00 research: air pollution 01 research: location 02 brainstorming 03 design 04 visualisation
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master thesis in architecture: smogless. vertical paradise in krakow

project duration: 3 months

This abstract, utopian project of a skyscraper is a manifesto against the air pollution in Krakow. The building not only cleans the air but also becomes a new typology – a vertical botanical garden. This garden is open to the public and offers diverse experiences of greenery, spaces and views. The journey throughout the garden begins in a two-storey entrance hall filled with exotic plants and continues with a ramp leading through the tower. Along the path visitors encounter various plants, closed interactive exhibition spaces and sitting spots perfect for lunch, to rest or simply enjoy the view on different levels. The reward for completing the trail is a spectacular view over the old town reaching till The Tatra – the highest mountains in Poland.

my process


research: air pollution in krakow

Krakow is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland and served as its capital until the 16th century. It has always been an important polish cultural and artistic melting pot. Nowadays, Krakow became also famous for being a “leader“ in the rankings of most polluted cities.

The city has been unsuccessfully fighting air pollution for years. The citizens breathe the most polluted air of all European cities. The air pollution seriously violates state and EU provisions as well as the guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO). In 2012 the urban background monitoring station in Krakow noted 120 days when the limit of PM10 was exceeded – the highest concentrations reached 500% of the limit.

polluted Krakow

air pollution in numbers

average polluted days
average pm 2.5 concentrations
Every year Krakowians inhale the amount of smoke from 2500 cigarettes without smoking.
Measured by the amount of benzo(a)pyrene in the air.

main causes of the pollution

location in the valley and inflow from outside
car traffic
solid fuel stoves

main pollutants & average concentrations

Particulate Matter (PM10 & PM2.5)

These particles are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs, causing a potential health risk. PM2.5 particles are about the size of bacteria and can remain days, even weeks in the atmosphere.

Benzo(a)pyrene (BaP)

Results from incomplete combustion of organic materials. Typically occurs in the smoke of car and industry exhaust gases, but also of coal and tobacco. It can lead to gastric cancer if inhaled regularly.

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)

Produced by the combustion of fossil fuels, part of the emission of motor vehicles, oil and gas boilers and power plants. Inhaled causes headaches and dizziness. Higher concentrations may cause respiratory distress and pulmonary oedema.

substance breakdown

project location: szkieletor

After researching a dozen empty spots in the city centre, I finally decided to use “Szkieletor” as a base. It is a famous unfinished skyscraper located in the city centre. This 100 meter steel-frame building was to become the first office skyscraper in a newly planned high-rise district in the scale of New York’s Manhattan. The construction works began in 1975 and stopped permanently in 1979 due to financial difficulties. The unfinished building has become an integral part of Krakow’s silhouette.

timeline dates
timeline images

building structure: steel grid + never built facade


The very thin concrete slabs don't have any load bearing function.


steel grid

The main structure consists of columns based on a rectangular grid and steel beams connecting them.

steel grid


3 main cores - lifts and a staircase are placed in the centre of the floors. Thin interior walls separate the cores from the office space. The external glass facade was never built.


ideation: exploring different concepts

Before coming up with the final design I tried many approaches to the problem. I investigated both possible functions of the building and the air-cleaning principle. I also approached Professors from Chemistry and Biology Departments of my University, to revise my thoughts on designing the air purifying system. Some sketches, I did throughout this process are presented below.

ideation sketches

design: raising awareness of the problem

During my research I learned that the best strategy to fight the air pollution is long-term planing. I decided to take an approach of creating awareness of the problem.

One building will never purify the air for the entire city but it can show how a clean air can feel. Therefore I proposed a vertical botanical garden that will be a public space open to the city inhabitants. It’s facade will also symbolically purify the polluted air using a passive system.

concept sketch

I divided the building into 3 main parts:

  • A trail leads throughout the bottom part vertical botanical garden throughout the height of the existing building.

    • Along this path the visitors encounter various plants, closed interactive exhibition spaces and sitting spots perfect for lunch, to rest or simply enjoy the view on different levels.

    • This part is of the building is where the polluted air is trapped under the inversion layer of “smog” and is therefore equipped with an air purifying facade.

  • The middle part is reward for completing the trail. It consist of viewing platforms in 4 directions – giving the visitor a spectacular view over the old town reaching till The Tatra – the highest mountains in Poland.

  • The top part of the building, so high up in the sky where the air is clean serves as a vertical urban farming. It provides fresh fruits and vegetables for the visitors and the surrounding residents.

new structure

the building structure adapts to the original steel frame

The revised design adapts to the original scheme of the building while the steel frame construction is preserved and extended vertically. Thin concrete floors are removed, allowing to fill the volume with greenery and create a path leading throughout the structure.

air purifying facade

Designed but never built glass curtain wall will finally serve its purpose. To attract the air inside I used a passive system: the glass panels are heated by the sun and due to the temperature difference the polluted air is pulled to the inside of the structure and then purified. A vegetation layer is used to clean up the air – it’s the most efficient in fighting benzoapyrene and the particulate matter that is in the Krakow’s air.

concept air cleaning

structure: trail leading throughout the building with different types of spaces in between

render stairs
the stairs in the top part
render path
ramp leading throughout the lower part
render external
visualisation of the building