. Today you can see that it doesn't have to be that way. Today, dormitories differ from a hotel in that they have more zones. In a hotel there is only one private zone my room everything else is already public. In a dorm, there are still shared kitchens, work rooms on the first floor, a common courtyard, an entrance area and a public area in front of it. In another dormitory for BaseCamp, in Lodz on Rembielinski Street, on an empty, post-industrial plot, we had no context, so we had to create it ourselves. We designed a large red staircase leading to the entrance on the +1 level. It became a distinctive place, a meeting space, because after all, I will not invite everyone to a room of 18 meters, but if a group of friends comes, they can wait for me in front of the entrance, I can then invite them to the lobby.

wnętrze i przestrzeń wspólna w akademiku

Interior and common space in the dormitory

photo: Marcin Czechowicz

Talking about the dorms in 2015 was quite virtual, no one had quite felt it yet. On the one hand, we didn't understand the investor's expectations, and it came as a surprise to him that students would be happy to live in doubles if they were cheaper. The investor's notion was that all students go to Starbucks in the morning for breakfast, to get coffee, and that actually refrigerators are not needed in the dorms. "And where is the institution of jars? Where's the institution of cold vodka?" we asked. So with a flip of a switch they did a study, the results of which surprised them. They grew up in a completely different environment, so a completely different facility they wanted to build.

Ola: The Wroclaw dormitory is located right next to the Botanical Garden, right next to Ostrów Tumski. How did this iconic setting for Wroclaw influence your project?

Maciej: The context of the Botanical Garden and Ostrów Tumski itself doesn't influence us, because it's a completely different, centric category. For us it was important to continue the urbanity, to complement the fabric, to introduce services on the first floor. In the end, unfortunately, the entire street level was taken up by a gym, which creates a similar effect to that of banks in the 1990s. At that time they were emptying Polish streets, locating on the first floor was a form of cheap advertising for them. But the bank operates from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., it is not city-building, it is not pro-social in any way. The same is true of this gym, supposedly everyone can use it, but I think this space would work better if there were two or three other services there. In addition, in order not to interrupt the urbanity of this street, we insisted that it would be possible to walk freely through the courtyard. Unfortunately, the investor did not agree to this for safety reasons. The closure of this complex was an absolute priority for the students.

I hope that we have nevertheless managed to energize this part of the city with new, fresh people which in our opinion is an important aspect of today's cityscape.

dobudowana część wyraźnie różni się od zabytkowej

The added part is clearly different from the historic one

Photo: Marcin Czechowicz

Ola: Thank you for the interview.

interviewed by: Ola Kloc

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