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Green Lab - transforming Reykjavik. PWr graduate project best in Students Reinventing Cities competition!

10 of November '21

Natalia Pączko and Mateusz Rosa, graduates of the Faculty of Architecture at Wrocław University of Technology, have developed a project for the gradual transformation of the Breiðholt neighborhood in Reykjavik. Their concept for transforming it into a friendly, attractive place full of ecological solutions won the international Students Reinventing Cities competition organized by the C40 group, beating projects submitted from 150 universities from around the world!

Reinventing Cities is an initiative that was signed up to by the authorities of 19 cities from around the world worried about climate change and global warming. They organized a contest in which they identified dozens of specific areas in their cities in need of architectural and urban planning interventions.

In the edition of the competition designed for students, the task was to design green and inclusive models for the development of urban spaces from among 18 areas selected by the organizers, including: Athens, Barcelona, Delhi, Seattle, or Reykjavik.

student projects change cities

© C40 Cities

The Students Reinventing Cities competition provides an opportunity for participants to collaborate with global cities, rethink ways to plan and design sustainable neighborhoods, and improve the quality of life for local communities. The innovative ideas of young architects can become the seeds of change in urban spaces, which need to adapt to new trends at an increasingly rapid pace and at the same time not threaten the environment.

Is community engagement important? Natalia Pączko and Mateusz Rosa

© TEDxC40Cities

First prize for a project from Poland

More than 1,000 students from 150 universities around the world took part in the competition, each choosing a different site from the proposed eighteen to be developed. The organizers selected the Green Lab project by Natalia Pączko and Mateusz Rosa of Wrocław University of Technology, made under the direction of Dr. Marzena Heliak of the Department of Urban Planning and Settlement Processes, as the best concept, concerning Iceland.

Zwycięski projekt
Gren Lab, aksonometria dzielnicy Breiðholt

axonometry of Breiðholt district

© Natalia Pączko, Mateusz Rosa

interview with Natalia Paczko and Mateusz Rosa

Dobrawa Bies: The organizers of the competition gave 18 areas to choose from and elaborate, including Athens, Barcelona, Delhi, Seattle, and Reykjavik. You just decided on Iceland. What dictated such a choice?

Matthew Rosa: Of all the competition sites, our choice fell on a section of Iceland's capital. The area attracted our attention with its design potential - the apparent vastness of the place to be developed, many empty spaces and a community with a strong local identity. In addition, I became interested in the subject of life in Scandinavia based onIlona Wiśniweska and Filip Springer's reports.

Natalia Pączko: The topic was the development of a sustainable model for the development of the Breiðholt district and the revitalization of the area located along the main streets of Austurberg and Gerðuberg. The district, dubbed "the ghetto of Reykjavik" and not conducive to tourism, has become a forgotten place on the map of Iceland's capital. The development there is a perfect example of the effects of the phenomenon known as urban sprawl. The streets were designed with cars in mind. It's a place mostly built up with apartment blocks, paved roads and parking lots. The large proportion of social housing has contributed to a ratio of immigrants to permanent residents that is unique in the city, about 17.6%, (3700/21000 in 2015) which has only exacerbated the neighborhood's bad name.

Aktualny stan
dzielnicy Breiðholt

The current state of the Breiðholt district

photo: contest organizers' materials

Dobrawa: What caused you the most difficulty in the project?

Matthew and Natalia: The main design challenge, was the unpleasant open space and streetscape dominated by roads and parking lots, leaving out pedestrians and cyclists. The emptiness around the neighborhood's arterial streets effectively separates residents from each other and gives an unpleasant impression of alienation and hostility of the environment to the passerby. Another challenge was to design the concept in the harsh climate and variable weather conditions of Iceland. As the locals say - "There is no bad weather, there are only badly dressed people" therefore, the proposed solutions had to combine climate protection and protection from it at the same time. Open public spaces had to be created, at the same time sheltered from the cold wind.

voice of the residents

The authors, after conducting extensive analyses: the urban conditions of the area, the planning documents of the city of Reykjavik, the history and development plans of Iceland, documents taking into account the voices of residents, community initiatives and many others, came to the conclusion that the appearance of the designed district should be influenced primarily by its users, i.e. residents, and tourists.

