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New president of SARP "Coast": I will not allow the sale of questionable quality "souvenirs" in the Golden Gate

06 of February '24

We should try to eliminate vehicular traffic to some extent. I think that our association has recently been too rarely involved in the debate about shaping space. I want to change this, we will suggest to the city, institutions, how to make residents choose public transportation or bicycles more often," says Natalia Balcerzak, president of SARP "Coast".

Ewa Karendys: - There has been a generational change in the position of president of SARP Branch "Wybrzeże". Will this translate into approaches to shaping the city space?

Natalia Balcerzak*: - When, eight years ago, colleague Pawel Vlad. Kowalski ran for president, he had one competitor. And that was me. Paweł won by a few votes and held the post for two terms. In retrospect, I say: it's good that this happened, then I had less experience, less causal capacity. IN SARP O. "Coast" I have been since 2009, that is, since I was allowed to do so by the statute in force at that time. In the 2012-2015 term I was a member of the branch's board. In 2015 I became vice-president, and from 2019 I was the chairman of the SARP Main Collegiate Court. And thanks to this experience, I hope my starting term will give me more opportunities.

It will certainly be important for me to consolidate our environment, but also to integrate with the local government. The overriding goal is to renovate the Golden Gate, to restore its former splendor. Besides, I am not in favor of urban sprawl, we should focus on centripetal shaping of space. I would also very much like our voice to resonate more strongly in discussions about important investments in the city.

Let's stay with the Golden Gate for a moment. In recent years, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the valuable monument, which is in the hands of SARP. The association came under fire of criticism for allowing the trade of Chinese food in the gate, and later for the ugly fencing of the monument. Earlier, controversy arose over a large-format advertisement posted on SARP's headquarters, the historic St. George's Brotherhood Mansion adjacent to the Golden Gate.

I was on the board when we had to take on the infamous task of making the Golden Gate space available for commerce, because we were simply struggling financially. On the other hand, at this point, the situation of the branch, from what was conveyed to us at the General Meeting of Branch Members, is very good. Although not satisfactory enough to carry out the renovation of the Golden Gate with our own funds. We will try to do everything we can to raise funds for the renovation of the monument and remove the fence as soon as possible. We are also considering setting up a public collection for the renovation. And as a token of gratitude, we could open the interior of the Golden Gate to residents and tourists on selected days. Or, for example, for making a donation for the renovation of the Golden Gate, organize a joint tour of the interior of this beautiful monument with a presentation of its history. Ideas abound!

Ogrodzenie Złotej Bramy wywołuje wiele kontrowersji

The Golden Gate fence is causing a lot of controversy

photo: Grzegorz Mehring/

How much money is needed for the renovation?

The real repair cost of the Zlota Brama is approx. PLN 2.5 million.

Will there be no more controversial actions?

As long as I am president, I will not allow the sale of questionable quality "souvenirs" in Zlota Brama, for the reason that it is a unique monument and should be free from any trade. Previous retail sales were simply an ad hoc and one-time aid.
However, as for outdoor advertising: when we renovate the Golden Gate, the only form I can imagine is branch advertising on the security netting. And that's if we can find a sponsor to help us finance the purchase of materials.

Limiting cars in city centers, taking into account the needs of pedestrians - are these trends that are finally unravelling in our cities close to you?

As much as possible. I myself am a good example, I run a design studio in Wrzeszcz, I live in Chelm. They cover the distance of about 5 km on foot, by bicycle, although it also happens by car. I design not only in the Tri-City area, but also in different parts of the country, hence the car is necessary for my current activities.

On the other hand, I am as much in favor of moving cars out of city centers as possible. In general, I am a big fan of Scandinavia - the architecture there and the approach to designing public spaces. In Gdansk, we have a huge problem with parking and street congestion. Unfortunately, this is what the urban sprawl is leading to, the road infrastructure is not keeping up with the urban sprawl. We should try to eliminate vehicular traffic to some extent. I believe that our association has recently been too rarely involved in the debate about shaping space. I want to change this, we will suggest to the city, institutions, how to make residents choose public transportation or bicycles more often.

Bad examples do not have to look far, just look at the renovated Ogarna. Paved, without greenery, unfriendly to cyclists.

