Cultural Centre ‘Twórcza Twarda’ in Warsaw
Competition Project
Warsaw, Poland

Team: Irgen Salianji, Karolina Szóstkiewicz, Katarzyna Duliba, Adrianna Drohomirecka


Project Description:

The site of ‘’Creative Twarda’’ Cultural Centre is located in the heart of Warsaw’s city centre and is deeply affected by its eventful historical heritage and radical transformation following the destruction during the WWII and the subsequent reconstruction during the socialist period. Inscribed inside the former Warsaw Ghetto and within a short walking distance from the Palace of Culture and the Old City quarter, the site is part of the collective memory of the residents and it is surrounded by numerous monuments and significant institutions of the local Jewish culture and the broader artistic plateau of the city. The site is positioned right next to the historic Grzybowski Square and forms part of the wider cultural network of the area, including the Capitol Theatre, the Ethnographic Museum, the National Theatre, the National Art Gallery, as well as public institutions such as the City Hall, the Main Court and several Palaces and green public areas.

The site is hidden inside the urban block formed by the major streets Twarda and Grzybowska and it is surrounded by important buildings from each side. On the South and North edges it is framed by the low buildings of the gymnasium and kindergarten respectively, on the East side it neighbors with the historic Nożyk Synagogue, the "White Building" and the 44 storey high Cosmopolitan Tower, while on the West side there is the 16 floors socialist housing block ‘’ Za Żelazną Bramą’’ and the Spectrum Tower. The Cultural Centre faces therefore the challenge of both Integrating into its busy context and efficiently accommodating the two institutions that will inhabit its spaces: Młodzieżowy Dom Kultury (MDK) and Dom Kultury Śródmieście (DKS), as well as the shared Theatre and common spaces.

The project for the new Cultural Center is designed as a dynamic multifunctional assemblage of three diverse volumes that are integrated and interact with the surrounding buildings. The building is shaped in a way that emphasizes the separation and independence of each institution: MDK, DKŚ and the multifunctional auditorium, while at the same time it appears and works as a coherent object with its common spaces connecting all of the different zones. The building is connected to its surroundings through the sculpting and diversification of its volumetry, in order to emphasize and accentuate specific axes and relations that relate to it. The Cultural Center opens up to the south-east direction towards the Nożyk Synagogue and its square, the "White Building" and the "Zdrój" building, and links with the pedestrian path and axis of the Emilii Plater Street which leads to the Palace of Culture, as well as the west-east axis which connects it with the Old City and the numerous other public spaces and cultural institutions of the broader area. To solve the coexistence and parallel function of the two institutions, a height gradation was introduced in the section of the building so that the entire composition of volumes smoothly transforms from lower levels on the upper floors to higher ones on the ground floor and the street level. The building mass is also more compact on the West-northern side to relate to the larger urban scale of the "Za żelazną bramą" housing unit, while it is getting more porous and fragmented on the west side to relate to the low-rise human scale of the "Zdrój" building, the Synagogue, the kindergarten and the urban square. The Cultural Center has been therefore arranged in a way that the its overall shape is diversified and opens up to the surroundings as much as possible, while providing it with functionality and a unique identity of its own.

The building envelope of the Culture Center thus consists of three clearly characteristic parts, each with a different function, proportion and façade treatment. The ground floor is designed as a plinth that is intended to house the MDK, the main entrance and the public services. The largest and main volume hovering above the plinth accommodates the functions of DKŚ, offices and administration; while the third volume is the auditorium with rehearsal rooms positioned on top of it, forming a kind of chock or interlocking element. On the north side of the main building a backbone of shafts, vertical circulation elements and secondary spaces is positioned, protecting the building from the Northern winds, organizing efficiently the floor plans and permitting for the rest of the facades to be free of vertical elements. On the top of the plinth, a common public area is arranged, which provides direct access to the foyer of the theatre and the cafeteria and at the same time connects with the square and the space in front of the building. This elevated public space works as an organic continuation of the main square in front of the building on the South side and the open space in front of the Nożyk Synagogue on the East, creating a network of open air spaces that directly connects to the internal public network of the building, such as the atrium, the foyer and the cafeteria, which is positioned right under the inclined sitting area of the theatre.

