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Fifteen years of slippage - about competitions for the "Torun hole" in Poznań

Kuba Głaz
18 of March '22

It is impossible to design a city well piece by piece. This has been shown in two competitions for the so-called Toronto hole in downtown Poznań. Professional works - following the guidelines are unsatisfactory. The only project that shows how to develop this important part of the city well is a student concept. Its authors turned the tables by expanding the scope of the study and changing the bad traffic status quo perpetuated several years ago.

"The Toronto Hole" is part of a railroad trench in the center of Poznań used for years as an out-of-the-way track between the Kaponiera traffic circle and the Teatralny Bridge. Today, the railroaders do not use this space, and the city is looking into how it can be developed. Last fall, Poznań City Hall announced two competitions: a student competition and a professional competition, the results of which are to be used for further work and the drawing up of a local development plan. The area was divided into two investment fields: on the north and south sides of the Theater Bridge.

The competitions were resolved last Monday (the presentations are available here: the competition for professionals and for students). The results, however, were disappointing. In the competition for professionals, no first prize was awarded. On the other hand, the more successful work that won in the student competition showed that it is impossible to think about this difficult Poznań space in a fragmented way. And that the competition is at least 15 years overdue.

What is the difficulty of developing this part of the city? The broader center of Poznań is cut by a trench in which the PKP tracks run - constituting, in a sense, a second, this time railroad, "river" in the city. This unfortunate arrangement is the result of the strictures of the Prussian military, who in the second half of the 19th century refused to allow the introduction of railroads within the fortified fortress of Poznan. The tracks in the trench circled the fortifications on the outside, and as the city grew westward, they became a developmental obstacle over which more viaducts had to be thrown.

Traffic circle instead of slab

As early as the mid-20th century, there were concepts of partially or completely covering the trench with a slab and building on it a new part of the center linking the dissected parts of the city. Nothing came of it. In the early 1970s, instead, the extensive Kaponiera traffic circle (then called Kopernika) was realized, along with the widened Roosevelt Street, which further separated the buildings. A chance to rectify the situation arose 17 years ago, when the then head of the City Hall's Department of Urban Planning and Architecture, Tadeusz Pełeszuk, triggered a discussion about the future of the area and the PKP train station.

This was one of the few instances in the last thirty years when a representative of the magistrate initiated serious consideration of a vast part of the center. However, he made a tactical mistake by proposing a rather revolutionary and unfortunate concept at the beginning. The tracks were to disappear from the pit, replaced by almost 100-meter-high skyscrapers, and the through station was to be converted into a docking station. The discussion, therefore, focused on criticism of the idea and quickly died down, and Pełeszuk himself soon stepped down from his post, finding no support in the city government for creating comprehensive concepts for the most important parts of Poznań.

all because of soccer

Then came the EURO 2012 championship fever, which included two investments disastrous for the development of the center in the vicinity of the railroad tracks. The first was the so-called new train station (and in fact part of the failed and unnecessary Avenida shopping center). The second is the breakneck renovation and, in fact, construction from scratch of Kaponiera and Roosevelt Street in a shape that maintains the scaled-down and unnecessary size of the street and traffic circle.

The competitions that have just been decided are an attempt to fill in the northern part of this space, made more difficult by conservation guidelines. According to them, when designing in the pit area, views of the silhouette of the inner center with the dominant buildings of the UAM and the former imperial castle must be preserved. The result of the professional competition is far from satisfactory. According to the highest-scoring work (2nd place, Seweryn Trzyna, Kamil Ziolkowski, Maciej Armanowski), a string of freestanding cubatures of varying heights could stand in the "Torun hole" and on the north side of the Theater Bridge. The clearances between them, meanwhile, are to provide views of downtown. The designers also proposed preserving a large amount of greenery. The problem, however, remains the connection of the area with the overscaled and green-free Roosevelta Street and the Kaponiera traffic circle. The same shortcoming is present in the second prize-winning work(third place, Wojciech Stępień, Maria Kaczorowska, Sylwia Kwiatkowska, Weronika Lendzior, Stanisław Klajs, Paweł Otocki), which - resigning from the cubic building, opts to create a recreational park in the excavation. The idea is interesting, although it raises the question of how to use this space, isolated on the one hand by tracks, and on the other by a high-speed streetcar line and a wide artery.

students top

Theidea that won the student competition(first place, Martyna Domaradzka, Marta Staniszewska)is the most interesting. Without giving up development, the authors of the work went beyond the study area, proposing to transform Roosevelt Street and eliminate the traffic circle and strongly green the adjacent areas. On the south side of Kaponiera, by the Bałtyk office building, however, they proposed a public transport transfer station in a place that was once rightly considered as a location for a new main railway station. This is the only concept, the implementation of which (after further modifications and refinement) would very favorably transform the city center.

Unfortunately, the insurmountable obstacle here would be financial considerations and the recent perpetuation of the Kaponiera traffic circle in its imperfect form. If such a concept had emerged as a result of the discussion prompted in 2005 by Director Pełeszuk, the chances of it becoming a reality would have been much greater. Today, Poznań is left with an ad hoc and - as shown by a more realistic competition for professionals - imperfect patching up of a space spoiled by railroaders and previous city authorities.

Jakub Głaz



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