Despite my great respect for the past, I'm not convinced that returning by force to stylized pavements is the right direction. They should be adapted to the needs of users: after all, we have parents with strollers, people riding bicycles and scooters, people with disabilities, those in wheelchairs and on crutches. Nor should we forget such mundane aspects as walking in high-heeled shoes. I myself walk in stilettos and have already destroyed many pairs of shoes on the paved surface. And as for the greenery - in my opinion, it is a mistake that no plantings were made. I don't understand this idea, especially in times of climate crisis.

We've been saying for years that the Coal Market, adjacent, by the way, to the SARP headquarters, should finally serve people, not cars. Do you agree with this?

Undoubtedly, parking is not the happiest function of the space. I understand that it is needed, but at the moment we have Forum Gdansk, which could relieve the burden on this part of the city in terms of parking spaces. I am in favor of making the Coal Market accessible to everyone and making it a city square with cafes, food gardens, an ice rink, something like a market. How is it possible that Gdansk does not have a centrally located square? Yes, there is a Christmas Market in the winter - and it's a great initiative - although I have some reservations about the profile of commercial activities. We should put a stronger emphasis on the products of artists, artisans, handicrafts; today, unfortunately, food stalls dominate.

If the city returns to the debate on how to develop the Coal Market, I guarantee that SARP will participate, calling for finding an alternative to parking spaces.

Next to the Coal Market we have the LOT building. The situation is a stalemate, despite the settled competition, the plot cannot wait for new development. The competition project that caused controversy should be implemented?

On the one hand, I have a lot of sentiment for this building, because it has been standing there since I remember. On the other hand, we should bet on replenishing this fabric. On the other hand, I am not convinced that the design that won the competition has the right shape and form. Maybe we should consider organizing another competition, or at least a workshop that would show the potential of this space. The competition was decided seven years ago. The perception of the space has changed a lot since then. I would certainly like to explore more possibilities: to see this building in the form of high buildings and low buildings, or in an unobvious form - for example, in the shape of a sphere (laughs). This was missing. I would like to have the opportunity to compare different proposals, and then I could answer whether it is worth returning to the competition work, or completely change the approach, taking inspiration from other realizations from the world.

Another hot topic is the Young City, where the investment impasse has finally been broken and we already have the first residential and commercial developments. But is the development that is being built worthy of the newly created neighborhood with which we had high hopes?

I was very happy when I learned that this part of the city will finally be built up, and from Elektryków Street we will walk all the way to the Motława waterfront, passing super-modern estates. On the other hand, I have a lot of concern about the ghost estates that are being built there, that is, residential buildings with short-term rental status or inhabited only in the summer by owners from different parts of the country and the world. And while we are improving the technical quality of the historic spaces, the shipyard halls will be renovated, at the same time we are closing this space, because the residential units are inaccessible to mere mortals who would like to live there.

So far, we also don't see grassroots efforts to make the place really come alive. For example, in Sweden in the new post-industrial district of Malmö, - Västra Hamnen people dance tango, salsa, a skatepark besieged by young people was created, a place to play table tennis. Meanwhile, we put on a very prestigious neighborhood, but completely forget about mental, social, social issues. About connecting the different audiences of this space. Ten years ago I wrote an article describing the processes of revitalization but also the associated risks of gentrification. Unfortunately, the conclusions there are confirmed. We revitalize a space, improving its technical condition, and at the same time close it down or make it available to selected audiences, boasting that we are revitalizing something. After all, this has nothing to do with revitalization.

In the media we call such places "enclaves of luxury." And I think Granary Island is a similar example. Yes, we have apartments, restaurants hotels. But no social infrastructure such as a library or a small community center.

That's right. The waterfront looks beautiful, but some restaurants are very expensive, and I often stress that I can't afford to have a multi-course dinner in Gdansk. But when I go on vacation, for example, whether it's to the Canary Islands or Italy, I can basically eat in almost any pub, and several times every day. There, there is a completely different business approach, a different approach to life. And our attitude is to be very luxurious. And if it's luxurious, it has to be expensive. And then Gdansk becomes inaccessible to its citizens, only mainly to tourists.

