Become an A&B portal user and receive giveaways!
Become an A&B portal user and receive giveaways!

Conflict in Wolnica Square - concept by Gehl Architects

09 of December '21

In mid-November, the Public Transport Authority of Krakow published concepts for the new face of one of the most important places in Kazimierz - Wolnica Square. The design for the changes was made by the world-renowned Gehl Architects studio. The concept caused outrage, but justified?

employment of Gehl's studio

The architectural studio founded by Jan Gehl is one of the most reputable involved in making urban changes in the world. Gehl Architects' work can be seen on every continent, and cities that have benefited from the studio's offerings include: London, New York, Beijing, Philadelphia or Copenhagen. What results did we expect when entrusting the project to transform the square to a Danish studio?

In short, to restore the former glory of Wolnica Square. We want it, as well as the residents, to become a place for meetings, recreation, but also to be a place that meets the assumptions of a 15-minute city. The newly arranged space, which also takes advantage of the existing qualities of the place, will allow the residents of the district and the city to rediscover Wolnica Square," replies Sebastian Kowal of the Public Transport Authority.

Recall that Wolnica Squareis located within the "Climate Quarter," a project that the Public Transport Authority is responsible for implementing.

plac Wolnica

Wolnica Square

Photo: RaNo © CC BY-SA 4.0

high price?

After the publication of the concept, the project was accused of being overpriced [for the preparation of the concept, the Danish studio received PLN 84,870 - editor's note], lack of discovery, and even paternophobia manifested in the need to hire a foreign studio. But are these accusations justified?

As Michal Drewnicki told Gazeta Krakowska - "The matteris going to be addressed by city councilors. We need to take a closer look at the concept. The basic question is why the office did not use its experts in the creation of such a document. ZTP prides itself on its experts. So it is strange that they were not able to prepare such a concept on their own."

Do we really want the city to design for us ZTP or ZZM? But would we rather put it in the hands of experienced architects who have the experience and knowledge of how to do it best? Recall thatthe project made by Gehl's studio is not the first concept prepared for Wolnica Square. In 2009, a competition was announced to develop this space, which was won by the Lewicki Łatak Design Bureau. The concept at the time proposed, among other things, replacing the floor with a wooden one. The square was to be a space without architectural barriers, and could also be used by people with mobility impairments. The primary goal was to create a city-forming space where music and exhibition events could take place. However, it never came to fruition.

Projekt biura Lewicki Łatak z 2009 roku

design by the Łatak Lewicki office in 2009

© Łatak Lewicki Design Office

The new Wolnica Square

So what does the new concept for Wolnica Square look like according to Gehl Architects? The concept calls for introducing additional greenery around the fountain, blinding Mostowa Street from the side of the square, and creating a new square. There would be an installation in the form of a staircase next to the Ethnographic Museum, which would be used for seating and could be used during events organized in the square. So it is simple, but functional. Wolnica Square is an urban interior that needs a facelift and greening rather than designing a new functional program. What the Danish studio has proposed is in line with the latest trends in line with the recently awarded Pritzker Prize to the Lacaton&Vassal studio. In this case, less is more resonates particularly strongly.

Koncepcja zmiany Jana Gehla

Development concept proposed by Gehl Architects

© Public Transportation Authority press materials

I think they are cautious and pertinent, because this is a specific space, associated with significant preservation conditions. Historically, it functioned as a city square with a city hall, it's not a space that can be shaped in any arbitrary way. In addition to the square's slab, the greenery must be shaped accordingly. The concept seems precautionary, but it is appropriate. Of course, some solutions can be discussed - residents have asked for an additional row of greenery on the eastern and northern frontages of the square. In the first stage, the question of what to do with the parking spaces should certainly be asked: do we significantly remove them, as Gehl proposed, or keep the minimum for the surrounding residents? - comments Lukasz Pancewicz, one of the owners of the A2P2 studio designing the changes in the space encompassing the "Climate Quarter".

why exactly Gehl?

Criticism of the solutions proposed by the Danish urban design studio is based primarily on the amount of the price and lack of discovery. Another aspect should be noted in this case. Jan Gehl is among the most influential urban planners of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Most of the world trends in changing urban spaces to make them more attractive and user-friendly were started by his office. So is a concept made for about eighty thousand zlotys by a world-renowned urban planning studio an exorbitant price? However, criticism often overlooks many arguments, such as the introduction of elements that will give the place life, better functionality and greenery, which is sorely lacking in Kazimierz. Anyone familiar with Gehl Architects' projects knows that they do not furnish urban spaces with unnecessary elements. They improve their quality, and in this case it has been done.

When will the proposed changes by Gehl Architects be implemented?

As with any change, it is a process. The Wolnica Square project consists of several minor tasks, which only when combined together will create a new quality of space in this place. These include issues of mobility, quality of public space, greenery and revitalization. These tasks are assigned according to the scope of competence to individual local government units, which will be able to carry them out within their current resources. We want to implement all of the above measures with the full involvement of residents, so that they are based on a shared awareness of the need for change and fulfill the expectations of local communities," answers Sebastian Kowal of the Public Transport Authority.

Wolnica Square has been waiting for many years for changes, revitalization and a new face. So the concept designed by the Danish studio seems to be the beginning of these changes.

Wiktor Bochenek

The vote has already been cast