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Emphasize symbolism, breathe urban life

12 of January '24

The article is from A&B issue 9|23

New developments with an urban rather than industrial character are being built in the neighborhood. Consequently, Solidarity Square in Gdansk will not only be a symbolic space, but also a new urban square, says Piotr Lorens, Architect of the City of Gdansk, which has announced a competition for the revaluation of the square of special importance*.

Ewa Karendys:Solidarity Square in Gdansk is not fulfilling its potential?

Piotr Lorens:Today it mainly serves the function of commemorating the shipyard workers killed in December 1970 and, to some extent, the events of August "80. Apart from the monument and the plaque with the names of the fallen, it is not surrounded by objects and functions that would create a truly urban square. And this applies to both the immediate surroundings and the neighboring plots, because they also affect the perception of Solidarity Square and its functioning. This is a problem we have to deal with.

Ewa:So the area needs to be rethought?

Piotr:It requires thinking about what functions the square should perform in the future and what form of development should be developed on the surrounding lots.

Ewa:The neighborhood, after many years of stagnation, is undergoing an investment boom, the Young City is beginning to be filled with new residential and commercial development. The surroundings of Solidarity Square are already changing strongly.

Piotr:Very much so. In 1980, when the Monument to Fallen Shipyard Workers was being built, the square was the interface between the city district and the shipyard areas, and served a mainly symbolic function. In contrast, at the moment, new developments with an urban, rather than industrial, character are being built in the neighborhood: the DOKI [proj. : Fort Targowski - editor's note], the Cranes [proj.: Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects - editor's note], on the back of the European Solidarity Center [proj.: Fort - editor's note] new buildings are being erected by Echo Investment. And there are still plans to develop the Imperial Shipyard grounds and the SCG project on the grounds of the so-called Drewnica Peninsula. All these buildings will become a part of the new part of Downtown Gdansk. And consequently, Solidarity Square will not only be a symbolic space, but also a new city square.

photo: Dariusz Kwidzinski |

Ewa:We will start using it in a different way?

Piotr:I have no doubt that due to the history of the creation of the monument, the memory of the shipyard workers and the symbolism of the events of August "80, extremely important for the history of Poland and the world, the commemorative function will remain leading. However, it will not be the only one. Solidarity Square can - and in the opinion of many people - should also become a place of recreation, a meeting space, the organization of various events, not necessarily only those related to the August and December celebrations.

Ewa:Today, the square also has a transit function, used by people who go this way to work, walking.

Piotr:At the moment we mainly have tourists who visit Solidarity Square, the European Solidarity Center and the BHP Hall. There are also workers who pass the area while walking to the shipyard on Spur Island. At the same time, one can assume that there will be more of these workers, because new industrial investments are being prepared on Ostrow Island.

And in a while we will still have residents of the area. This can be seen in the example of the DOKI investment - after the commissioning of the first residential building and the inauguration of the Assembly Plant, traffic, especially pedestrian traffic, in the area of Rybaki Górne Street has increased many times over. At the same time, we must keep in mind not only those investments that are already growing out of the ground and will become fully operational in two or three years, but also future buildings that are not even at the project stage yet.

photo: Dariusz Kwidzinski |

Ewa:There are many such areas as well.

Piotr:Yes. These include the plots of the former shipyard hospital, the huge area of the Imperial Shipyard, the area of the Drewnica peninsula, or Elektryków Street, which at the moment functions mainly in terms of nightlife. The Young City will also be filled with development on the north side, where office buildings are being built along Jana z Kolna Street, and more are planned. Importantly, new facilities may also be built on the area next to the bus terminal on Jana z Kolna Street. At the moment there is a multi-story parking lot there, but the lease agreement for the area will end in a few years. So it's time to think whether it's possible to introduce a new function there, and above all - to develop the whole area anew.

As a consequence of the aforementioned transformations, the number of users of this space will undoubtedly increase many times over, and their profile will be very diverse. After all, in addition to apartments, there will be office and, above all, service investments, which will also generate traffic. An example is Montownia, which opened this year. At the moment there is no access to Solidarity Square from its area, but I assume that such a connection will appear sooner or later.

Ewa:Do you know how many residents may live in the new district?

Piotr:It is difficult to give exact figures, in the past in the context of the entire Young City it was said that it could be 20-30 thousand residents.

Ewa:Solidarity Square is included in the register of historical monuments, so here the designers will not let their imagination run wild. What might be the changes they will propose?