We set out to create safe and environmentally friendly places and spaces that would promote social relations, strengthen neighborhood ties, foster integration and exploration of the city. We proceeded from the assumption that it is social factors that have the most important impact on people's mental and physical health, the young architects say.

Fabryka 4.0

there is a recycling center at the factory

© Natalia Pączko, Mateusz Rosa

lively, green neighborhood

The project focuses on pedestrians and promotes a more lively and green streetscape. A variety of creative, cultural and sports spaces encourage community involvement and help create a sense of place where people want to live, work and relax. Centering functions are developed in the proposals, allowing Breiðholt to become a popular destination for residents and tourists. The district's broad functional program is designed in a way modeled after modern academic districts, which allows the academic and research community, business partners and residents, tourists and city authorities to work together and grow.

We proposed a universal solution for degraded areas of the urban fabric with low biodiversity - an innovative, sustainable urban model modeled on the premise of the fifteen-minute city. Using the Breiðholt neighborhood as an example, we created a space where the local community has access to a variety of green areas, can participate in each other's lives and contribute to the functioning of the neighborhood. We paid attention to repurposing parking lots, improving multimodal transportation, increasing the density and diversity of development, and providing public spaces for recreation and meetings, the authors explain.

Dzięki projektowi powostaje
żywa, zielona dzielnica

The authors modeled their design on the assumptions of the fifteen-minute city

© Natalia Pączko, Mateusz Rosa

universal idea

The main idea of the project is so simple and universal that it can be adapted to a variety of neighborhoods around the world, and adapted to cultural conditions or locations as needed. Focusing on local communities, characterized by individual needs, often surprising to architects and urban planners, and the responses of the main stakeholders, the authors proposed to provide residents with two tools, for the improvement of their quality of life.

This is the idea we are most pleased with, because we believe that communities with strong neighborhood ties, are nowadays the foundation in the functioning of healthy and sustainable neighborhoods, cities and even metropolises , Matthew and Natalia add.

The first tool residents would receive is a creativity catalyst - a place with access to equipment and technology to integrate, educate and create/produce (depending on the size of the investment, it could be an innovative Factory 4.0 or a small DIY workshop). The catalyst would make it easier for residents to start their own creativity and take the initiative in shaping their immediate environment.

Mobilna aplikacja

Green Lab Application is also a social network

© Natalia Pączko, Mateusz Rosa

mobile application

The second tool is a mobile application and also a social network, where you can create your personalized profile, either as a resident or a tourist. Its task would be to promote the exchange of information, ideas, networking and cooperation between residents and tourists. The Green Lab Application would bring these two groups together in an endeavor in which both have the opportunity to present their perception of the city, present viewpoints and make an impact on their surroundings - leaving behind a story or their own creations.

Residents would take on the role of "screenwriters," preparing parts of the neighborhood as they see fit. They would prepare proposals for developing parts of the neighborhood, which they would later vote on. Tourists, together with other residents, would take on the role of "actors," acting out scenes from the life of the city and presenting them later to a wider audience, thus promoting the places they had been to and supporting urban tourism. By simply visiting and sharing photos or interacting with the prepared "scenes," they would give an expression of interest in a particular place. In our opinion, in this way we would facilitate dialogue between groups with different interests. We also believe that through this, thematic tourist routes could spontaneously emerge," explain how the app's authors work.

Elektryczne samochody

Urban bicycles and electric cars are also a proposal of the project's authors

© Natalia Pączko, Mateusz Rosa

An additional feature of the app would be an urban sharing theme, allowing users to find, rent, share or co-share: urban transportation, land (small plots of land for growing vegetables and herbs together) or places to work, study and organize events. The app would also promote getting around by public transportation and a system of bonuses to encourage its use, carsharing would also be possible. A special database of projects (e.g. open source) - urban furniture, small architecture, playground components, art installations - could find a place in the application. Ideas with the potential to be created in public spaces would be evaluated and commented on by other users, and then implemented in Factory 4.0. Another functionality would be to make these projects available for re-production (depending on needs/investment - nonprofit or under paid license).

