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What does responsible architecture mean? An idea to revitalize housing estate in Warsaw

Dobrawa Bies
27 of January '23

{tag:studenci}, a graduate of Politecnico di Milano architecture and urban planning department, worried about progressive climate change and how the construction industry contributes to it, decided to develop guidelines for green, healthy and affordable architecture. As an example he choosed Za Zelazna Brama Estate in Warsaw. Concept includes enlarging the apartments with the addition of CLT wood loggias and using the roof for coworking, resident integration and plant cultivation.

The presented project is a master's thesis supervised by Professor Salvatore Viscuso.

In order to operate within the climate budget, we need to reduce carbon emissions by 96% over the next decade compared to current levels worldwide. However, the construction industry is a huge contributor to climate change, consuming about 40% of the world's energy resources and emitting 39% of all greenhouse gases worldwide. Moreover, the word „sustainability” is often misused for PR purposes and its value has declined significantly. One of the goals of my thesis—the research part entitled "Responsible Architecture"—was to provide a manual for green, healthy and affordable architecture, which was later visualized in the design part of the thesis, the author says.

Koncepcja projektowa

design concept

© Lukasz Zabolski

responsible architecture, or what kind of architecture?

Lukasz Zabolski pointed out the dangers of greenwashing and the phenomenon in which the word „sustainable” loses its meaning, becoming just another advertising slogan. In his thesis, he discusses the issue of material passports—a key element in the transformation of the economy from a linear to a closed-loop economy. It is this transformation, the author argues, that makes it possible to actually reduce human impact on the environment. Under this premise, from the very beginning of design work, all materials, products and components must be created with future reuse in mind. Thus, the need to produce new ones is reduced and waste is reduced.

Since the most sustainable building is the one that does not get built, the design part of my work concerns the revitalization of modernist blocks of flats built en masse after World War II. In Poland, according to the Central Statistical Office, more than 12 million Poles live in such blocks, which is about 35% of Poland's population. However, the problem of modernist blocks of flats built after the war affects not only Poland, but all of Europe. With the growing population and the ever-increasing population of urban areas, the revitalization of these blocks will be crucial in the fight against climate change. So we are faced with a choice, renovate what we already have, thus saving financial, material and spatial resources, or build more housing estates called by many as „pat-development”, degrading the environment in the process," explains Lukasz Zabolski.

Jako realizację pomysłu autor wybrał Osiedle Za Żelazną Bramą w Warszawie

As a realization of the idea, the author chose the Za Żelazną Bramą estate in Warsaw

© Lukasz Zabolski

A new look at the Za Żelazną Bramą Estate

As an example implementing the theses contained in the theoretical part, the young architect decided to transform the Za Żelazną Bramą housing estate located in the center of Warsaw. Built between 1965 and 1972, the complex of blocks of flats was a winning SARP competition project. Its authors were graduates of the Faculty of Architecture at the Warsaw University of Technology: Jerzy Czyż, Jan Furman, Andrzej Skopinski and Jerzy Józefowicz. The estate consists of nineteen long, sixteen-story buildings with a large number of apartments (three hundred to four hundred and twenty apartments per block), many with dark kitchens. Each corridor and each apartment was equipped with French windows, innovative for communist construction.

Masterplan Osiedla Za Żelazną Bramą i przekój

masterplan of the Za Żelazną Bramą estate and a cross section

© Lukasz Zabolski

The primary goal of Lukasz's project was not only to renovate the buildings, but also to complete the architects' unrealized ideas, such as loggias, a usable roof with a café, and to provide places for residents to integrate together. The author also proposed a new landscaping project that will reconnect the estate with the city.

Pomysł dodania loggii i nowej fasady do istniejącego bloku

The idea of adding loggias and a new facade to an existing block of flats

© Lukasz Zabolski

The blocks were modernized with loggias added on an independent structure, made of CLT wood. This choice of material was due to aesthetic qualities, short installation and potential removal times, and a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to concrete, for example. As a result, each apartment got an additional twenty-one square meters of loggia. In addition, this treatment allows for shading of the interiors, which became very overheated during the summer. In addition, all existing windows were enlarged.

Studium fasady

The new facade was made of recycled aluminum

© Lukasz Zabolski

recycled facade and functional roof

Each block received a new facade made of recycled aluminum. The architect designed them using differently arranged modules to ensure the nineteen buildings of the development were consistent and unique.

The new roof and its use

© Lukasz Zabolski

The new center of the estate's life is to be the roof. Its area has been divided into three functional zones for relaxation, coworking and cultivation. The new coworking zone provides suitable conditions for work, also influencing the integration of the block's residents. In addition, the author planned to introduce an already popular solution in Canada and Denmark—renting this zone after workinghours . In this way, residents can hold private meetings or special events there, paying only a cleaning fee.

Ostatnie piętro to przestrzeń do m.in. coworkingu

The top floor is a space for, among other things, coworking

© Lukasz Zabolski


In the coming years, in order to prevent the destruction of our planet, we need to act globally and keep it from exceeding one and a half degrees of warming. The key to sustainability, therefore, will not be technology, but reducing consumption, which has reached frightening levels in recent decades. As architects, we should strive to provide solutions that will extend the life of buildings, reducing the need for production and operation. Sustainability is no longer just a beautiful idea but a design challenge that should be part of every designer—urges Lukasz Zabolski.

elaborated: Dobrawa Bies

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