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Five years late. Water Artistry, a new public space on the grounds of Forum Gdańsk

25 of September '23

The handover of the Water Artistry, a public purpose investment that was built as part of the construction of the controversial Gdańsk Forum, has been delayed by as much as five years. The building houses the new headquarters of the Institute of Urban Culture, a cinema, a bookstore, auditoriums and a large-scale mock-up of modern Downtown Gdańsk. Was it worth waiting so long?

In 2018, on a six-hectare plot of land, after three years of construction, the grand Forum Gdańsk shopping center opened. It was built in the center of the city, on the Sienna and Rakowy Market, and from the beginning it divided residents. There was criticism of the scale of the development, some architectural solutions and the reconstruction of the historic Radunia Canal, which runs through the center's site.

Adding spice to the issue was the fact that the project was implemented as part of a public-private partnership between the City of Gdańsk and the investor, Multi. The city put its hand to the project by contributing land to the company. In return, the investor carried out public investments (worth about PLN 140 million), including the expansion of the interchange, construction of the Nowe Podwale Grodzkie Street, bicycle roads and sidewalks, a major project was the covering of the tracks with bearing plates.

Opening like an obstacle course

As part of the public investment, the investor was also to build a new building for the city, which will serve as a cultural center and serve as a „multi-faceted presentation of the city.” And indeed, the Water Kunst building (formerly named the Gdańsk City Historical Heritage Center) was completed and received an occupancy permit as early as May 2018. That's when officials invited journalists inside and announced: the opening will take place in less than six months.

Kunszt Wodny mieści się obob budynków centrum handlowego

The Water Artistry is located near buildings of the shopping center

© Ewa Karendys

But subsequent years have been a string of setbacks. First the city reported defects to the investor-made building, then, officials explain, the handover of the building to Gdańsk was prolonged because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was supposed to affect the lengthening of procedures. So it was not until September 2021 that the Water Artistry came into city hands.

And even that did not solve the problems. The culprit for the subsequent delays, according to the authority's explanations, were problems with the tender award, as the bids far exceeded the expected budget. Thus, the opening of the Water Artistry did not take place until... September 22, 2023. So five years after the mall. It is hard to resist the impression that this public part was not a priority for the implementers.

project selected in competition

So much for the behind-the-scenes. What about the architecture? The building itself stands out against the background of the whole Forum Gdańsk establishment. Hardly surprising, the design of the Water Artistry was selected through an architectural competition in 2012. The winner was the work of Studio Architektoniczne Kwadrat team from Gdynia, which is well acquainted with the specifics of the Tricity. The facades were made of oxidized sheet metal, and numerous glazings were used. The building is formed by two parts, with the Radunia Canal between them. The interiors in which the spirit of openness has been conveyed are well presented. Sikora Wnętrza studio is responsible for their design.

The building has three training rooms, a cinema, the City Bistro and a bookstore, which offers Danzig publications, poetry, books on architecture, urban planning and art, as well as a news and reportage section. One can hang out here, drink coffee and do some work. The cost of the investment on the part of the Forum Gdańsk investor was PLN 18.6 million net, and the Directorate of Urban Development of Gdańsk, which coordinated the finishing works: PLN 16.4 million gross.

A look at Gdańsk

After the competition for the design of the Water Artistry was settled, Jacek Droszcz of the winning Kwadrat Architectural Studio from Gdynia said:

- We designed it in such a way that you will be able to compare what you see on the mockup with what you see outside the window, that is, you will be able to admire the panorama of the city.

It's true. The huge Forum Gdańsk shopping center has taken one of the most valuable downtown locations (just across the street is the Upland Gate). That's why the views: of the beginning of the Royal Way and the tower of St. Mary's Basilica in the background are impressive. The heart of Gdańsk is here at your fingertips.

By the way, it's worth mentioning that the name Water Artistry is not accidental. It refers to the pump station, operating in this part of Gdańsk from the 16th to the 19th century. It is recalled by a water installation located at roof level and a water cascade.

Already at the planning stage, there were questions in the city about the legitimacy of the costly investment. Nevertheless, the Institute of Urban Culture, an institution managed by Aleksandra Szymanska (it moved from its headquarters on Dlugi Targ), known for reaching out to residents, organizing festivalsand projects like: NARRACJE, Found in Translation, European Poet of Freedom, Collection of Monumental Paintings in Zaspa, Local Guides and Guides, herstorical activities as part of Metropolitanka, or thematic series of lectures, film screenings and debates. The new, larger building will enable the Institute to organize concerts, installations, literary meetings, film screenings combined with discussions. It can be assumed that the new building will be teeming with urban life.

IKM director Aleksandra Szymanska promises that there will also be something for those who are interested in the city as an urban and architectural phenomenon, its history, identity, social layer, it will be such a place where they will meet lectures, lessons, workshops.

A gratifying model of the downtown area

Mapa śródmieścia Gdańska

Map of downtown Gdańsk

Ewa Karendys

Importantly, the attraction of the building is a huge mock-up of the modern Downtown of Gdańsk, made on a scale of 1:500, using 3D printing technology. In the room with the mock-up, it is also worth looking down: for the plan of Gdańsk has been recreated on the floor. Work to prepare for the opening of the facility took so long that the mock-up had to be updated last year. This is because since its creation, new buildings have sprouted up in the city space. In addition to the proportions of the buildings, the layout of windows and cornices was mapped on the mock-up. The mock-up is supplemented by interactive elements in the form of touch screens, so it is possible, for example, to compare today's buildings with those of more than four centuries ago.

Wieczorne otwarcie Kunsztu Wodnego. Sala z makietą

Evening opening of the Water Artistry. The room with the mock-up

© Gdańsk City Hall/IKM

The mock-up, on the other hand, will serve its function well if it is used for consultations on investments planned in the city. In this way, one can experiment with new developments (for example, tall buildings in the Young City), checking how they will fit into the surroundings.

On the opening weekend, residents voted with their feet—the Water Artistry was eagerly visited by visitors. One can hope that not only theshopping center will attract visitors in large numbers.

Gdańsk has gained not only a cultural and tourist space, but also a place to discuss its urban and architectural development, and may it make good use of this opportunity. It is significant, however, that it was created on the occasion of a debatable shopping center.

Ewa Karendys

The vote has already been cast