by Jerry ElengicalFeb 25, 2022
Narratives in adaptive reuse, particularly with respect to the typology of decommissioned industrial buildings, have been the subject of innumerable headlines in the architectural community of late. Their pertinence at this juncture lies in how this type of approach to development prioritises heritage and history over creating shiny new spectacles, while also harnessing the environmental benefits of restoration over new construction - where the former generally yields far lower carbon footprints in comparison to the latter. In the city of Żnin, Poland, the enduring shell of a 19th century sugar factory, commonly referred to as the Cukrownia Żnin (Żnin Sugar Factory), is the latest beneficiary of this trend.
The facility had remained operational in producing sugar from beets until the year 2004, when industrial restructuring forced the closure of the entire complex that surrounded it, comprising 27 buildings in total. Given a new lease of life by Polish architecture firm Bulak Projekt following this tragic turn of events, the raw brick structures on site have been transformed into a hotel complex with a number of supplementary recreational facilities in its vicinity. Located near Żnin’s historic city centre, the complex is positioned to the south of a lake that once served as its primary water source. At present, the body of water boasts ideal conditions for a number of recreational offerings that enhance the appeal of the overall development - including windsurfing and motorised water sports.
As per the architects, the renovation project’s genesis lay in the purchase of the complex by Polish real estate developer ARCHE, who sought to retain the identity of existing buildings, and thereby preserve their historic value. In an official release, the team at Bulak Projekt reveals, “From the outset, the firm focused on preserving the history of the building by retaining almost all elements of the old factory, right down to its screws and sheet scraps. None of the existing structures were demolished, and all were assigned new functions (some are still in progress). Although large elements of the old sugar factory now interact with new functions, they are still quite visible. Smaller elements were also maintained and incorporated into the interior design and collectively, the whole project has retained its natural authenticity.”
Elements of this reverence for the original development’s spirit can be seen in the interwoven textures of exposed brick, weathered steel sections, and patinated concrete whose collective materiality remains the defining aspect of the project’s industrial-style aesthetic. This is further augmented by the architects' decision to retain the original stepped brick façade designs, the soaring chimney, and pitched roofs that gave the factory its distinct visual character, a marker of the era that bore it. In fact, on entering the main production building - which houses a large portion of the hotel’s suites - the atmosphere encountered within the interior still retains all the trappings of a factory. This is evident in the exposed steel frame, mesh railings, and brick arches, to the sheer expanse of the lobby and its exposed services, as well as the overhead trusses that support the structure’s long-span roof.
Of the numerous facilities that constitute the former factory, the main production building at the heart of the development contains 4-star accommodations - including 184 standard guest rooms and 15 two-floor rooms, five conference rooms, and a restaurant and bar. Adjacent to this, connected by a lengthy overhead bridge, one of the former warehouse structures functions as a 3-star hotel, with 132 guest rooms, and a restaurant, as well as a brewery, an aquapark, a gym, a sauna, and a playroom for children. Towards the complex’s other extremity, another warehouse structure hosts a conference space with a capacity of 800, alongside a multifunctional space, and an auditorium that can also double as a cinema hall. Finally, a stable building near the main hotel is home to a 4-lane bowling alley as well as a club room.
"Mastering the form of such complex buildings proved to be a design challenge, and creating a layout of functions and communication within the vast space was time consuming. Nevertheless, we approached that complexity as a unique asset. Construction required load transfer calculations of the new structures, while reinforcing the old parts,” shares the design team at Bulak Projekt.
The resulting ensemble radiates a sense of intimacy and warmth - a glaring departure from the cold, machine-like ambience associated with most production facilities. A sense of playfulness is also inherently embedded into the development: from the bold red enclosure of the hotel lobby’s staircase design, a stark contrast against its brick-toned context, to an inviting metal slide that references the exposed ductwork that runs throughout most public spaces. Contrasts between the initial and current functionality of the complex’s zones also play into this theme, through elements such as the monumental concrete columns that tower over a vibrant wall mural in the restaurant. Reflective floors, harlequin tiling, exposed concrete walls, and high ceilings with full-height windows in this space are another marker of this interplay between old and new.
Guest rooms are no exception, where the idea of laying the structure’s story bare for all to witness is taken to new levels, as brick and concrete-finished surfaces meld into one another, to the point where they appear to narrate the tale of the structure’s gradual wearing itself. The design team reveals, “The approach to the interiors embraced connections to the surrounding urban landscape, with old stone pavements being restored, and trucks, pipes, masts, and other equipment remaining where they were. This tied the whole project together, infusing a recognisable character into the site from the moment the entrance gates are crossed.”
In every respect, the project’s realisation would not have been possible without the collaborative efforts of the dozens of designers who partook in the process of making this ambitious vision a reality. Polish practices MML architekci and MIX - who specialise in hospitality design projects - were involved in crafting the interiors. This endeavour also enjoyed the support of local municipal offices and also benefited from the inputs of former workers at the factory. Through collective products of their efforts, as well as those of Władysław Grochowski, President of the ARCHE Group who saw the potential of this once-doomed structure, the Cukrownia Żnin has risen from the ashes, potentially reborn as a future landmark in Żnin’s leisure industry.
Project Name: Sugar Factory Żnin
Location: Żnin, ul. Janickiego 1, 88-400 Żnin POLAND
Original Building: 1894
Design Year: 2017
Year of Completion, Renovation, and Revitalisation: 2020
Ground Area: 360000 sqm
Surface Area: 16800 sqm
Usable Area: 23000 sqm
Total Area: 35000 sqm
Cubic Capacity: 150000 cubic metres
Architects: Bulak Projekt (Marek Bulak and Piotr Grochowski)
Architecture and Urban Planning: Bulak Projekt (Bartosz Potępski, Anna Siwiec, Katarzyna Fiedorowicz, Karolina Feliksik, Ireneusz Kossakowski, Łukasz Dąbrowski, Aleksandra Sybilska, Sławomir Kostrzewski, Ferdynand Słowik)
Interior Design: ARCHE (Katarzyna Grochowska, Wojciech Kolęda, Jagoda Dyszkiewicz, Elżbieta Laszczka), MML ARCHITEKCI (Przemysław Nowak, Paulina Masternak, Lech Moczulski), MIXD (Piotr Kalinowski, Katarzyna Majer-Hola, Joanna Mazurek, Dominika Niewczas-Januszek), Bulak Projekt (Magdalena Mika, Katarzyna Saniewska, Tatsiana Zarembiuk, Karolina Opałczyńska)
Structure: KONSYSTEM – Radosław Lorens
Electrics: Pracownia Elektryczna Adam Zdziarski – Adam Zdziarski
Sanitary Installations: ELER - Piotr Ściegienka
General Contractor: ARCHE