Varsovian landmark

In 2012 they purchased the plot and entrusted one of the most renowned studios in the world with the design work. Now they’ve started the construction of the tallest skyscraper in Central Europe on it. Marcin Chruśliński, HB Reavis’ development manager for Varso, gives us the inside story of the project.

Eurobuild Central & Eastern Europe: What is Varso, actually? What is so special about the project?

Marcin Chruśliński, development manager, Varso: When we purchased the site from PKP we started thinking about what the project should look like and, first of all, what it should be. As it turned out, we decided that it couldn’t be just another office complex offering standard facilities, but a unique place, and thus a very challenging one. It is situated in one of the best locations in the city centre and one of the most difficult at the same time. It is no coincidence that this plot was undeveloped for decades. It is a large inner-city site, part of which is covered by a slab above a railway line and another part will be covered by our project. The development needs to revitalise this neglected quarter of Warsaw. We knew that we had to have a special project, so we held talks with the city authorities and planners over the best way of developing the site and came to the conclusion that the corner of ul. Chmielna and al. Jana Pawła II deserves to have an architecturally dominant feature. We might not have been thinking on such a scale at the beginning, but we knew it had to be a building with a height of app. 200m. Only once we were doing the design work did we come up with the right proportions and height, i.e. 230m up to the roof and 310m including the spire. The administrative approvals made this official.

Where did the idea for such a tall spire come from?

It was the result of the designers’ work on the proportions and shape of the building. The tower’s floorplan resembles two boomerangs put together and facing each other, which cascade upwards to the required height. The final element was the spire, the proportions of which had to correspond to the building. We looked at a number of variations for the spire: shorter, fatter, with different heights for the cascades; but ultimately we opted for the design that was approved. At the same time we worked on the function of the spire, which is to be emphasised on the façade almost from the very base of the building. Apart from being the finial of the building it will also have technical functions, being a carrier for telecommunication antennas.

The spire is a difficult element in engineering terms, mostly with regard to the construction, but it will be the finial and the crowning of Varso. I hope that our building will be admired for many years and the residents of Warsaw will be proud to have it in their city.

We also want to make the most interesting aspect of the skyscraper – the panorama – available to every- one. It will be possible to admire this from two public terraces accessible by panoramic lifts from the ground floor, which will also be open to the general public. They will offer the option of viewing the city from even above the level of the Palace of Culture and Science. Going up in the lifts will be an experience in itself, a travel through time during which it will possible to admire the western panorama of the city. Then you will have to change and go up to the middle terrace of three, which has been designed as an amphitheatre and from which you will be able to view a panorama of central Warsaw. The highest terrace, at a height of 230m, will be the cherry on the cake. It will provide a view of the entire area from the very top of the building. We are planning to have a two-storey restaurant between the terraces, which will be accessiblefrom the public area as well as from those occupied by the tenants. The remaining lowest terraces are designated for the tenants occupying the space on these floors.

Will there be tickets to the public terraces?

Yes, there will be – but the prices will be affordable, comparable to the entrance ticket for the viewing terrace of the Palace of Culture and Science.

What will make Varso stand out from other office buildings, apart from its height and location?

For example, it will include a direct connection between the buildings and the platforms at Central Station. The ground floors of all Varso buildings and the areas between them will be accessible to the general public. Pedestrians will be able to move freely and smoothly. We are trying to make the scheme as public and city-centric as possible on top of its office function to create space that is open to everyone. All three buildings will be connected by a single passageway. An internal covered square is also planned, where all the passageways will cross. There will be no backstage façades in our complex and all will be glazed to avoid creating dead zones. This is to complement the buildings that neighbour it.

While were on the subject of neighbours... did consultations take place with the Polish State Railways, which some time ago announced plans for a large-scale mixed-use development on a neighbouring plot?

We took part in many workshops with the PKP, aimed at agreeing at the design stage on a mutual approach that would make it possible to create urban developments that correspond with each other across the entire quarter. When PKP’s project is complete, which is probably to take place after the redevelopment of the cross-city rail, our façades and the open space should merge into theirs in such a way that both projects will create one entirety. I believe that it is worth thinking globally when it comes to cities, about adding value to the urban fabric rather than just about your individual, specific interest.

