New Green Collectivism


Moderna OdNova - modernism once again

How to preserve architecture of a modernist housing estate and solve social problems of the area, in the context of free market economy?  That question has been the main theme of the graduation master project from Eindhoven Technical University by Piotr Szczesniak ( on the "Behind the Iron Gate housing estate" in Warsaw (PL).

The living environment given by functionalism not always fitted the needs of individuals, causing middle classes to move away, being replaced by lower social classes, causing slow decay and finally failure of modernism (e.g. demolition of Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis or Amsterdam Bijlmermeer). However, in communist countries, the modernist ideas of the 'makeable society' were strongly embraced by the governments. With the absence of classes and individual freedom of choice, the society had no choice, other than accepting the functionalist blocks, which seemed to fulfill the needs that the central government assumed necessary for the people. The end of communism was the end of a dream about collective and social society. Freedom of choice made the idealistic architecture vulnerable to the similar processes that happened in capitalist countries.

Warsaw and "Behind the Iron Gate"

The nearly complete destruction of Warsaw during WWII created a chance to build a new functional, green and spacious city. Large streets with apartment blocks, sunk in greenery and parks, formed the new reversed architectural identity of Warsaw. "Behind the Iron Gate housing estate", (1965-72) constructed on the ruins of a very dense and unhygienic part of the city, was supposed to serve as a great example for good living conditions in the city centre. Apartments in 19 high-rises got access to sun light and green public spaces around, which connect to the nearby located historical Saxon Garden, creating the largest green area in the centre. Unfortunately, the execution of the idea didn’t meet the guidelines of functional city – more blocks, more and smaller apartments and lack of facilities. The district didn’t become desirable and the dream ended.

In 1989 communism in Poland also became to an end; political and economical transformation gave people freedom of choice; many left "Behind the Iron Gate". But the area remains relatively attractive for certain groups because of the location and price, especially for immigrants and young people starting their career in Warsaw. Increasing movement of residents increases anonymity. With the transformation came the need for new commercial development: offices, apartments, hotels etc...The city doesn’t have a clear future vision and is unable to coordinate new development, in a way that could solve existing problems or not create new ones in the future. Weak planning after 1989 leaves plenty of space for developers and free market. In cases in "Behind the Iron Gate" district, new buildings are squeezed between existing blocks. A growing amount of cars replaces greenery around the blocks.

Behind the Iron Gate housing estate over the time.

Mega Block

The solution in the study proposal is a new urban typology, Mega Block, which is a combination of the best features of two worlds: classical city and functional city. On one hand enhance vivid street life along the main streets going around the area, by finishing and defining the street façade like in the classical city, resulting in restoring urbanity in the area. On the other preservation of open and vast spaces between the blocks, the best features of modernist urban planning.

Mega Block appears to be a larger version of the Amsterdam city block, but Mega Block is open and accessible. All new development can be placed only on the edge, at the street, keeping the interior of the Mega Block unbuilt. The unbuilt interior of the Mega Block is reserved for collective and public green, parking and outdoor facilities in between the existing buildings.

Improving green spaces in the "Behind the Iron Gate" also will enhance the whole network of greenery in Warsaw, supporting the image of Warsaw as a green city.  

Mega Block

The spacious framework of Mega Block can be worked out further by cooperation between stakeholders such as: commercial developer, housing cooperation, representatives of residents. In such process the role of developers is shifting. Talking with residents can increase support for the developer’s plans, while residents get a chance to improve their living environment.

Green architecture

Long section through site of intervention.

At the border of two worlds, the urban street and collective green, stands an office tower, which interacts with its surrounding. In the tower’s base, shops and a bar/café are located; generating urban life even when offices are closed. The glass façade with glass positioned in an angle, visually extends the interior, making it part of the street. On the first floor a big restaurant is located, which can also be used for conferences or cultural events.


Glass and green tower.

To provide comfortable working environment in the offices, the façade is made out of glass and covered in green; the glass provides sunlight and view. The green façade absorbs heat from sun reflected in the glass; the green façade fits in the new image of green Warsaw. The office floors are surrounded by a ring/terrace with vegetation. On the southern façade the hanging vegetation works as a natural sun screen. The façade is angled, creating a better visual connection between the interior, exterior and the green ring.

The roof of the tower works as a collective garden, a green space with tables and benches, that can be used by employees of the tower as a place to work or to take a break.

Office space and principle of the façade.

The most important lacking facility is parking. An underground parking, automatic parking towers and parking garage were considered as an alternative. But the most efficient solutions is a shared (commercial/private) parking on the ground level, filling the whole space between the blocks and the tower.

The parking garage is covered with a deck that provides space for residents and green, the deck is the second level of using this space. The sides of the deck have different angles of the slopes. The gradient of the different slopes helps with controlling accessibility: steep at the street and smooth inside the area, where more social control is expected. Smooth slopes can be used for leisure and allows the biotope of the park to climb on top of the deck.



Steep slopes at the beginning and smooth in the back of the area.


New collectivism

Social tensions and the inherent problems of the blocks, have top be solved by a new collectivism, in which residents become involved in making decisions to initiate changes. Based on field research and consultation with the residents I have proposed a functional program with outdoor facilities for better integration, indoor spaces that extend their living spaces and create possibilities for initiatives. The ground floor of the blocks, will be dedicated to extra facilities such as storages, pram storage, bike storage, laundry room and a common living room with dining and kitchen. The common room can host events such as New Years Eve party, meetings or birthday parties of children. A large part of the ground floors will be dedicated to flexible spaces for resident’s initiatives such as: collective crèche, yoga classes, workshops or incubator for small entrepreneurship.

Outdoor facilities for leisure, recreation, food production and interaction between residents, will be created on the deck. The program includes: individual garden / urban farming, collective picnic zone, forum, sports / playground facilities and green hills.

Top of the deck.

The inspiration for urban farming comes from allotments gardens. Users of such gardens can produce their own food; older people can stay fit while cultivating their garden. On top of being a place for relaxation and social interactions, allotments gardens play an important role for the city biotope. The gardens are the most bio-diverse areas in urban areas, and especially they form a habitat for many birds. By containing more moisture, gardens help to cool down city (urban heat island effect).

Instead by fences, the safety of the gardens is provided by locating the gardens on a small hill with coniferous plants growing on steep slopes, making access difficult and unpleasant. The height of the garden hills and small depression under the deck provide enough volume of soil to cultivate small trees. The depressions are rain water collectors and natural irrigators in dry periods.

Allotment gardens.

Collective facilities such as picnic, sport and play ground facilities are located in the same way as allotment gardens; also on hills that provide enough soil for trees and bushes. On the slopes of the hills, as well as on all slopes of the deck, various types of meadow flowers and weeds grow, which are easy to maintain and more bio-diverse than grass. The green leisure hills have holes on the top, for natural ventilation of the parking underneath. The whole program of the top of the deck is reflected in the architectural expression and functionalism of the parking below. Trees grow through the holes in the deck, plants hang over the edges, rain water create a waterfall, when it cascades into the gutters below. All these functional aspects and differences in ceiling heights make usage of the parking garage an extraordinary experience.


Picnic and sitting area.


Ventilation through the hole in hill and edge of the deck with plants and gutter for rain water.