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Central - Lodz's brutalist icon gentrified

02 of August '23

The Cooperative Department Store Central in Lodz is an icon of brutalism. The office building accompanying it is soon to be transformed into a luxury apartment building. Together with the new function, all those features that make the building considered a valuable example of post-war modernism will evaporate.

SDH "Central" is a complex consisting of a thirteen-story office building and a lower commercial section. Designed by Maciej Gintowt, Ewa and Maciej Krasinski, it was built in 1959-1972, and its concept was selected in a competition organized by SARP. The complex fills the corner of two of the city's most important axis - Piotrkowska Street and Adam Mickiewicz Avenue, and for years has been a landmark of the city and a symbol of luxury.

Central obecnie

Central now

photo: Kacper Kępiński

Architecturally, "Central" fulfills almost all the rules of modernism, and the way it is finished and its proportions make it one of the most successful works of Polish brutalism. The lower, compact department store is somewhat reminiscent of an industrial building, with narrow bands of windows punctuating the concrete facade. Some variety is provided by the panels, on which expressive neon signs are placed - on the side of Piotrkowska Street the symbol of "Społem", and on the side of Mickiewicza Avenue a dressed woman and a man. On the fiftieth anniversary of the facility's opening, the couple's neon sign returned to the building's wall, reconstructed according to original documentation.

Central obecnie

Central currently

Photo: Kacper Kepinski

The glazed, very open first floor of the department store was also illuminated, inviting customers to enter. Attractive storefronts, and the opportunity to observe one of the first escalators in the city created a strong image that registered in the memory of visitors to the place.

© tvplodzarchive

Although the body of the office building has diametrically opposed proportions, the designers managed to maintain consistency in the composition of the facade, entrance area and finishes. The facades of the building are extremely regular, repetitive. Strips of slightly wider windows than in the commercial section punctuate the concrete face of the walls, with a slightly sparser vertical articulation than on the lower neighbor. The top of the building, in a slightly different color, is taller, and a neon sign with the name of the establishment has been installed above it.

Widok na zespół SDH Central

A view of the SDH Central complex

Photo: Mafo | Wikimedia Commons © CC BY-SA 4.0

A characteristic element of the skyscraper, also flowing directly from the tradition of modernism, is the detachment from street level and foundation on pillars. The freed space was partly made available to pedestrians and partly filled with a block housing the entrance area. Although different finishing materials were used here to emphasize its function, but also a slightly different design, the building's most distinctive motif - horizontal bands of windows - was retained. From afar, another feature can be seen - the first floor color corresponded with the ashen attic, and similar proportions made the composition of the building balanced and closed.

© Lodz Called Desire - A Guide to Lodz

How do we approach this extremely thoughtful and consistent concept today? Central changed hands in 2018. At that time, work was already underway on a project to adapt the office building to a residential function. The author of the new project is architect Marcin Tomaszewski, owner of Reform Architekt studio.

I was also interested in naming its spirit, which is determined by its horizontal divisions: a belt of stone and a belt of windows. The composition remained as it was and I improved its elevation and ergonomics," explains Marcin Tomaszewski.

Widok przyziemia od strony ul. Piotrkowskiej

ground floor view from Piotrkowska Street

© Reform Architekt

Above all, the change in function forced the building to be adapted to the requirements of regulations, but also to the comfort of future users. For ergonomic reasons, the window sills were lowered by 50 cm, significantly changing the proportions of the window openings. In some rooms, the windows reach the floor, giving the facades an irregular rhythm of asymmetrical openings. The author of the project intended this gesture to add lightness and dynamism to the mass. Unfortunately, at the same time it obliterates order and consistency - values encoded in Gintowt and Krasinski's design.

A particular challenge for this project was to change its function from office to residential, so as to preserve its horizontal layout. There are no gaps between the windows, they are in a row and vary in height, as I had to lower the window sills and even eliminate them completely in some rooms. This posed a challenge, as I wanted to preserve the rhythm of the building and create a layout that would emphasize its uniqueness ," Marcin Tomaszewski.

Widok elewacji z ul. Piotrkowską

view of the facade with Piotrkowska Street

© Reform Architekt

Theinteriors will be significantly transformed - two separate staircases will be replaced by one, thus expanding the freedom of floor arrangement. There will be a total of 40 units of various square meters in the redeveloped Central. There will be a maximum of four on each floor.

Widok od strony ul. Piotrkowskiej

view from Piotrkowska Street

© Reform Architekt

The first floor will also completely change. Today partially withdrawn and quoting the top of the façade, it will be completely built up with glass walls, and its new proportions will be defined by pillars finished with dark cladding, introducing the previously absent vertical element in the façade composition. These treatments, in turn, are expected to add "modernity" to the building. There will be space for lobbies and service establishments. Among other things, a gym has been designed in the underground zone, which , as the architect emphasizes , raises the standard of the apartment building to a premium level.

Originally there were arcades in the building, which were built over. I wanted to make use of them, so the first floor is withdrawn and adapted for commercial premises. The old subdivision has been maintained and covered with a sheet of glass without divisions, giving the building a modern feel, " explains Marcin Tomaszewski.

Thus, from the old Central, a modernist icon, a thoughtful and consistent work, vague references and superficial quotations will remain. The building - a symbol of modernity, will be "modernized" with solutions that have been repeated for decades - a glazed first floor and irregular windows. The finishing materials will be completely different. The rawness of concrete will be replaced by much smaller slabs with a smoother texture.

Porcelain stoneware slabs imitate old plaster, but with a modern twist. Originally terrazzo slabs with convex pebbles were used. We changed them to slabs of similar colors, but with flat/cut pebbles to keep the facade as clean as possible, Tomaszewskiadds .

Wizualizacja przestrzeni lobby

visualization of the lobby space

© Reform Architekt

Simplicity, repetition and minimalism have been maintained. The facade has only been improved and adapted to the new residential function. The arrangement of windows is repeated every three stories, and the corners have been mirrored, preserving the rhythm of the building while refreshing its appearance. The proportions and repetition have been similar. On the other hand, it is not possible to keep their original layout, because we had to change the height of the window sills to adapt the building to the new residential function and to create apartments that offer a view of Piotrkowska Street. Because of their height - 140 cm - the previous window layout was no longer suitable for office use, let alone residential use. This is also evidenced by the fact that "Central" has not been rented for years," says Marcin Tomaszewski.

Some of the solutions being introduced are necessary modifications that affect the ergonomics of the use of residential spaces, and one should not be offended by their presence. From the point of view of environmental responsibility, it's great that the building, part of its substance - will be preserved. However, reuse could go further, and referring to the historical design should involve a greater understanding and sensitivity to it.



Photo: Kacper Kepinski

The oft-repeated incantations about "improving" a design selected in a competition, recognized by critics and audiences as an outstanding example of its era, testifies not so much to the actual intentions, but rather to the ego of the architect. And this, in the case of adaptation and renovation projects, should be limited, so as to approach the work of one's predecessors with as much respect as possible. Especially when working with an outstanding work. The building permit allowing the Central to be rebuilt was issued on its fiftieth anniversary, which at the same time marks its symbolic end.

For me, Central is a building that I appreciate architecturally. I spent four years working on its concept," says Marcin Tomaszewski.



Photo: Kacper Kepinski

Kacper Kępiński

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