And what should tenants expect from Varso?

High quality, panoramic office space with great parameters. When designing the building we did something exceptional in Poland and on a global scale. There will be several glass façades on this scale – one section measures 2.7 x 3m of full glass. This will have a particularly impressive effect in the corner offices. In these places we have designed a layout that enables clients renting two, three or four floors to create internal stairways for moving between the floors without lifts. This also allows multi-storey conference rooms or special studies to be set up.

The commercial section has been designed to provide space with a great deal of variety to suit different tenants’ needs. We will have the largest, most prestigious and modern tower, as well as two lower buildings designed by Hermanowicz Rewski Architekci, which, however, will not differ from the tower in terms of quality. The majority of the technical rooms are to be located underground, thanks to which we will be providing areas for large green rooftop terraces that will be available to the tenants of the two lower office buildings. They will include floors of various sizes, from floorplates of 1,000–1,200 sqm to as much as 4,000–4,500 sqm in the podium of the Varso 2 building. We also thought about having an extended co-working centre and are considering using some of the space in the 80m building as a hotel. These decisions will be made in the next few months.

The core of the building is divided into two parts. Why did you decide on that approach?

The idea for the two segments came out of an in-depth analysis for the vertical transport, i.e. the lifts. Dividing the elevators into two groups – high-rise and low-rise – turned out to be the best solution. The latter will go up to more or less the middle of the building. Double-decker lifts will also be used. Thus there will be mezzanines in the entrance hall of the building. The two segments make it possible to neatlyseparate the public area of the building from the business space. By using the route between the segments you can easily enter the public square and passageway.

And what was the approach you opted for when it came to the underground car parks?

Each building is to constitute an independent property and will have a separate entrance to the underground car park. However, the car parks will be connected to enable the ideal allocation of the number of parking spaces for each tenant.

Why were Foster+Partners commissioned with the design of the tallest tower?

Not every plot or spot is suitable for a design by that studio. We invited them because we wanted to make it clear from the outset that these would be ultramodern architectural structures and, on the other hand, that they would be universal, timeless and elegant. We did not want to declare some kind of architectural manifesto, which could lose its appeal after some time. This is architecture that makes a huge impression and at the same time – and I can see this from the comments it has generated – it is thoroughly simple, seemingly ordinary but wonderful because of that, like a well-cut suit. It has to be like this. You need to show responsibility when building anything in a city, but with a building of such a scale you have to be extremely responsible. Knowing the history of the Foster+Partners studio and its projects, the majority of which have become landmarks of the cities they were built in, we also hope that our building will become such a landmark. Before we unveiled the final design of Varso, we had around 50 versions of the shape of the building. This shows how much work was invested in its preparation.

How will the construction process proceed? When will it be possible to admire the complex in all its glory?

We are building on quite a challenging plot next to a railway tunnel – and this poses significant logistical challenges. Another is the integration of the schedules of the three construction stages built underground according to the under-the-ceiling method. The assembly of the spire will be the most significant challenge to be faced at the end of the construction process. But the entire development should be completed in 2020.

Varso in numbers:

Construction period: 20162020

GLA: 140,000 sqm

Building site: 18,000 sqm

New frontage of ul. Chmielna: a length of over 210m

Cubic volume of the buildings: over 1 mln cubic metres

Varso tower

Height: 230m up to the roof including theviewing terrace, 310m including the spire

Number of above-ground floors: 53

Number of lifts in the building: 16

The two adjacent buildings

Height: 90m and 81m

Number of above-ground floors: 21 and 19

Number of lifts in the buildings: 31

Number of underground floors: 4

Number of bicycle parking spaces: 750

Companies involved in the design of the building: HB Reavis, Foster+Partners, Hermanowicz Rewski Architekci and Epstein

Detailed design:

BuroHappold: structure design, energy efficiency, MEP

Benoy: interior design of retail areas

Sweco Consulting (formerly Grontmij): BREEAM consultations

VDA: vertical transport systems (lifts and escalators)

Emmer Pfenninger: façade of the tower building

RS Architektura: landscape architecture