The main entrance of the cultural center is positioned on the south side in front of the public space and leads to the representative glazed atrium that runs vertically through all the floors and functions of the Cultural Center. The atrium contains the information and ticket desks, while it brings daylight and functions as a visual and physical link between the different parts of the building. The atrium is designed as an empty monumental space that enhances the public character of the building and concentrates the vertical communication routes on its two narrow sides. The horizontal circulation around the atrium animates its void and creates diagonal visual connections, while it links to the public staircases and panoramic elevators that are clustered on the north side of the facade. The atrium is also connected to the raised public space on the roof of the plinth on the first floor, which is linked to the urban square through a large double exterior staircase that is wide enough on each side to encourage the visitors to seat in groups and perform various activities, meetings, events and other forms of social interaction.

The form of the Cultural Center is therefore the result of context and programmatic analysis through the design process. It aims to create separation for each institution to efficiently perform its own functions and develop its own identity, while at the same time it provides direct connections and possibilities to collaborate by use of the shared network of common spaces. It is a multifunctional object with an extroverted identity and expressive façade treatment seamlessly related to the environment and corresponding to the urban context. The ground floor is primarily a representative space, including the common spaces and functional rooms belonging to MDK, such as artistic labs and many other workshops exposed to the city thanks to the perimetric transparent glazing. In the main translucent volume of the building, on the second and third floor, there are the rehearsal rooms, workshops and artistic studios of DKŚ; while the top floor is dedicated to the administration and offices of both institutions. The solid characteristic volume of the theater is primarily a multi-functional hall, with perimetric circulation, rehearsal rooms and performance facilities located above it and the foyer and cafeteria located under it. A large window behind the stage creates optional visual connections to the atrium and combined with the modular stage floor, the adjustable orchestra pit, the side stages and the flytower, it creates unlimited possibilities for all kinds of theatrical, musical and artistic performances in its premises.

The main entrance of the Cultural Center is located on the side of the city centre and the public square on the ground floor, where most of the visitors are expected to arrive. The building has two secondary entrances from the East and West sides, which also function as evacuation exits. The eastern entrance also creates a direct connection to the Synagogue and its public space. Another entrance from the northern side is positioned next to the freight and the public elevators, for delivery, loading and back of house uses. The main public entrance is inscribed inside a large linear hall containing the information desk, ticket offices, cloakrooms and a place with benches to rest. This public zone connects to the atrium, from which the visitors get an overview of the circulation networks, the workshop rooms and the theatre stage. The atrium features a circular staircase which leads to the first floor cafeteria and theatre foyer, while two more sculptural staircases connect to the upper floors while offering an interesting routing inside the atrium. Therefore, the atrium becomes the essential component of the building, since it arranges its floor plans around it and connects all of the organs of the institutions. The ground floor accommodates the workshop and rehearsal rooms for MDK, as well as a conference room adjacent to the main entrance. In the northern part of the floor plan, on the axis of the main entrance, there is a stripe of utilities containing the sanitary facilities, the main staircase and public elevators for all the users. On the eastern side of the stripe there is the cluster of the staircase and the freight elevator that is only accessible to actors and the staff using the auditorium.

From the outside, the visitors can have a direct access to the first floor by using the external stairs and zone of outdoors activities on top of the plinth. The interior of the first floor is separated by the outside space only through glazed partitions, blurring the boundaries between inside and outside and giving the opportunity to organize exhibitions and events that merge the two conditions. On the first floor there is a foyer with cloakrooms dedicated to the theatre visitors, as well as a cafe and an exhibition area for the whole building. The cafe has the option of opening up to the outdoor spaces in the summer. From this floor, visitors can directly access the theater hall by using the stairs on either side of it or take the theatre lift positioned on the northern façade of the cafeteria.

