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Wrocław Culture Stop

08 of June '21

Why are the most interesting projects in Poland often implemented piecemeal and incompletely? They win competitions, delighting everyone with an avant-garde idea, a well-solved function and an interesting form, and then - stripped of their most important assets, trimmed to a shrinking budget - they disappoint residents with the ordinariness of their implementation.

One such project - examples not realized in full - is the streetcar stop on Świdnicka Street in Wroclaw. The investment may not be that big, but it is certainly very important for the city and its residents, located in the very center, adjacent to the Market Square. It was prepared for 2016, when Wrocław held the title of European Capital of Culture, hence the name - Przystanek Kultura. The project was selected through a competition in 2012, and the authors of the winning work were designers from the Wroclaw studio Major Architekci.

projekt selected through competition in 2012projekt selected through competition in 2012projekt selected through competition in 2012

project selected in the competition in 2012

© Major Architects

The study included a larger scope than just the bus stop - the entire solution of the traffic interchange with the reconstruction of the underpass and the launch of the overground one - at the intersection of Świdnicka (pedestrian street) and Kazimierza Wielkiego (downtown ring road). Added to this was the renovation and modernization of the iconic Barbara bar, located in the vicinity of the stop and passage, intended for the ECC office and information center, as well as the area in front of it, visible from the windows of cars, streetcars and buses, as well as from the pedestrian route.

przekrój and projectionprzekrój and projectionprzekrój and projection

cross-section and projection

© Major Architects

The studio of architects Ania and Marcin Major proposed not only changes to improve the visual aspect of the fragment of both streets, but also to improve the quality of the place, which was a significant point for the inhabitants of Wroclaw in the 1970s and 1980s, and due to the changes that occurred after the political transformation, lost its former importance.

Bus stop, underpass, W-Z route

It's worth taking a look at this place and the meaning that was given - in a grassroots and completely spontaneous way - by the underground-earth structure built fifty years ago. The old underpass under Kazimierza Wielkiego Street was put into use on April 30, 1974, just before the then important May 1 holiday. It was the first underground passage in Wroclaw, connecting two sections of Wroclaw's main Świdnicka Street. The crossing of the street, which then became a pedestrian thoroughfare, was prompted by the construction of a downtown bypass surrounding the old city center with a two-lane high-speed vehicular artery. The route was built on the site of the old city walls and the moat surrounding them. This solution, which first required the demolition of several old streets and the residential buildings that stood along them, was called at the time a modern way to solve the problem of driving from one side of Market Square to the other. Kazimierza Wielkiego Street was christened Trasa W-Z and, together with the underpass, was the socialist boast of the city. Despite the obviously bad urban planning move, residents quickly became accustomed to the new traffic organization and liked the underpass. Despite several other such solutions built in the 1970s in Wroclaw, the first one, on Świdnicka Street, was always the most important, and it was enough to say "underpass" for everyone to know which place was meant.

ulica Świdnicka Streetulica Świdnicka Streetulica Świdnicka Street

Świdnicka street, summer 1980

photo: H. Pawlak | source: fotopolska.eu

The passageway overlooked the platforms of the streetcar stops, transporting passengers in various directions of the city. It has been calculated that in a day they were used (in 2010) by about 38-40 thousand residents, while the old underpass was used by about 9-10 thousand people per hour, or 80-100 thousand per day. At the same time, during one hour, the W-Z route was traversed by about 4 thousand cars and 40 streetcars, which means that one streetcar came to the stop on average every 1.5 minutes. Not surprisingly, such a busy place was an important part of the city, and in addition, the close proximity to the Market Square and cultural venues made the passage take on a cult character.

Uncomfortable stairs to the underpass

The author of the old underpass was a well-known Wroclaw architect Marek Dziekoński, designer of, among other things, the famous rotunda of Panorama Racławicka. From the beginning, controversy arose over the stairs leading from both sides of the passage - very beautifully resolved and interesting for photographers, but uncomfortable to climb, both down and up. The steps were too wide for one step, but too narrow for two steps, so the best way to go down them was to run down with a strongly extended step. They were made of granite quarried from the vicinity of Strzegom and Sobótka, unpolished, but smooth and in rain or snow - very slippery. This, plus the long step, caused frequent tipping. The stairway entrances to the platforms of streetcar stops were already of standard dimensions, more convenient for descending and ascending. On the walls of the passage was, for the 1970s, a very exclusive cladding of polished Karkonosze granite (now these slabs are in the Geological Museum of Wroclaw University). In the passageway, between the exits to the platforms of the stops, there was a bar, which served the first and only toast in the city. Despite its shortcomings, the underpass, when built, smelled of the "big world" (with the passage of time rather something else...), to some it was associated with the coveted underpass stations, and for many it was a meeting place and even an all-day existence.

3 May 19893 May 19893 May 1989

May 3, 1989, Solidarity rally at the underpass on Świdnicka Street.