Fabryka 4.0

Factory 4.0

© Natalia Pączko, Mateusz Rosa

designing the district in stages

The most important thing for the authors was to design a place that is safe and has a high potential for development. A place where residents can be involved in their neighborhood, which will encourage both older and younger people to integrate and become active, a place that offers a full range of activities to choose from, and gives a great sense of influence on how their current and future neighborhoods will look like. The entire premise additionally promotes ecological and sustainable solutions that will make living here healthier for Breiðholt residents, as well as environmentally friendly.

The concept is divided into several design phases, so that the city can start with simple and less costly measures, gradually moving on to those requiring larger ones. Stage 0 would create infrastructure for one of theBRT bus rapid transit lines planned for Reykjavik. The authors also proposed creating a network of charging stations for electric cars and bicycles. Those interested would be able to use an app to encourage carpooling and carsharing. Then there would also be a platform for the Green Lab Application.

Etapy projektu

The concept has been divided into several stages

© Natalia Pączko, Matthew Rosa

In the next phase of the project, the city could invest in buildingFactory 4.0, which would be the heart of the neighborhood. A small recycling center would operate next to it. The center would collect pre-segregated raw materials from the neighborhood and create opportunities for their reuse - including providing appropriate tools. The factory would haveproduction laboratories, educational workshops, experimental laboratories, learning spaces, meeting and recreation areas. In front of the factory and in the street strip, there would be dedicated spaces for social activities, where residents would test various proposed solutions, art or utility installations.

In the nearby college and elementary schools, we proposed, as a complement, to introduce courses related to architecture, art, design and programming. This is intended as an attempt to encourage the youngest children to use the building and its possibilities; students and pupils will have workshop rooms, research in Factory 4.0, learn how to use tools, programming and innovative design in Virtual Reality, Natalia adds.

In Phase II, the students planned to implement the Agro Center - a building of an urban farm, a forest kindergarten, plant growing areas, an urban food market and a cohousing cooperative in one.

The farm would be an integral and essential element in supporting Islanders' ambitions for aforestation - that is, planting new forests - and reforestation - planting where a forest previously grew, but was cut down or degraded. Here, residents could grow seedlings until they can survive in the harsh climate, the designers explain.

Dzięki projektowi
powostaje żywa, zielona dzielnica

Breiðholt neighborhood development

© Natalia Pączko, Matthew Rosa

cultural-artistic and sports zones

The next, third phase involved the implementation of creative spaces designed for urban art, multifunctional plazas or multicultural restaurants. Hraunberg Street, which diverges from the main Austurberg Street, would become a walkway concentrating these functions around three interconnected squares.

The final, fourth phase would create a winter sports center with an ice rink, a park for skiers and snowboarders, a gym and a fitness club. Combined with the swimming pool that already exists there and additional commercial services, the site could become a training center for athletes and residents.

In addition, along the main street, we have planned to densify and add to the development and dedicate the first floors of the buildings to the function of commercial services, and offices. A developing and prosperous district, it would be a convenient place for new investments and would attract creative entrepreneurs, the young architects add.

winning and what next?

Winning the competition entails recording a video for the TEDxCoundown platform and sharing our thoughts on planning sustainable cities and implementing innovative solutions in urban spaces with a wider audience.

We hope that our interest in sustainable urban planning and innovative solutions, will allow us in the future to implement a similar experimental project in a real urban space and engaged community, related to tools such as a mobile app and a creativity catalyst. We believe that a startup such as the Green Lab app/community portal would be positively received by interested social groups - residents who want to have an impact on their neighborhoods, city authorities implementing innovative solutions in urban planning, business owners, private investors and the academic and scientific community," Natalia and Matthew conclude.

Dobrawa Bies

The vote has already been cast