The building at Sprzeczna 4 street aspires to continue the restoration of the beautiful Praga district and to become a recognisable element not only in the immediate vicinity, but also on a larger scale. The building is supposed to be a starting point for the restoration of the whole urban block. And it can be claimed that the key to restore an urban block is the frontage.
Sprzeczna 4 is a manifest of prefabrication. This prototypical, demonstration building ordered in our office was designed to disenchant prefabrication – a technology compromised in Poland in the communism era by the large-panel housing estates. The building was deliberately erected on a plot of land that apparently does not fit the stereotype of prefabrication: tiny, rambling and located in a compact 19th century frontage development. Consciously, at times unreasonably, all the available prefabrication technologies were applied: exposed coloured concrete, impression and reliefs, electrical installations integrated into the walls, heating ceilings and many more. The result is a building assembled from numerous large-size elements produced in a factory. The facility folded from large-size elements is not finished and it does not incorporate any accessories or decorations.
It is a sincere story about what a building is, what it is made of and how it works. The building at Sprzeczna 4 street aspires to continue the restoration of the Praga district and to become a recognisable element not only in the immediate vicinity, but also on a larger scale. The building is supposed to be a starting point for the restoration of the whole urban block. Red concrete elevations are an example of taking responsibility for the aging processes of the applied materials, having regard to the plastered residential buildings that are erected and their common problem of an elegant appearance only at the time of the sale.
Sprzeczna 4 is a polemic with the half-feudal construction system based on the work of poorly-paid immigrants and the construction method taken practically from the 19th century. Sprzeczna 4 is a proposal to introduce in our country the rules of fair business and social responsibility, using the prefabrication method, which is so popular in Western Europe and Scandinavia. Paradoxically, this tiny, extremely untypical and advanced building is also a forecast of cheap and available construction made possible due to industrialisation and prefabrication.
Although the building is supposed to be a manifesto against the prevailing construction methods of Poland and thus a disregard to what surrounds it, were there some considerations taken when designing and building in a historic part of Warsaw?
What is the actual footprint of the building?
The ordered prototype, showcase building was supposed to disenchant prefabrication – a technology disgraced in the communist Poland by panel housing complexes. The building has been purposefully constructed on a plot seemingly not fitting the stereotype of prefabrication: small, irregular, within a tight 19th century frontage development. Consciously, and sometimes irrationally, all of the available prefabrication technologies have been used: colored architectonic concrete, imprints and reliefs, electric wiring systems integrated with the walls, heating ceilings, and many more. The building has been created from large scale elements manufactured in a plant, and not formed with the hands of men at the construction site. The building constructed from large scale elements does not include finishing, fittings, and decorations. It is an honest story about what the building really is, what is it made of, and how it works. Each of its elements constitutes an integral part of a logical whole.
The building became a pretext to discuss a number of important issues, present in the contemporary Polish residential housing. Sprzeczna 4 constitutes a discussion with the semi-fundamental system of erecting buildings based on the work of poorly paid immigrants, and a construction method adopted almost from the 19th century. Sprzeczna 4 constitutes a proposition to introduce fair business rules and social responsibility to our country, taking advantage of the prefabrication method so popular in West Europe and Scandinavia. Paradoxically, this small, extremely unique, and advanced building, signifies also cheap and affordable housing possible thanks to industrialization and prefabrication. Sprzeczna 4 stands for a “tonal” prefabrication - apart from the diaphragm wall in the garage and the bottom slab, almost everything has been prefabricated.
The building has been created in the Praga district of Warsaw, east of Wisła, which was a separate city until 1791. Praga has been heavily damaged during World War 2 and was later never fully rebuilt. Over the next decades, Praga has been neglected. There were no investments in the housing infrastructure (up to this day, one can find buildings damaged during the war), culture (sparse theaters and cinemas), or communication (no ring road). These privations resulted in i.a. lower prices of estates on the right side of the Wisła river. It was only in recent years that more investments took place in Praga: some buildings were renovated, a subway line has been created, and a modernization of tram lines is being carried out.
Praga has become an interesting location for artists and tourists – this part of Warsaw wakes up just now, galleries are being created, as are small gastronomic facilities, and new residents more and more often move in to the new buildings. Buildings which are interesting from an architectonic point of view, and which would never be constructed in other, more expensive districts of Warsaw, are erected here more and more often. The Sprzeczna street, on which our building has been constructed, is also very neglected and includes many decrements, so I can say that in a way, a new and alternative center of Warsaw is being created on its “ashes”. Both the city and developers begin to notice the potential of this part of Warsaw.
Why create a second axis for the apartments that are now in an angle compared to the street?
The building – filling, with its form set at a 45 degree angle, constitutes our solution to the problems which we have faced here. Non-rectangular rooms, in small, cumbersome apartments - typical for the Warsaw real estate market, are not fit to live in. Thus, our pragmatic decision to construct the building on the plot’s axis and within it until reaching the plot ratio limited by the master plan, may seem surprising. The crosswise geometry of the street with unique triangular quarters, is complemented by balconies and loggias.
What led to the choice of the bold colour of the concrete as the materiality of the façade?
Praga, never rebuilt after the war, is associated with the color red. With the color of a brick façade, from which the plaster has fallen off. With the color of a ruin, which is embedded in the consciousness of the residents of Warsaw. Just like in the case of one of our recent executions – the Katyń Museum, where we tried to avoid similarities with the historical fortification structures by using red bricks, but instead consciously attempted to find a balanced language of narration. We’ve taken the same approach to the context and selecting materials at Sprzeczna 4. The red concrete façades constitute an example of taking responsibility for the manner in which the used materials age, taking into consideration the created plastered housing developments and their common problem of an elegant design only when they are purchased.
What was the significance of the Warsaw mermaid, landscape, gargoyles as icons and having these as the only symbolic ornamentation of the building?
An integration of craftwork and art with architecture always constituted a good tradition of modernist architecture. The period of initiating capitalism in Poland constitutes the period of contempt for such fields as contemporary art. We want to show that residents can experience art even in a developer building. That is why we have worked with Polish illustrators and artists who have proposed multiple artistic interventions, for example in the form of re-interpreting the symbol of Warsaw – the Warsaw Mermaid.