Large-panel blocks of flats are an integral part of the Polish landscape. Multifamily buildings have become the subject of scientific studies, reporter books or film productions. What should be done with large-panel blocks to adapt them to modern needs?
We talk to the team of the architectural studio KXM GROUP about the "Wielka Płyt(k)a" project, considerations of how modernization of communist-era architecture should be carried out, and the possibilities from the perspective of economics and society.
Wiktor Bochenek: How did you come up with theidea for the "Wielka Płyt(k)a" project, an attempt to modernize a large slabblock to modern needs?
KXM Groupteam(Klaudia Golaszewska, Kinga Grzybowska, Marek Grodzicki, Michal Hondo): The topic of modernization of the blocks has been circulating in our minds for a long time. Studying at the Poznan University of Technology, the topic of modernist residential spaces was raised by us many times. We often took part in discussions about their renovation and future use, and Michal Hondo of our KXM team prepared a master's thesis Rataje 2.0 for graduation, which addressed the topic of superstructure of existing large-panel blocks in the Rataje housing estate in Poznań. The work was recognized in the Zbyszek Zawistowski Competition for the best diploma of the year by SARP.
Rataje 2.0 - master thesis by Michal Honda
© KXM Group
The only impulse needed to join the work on the Great Tile project was the announced next edition of the Tubądzin Design Awards competition, which was related to an innovative idea for the use of the company's tiles.
The competition was a pretext for using ideas we had previously discussed a lot. We combined the two themes, using Tubądzin tiles as cladding for facades and interior common spaces. We often take part in such competitions because it's a good opportunity to step away from everyday and real-life projects and think about how the world might function in a decade or two. Tremendous changes have taken place in the last 2 years - a lot of people have moved to remote work, which is now becoming standard in many workplaces. Most of our friends still work from the desk of their home today. Another trend we are seeing is the sale of smaller and smaller apartments. We believe that an attractive solution to these two issues is the creation of "Neighborhood Shared Spaces " that residents can use to do remote work, host parties for family and friends, and make new friends.
The "Great Plate(k)a" project was also an opportunity to reflect on a factor that most often blocks the realization of architectural visions - economics. By creating additional square meters on the roof of existing buildings, we give residents the opportunity to finance modernization, for example, by making part of the superstructure available for non-intrusive commercial purposes, and by raising property values.
The "Great Plate(k)a" project was awarded in the Tubądzin Design Awards competition
© KXM Group
Wiktor Bochenek: What changes did you make to the existing modernist block?
KXMTeam: The object we chose is just an example of a building that can successfully undergoa"metamorphosis" in the future. Important criteria in the selection of the building were: location in the center, repetitive tectonics of the facade, communication shafts brought above the roof, presence of elevators, fulfilled shading conditions in relation to neighboring buildings, and a community open to bold initiatives.
The main changes we made were the superstructure of the entire roof area and the modernization of the facade. For this, we used a modular glulam structure. We determined the grid of columns on the axes of the load-bearing walls of the existing building. We wanted to make the space as flexible as possible and adaptable to different, possibly time-varying functions. In the competition concept, an additional floor is dedicated to "co-working" withopen-spaceoffices, as well as rooms for focused work, group work or relaxation.
The facade is a study of one of many possible finishing options. The modularity of the facade allows us to prefabricate the cladding efficiently. We wanted to move away from the common pastelosis. Modernist architecture defends itself brilliantly with solid proportions and additional colorful graphics are unnecessary here.
The project assumes the creation of modular solutions that create additional common space in large-panel buildings
© KXM Group
Wiktor Bochenek: Could the solution designed by KXM be used universally?
KXMteam: This was our goal and intention when designing. Shortly after the work was published, we were contacted by a community that would potentially be interested in improving the condition of their block of flats. We hope for productive cooperation and another opportunity to expand our knowledge.
Blocks in need of modernization do not have to look far. We don't claim that our project can transform every other building on a 1970s housing estate, but it is a direction in which we see a lot of potential.
As we mentioned earlier, we spent a lot of time talking about how to finance this type of project. This is a key aspect that determines whether a project will end up in a drawer or get a chance for widespread use. We were inspired by examples from the West, where there is a strong emphasis on densifying city centers to prevent their expansion into green areas and revitalizing the existing urban fabric. Acquiring new plots of land for development in well-connected, downtown locations will be more difficult. Using the roof space of existing buildings sounds like a sensible, sustainable solution. With rising real estate prices, the extra usable meters of superstructure could help repay the loan taken out for the modernization. We believe that it is in the interest of communities to increase the quality of the architecture of housing estates and not limit themselves to just adding a layer of Styrofoam on facades. Loans on favorable terms and support from the city would come to the rescue here, so that the communities do not have to face this alone. The technical and visual condition of block housing has a significant impact on the character and image of Polish cities.
Axonometric projection of "Wielka płyta(k)i"
© KXM Group
Wiktor Bochenek: Will the creation of so-called neighborhood co-working spaces become widespread?
KXMTeam: We are convinced that the demand for such spaces will grow all the time. In the last two years, remote work, which previously functioned more as a privilege in large foreign corporations, has gained popularity during the pandemic. In some industries, this model has caught on so well that employees have not returned to traditional stationary work. Home office may be a convenient option for a while, but with current apartment sizes, there is no space to set up a comfortable workspace at home, especially if our partner or partner also works remotely.
In addition, Generation Y, to which we belong, and Generation Z, which is slowly entering the labor market, prefer a completely different work model than previous generations. We are characterized by greater mobility, flexibility and more frequent changes of job and place of residence. At the same time, we need contact with people. Neighborhood workspaces operating on a subscription or subscription basis will be a very attractive option for young people. While working and studying abroad, we ourselves have used places such as Helsinki Think Company, Oodi Helsinki Central Library, The Royal Library in Copenhagen or a dedicated space in a rented apartment building.
Diagram depicting the idea of the "Great Plate(k)i"
© KXM Group
Wiktor Bochenek: Blocks from the Great Plate(k)y, as well as all construction from the communist period, are becoming an increasingly common subject of adaptation. In the future, won't such projects break down over financial issues, limiting themselves to basic modernization?
KXMTeam: Several aspects need to be noted that will contribute to the profitability of remodeling and modernizing existing buildings. With urban densification, rising real estate prices and a projected shortage of building materials, there will be a need to adapt modernist blocks. Only a detailed financial calculation and technical expertise will provide an answer as to whether the modernization of a particular building is justified, or whether it should be demolished. Numerous technical analyses indicate that they can still be operated for many years, but each case is individual.
A successful completed example is a block in Bordeaux by Lacaton & Vassal, Druot, Hutin, where glazed balcony modules were attached to an existing large slab building. This required no interference with the interiors of the apartments, and construction took only sixteen days.
The issue of block adaptation in Poland is complicated by ownership structures. The undertaking of superstructure of a block of flats requires a decision of the community and repayment of a loan by the residents. However, after the modernization of blocks in the center of cities and additional space can increase on the value and comfort of housing complexes.
Wiktor Bochenek: Thank you for the interview!
The buildings on Grunwaldzka Street on which the "Great Plate(k)a" project was based.
© KXM Group