But this is not only the developers' fault, but also the City's. After all, Granary Island was built under a public-private partnership, and the land for the investment was contributed by Gdańsk.

Indeed, Gdańsk is not participating in these activities. Because at least some part of the premises on the first floor, or at least one unit, could have been used for a community center. Or a mini-theater. Let it be a space for integration of, for example, excluded people, or international integration - because in Gdansk we have many residents of different nationalities.

Nowa zabudowa na północnym cyplu Wyspy Spichrzów

New development on the northern tip of Granary Island

Dariusz Kula/ Granaria

A few years ago we had very high expectations, we believed that unique buildings, icons of architecture, would be built in the Young City area. Unfortunately, so far there is no indication of this.

Evaluating the work of others is always a difficult subject, because, of course, no one likes to be criticized and how many implementations so many opinions. On the other hand, I actually agree. Just look at the example of Malmö, or HafenCity in Hamburg, where the famous philharmonic hall is an icon of great architecture. On the other hand, I don't know what this is due to, but - this is my opinion - the objects that have been realized so far in the Young City are not outstanding. They certainly do not cause a "wow" effect and do not make their architectural expression in my memory for a long time.

Great controversy was caused by the Walowa Bastion, in my humble opinion this building should never have been built. In the beginning it stood out strongly - in the bad sense of the word. On the other hand, now that other buildings are being built, the Walowa Bastion is not so glaring, because it has strong competition.I'm afraid that if we move in this direction we will simply develop the post shipyard areas. And that's it. But there won't be any extraordinary distinctive architecture that we can boast about abroad. My dream is that on the shipyard grounds objects of such exceptional value will be created that my foreign colleagues will also come to Gdansk to look for inspiration. Gdansk is beautiful but it can be even more beautiful.

How to make it so?

There should definitely be competitions in such important areas. Especially since it is such a space where you can "go wild". On the other hand, we started badly, and let's continue this kind of questionable quality. There is an attitude that there is no point in standing out with some dominant or futuristic building. And this is exactly how I imagine the shipyard: a compilation of different objects, styles, each different, unique, delighting visitors from different parts of the world. Why can't we, in consultation with the local government and the preservationist, mobilize investors to hold competitions separately for each quarter or each building? After all, such a joint action is almost doomed to success.

Returning to SARP's activities, you have a daunting task ahead of you. How to integrate the diverse architectural community?

First of all, we need to integrate with the Chamber of Architects. Although we share headquarters, some of our premises, and I myself am a member of both the Chamber of Architects and SARP, I have never felt this consolidation. On the other hand, if we as a community speak with one voice, it will be heard more. I have warned the other members of the branch board that our first joint "delegation" will be a meeting with the Council of the Pomeranian Chamber of Architects of Poland.

I want to organize joint seminars, lectures, and not only for architects, but also for clients. I believe that we should educate our investors when it comes to the approach to design. And not just be the kind of draftsmen who are simply tasked to do the design and do exactly as the client wants. Yes, the client has expectations, but we are there to explain things sometimes. To advise, to say that something is inappropriate, perhaps exaggerated in scale, area. A good architect is often a lawyer, psychologist and a great manager in one person.

What else?

I dream of meetings where we can discuss architecture together in a forum. The idea is not to criticize each other's work, but to exchange views and experiences. I want to integrate the community of young architects and older members of the association, who have an overwhelming knowledge and experience. It is really worth it for us to take advantage of this. By the way, I encourage all architects to join our association, because there has indeed been a generational change in SARP, and I take full responsibility for this transformation. Moreover, I have a sense of mission to fulfill.

*NataliaBalcerzak - IARP architect, president of the Association of Polish Architects "Wybrzeże" Branch since January. From 2012-2017 member of the Board of Directors and Vice President for External Affairs. From 2019 to 2024, she is the chairwoman of the SARP Main Collegiate Court. She is a graduate of the Faculty of Architecture at the Gdansk University of Technology and founder of the design studio NB ARCHITEKCI. She has authored and co-authored many conceptual, construction and executive projects. She specializes in the field of renovation of objects under conservation protection. In 2017, she defended her PhD in technical sciences at Gdansk University of Technology. She has been doing design work continuously since 2006.

Interviewed by: Ewa Karendys

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