A few weeks ago, ACE talked with 3LHD Architects about the Covid-19 impact, the reconstruction of Zagreb, urban regeneration projects, quality spaces and new trends in architecture.
ACE: 3LHD has been committed to minimising the impact of the global pandemic and has not only adapted its work procedures for your team and your clients but also invested a great deal of energy in the development of the VOLUM3 collaboration platform. Can you tell us more about your answer to the crisis and how you ensured a collaborative approach?
3LHD Architects: After an initial period of adjustment to the “new normal” we continued to work on current projects with equal enthusiasm and in new conditions - creativity, focus on details and commitment to cooperation remained the main characteristics of our work. Our past experience in working with remote international teams and the principles of work we adopted on our projects in Canada, China and Switzerland helped us a great deal to adapt to the situation. With modern technology, 3LHD's collaborative approach to architecture is possible even when we are not physically in the same space.
Over the past few years, our team has invested a great deal of energy in the development of the VOLUM3 collaboration platform (www.volum3.com), which is, in these challenging times, proving that design and construction can function without paper or physical contact.
VOLUM3 was created with synergy and enthusiasm, based on the real needs of an architectural office, in response to communication problems that arise during design and construction. Platform development began in 2016. It is intended for architects, construction engineers and other stakeholders in construction projects.
It makes project management fast and easy – deadlines, tasks and responsibilities of individual project collaborators are clearly managed. All project information is stored in a cloud-based platform; safe and always available. VOLUM3 modules are digital versions of real-life workflows - everything is project related. It does not change the users’ workflow. Active modules are: Plans, Tasks, Meetings, Product catalogue and Specs. The Cost estimate module is currently in development.
ACE: Has the "new normal" in any way influenced the design briefs that you are currently working on (working from home, distance learning, tourism suffering, etc...). Has the "new normal" changed the way clients think and imagine their projects?
3LHD Architects: We consider ourselves lucky when it comes to the type of projects and clients we are working with - it is important to have clients with a long-term clear vision, which is especially evident in these times of crisis.
Times of crisis are a great opportunity to re-think some usual practices and explore what can be done differently. A crisis always produces something positive for those who want it.
When it comes to projects that are currently being developed - yes, the clients have asked that we take into consideration the new conditions for working spaces, as well as environments in hospitality (distances between users, defining separate zones etc.). It seems that, unrelated to the “new normal”, clients are thinking more and more about the wellbeing of their employees. This gives us, as designers and architects, more freedom to integrate greenery into interiors, plan for outdoor, relaxation sports and recreational zones and facilities in our projects and create a more humane environment for their users.
ACE: The Covid-19 crisis has multiplied questions on urban planning and climate issues. In your eyes, how will architects re-think cities and re-invent spaces? How do you envisage this new cycle?
3LHD Architects: Sustainability, energy consumption and awareness of climate change have been a part of our projects for a long time. In recent urban plans like the Urban revitalisation of the former Gredelj factory zone in Zagreb, Delta Masterplan in Rijeka, Rimac Technology Campus and projects like Grand Park Hotel in Rovinj and Infobip Campus in Zagreb we have applied sustainable and environmentally friendly features and solutions. These include green roofs and facades, waste management systems, ground source heat pumps, air recuperation systems, use of materials that have no environmental impact over the life of the building and can be fully recycled.
We, as a society, still have a long way to go when it comes to urban planning and the effect it has on climate issues. But there is a positive trend in terms of legislative changes (in Croatia and the EU); hopefully this will set the basic framework within which we need to work.
ACE: What are the key challenges in the reconstruction phase for the City of Zagreb? What is the current situation now?
3LHD Architects: In the 20th century, the growth and expansion of the City of Zagreb has left the historic city centre neglected and instead development has occurred on the periphery. As a consequence, the capital has become a sprawling city with a low population density.
At this time, the dense and compact historical core is crying out for a thorough reconstruction, which was confirmed by the recent earthquake in Zagreb. Respecting the context and the local specificities of Zagreb, all new plans for reconstruction should adopt modern trends in urban development which were successfully implemented in many other European cities such as Munich, Oslo, and Zurich in similar abandoned industrial sites. The results of such projects are balanced and sustainable urban landscapes.
The main issue will definitely be financing. Another challenge of reconstruction are the ownership issues many of the buildings in the city centre have – multiple legal owners will make it more difficult to plan with a wider picture in mind and integrate the historic centre with the rest of the city. Displacement of the citizens during reconstruction is another delicate social issue.
ACE: You have been working a lot lately on various urban regeneration projects. Do you see such projects as an opportunity or even the driving force for the earthquake reconstruction in Zagreb?
