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In this photo thread someone asked me to tell a bit on the findings op the high-rise panel and conference we had the other week. Let me try to elaborate a bit on my own findings. The obvious thing to do when it comes to high-rise policy is focus on location and height. Logically one would expect the tallest buildings in the most exclusive or expensive areas, usually a city centre. But that is not the way it works in Europe, mostly because of historic reasons.

Since the expert panel consisted mostly of urban planners (I'm not one), most of them tried to come up with an urban scheme. Basically there are four high-rise zoning strategies: 1.) centre focal strategy (all in one place), 2.) multi nodal strategy (few selected places), 3.) landmark strategy (one building taking the cake) and 4.) no zoning strategy (leave it up to the market). It's obvious the urban structure of Gdansk is quite multi nodal, mostly with concentrated areas along the central service belt. The panel considered the area of Wrzeszcz (please don't ask me how to pronounce that) as the most logical location for it as high-rise would represent a high-urban area which is not conflicting with an historical setting.

A second location that should be considered according to the panel is the Stare Miasto area, simply because there's already three towers there plus the area really is a link between some of the urban and infrastructural centres. But we also understood that the future build-up of this area is quite a problematic discussion in Gdansk.

I not being an urban planner think high-rise policy should be more than just a map pointing out where to go. The main thing that occurred to me during all these interviews is that the urban development of Polish cities is quite market driven. It seems people trust market principles to work better for them then a governmental framework. I can see where that comes from given your past. In a way, Poland seems to be still in a transitional state of mind in where it is looking for a balance between the different powers that shape the city. To what I am used to, the investors have quite some power to push their projects as the government seems to be afraid they'll take their investment somewhere else.

Another thing that occurred me is that you guys sure do like your car. I can see that owning a car is a clear expression of personal freedom which is quite all right, but to me a city centre really shouldn't be about driving trough with your car, but a place in which one wants to be. This is clearly the case in Warszawa by the way. The area around the Pałac looks more like a collection of highway intersections with a city in between. The car use in the inner city needs to balance out a bit. The plan brought forward by some of the forumers had some good points regarding that.

If I look at the new Polish tall buildings now, the message what they are trying to tell me is that Poland very much wants to be part of the modern, international world. And you are. It's quite impressive to see the cities transform and adapt the way they do. In the Warszawa newspaper that was being translated as me labelling the towers as boring, but what I was trying to say is that these buildings can be found everywhere. Really, the main question when doing high-rise is the meaning of the building and the way it contributes to the city. Most towers add greatly to the international look of the skyline, but the lower sections do not seem to add a lot to the city. That is one of lessons we learned from doing 20 years if high-rise in the Netherlands and specifically in Rotterdam.

Our main insights in high-rise developments can be listed as:
- high-Rise is an opportunity, not a must. Do not use high-rise solemnly as a tool for density or to express yourself as a big global city,
- present a clear and simple urban concept and a frame for ambition. Ask yourself and the markets what it is you do want high-rise do you for your city, now and in the long run,
- state the lasting meaning of the location and the architecture,
- beware of overproduction. The market for high-rise is a compact one, there’s only a number of skyscrapers the market can absorb. Conduct market analysis,
- conduct studies of the impact for high-rise when it comes to shading, wind, parking and infrastructure,
- develop a detailed program for the street level and design of public space in the surroundings of the tower,
- judge the qualities of the project for durability. Ensure creativity,
- be communicative: two way stream. Create basis of trust and openness.

What project developers really want is a partner which with they can do business. I think it's quite reasonable to have demands as a government when it comes to the quality of a high-rise buildings. The buildings consumes 3d-space (visibility), so it is logical to ask for something back. They can work with that. What investors do very much not want is a city that can't make up it's mind about what it wants.

In general, for a city not the tallest building matters, but the best tall building does. The Sea Towers in Gdynia are really nice buildings, but I hope the city realizes these towers are going to dominate the look of the city for the next 75 years at least, i.e. the qualities that define the building should be durable. Besides the positive economic prospects, I do wonder how much market there is for more of these buildings in the tri-city area given the prices of the apartments. The architecture of the Sea Towers doesn't say a whole lot about the city in which it is located, and especially the ground floors don't seem to connect with the street life in the direct surroundings.

When it comes to Gdansk, I myself believe the ship yard area is a fantastic place to create a new city. There are some fantastic old buildings in the area which combined with new urbanity and new architecture really could add to the liveliness of the town. It doesn't even need to be tall there, but it could if people want it to be. Waterfront locations near the city centre are almost always good locations to create special housing markets, which is what high-rise living really is.

When doing so, the city really needs to make up it's mind about what to do with the Stare Miasto area. Ideally the combined areas of Główne Miasto, Stare Miasto and the new developed shipyard area could and should be the one city logical centre of Gdansk. Good, modern architecture really could bring new life into the rebuilt city, a really prefer buildings looking like they belong in that city and represent the meaning of the location.