Photo: Wiesław Dębicki, Słowo Polskie / Gazeta Wrocławska | source: fotopolska.eu

longing for an old solution

The sociological aspect of the underpass on Świdnicka Street is a separate topic, which was reached for by Wroclaw artists-activists in an action carried out before the demolition of the old solution. In 2015, street happenings and the publication "Transition" were created, which consisted of hundreds of photos prepared by five photographers observing the underground life of this small part of the city. Katarzyna Krajewska and Karol Krukowski, the authors of the study, spent five months collecting statements-memories from residents about their emotional ties to the place and the ways they used it. Among them were beggars sitting on the wide steps, ladies selling flowers in the aisle, amateurs of the aforementioned toasts served at the "Bite" bar, rock and jazz bands, singing and playing music school students. In addition - thousands of Wroclaw residents who crossed the passage every day going to and from work, shopping, theater, opera, cafes.

Katarzyna Krajewska said this about the old passage in 2015:

[...] this space was totally heterogeneous. There, two worlds intermingled nonstop. People who went underground, escaping from reality, were accompanied by a rapid stream of those who ran through the tunnel to the other side of the street or to the streetcar stop. These two streams did not collide with each other, in fact, they rarely knew how to meet. Underground musicians, beggars, sellers of flowers and knitted slippers tried to stop those passing by, often without effect. On the other hand, they probably didn't feel very comfortable on the surface. They were not the beneficiaries of social and economic change - they needed such an enclave.

News from Wroclaw, Świdnickie Passage. What is left of it in our memory?
Magda Piekarska, Tygodnik Wrocław, 28.05.2015 | 20:00

At the stops "design culture".

However, everything has its beginning and end, and so it happened with the iconic underpass. Despite the many positive feelings with which the underpass was endowed by the citizens of Wroclaw, it had its basic disadvantages - it divided Świdnicka Street, decomposing the scenic axis leading the eye for several kilometers, from the Market Square to the intersection with Piłsudskiego Street andfurther on, was inconvenient for those descending and unsuitable for the safe descent of strollers and bicycles, and additionally constituted after several decades of use a neglected underground enclave, full of unpleasant smells and unexpected, sometimes dangerous situations.

Świdnicka Street with an underpass will always be crippled. Its removal is the first step in positively changing the place. After reconstruction, the pedestrian crossing will be exclusively overhead," Piotr Fokczynski, Director of the Architecture Department of the Wroclaw City Hall, told the media in 2012.

www.tuwroclaw.com, news, Tomek Matejuk,
They want to save the Świdnickie crossing. "Świdnik as we know it must exist!", 24.10.2013

So the crossing was rebuilt and completely changed, but not to the extent of the winning competition design.

wizualizacjawizualizacjawizualizacja

visualization, view from the Market Square side

© Major Architects

And it envisioned, in addition to eliminating the old underpass and bringing pedestrians across the W-Z Route at ground level, combining the street structure with elements of art and culture. In its description of the project, the tvn24 portal called it "designer culture."

Above the new passage will be an installation with a screen, fulfilling the role of both a bus stop and a channel of communication between the city and residents. The installation will be used for film projections, concert broadcasts and other live events. The interior of the block will feature modern art installations, suspended above the heads of waiting travelers, architect Marcin Major explained in an interview.

tvn24, "This is how the new Świdnicka is to look like," Wrocław, 8.10.2012 | 6:41

The underground part, not filled in by the new arrangement, but reconstructed, was to house an art gallery. Access to it, as it used to be, from both sides of Świdnicka Street allowed passage to the other side under the surface of the area. However, it was not to be a passage in the old sense, but only an access to the interior hidden underground.

wizualizacjawizualizacjawizualizacja

visualization, interior of the gallery

© Major Architects

designed, not realized

What of the following has been completed? The walkway on the grounds and the underground gallery, which was later a library - innovation center, and now, abandoned, awaits a new function; also Bar Barbara superbly rebuilt and modernized, with a modern greening of the foreground. However, the most interesting elements, treating streetcar stops in an innovative way, i.e. constructions with screens on which important information, films, animations, etc. were not realized.

In the competition, we referred to the historical development of the place and proposed volumes, the so-called "ghosts of history", reminiscent of objects that once stood there. Their walls - screens were to be made of weather-resistant fiberglass rods," the designer explains. - The plane of the screens would be openwork with clearances to allow free air flow, and at the same time compact enough to allow images to be displayed on them. From a distance, the screens would look like smooth glass, but thanks to this spatial design, the messages emitted on it would give the impression of being three-dimensional (and would not be just another flashing led screen). It would truly be a "future."

To visualize the idea, the studio even made a piece of a 1:1 scale model showing part of the screen. The idea trumped the forty-four other entries in the competition, and it could have been an icon of Wroclaw. So what if it didn't happen.

{Image@url=https://cdn.architekturaibiznes.pl/upload/galerie/52023/images/original/8bc75a8e3cbd7e37e96493309cc7cc4a.jpg,alt=przejście at Świdnicka Street, current state,title=passage at Świdnicka Street, current state}

Crossing at Świdnicka Street, current state

photo: Dobrochna Stobiecka

When asked why this happened, Marcin Major says:

Unfortunately, the project's budget at the time of the tender fell short of the one assumed by the city. However, the difference saved was not worth the loss of the whole concept and the potential profit that Wroclaw could have had from it.

Przystanek Kultura is therefore still waiting for the culture saved a few years ago.


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