Take me to the river

Project showcase
Vastint, a developer better known for the Business Garden office complexes it has built in cities across Poland and the wider region, has recently unveiled its plans to develop a new residential district in Poznań

This isn’t the company’s first foray into the housing sector. In Poland, it has already launched its Stara Rzeźnia multifunctional project in Poznań city centre and completed Riverview in Gdańsk’s former shipyard district, but it is certainly the biggest so far – it will eventually comprise around 50 buildings with about 1,800 apartments for purchase or rent, ranging from 30 sqm studios to 100 sqm 5-room flats.

Portowo, in the Starołęka neighbourhood south of the city centre, is so named because of its location on the 16 ha site of a former transhipment wharf, the remains of which can still be seen to this day. It dates back to 1881, when it was established in to serve the factories that operated nearby. Right next to the wharf, in 1941, a river shipyard was eventually built, which continued to operate after the war as the country rebuilt itself. River barges known as ‘Poznanianki’ were constructed and renovated on the site, where they were also moored during the winter. The site also once housed the Pollena Lechia cosmetics factory. The shipyard finally became redundant in 1999, when the last vessels left it. Since then, this neglected quarter of the city has been taken over by walkers, anglers and wildlife. The brownfield site is partially bounded by ul. Hetmańska and ul. Starołęcka, close to the Starołęka roundabout on the right bank of the river Warta, which flows through Poznań.

The permits for the first stage of Portowo were issued earlier this year, but Vastint’s plans to develop the site actually go at least as far back as 2008, when it bought the first plot. The long time it has taken between then and finally getting to the stage of launching the project this year has mainly been due to having to overcome a series of objections by third parties.

Post-industrial chic

So why did Vastint choose this particular place for such a project? “We saw the great potential of this location,” reveals Rafał Przybył, the regional manager of Vastint Poland, ”the proximity of Starołęka to the city centre and the unique landscape values of the place were a great advantage, as well as the post-industrial character and size of the area, which allow us to develop it in line with our philosophy of creating places friendly to live.”

He also goes on to explain how the development will address the housing and living needs of the inhabitants of Poznań: “Among the most important priorities taken into account when designing Portowo was convenience and meeting the needs of various groups of residents related to functioning in a large city. This estate, perfectly connected to the centre of Poznań, will be a self-sufficient, intimate town with all amenities and services in the field of education, childcare, health care, public transport and commerce. The proximity of the river Warta and green areas open to residents will enable access to various forms of recreation, active leisure and outdoor meetings, and will serve to build community,” emphasises Rafał Przybył.

Concentrated on sustainability

Revitalising a former industrial area is obviously good for the local environment, but it’s also good town planning. One of the problems this approach helps to avoid is adding to the urban sprawl, curbing the seemingly inexorably expansion of our cities. Szymon Wojciechowski, the CEO of APA Wojciechowski, the architectural studio commissioned to design Portowo, elaborates on how the redevelopment of such sites exemplifies a sustainable approach: “A more concentrated city means creating more efficiency, wasting less energy, having better communication, sharing common solutions and infrastructure instead of building new ones from scratch. It is also about ‘filling in the gaps’ in the city’s fabric. Great locations, which used to be occupied by industry in the past, are now empty, waiting to start a new chapter as friendly space for people to live in. And Portowo in Poznań is going to be a prime example of this. Redefined, in a new, contemporary form, and rich in greenery, the site will be brought back to the city and its inhabitants.”

It’s also the case that brownfield redevelopments are more challenging architecturally than those built from scratch. But as any architect will tell you, they tend to thrive on such challenges, as Klara Janicka, a senior architect at APA Wojciechowski, explains: “The redevelopment of the plot of the former soap factory presented us, as architects, with a whole range of opportunities. But the post-industrial topography of the site was a huge challenge for us. The plot, which was shaped by the human hand, has a large variety of levels and forms. The displacement between the ul. Starołęcka street-level and the basin edge level is over 8m. We have used this slope, for example, to provide access to underground parking without the need for excessive earthwork or creating more interesting landscaping features.” That key feature, the slope of the site, has also been incorporated into the overall design to make the architecture more interesting. “The height of the buildings will vary from lower-rise close to the water, through medium ones in the centre of the plot, to higher dominant ones. This will provide a great view from the flats to the river, and at the same time higher buildings create an acoustic barrier from ul. Starołęcka. We have also used the differences in elevation to define the privacy of the space. The public space will be located lower down, while the semi-private and private space is higher up in relation to the street,” adds Klara Janicka.

Model thinking

“Portowo reflects Vastint’s way of thinking about creating friendly and sustainable living spaces. We have focused on a well-thought-out and balanced combination of residential functions with infrastructure providing access to essential services, recreation and relaxation, which naturally strengthens social interactions and increases the quality of life of residents,” insists Rafał Przybył, who also believes that the project could provide a model for residential developers in the future: “Portowo will be much more than just another riverside residential development. We believe that it will become a model example of using the recreational and recreational potential of the riverside areas in Poznań and will encourage people to live by the river again.”

Portowo is to be developed in five or six stages. The first phase is scheduled to start in autumn this year, which will see the construction of eleven residential buildings with 378 apartments, while the final phase is likely to be completed in 2036.