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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The very thin concrete slabs don't have any load bearing function.
The main structure consists of columns based on a rectangular grid and steel beams connecting them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.