Last December, the Bielsko-Biala City Council and the Bielsko-Biala branch of the SARP announced a study competition for an architectural and urban planning concept for an interchange center, the ideas of which are to help in planning and determining the city's spatial policy and development strategy. Although no first prize was awarded in the competition, which was settled in May, attention is drawn to the bold and futuristic proposal of the Lobo studio team, which was awarded second place by the jury(ex aequo with the design of the team of Michal Stangel and Tomasz Bradecki).
The project in question was titled City Weave by the authors. The study encompassed an area of almost thirty hectares located in the immediate vicinity of the center of Bielsko-Biała, near the main railroad station and developments combining various urban tales - historic buildings, railroad and industrial buildings, in an area with great potential, which, as the architects write, is currently a desert in the city center (the area bounded by the streets: Grażyńskiego, Okrzei, Podwale, Gazownia and Wałowa Streets to the east, Wałowa Street to the south, 3 Maja Street, Warszawska Street to the west and Trakcyjna Street to the north).
competition board, analyses, cross sections and design guidelines
© Lobo - architectural studio
Wanting to visually and functionally stitch together this part of the city, the architects proposed connections on several levels and the introduction of a form reminiscent of a textile weave, which will be visible in the designed canopy, footbridges, on the facades of new buildings and sidewalks. As the designers emphasize, the construction of transfer centers with parking lots and the addition of existing buildings will provide the opportunity to introduce new functions in the city, while the proposed footbridge system will reduce barriers to pedestrian and bicycle transportation. The project was prepared by a team consisting of: Michal Koscielny, Martyna Kotulek, Zuzanna Wojciech, Aleksandra Targiel, Jakub Jopek.
Ola Kloc: In response to the competition task, you designed a futuristic interchange, which, as you write, is to become an urban activity center. How would you like to integrate this transportation infrastructure into the urban space, to create a pedestrian-friendly area, and at the same time legible for visitors?
Lobo: We think our work answers this question. We assumed that we were creating a new network of links between existing, important places and tying them together with infrastructure above the railroad area. We didn't want to propose another place with a monotonous transportation and commercial function. We wanted the space around and above the railroad areas to combine multiple functions. In our concept, we envisioned connecting the railroad station zone, residential zones, workplaces, local markets, or green spaces with a transportation network, while creating a scenic path that would be a local attraction. One of our assumptions was the partial exclusion and restriction of vehicular traffic in the study area. For us, people directly connected with Bielsko-Biała, creating a pedestrian-friendly area was very important. The city has so far been clearly divided by vehicular and rail transportation in the center.
In the world, we have similar examples of elevating pedestrian transportation in the form of greenways, including the well-known High Line park in New York, or the gardens of the Rambla de Sants near Barcelona, which literally illustrate the creation of a linear urban garden on the canopy of public transportation infrastructure for both the resident and the tourist. Such solutions exist and are very popular, so we thought: Why not show them in a study contest?
competition board, land development project
© Lobo - architectural studio
Readability is to be guaranteed by the infographics provided, the passenger information system located in the objects and various places of our "weave". We did not impose communication centers in one place. In our assumptions, we did not want to accumulate vehicular traffic - local, international, rail transportation (passengers' car access to the rail connection) in one place - we wanted it to be unloaded and even limited. We focused largely on pedestrians. We wanted the entire study area to be vibrant from a human perspective. We connected the various stations by a footbridge so as to encourage a reduction in automobile traffic.
We deliberately dispersed parking spaces throughout the study, and introduced underground and free-standing parking (a systemic solution - cranes). In our opinion, it is better to locate smaller facilities lined up throughout the study area than to create a parking molehill that is a "non-place". The important thing is the person, not the car. We encourage people to leave their cars in the parking system on a Park&Ride basis and use public transportation.
Through this project, we wanted to emphasize the importance of the human aspect, greenery, existing historic buildings and the mixing of functions to lead to sustainable development.
The city has many assets: from its history, as tangible proof of which are the historic buildings (which we should not be ashamed of, but expose!), through the existing green areas (in the very center of the city), ending with the dynamic development of the city... We tried to extract these positive features and maximize the use of neglected places with great potential.
© Lobo-architectural studio
Ola: The jury awarded the prize to your proposal, among other things, for boldly shaping the architectural expression of the various elements of the establishment. How was this form created? What did your design process look like?
Lobo: Thecompetition by design was a study competition, so we allowed ourselves to be a little more daring. We wanted to show the possibilities of using the potential of the site and the adjacent areas. The scope of the study is actually very close to the center, and it creates a huge strip of unattractive space, generating divisions (both physical and mental).
The design process itself is a long conversation, analysis in search of common solutions to the known problems of the city. Our team consists of both residents of Bielsko-Biała and people who commute here and know the city from tourist trips, so we were able to analyze the competition area in terms of feelings and needs of different users. The form is the result of the analyses, intended as an answer to the problems of the place.
Given the heights of the canopies at the station platforms, imposing a heavy form of canopy would, in our opinion, heavily obscure the facade of the historic station. Hence the proposal for a modern form with lots of glazing, so that it is the station that is exposed. We are aware of the modern and controversial form. We did not want to design the canopy in a historical style.... because in the eighteenth, nineteenth century such a connector that would run through the entire development area was not there. We are modern architects, we have close to our hearts the historical architecture, but we want to respectfully connect the past and present times. Since this was a study competition, we allowed ourselves to be crazy. Why not?
competition board, visualizations
© Lobo-architectural studio
Ola: How often do you participate in architectural competitions and why?
Lobo: To answer this question,our team would have to be divided into two subgroups.
The first: Martyna, Zuza, Kuba - students and a student of architecture at the Silesian University of Technology.
The second: Ola and Michal, graduates of Silesian University of Technology and Gdansk University of Technology. Together we run a design office.
Students often take part in competitions, succeeding. We, being students, also took part in numerous architectural competitions. After graduation, we fell into the vortex of daily professional work. Longing for the student design craze, we said "enough" to this everyday life and started looking for a competition. We found a topic literally around the corner - concerning the city in which we live - Bielsko-Biala, which was organized by the local branch of SARP. We couldn't pass up such an opportunity and took part in the competition.
Ola and Michal: In creating a project that responds to the competition's guidelines, we do not divide ourselves into architects and architecture students. We are one harmonized design team. It is mainly thanks to the students that we were able to create this work. We keep telling ourselves and others that with two of us (Ola and Michal) we wouldn't be able to do it.
Martyna, Zuza, Kuba: At the same time, we students also learned a lot from working with experienced architects working in the profession, without their valuable advice our work would not be at such a high level. We all learned various lessons and learned from each other, resulting in a project that has bold, even crazy solutions, while not lacking in technical solutions.
The cooperation is excellent for us. There is a lot of positive energy, which we wanted and want to turn into something creative. I think the five of us have succeeded.
When working on competitions, there are always positive feelings - a certain thrill, a healthy competition, a desire to prove oneself by design, to test one's creative abilities, and that anticipation of the results... And then an equally interesting analysis of the other works and a different perspective on design issues. Each competition, like each project, teaches us something new, it is extremely valuable to get to know the works of other participants after the outcome of the competition - while discovering their answers to the same set problem.
We would certainly like to participate in competitions more often, but it is difficult to organize the time. This success gave us a lot of motivation and recharged our batteries positively. We hope to prove ourselves in future design challenges of architectural competitions.
Ola: Thank you for the interview.