As a model, the city could develop a framework in which it endorses a high-urban development of the Stare Miasto area with a maximum height limit of around 80 meters and very much focussing on the combination of city centre functions on street level (shops, night-life), and a 150 meter height limit for the ship yard area. Anything higher then 150 meter really would crap up the market for a city the size of Gdansk, leaving it with one tall landmark building and that's it. The three main statement which I believe the city should adopt are: 1.) enhance the old through the new. 2.) be creative with what you got, don't try to reinvent yourself into something you're not, and 3.) different high-rise for different purposes.

I believe the work that has been laid out in the Gdansk SLOW report is quite good. It’s a thorough investigation of the locations on where and where not to do high-rise. It could be enhanced a bit by adding some qualitative aspects like the points that have been mentioned above. Most of all I think Poland should be looking for a creative model that fits the local identity best. I’ve met quite a number of youngsters who seem to be eager to get started on that, and I can only hope they’ll be given the space and time to do so.

If anyone wants more input, let me know.
 

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Wow, thanks for posting that. It seems to be really thorough answer for my request :)

After reading (and digestion) I would like to ask some more questions.

You mentioned there are basically 4 strategies for high-rise zoning: center, multi nodal, landmark and market. Which one of those was dominating during the conference, which one was the most popular. The local government – which one (in your opinion) they opt for?

Few times you mentioned we should make up our mind on what we want. Was it your general impression the locals don’t know what they want? Or why they want to have skyscraper, beside just a great desire to have one.

Do you know any city comparable with Gdansk (or Trojmiasto), we can learn from? Is there any city of this scale or this kind of “multi-nodality” that has already made its homework and makes profits from its high-rises? Or any other that failed, except Warszawa? :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Strategy
The multi nodal strategy seemed most logical to apply to as Gdansk has a multi centred and stretched out set-up along the central service belt. In that way, the height of a building represents the centrality of these spots, although as a strategy it would really only be visible from Google Earth. It would be like a collection of little cities, which can be quite interesting thought. The question is whether each nodal point supports enough ‘cityness’ to make high-rise work for that spot. Given the size of the city as a whole, I would prefer a more concentrated approach. The idea to concentrate high-rise to just a few areas is also to create an economic scarcity.

Locals
Another logical thought is that market parties give the people what they want. In a way that is true, but the thing is that what the people want today may not be what the people want tomorrow. I was surprised to learn that still many people don't mind living in apartment blocks, although I also think most of them looked quite all right. Where I am from, apartment blocks are not being considered an option for family living with children and I think when the average income in Poland has risen, it will be the same for Poland. In the end most want a house with a little garden. High-Rise living is really for just a portion of the whole housing market, and even that group is far from homogenous. Also, most people in general have no clue about architecture, let alone they would ask for it. It really would be up to the local government to ensure long lasting qualities for Gdansk as people wouldn’t ask for that when looking for a house.

Example
The tri-city structure and the linear setup of Gdansk is quite unique. The only well known example I can think of is Dubai, which basically is just a collection of centres along the Sheikh Zayed Road. As such, Dubai doesn't have one skyline or one city centre, but more a collections of skylines and hot spots. When it comes to city size and urban ambition, Rotterdam's high-rise policy is one everyone can learn from as it not only deals with locations and heights, but also about the typical qualities that make high-rise add something to the city. If people want me to send a copy of that, pm me the address where to send it to.
 

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Just my 3 cents ;)

Strategy
We can't have one clear strategy. Politics still prefer small steps of probing voters minds.
These nodal points at first were separate cities. In time they grew to almost one chain. Biggest node can have "la creme de creme" being supported by others but there is more then one node with such ambitions... Alone they just won't make it, that's sure and people here know that. I prefer to be optimistic and I am taking that as a first step to common agreement which would lead us to one mayor strategy for 3city.

Locals
We actually don't have idea how to balance suburbanization sprawl with this "my house with a little garden" dream and don't lose inhabitants from the centers ("atoll effects" as I started to call it). One that is easy to agree is that we still are in transitions state of minds. I hope we can come over it quicker then one generation.
What we can observe here is right now big movement from "lower terrace" to areas farther from see as there every square meter of living space is cheaper. Furthermore these apartments in high-risers highly possible won't be bought by locals. In Sopot, for example, it starts to be possible problem because more space is being owned by people not living in there and what comes by not paying their mayor taxes there (just few smaller ones). What's more these people left these spaces nonoccupied at all as they treated them as investments or use them only throughout a summer season (2-3 month per year).
So from one side there is idea that high-risers might stop a bit suburbanization movement and from other side we’ve got big push from developers to allow them to build high-riser in rush because they know as well that only few first ones have a real chance to build it. SLOW have it’s name not only from (Strategia Lokalizacji Obiektów Wysokościowych – Strategy of Localization of High Buildings) but as well from “not make it in a rush”.

