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Groundbreaking changes. A conversation with Robert Konieczny and Michal Lisinski of KWK Promes

01 of October '21

We reported on thetransformation of Szczecin's Gorges on Monday. Solidarity Square will see much more greenery and retention basins. Why the changes in a place recognized as Europe's best public space? "This title obliges - also to transformations that respond to the changing world," answers Robert Konieczny of KWK Promes.

Jakub Glaz: Awards, recognition, an iconic project, and you are thinking about modifications. How did you come up with the idea for the changes within Breakthroughs and Solidarity Square?

Robert Konieczny: We matured to this gradually, with discussions in the studio for over a year. One of the impulses for us was the ongoing project of the Plato gallery in Ostrava, Czech Republic, where - thanks to moving rotating walls - we are blurring the boundaries between the interior and the square in front of the gallery. This square, like the one in Breakthroughs, is a place for exhibitions and various events. Overwhelmed by increasingly alarmist reports on the state of the climate, we decided to strongly green this Ostrava space. Already the project has been approved! We are now planting trees and flower meadows there, ponds and reservoirs are to be created. We want to use as many elements recovered during construction as possible. Of course, we will also provide space for gallery activities. By the way, thanks to some similarities between the two sites, we thought what could be modified in Szczecin. So that our realization is constantly worthy of the title of Europe's best public space. This title obliges - also to transformations that respond to the changing world.

Jakub: These are completely new ideas for this space?

Michal Lisinski: Not exactly. We were thinking about a greater share of greenery in the square from the very beginning, from the work on the competition design in 2009. Even then we wondered whether the square should not be covered in a significant part with grass. However, we rethought the matter, because Szczecin needed an urban square, and the space was to serve not only residents, but also major events, and - we let it go. That grass simply wouldn't last there. It's worth adding that right next door, behind the philharmonic, there are extensive green areas.

Robert: We also considered planting the square with trees on the side of the castle route, but we wanted to give a view of the philharmonic building, which we considered the main character of the space. Tall trees would have obscured it. It is worth recalling that we preserved all the trees, which we transplanted to a special nursery for the duration of the construction.

przelomy koncepcja 2

The new greenery in Solidarity Square will be designed in such a way that the square will retain its functional qualities

© KWK Promes

James: The realization is still one of the new ones. How did you manage to convince the managers to make changes?

Robert: A happy coincidence helped . We didn't share our thoughts on the Breakthroughs with anyone, but earlier this year the Szczecin National Museum, which administers the space, asked us to make minor interventions in the square. He is very heavily used and a slight part of the concrete slabs, whose manufacturer no longer exists, needs repair. We immediately shared our thoughts on more extensive changes, which received a lot of interest from the museum and the provincial marshal. In September, we got the green light from him to develop a comprehensive concept. We are doing it pro bono. In December it should be ready and then we'll take on the development of the detailed design - already with some compensation to pay the specialists involved in the project.

James: So what is likely to change on the square?

Michal: It will be mostly deeply thought-out spot measures, because we don't want to truncate the space, which works so well both for large events and for use by young people on skateboards or bicycles. Trees will appear where they won't restrict existing activities.

Robert: And only in places where the plaza slab is not the roof of the Dialogue Center. We are going back to the idea of planting a group of trees on the side of the Castle Route, in the corner by the Royal Gate. This will lose the open view of the Philharmonic, but climate issues are more important now.

Jakub: By the way, the Philharmonic has managed to make itself known to the residents by this time, it will also be visible in winter through the crowns of the trees.

Robert: By the way, with a group of tall trees we will give the place a shape in a loose way referring to the state before the war, when the whole quarter was built up densely with tenement houses. The trees will thus form a kind of frontage, which can be seen as an echo of what used to happen in this place. Mentioning the development of the square, it is worth recalling that thanks to our project, which hid the Breakthroughs Dialogue Center under the floor, the entire space serves as a public place. After all, the alternative was traditional cubic buildings, which, firstly, would have competed more strongly with the philharmonic, and secondly, would have depleted the space of the square.

Michal: We're also thinking about additions of low greenery, in places that are now strewn with gravel. We are still considering whether it should be lawn, which can be trampled during concerts or demonstrations, or, however, shrubs, which will be a kind of barrier.

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The original idea was to expose the philharmonic, but today it is more important to plant new trees. By the way, they will close the space, like the quarter that existed here before the war.

© KWK Promes

Jakub: You are also planning transformations below the surface of the square.

Robert: We are investigating the possibility of building retention basins, preferably as large as possible, so that water flowing off the floor can then be used, at least in part, to water the plants. Retention is extremely important. One that not only protects against the effects of storms, after which the water is discharged into the combined sewer system, but also allows the water to return to circulation on site.

James: Have you also thought about surface reservoirs that could serve as temporary ponds? The Danes, among others, use similar solutions at home.

Robert: An idea worth considering, there is still time to look at such examples.

Jakub: You are also moving to intervene in matters of small architecture, lighting and the so-called Memorial Wall.

Robert: We are working on enriching the square with forms that will help people meet there and integrate. It would be interesting to see a café operating in the Breaks come out strongly into the square space, giving it a slightly more casual feel. The Memorial Wall, on the other hand, needs improvement due to imperfect workmanship. We don't know yet whether we will keep it in its current form or make some modifications.

Jakub: Did you consult the planned changes with the users of the square, conduct any meetings or use surveys?

Robert: There were no meetings, but since the opening we have been monitoring the life of the square all the time, and we also have many friends in the Szczecin architectural community who report to us how the space works. By the way, we ourselves visit here quite often and check the functioning of the whole thing.

Jakub: Will you arrange a public presentation when the concept is ready?

Robert: For sure. We want to acquaint the people of Szczecin with our ideas, gather their comments, and carefully explain what we are coming up with. Nowadays, when the public can make harsh judgments after a few seconds of viewing visuals, such a presentation and accompanying conversation is essential.

James: What kind of budget do you have at your disposal?

Robert: The Marshal has given us leeway in this regard trusting that we will behave sensibly. Besides, we have experience in working creatively with tight budgets, as evidenced by Katowice's Unikato. Here, too, we will act rationally.

James: Such freedom can sometimes be deceptive. It may turn out that what you think is cheap and so exceeds the capabilities of the investor.

Robert: Then we will think about staging the changes or, as a last resort, trimming more costly intentions, such as retention. Nevertheless, we hope that work on greening will start as early as next year. We are very pleased that the marshal and the museum are open to improvements.

James: Usually, officials are defensive about similar activities shortly after the completion of an investment. They are afraid of accusations of mistakes. For the same reasons, architects are also reluctant to make changes.

Robert: We even hear from some of our Szczecin friends that the Gorges is working and looks so good that nothing needs to be modified. But, for the reasons we've already discussed, we think otherwise. Even if the implementation works, it can always be improved, especially when realities change. And this is what should be done now.

interviewed: Jakub GŁAZ

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