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Public housing—better, although without competition. But we can aim higher!

27 of January '23

More and more elaborate municipal buildings are being built in Poznan. We have just learned about the designs of three houses in the Główna district. They are much better than the realization of a few years ago, and even than the rather successful and younger investment on Opolska Street. The method of selection: a tender. So is an architectural competition unnecessary?

The lack of a competition for the design of communal houses in Poznań is a long-standing practice that affected the city very badly in the middle of the previous decade. At the time, the Board of Communal Housing Resources (ZKZL) "stamped" various neighborhoods with cheap, repetitive and low-quality blocks of flats. They differed only in the number of floors, staircases, facade painting and details. Some didn't even have balconies.

After criticism from the media and the architectural community, ZKZL changed its policy and opted for more refined forms. This is how the communal enclave in Strzeszyn and the largest ever housing development on Opolska Street were created (we wrote about it in the article "The long end of the occupation—a communal settlement instead of German barracks"). Their projects were selected in a tender. They were better than their predecessors, but certainly not as good as the famous communal housing development in Warsaw on Jagiellońska Street six years ago. Hence the frequent calls for an architectural competition. This was recently called for, among others, by Wojciech Krawczuk, president of the Poznań branch of SARP, when ZKZL announced further tenders (we wrote about this in the article "Communal houses without competition—SARP criticizes and proposes").

Elevator and freedom

Now that the contract with the contractor has been signed, the first of these tendered developments will start—on Nadolnik Street in the Main district. Municipal blocks already stand there, which the city built in the first decade of this century. The three buildings just shown by the Archimedia Architekci & Engineers studio led by Krzysztof Janus will complement this development on the east and north sides. They will house a total of 130 apartments (studios, two- and three-bedroom units) on five floors.

Domy komunalne na Nadolniku w Poznaniu, wizualizacja

Communal houses on Nadolnik in Poznań, visualization—design by Archimedia Architekci & Engineers

Source: ZKZL Poznań

How does the new design look? Good, to say the least. You can see the aspiration of the architects to adequately differentiate the masses, but in a disciplined, thoughtful way. Carefulness can also be seen in the interiors, the projections of which we asked ZKZL for. First, all stairwells will be equipped with an elevator. Secondly, one traffic riser serves a maximum of five apartments on the first floor . Such a "luxury" is not offered today even by developer investments aspiring to the "premium segment", in which one riser sometimes leads to up to a dozen units per floor. Thirdly, there will be a garage hall under the buildings , which—with the implementation of the city's parking norms—will help prevent cars from clogging the neighborhood and the foreground of the blocks. ZKZL also informs that:

thanks to the construction of the hall, the project will create almost twice as many apartments as if all parking spaces were attempted to be located on the ground.

what a throwback!

Finally, fourthly, unlike many developer oddities, the apartments are sensibly designed, which is, by the way, the result of specific conditions on the part of ZKZL. Two- and three-bedroom units are thus double- and even triple-lit, and some have separate kitchens. There are no dark kitchenettes in any apartments, and it would be ideal if it were possible to separate them, for example, in studios. All that was needed was to repip the facade with two, rather than one large window. The tracts are shallow and the window walls are wide, so it is surprising to see such an acreage solution. The loggias are also spacious and functional.

Domy komunalne na Nadolniku w Poznaniu, wizualizacja

Communal houses on Nadolnik in Poznań, visualization—proj. Archimedia Architekci & Engineers

source: ZKZL Poznań

Moreover, the communal development is being built close to the center and is decently served by public transportation. There are also plans to build a streetcar line to the nearby Poznan East railway station. Moreover, Główna and Nadolnik, which used to be a forgotten and neglected enclave, are becoming increasingly tidy and attractive. So much so that overcrowded development estates have been growing here for a decade, including—unfortunately—an extensive development with so-called "micro-apartments. The new urban blocks and their location on the edge of the green areas next to the Main River will look favorably against their background.

competition gives more

This makes it all the more regrettable that ZKZL has been so sparse in publicly announcing its intentions. After all, the construction of meaningful communal houses could be a tool for education about architecture and space. After all, it would be possible to talk about the plans in an attractive form: show the projections and explain what they are based on (sunlight incidence, proportions, alignment, etc.), present assumptions about green areas, or energy efficiency issues. However, this is not the case. Therefore, why not return to the idea of competitions, which are always accompanied by greater interest and public debate? After all, the projects selected in them (ideally, they should be systemic solutions) could be even better. For the time being, Poznan ZKZL is not planning any changes, because—as it explains

the number of people interested in living in the new municipal buildings and the number of positive reviews for the built buildings, e.g. on Opolska Street, confirm that this is a visually attractive and usable development for the City's residents. In the event that the estimated value of the contract indicates the appropriate mode of competition—then the Company will conduct a competition.

think ahead

By abandoning competitions or comprehensive programs for the construction of municipal housing estates, the authorities are missing an opportunity to boast about a sensibly conceived project and thus build an image of a friendly city not through empty slogans, but actual actions. Such thinking, however, is lacking. For now, we must rejoice that in Poznań and several other cities, the construction of council houses has started after years of stagnation, and their standard—despite reservations—is rising. It could be even higher if the cities exchanged experiences, organized systemic competitions, and perhaps even set supra-local standards for the construction of " communal resources." In this way, years later they will cease to be associated with substandard, which de facto today is not new urban houses, but a significant part of developer investments.

Jakub Głaz

The vote has already been cast