On the second floor there is a space for musical and theatre rehearsals for the DKŚ. The rooms are arranged along the façade and accessed by the corridor facing the atrium, creating efficiency and interaction in the floor plan, and supplying them with daylight. On this floor there is also the stage and main sitting area of the theatre, as well as its technical rooms. The theatre sitting area has a slope and can host up to 330 spectators, including dedicated places for disabled people. A place has been designed for an orchestra in front of the stage, giving the opportunity to organize different kind of shows, while the stage features a fly-tower and side pockets that are directly connected with the back of house facilities and the rehearsal rooms. Both the stage floor and the orchestra pit can be adjusted in height for maximum flexibility.

The atrium has a representative staircase connecting the second to the third and fourth floors of the building. On the third floor, there are the workshop spaces of DKŚ. Some of the smaller rooms have a view to the atrium and some of the larger ones are placed on the façade. On the fourth floor there are the administration and office spaces of both DKŚ and MDK. On this floor, one can also find the changing and rehearsal rooms for actors, including wardrobes and storages. The actors have their own staircase and elevator which lead to the stage and the loading facilities on the ground floor. Each storey has been designed to be accessible for disabled people and meets fire evacuation standards.

The public space in front of the Culture Center has been arranged in a way as to encourage on the one hand relaxation and recreation, and on the other hand interaction and social encounters between the users and visitors. The platform, stairs and square are designed as one consistent unity and function as an extension of the internal artistic functions of the building, providing possibilities for all kinds of open air activities, exhibitions, meetings and events. The square is designed as a series of linear stripes with simple divisions highlighted by the careful use of materials, with no permanent obstacles that could disrupt the accessibility and flow of users, beside planters and urban furniture. More specifically, the paving is composed of two types of local limestone; one with a brighter tone and a smooth finish and a second with a darker shade and rough finish. These stripes emphasize important directions and connect the square on the West side with the "Zdrój" building and the Synagogue square. There are also two brown corten stripes positioned right next to the building. They underline the main pedestrian axis and refer to the facade of the auditorium by using the same material.

The urban furniture is designed and positioned in a way that enables the further organization of the space. Benches and flower pots with greenery and small trees are arranged to emphasize the entrance zone and expose the stairs connecting to the elevated public space above the plinth. The used materials, among others, are corten for vertical surfaces and wood for horizontal ones, so that the space and the building facades create a coherent whole, while sitting on the benches is comfortable. Other essential elements of the public space are the lighting and the element of water. Right in front of the wide stairs, the area was shaped into a shallow basin with small floor-integrated water jets and fountains, to provide cooling in the summer, create an attractive and playful environment for children and refer to the "Zdrój" building and the Synagogue, considering the importance of water in many aspects of the Jewish religion and tradition. The lighting is designed as stripes in the pavement and as vertical lamp objects installed on a regular grid imposed on the plan of the whole square. The remaining southern part of the square is designed with high greenery and becomes host to a playground for children. The required parking spaces for cars, including those for the disabled people, buses and bicycles are organized on the street and along the façade of the building on the west side. The loading areas of the building are located on the small street on the North façade of the building, next to the freight elevator and the escape stairs.

The design of the Cultural Centre aspires to integrate measures towards the energy efficiency of the building. All the facades of the building integrate shading measures: the plinth façade is shaded by the surrounding trees and therefore retains its transparency to create visual connections and animate the public spaces, the first floor façade is recessed and completely glazed since it is shaded by the cantilevers of the building masses above it and the DKS and administration façade has integrated vertical aluminum elements to filter and control the sunlight. Most of the materials and construction systems proposed can be supplied from national resources and factories, while the use of recyclable materials is integrated as much as possible in the design. The atrium can be used for natural ventilation in the summer and passive heat gains in the winter, while the consumption of energy can be further reduced by the installation of an efficient BMS system, the employment of LED lightning, a strict management of the use of each space etc. The roofs provide a minimum of 1.400m2 area for solar panels, while alternative energy sources such as geothermal energy could be further investigated. Green areas and the plantation of new trees have been proposed for the public spaces around the building.


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