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Community Center at Fort St. James. A project to help people in crisis of homelessness

Dobrawa Bies
18 of January '23

Martyna Bobińska, an architecture graduate from Gdansk University of Technology, decided to use historic architecture for a new social purpose. Her choice fell on the 19th-century Fort St. James in Toruń. The young architect's proposal is to transform the deteriorating fort and its surroundings into a Social Center, focusing on helping people in crisis of homelessness. The author proposes to create, among other things, a shelter, communal and therapeutic spaces, workshops, gardens and greenhouses.

The presented work "An attempt to solve the problem of homeless people in Toruń - adaptation of Fort St. James and its surroundings for the needs of the Social Center" was created as a master's diploma under the direction of Dr. Agnieszka Blazko in the Department of Residential Architecture and Public Utility at Gdansk University of Technology.

Projekt adaptacji Fortu św. Jakuba w Toruniu na Centrum Społeczne

project for the adaptation of Fort St. James in Toruń into a Community Center

© Martyna Bobińska

homelessness - a serious problem

Homelessness is increasingly the subject of research and the basis for programs or architecture. Previous ways of solving this problem are already partly outdated - people's needs and the surrounding world have changed, or they have simply been discontinued because they did not bring the expected results. Social problems are often interconnected by a cause-and-effect sequence, so when focusing on one problem, it is necessary to analyze a whole range of others in order to get the correct solution. Unfortunately, the level of people's awareness is low, as a result of which there is a lack of social initiatives that could in any way sensitize people to the problems of others. Cooperation between society and people who are excluded from it in some way would benefit each side. On the other hand, a significant obstacle could be reluctance on the part of residents, and on the other hand, a lack of willingness to change and a problem with issuing a request for help. Another issue is the further path of a person who has managed to get out of homelessness, so that he does not return to the starting point again. Very often people reach for old habits or return to addiction. Forms of social housing that are designed for such people are becoming increasingly popular. However, the problem is how to create such a place where these people would not be further isolated, but on the contrary, it would influence the development of interaction between them and society, so that they could learn to function in it again," explains Martyna Bobińska.

Adaptacja Fortu św. Jakuba w Toruniu, koncepcja zagospodarowania i podział funkcji

adaptation of Fort St. James in Toruń, development concept and distribution of functions

© Martyna Bobinska

The new life of Fort St. James

Martyna's idea was to take advantage of the fort's abandoned architecture and convert it into a Community Center, focusing on helping people affected by the homelessness crisis. Starting work on her master's project, the student analyzed a number of forts across Poland to choose the one most suitable for the new function. Thus, the choice fell on Fort St. James located in Toruń. Built between 1828 and 1833, the fort was one of the first defensive elements of the Torun Fortress. Erected as a self-contained citadel, open on the side of the city, with a span of 300 meters, it housed a three-story, three-wing barracks redoubt at its focal point. During the interwar period, the fort lost its original purpose - its moat was filled in and some elements of the structure were demolished. During the communist period it was adapted for housing, but the redoubt is increasingly falling into devastation.

Ulica Generała Józefa Chłopickiego tworzy główną oś urbanistyczną projektu

Generała Józefa Chłopickiego Street forms the main urban axis of the project

© Martyna Bobinska

The main goal of the Gdansk University of Technology graduate was to adapt the function to the said building, so as not to affect its appearance. After analyzing the possibilities of adaptation, the author decided to create a shelter for the homeless, and to introduce additional functions in the interiors of the fort.

Adaptacja Fortu św. Jakuba w Toruniu, przekrój A-A

adaptation of Fort St. James in Toruń, cross-section A-A

© Martyna Bobinska

As the main point of reference in the design process, I used a drawing reconstruction of Fort St. James from around 1900 by Marcin Wichrowski. Thanks to it and acquired maps from the Torun Fortress Museum, I located the newly designed objects and emphasized the original layout of the whole establishment," says Martyna Bobinska.

Adaptacja Fortu św. Jakuba w Toruniu, rzut przyziemia

adaptation of Fort St. James in Toruń, ground plan

© Martyna Bobinska

Community Center in Toruń

The chosen fort is characterized by a specific layout of rooms and structural system. The structure consists of three parts - two side parts and a central part, between which there are staircases. In addition to the shelter, the author decided to introduce accompanying functions - therapeutic rooms, rehabilitation rooms, a computer room, a TV room and a dining room. The arrangement of the various designed rooms depends on the availability of daylight and the structural layout, and does not affect the original appearance of the fort.

Widok od strony Majdanu Jeden z korytarzy wewnętrznych Fortu św. Jakuba w Toruniu

a shelter for people in crisis of homelessness could be built in the fort

© Martyna Bobinska

What's more, adjacent to the lush greenery and the artillery shelter, the young architect proposed a furniture restoration workshop, an interior garden with a café, and a greenhouse with a plant store. On the opposite side of the street is a building with workshop rooms for creating glass ornaments. In addition, the author placed smaller greenhouses next to the fort, intended for its residents. The accompanying facilities are mainly intended to provide a source of income for the shelter and provide work for the residents.

Wnętrze warsztatowni Ogród wewnętrzny wraz z kawiarnią

The interior of the workshop and cafe

© Martyna Bobinska

According to architect Peter Barber, a very important aspect is the creation of a space - usually in the form of a garden - that residents can take care of together. In all the facilities I designed, people leaving homelessness will be able to work and re-learn how to live in society, Martyna adds.

General Józefa Chłopickiego Street runs through the entire site, and the main urban axis is defined by the newly designed facilities. In the area, the author also introduced facilitating movement, pedestrian and roadways, and used a lot of greenery composed in organic shapes.

Widok na obiekty towarzyszące: ogród wewnętrzny z kawiarnią, szklarnia ze sklepem

A view of the accompanying facilities: an interior garden with a café, a greenhouse with a store

© Martyna Bobinska

I would like my work to become an inspiration for other people and for the social problem of homelessness to be the subject of developing different types of concepts and assumptions. In addition, I think that by locating such a function in a historic building that has so far been in decline, public attention will be drawn to the potential that such buildings have in them. Maybe someday it will be noticed that it is possible to "give away" certain facilities to people in need, so that they can live there in decent conditions [...] — concludes Martyna Bobińska.

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