Piotr:First of all: the urban perspective, that is, what can be implemented in the broader context of the square. We are mainly talking about the area of Nowomiejska Street and Jana z Kolna Street - these are areas where new development could potentially be built. The second thing is the immediate surroundings of the square, which needs to be cleaned up: the area between Nowomiejska, Jana z Kolna and Gazownicza streets. Today we do not have a precise opinion on the development, shaping and development of this area. And finally, the third perspective is the space of the square itself, which is indeed included in the register of monuments. So any major interventions are out of the question, but we expect ideas for shaping the pavement, small architecture, urban furniture and greenery.

photo: Dariusz Kwidziński |

Ewa:Research conducted by students of the Gdansk University of Technology shows that users of the square lack greenery, shade and benches.

Piotr:It is for this reason that we are touching on the subject of the square, although, I should point out, we are talking about its renovation, revalorization, because the architectural form itself is unlikely to change. Of course, all changes will be discussed with the conservator of monuments, but also with, among others, the Committee for the Construction of the Monument to Fallen Shipyard Workers and the National Commission of the NSZZ "Solidarity". Without stakeholder participation, it is difficult to imagine preparing a universally accepted concept.

Ewa:A coherent concept can be a challenge. To date, the source of many of the problems in the Young City has been the lack of agreement between the preservationist, who wants to "protect the shipyard heritage," and the city authorities and investors who seek to develop the district.

Piotr:From the beginning, we have encouraged the preservationist to participate in the discussion. In April, during a seminar on the revaluation of Solidarity Square, the conservator gave his opinion on what changes he expects. We still don't have conservation guidelines, even though we requested them over a year ago. The conservator has not found the time to formulate them. We also consulted the ECS and the Solidarity Heritage Institute - we included these positions in the competition materials.

Ewa:Until a few years ago, the City planned to build a representative promenade overgrown with an apple orchard. It was to run through the shipyard area, connecting Solidarity Square with the waterfront of the Dead Vistula River. The project was selected in an international competition, which was won by Group 5 Architects. Why didn't it live to see realization?

Piotr:The realization of this concept crashed over the lack of consent of the conservator, who took the position that we should strive to restore the historical character of this street.

Ewa:Do you think otherwise?

Piotr:Group 5 Architects proposed an interesting project and it's a pity that it was not realized. It's certainly a more interesting solution than what we're dealing with today: a stone desert that will not particularly function as a public space. So let me here express some skepticism about the achieved result. Because what has been created in the course of Doki Street is a certain variation on the history of the place, a kind of Disneyland, and at the same time a space that is not very user-friendly. This is my personal view, though of course not everyone has to share it. The preservationist had a different opinion, and the developer building on neighboring lots - Euro Styl, which financed the restoration of the Road to Freedom - decided to take the preservationist guidelines literally. As a result, we have what we have.

photo: Dariusz Kwidzinski |

Ewa:The competition for the revaluation of Solidarity Square is not a realization, but a study. Why?

Piotr:The competition is ideational, because we are looking for concepts, fresh ideas. The implementation of the results of the competition will depend on many factors, both investment and planning. We assume that the renovation of the square itself will be feasible in a relatively short period of time. As for the other areas, however, here we have both private investors, who, based on the results of the competition, will think about the future of their areas, as well as urban areas that may gain new development, depending on what policy the city authorities adopt. Importantly, the current development plans for the Young City are almost twenty years old, and much has changed since then. The conclusions of the competition can therefore be used to develop new provisions of the plan.

Ewa:What will be the most important element in evaluating the projects?

Piotr:Giving the entire space architectural and urban coherence, but also reconciling the symbolic and contemporary functions of the square and its wider context. It will also be important to have a thoughtful and coherent way of arranging the square: flooring, small architecture, greenery.

Ewa:Isn't there a risk that Solidarity Square will repeat the fate of the Road to Freedom and the plans will be shelved after the competition is decided?

Piotr:This competition is being held at the personal inspiration of Gdansk Mayor Aleksandra Dulkiewicz. I think that the interest of the city authorities in using its results is very high. Of course, the future is difficult to predict here. Let's remember that ten years ago, when the competition for the Road to Freedom was decided, none of us expected the occurrence of various new circumstances: political, financial, implementation. On the other hand, if the concepts developed in the competition meet with the approval of Ms. Dulkiewicz, who is the main decision-maker in this regard, they will certainly be gradually implemented.

Ewa:Thank you for the interview.

interviewed: Ewa KARENDYS

* The study urban-architectural competition "Revitalization of Solidarity Square in Gdansk with guidelines for shaping its immediate surroundings" was announced by the Municipality of Gdansk in early July this year. Applications for participation can be sent until September 14 this year, the deadline for delivery of the competition works is November 10. The results of the competition will be announced on November 24. The pool of prizes in the competition is 110 thousand PLN gross (first prize - 40 thousand PLN, second prize - 25 thousand PLN, third prize - 15 thousand PLN and three honorable mentions - 10 thousand PLN gross).

The vote has already been cast