New City in the Heart of Wrocław

AD-Studio was approached by a Wroclaw based developer to help them create a new piece of city on the Oder riverbank. The brownfield site had previously been a flood risk but was now ripe for development as new riverbank structures had been built.

The intention was to masterplan the plot to create a new mixed use destination that would link Wroclaw city centre with its newly accessible river. The link would bring life and commerce to the riverfront and be a catalyst for further developments in the area. Uniquely the client wanted all the terrain accessible by everyone – no gated communities. He wanted to ensure the development would have a 24 hour life and not become yet another detached dormitory district. The plot had the potential to be a thriving vibrant part of the city.

His program defined that he would build phase 1 (a residential building) closest to the current centre of town as a marker for the project and over time rollout more and more buildings each one being more prestigious than the last as they developed them closer and closer to the riverbank.

Administrative Process Challenges

The development plot was part of an ongoing detailed zoning plan however at the outset our masterplan proposals were being based on an outline planning decision. The site constraints for the earlier plots were known however the later phases of the development could be affected once the detail zoning plan became law. This meant that both planning frameworks needed to be considered in parallel in the design to ensure compliance over the project lifespan.

Existing pedestrian movement routes (desire lines) were studied to understand how the plot was currently used, by who and from where. As the plot was currently empty it was clearly a good connection between existing destinations in the city. Our masterplan proposals would enhance the existing connections and build new ones, pedestrian routes, cycle routes and roadways. The study gave us indicators as to where the more active public areas should be located and where the quieter residential areas should be. Planning a new piece of city is different than planning a dormitory district. Cities need development rules, hierarchies of spaces and streets. Consideration of public versus private space and the many version of space in between (semi-private space, semi-public space).
Our masterplan proposals were discussed at length with the client as to how revenue and land value was being generated and how it could be maximized without compromising on quality. Finally a masterplan strategy was agreed and the design work on phase one could start.

As many streams of work were being done in parallel on the wider plot by many different parties special agreements had to be made with the city approvals authority to allow us to progress and not be held up by their administrative processes. We agreed with the authorities to separate the building permit process for phase one from that of the infrastructure – to enable construction to proceed whilst the infrastructure design was still being permitted. This allowed our client to deliver his first project months ahead of programme.

Modular Design for Ultimate Flexibility

The phase one was to be a test phase and as such it was not initially determined if it would be built entirely in the “for rent” format or would part of the apartments be offered for sale. The proportion wasn’t known at the outset and would depend on the market once the building is completed as well as the design itself (number of cores for example). The units had to therefore be designed on a modular approach to ease construction and rental operations. This concept was then applied to the whole building. It would allow the operator of the rented units to standardize all the fittings and furniture. A module needed to be developed that could be combined in a number of configurations to create each apartment size in the brief. We agreed at the outset that the architectural feel of phase one should be simple and elegant. A number of rather garish developments had been built nearby all competing in architectural styles. It was felt that as phase one was part of something much larger we should differentiate ourselves from the competition but also set ourselves an architectural language we could develop further in the later masterplan phases. This approach would give the future masterplan a thread of continuity across all buildings but leave room for some individuality

The final design for phase one maximised the modular planning approach and was wrapped in simple facades with localised features where there were opportunities for good views or in locations that needed a focus. Many of the penthouse apartments have roof top terraces with wonderful views towards the river or city centre.

Technical and Economic Challenges

The site came with a number of specific challenges that had to be addressed early in the design process so that they kept the project financially feasible.

First the plot had a very high water table which varied with the river level. The newly constructed river banks prevent flooding of the land plot from the river but did not prevent a rising water table. Financially (and from an urban streetscape perspective) it did not make sense to consume the permitted above ground build area with car parking however below ground parking in the high water table area is very expensive. Also the more above ground area that is residential space the more parking space is needed. A balance needed to be struck between all these factors. Every extra meter the basement had to be excavated would mean escalating costs and increased complexity of construction.

The exact positioning of the building vertically was critical. The lower it was positioned the more expensive it would be to excavate and build the basement, the higher the position the more likely the volume of the parking would poke above ground level and would be detrimental to the urban streetscape. A quality versus cost conundrum. A waterproof basement in a high water table acts like a boat hull, it wants to float, even with the weight of the whole building above it. The difference in vertical position by 1 meter could be the difference between needing to build piles deep into the ground to hold the building down versus not needing them at all. Various solutions for building the basements in the water logged soil were analysed for cost vs scheduling. Working closely with cost consultants we even had to consider the potential added costs of pumps & filter systems during the construction process. Working within a wider group of designers and consultants an optimal solution was developed that balanced the cost, complexity and time of construction with the increased income generated by maximising the above ground sellable/rentable area

A Garden Scape for City Living

Even though only one phase has been built so far it was important that after opening it felt complete. It needed to work in isolation before its neighbouring buildings are built. The central focus of phase one is its resident’s garden. It is designed with a combination of hard and soft landscaped areas. The generous quantities of soft landscaping add real value for the residents and is a selling point for potential new owners or tenants

Integrated Design – a Consistent Theme

AD-Studio also designed the interior common spaces of the residential building. The design follows the same simple, elegant approach to the external facades built with higher grade materials to meet the demands of rental properties. The building benefits from having spacious public areas that give a sense of luxury not normally associated with residential in this class. Like with the external appearance the intention internally was to create a theme that had elements that could be adapted for each subsequent phase providing both continuity and variety.

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