Example
I sent you pm with my email. Please sent me these as probably what I already have is just a shortage only.
 

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Strategy
I think concentration of high-rises in center is the way we should go. If skyscraper enhances the node, and the number of high-rises is limited, we should build them in the most important spot, or the spot that should be the most important. We all know that one of the major problems of Gdansk is its relatively weak city center. There’s a couple of reasons for that: side location in the city, lack of density - large vacant areas, communication and so on. I think if we allow to build towers in many spots, e.g. in Wrzeszcz, we can end up with completely dead center…

Locals
I’m sure every polish family would move to suburban house with garden, if they could. It’s just the matter of income, as you noticed. I don’t really get why consider those two as closely related: skyscrapers and suburbs. The limited number of towers won’t stop suburban sprawl. They cannot be considered as a place for living for many. As you said the high-rise living is a small portion of housing market…

There was an interview with one of the conference’s lecturer. She was sure that high-rises living is what a young small family really needs, it’s a solution for small cheap accommodation. I don’t know how it works in the country she’s form, but I’m sure it won’t work here. And I guess the high and cheap blocks of flats weren’t the ‘skyscrapers’ you were discussing during the conference…

I’m sure if the future skyscraper was designed as dwelling, in many cases It would be treated more as an investment than a place for living. It results in fact that some of the flats stay empty for the most time. I think an empty skyscraper is all we need! :) It doesn’t generate communication problems, doesn’t need parking places. It just looks cool. If the cost of ground doesn’t force anybody to build tall buildings, it is the need of give a message that does.

Recently I read a text about using architecture for cities marketing. There are basically two complement strategies. The first is called “reinvention of memory” and needs the historical architecture for build a image of the nice place. And I think Gdansk already has it for some extent. The second strategy, called “staging the future” needs fresh, iconic architecture, that suggest modernity. And this is something we don’t have.

Just after the reading I saw a new poster of Gdansk campaign that is taking place now in Poland. It tries to encourage people to settle and live here. So on the poster we can see a nice lady surfing on the see and the city standing on the beach behind. The “city” is assembled from local icons: the old buildings, the shipyard cranes and monument of Fallen Shipyard Workers – the elements of “memory”. But there is also a blue skyscraper among them. The symbol of modernity and future.



The funny thing is that there’s no such a building in Gdansk. We still wait for an “icon” to prove we are modern and cool :) Unless the congestion doesn’t force to build tall buildings, we don’t need them for anything more. Do we?
 

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Mckfmn, we are thinking almost the same way.

Why almost?
I would not mind if there in Gdansk would be in future only for example 3 such high-risers.

Now where?

1. Let's imagine that they are in one group. Would it be problem if they would have been build in one of such places like Letnica, Post Ship Yard area, Wrzeszcz near railway, Oliwa as well near railway or even near seaside at the end of Hallera street? I don't think so. Every such place is good for me.
If they are not in center (or near Main/Old City) they are like in Paris making prestige and city marketing. They are not coming in collision with all that historical structure and are quite good communicated.

2. Now let's consider that they are not in one group. And as well they would have been build in one of places I have mentioned above. I don't see a problem in this case once more. Why? Because also they are making prestige and city marketing, they are not coming in collision with all that historical structure and are quite good communicated.

As you mentioned we need an "icon" and we need it in Gdańsk and at the "lower terrace" area somewhere at quite good communicated spot. Where exactly? For whole city it doesn’t matter more then 2 lines up. It is very important for it future neighbors, that’s sure!


And coming to that suburbanization point, It is just a bit of wave in urban planners fashion that every one is talking about making cities more condensed and there is that Leipzig Card and that Polish cities are in that point of their evolution process as many other cities in the World. I don’t think that Gdansk government “invented” high-risers as a panacea for that.
Every thing started here because developers realized that they need to find new product then just a modern 4 level blocks of flats and city mayors see it as a good occasion to win something for a city.
(No mentioning that everyone wants to left something after him self to be remembered :) )


BTW I really like your idea of empty high-riser :)
 

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My posts are disapearing somewhere, hope this time it'll work...

If we evaluate all locations mentioned above only from those three specified principals, everything sounds quite OK. Former Shipyard, Letnica, Wrzeszcz, Oliwa – all of those are well communicated. They also offer plots distant enough from historical skylines to prevent any spatial conflicts and they are able to work for marketing.

But what about other aspects? Do we need to create a new ‘node’ in Letnica, the middle of nowhere, while our existing ‘nodes’ need to be enhanced?

Going back to what Jan said, I would like to know what the future skyscraper should offer to the city. Not being in conflict with history and traffic can be not enough… What we can get from high-rise, except the image to marketing campaigns? To be honest I don’t know what we can ask for. That’s why I would like to check what was the things they requested in Rotterdam :)

Lupus00, what is the Leipzig Card?
 
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