Re-using the past to build a better city

Jacob Kurek
Jacob Kurek
May 21, 2019

Find out how the Gdansk Imperial Shipyard can transform into a thriving city neighbourhood.

Gdansk imperial shipyard adeptive reuse project

Dating as far back as 1844, the Gdansk Imperial Shipyard — located at the banks of the Martwa Wisla and Motława rivers close to the city’s historic center — has played a pivotal role in the region, as well as Poland’s larger heritage. 

The shipyard was crucial to Gdansk’s economic rise as a power center for shipbuilding by the Baltic Coast. It also played an active role in the historic collapse of Communism and the rise of the Solidarity movement.

Today, this former industrial site represents a well of rich history and legacy, but also a unique opportunity to become a social powerhouse in Gdansk.

The Imperial Shipyard is being transformed to form a thriving part of the inner city in a collaboration between Henning Larsen, A2P2 Architecture and Planning, BBGK Architekci and Systematica.

The goal of the 400.000 m2 development is to revitalise the shipyard as a powerful social engine, by creating a mixed-use neighborhood by the waterfront. A neighbourhood that creates the connection to the water that has been missing - opens up this part of the city that people know of, but that has been closed off.

Since The Imperial Shipyard holds unique traces of history in generations in its remaining buildings, along with a deep personal connection to many families, connecting the city to the waterfront will help give The Imperial Shipyard back to its people.

The redevelopment plan will include a new space to have market days, ice skate or enjoy concerts. At the same time, it will offer opportunities to bask in spectacular views over the river and the city, as well as to savour the lush outdoors in an urban forest. 

Pedestrian and bicycle-friendly paths will be installed to easily connect people to and from the city center. There are also plans to explore an urban beach and marina alongside facilities for kayaking, in an effort to reclaim the shipyard for the people.

This project is a prime example of adaptive reuse architecture and urban mining. Adaptive reuse refers to the process of reusing an existing building for something other than its original intended purpose, or the reuse of materials, buildings, or volumes. In Gdansk, we’re using existing buildings to create new life. When it is not possible to reuse buildings due to decay, we reuse materials. The ambition is that nothing leaves the premises.

This dovetails into the idea that cities could become the mines of the future, and that raw materials can be reclaimed from spent products, buildings and secondary materials. Allowing us to minimise the consumption of scarce resources, cut costs and reduce landfill waste.

As the Earth’s resources are being rapidly degraded, it is clear that as the demand for raw materials increases, greater efforts will have to be made on recycling. The Gdansk Imperial Shipyard demonstrates how critical it is to consider the entire life cycle of architecture and construction. Just as we need to incorporate the buildings afterlife in our designs, we also need to think of ways to use empty sites prior to construction.

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