3LHD Architects: Numerous former industrial sites, like the Gredelj zone, that are lying abandoned in the city centre today offer a unique opportunity for the first systematic planning in a long time.
The industrial zone closest to the historical centre extends between Branimirova Street and Vukovarska Street, and Zagreb’s main railway and bus stations. This area of 45 hectares has one of the most important spatial potentials in the City of Zagreb and is only 15 minutes walking distance from the city centre. The reconstruction of the Gredelj Zone is an opportunity to solve one of Zagreb's greatest urban problems, which is the interconnection between the north and south.
Gredelj is an opportunity to create extensive new facilities in the area, which will be available even during the reconstruction of the earthquake damaged centre.
The development of Gredelj can be executed in a timely manner considering that the Gredelj Zone has only two legal owners which are public entities of the City of Zagreb and the Croatian Railways. This makes integral planning easier.
The revitalised heritage sites integrated into the public space become a modern interpretation, but also a logical extension of the 19th century architect Lenuzzi's "Horseshoe" series of parks and public spaces north of the Central railway station building. Parks, green areas and squares are increasingly permeated with facilities such as markets, museums or the new Zagreb's HNK nightlife scene, reclaiming the public space. This would create a vital and substantially diverse urban environment with unique character and a variety of green architecture of enormous importance to the city and its inhabitants, as well as schools, universities and public administration buildings.
This is a moment where there is a need for long-term, environmentally and socially responsible master-planning, which will encourage all professions to work together in the rethinking of space for the benefit of citizens and the future competitiveness of Zagreb as an even more attractive European destination for life and work.
ACE: In your opinion, what is the relevance of architectural policies? What are your expectations at European level in terms of supporting professional practice and ensuring the quality of the built environment?
3LHD Architects: Architectural policies have a huge impact on all planning processes.
A good example in Croatia are the National guidelines for quality and culture of building developed and issued by the Croatian Chamber of Architects and the Croatian Architects Association together with the government. It is a basic document for better professional practices on all levels, which should include social awareness, the relationship with historic and cultural heritage, education and legal framework.
ACE: Congratulations! Two of your projects - the reconstruction of the Urania cinema and the Grand Park Hotel Rovinj are among the nominated works for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture - Mies Van der Rohe 2022. A total of 10 works of different typologies were nominated from Croatia. Can you tell us a bit more about these 2 specific projects?
3LHD Architects: When designing the Grand Park Hotel Rovinj, our goal was to have all the amenities focused on the spectacular view. At the same time, we needed to secure a suitable view of the hotel from Rovinj and incorporate its volume in the existing forest. Grand Park Hotel Rovinj is a viewpoint for the most beautiful stage on the Adriatic. No matter where guests are in the hotel, they get the impression of staying in a park overlooking Rovinj, St. Euphemia, the island of St. Catherine and the most beautiful sea sunset. Located directly on the coast, near the marina and the promenade, it connects the inner-city area with the tourist attractions of the Monte Mulini zone.
In order to blend into the existing forest, the floors offset to follow the slope of the site and form large terraces, Mediterranean gardens, pools and sundecks. A bar with a terrace and an à la carte restaurant are located in the lobby and the reception area, which is connected to the main restaurant with a central staircase. Great significance, in the hotels’ view, was given to five pine trees that have been growing on the site for over half a century. The congress hall overlooks the Rovinj peninsula through the largest glass window in Europe. Wellness zone includes a spa, a sunbathing area and three swimming pools, extending on two floors overlooking the surrounding woods and the town. The main pool is partially placed in a glass pavilion which opens in the summer, intertwining the interior with the park and the sea.
Italian architect and designer Piero Lissoni was in charge of interior design. Public spaces are characterised by a multitude of details, a large number of types and specific pieces of furniture that, despite mutual diversity, make a unique story together.
Urania Cinema/Theatre is one of Zagreb’s numerous old cinema buildings from the early 20th century. With the opening of modern multiplex theatres 25 years ago, the old cinemas started to die out; the buildings, neglected and empty, started to deteriorate. Despite its age, Urania had good predispositions to be adapted and reused.
The old Urania cinema is a typical back-building in the block of Kvaternik Square. The project of reconstruction was planned to convert the building into an office space and a cultural centre integrated into the existing historic fabric.
We kept three of the four original building volumes; the three-storey entrance foyer and office building, the big lobby and the spectacular main double height cinema hall. The only new addition is the glass pavilion, which originally served as an entrance space of the cinema.
The former cinema hall had a three-nave cross-section with a 9m high central volume and two 3m high side aisles. The biggest challenge was converting this space without any natural light into a functional workspace. During the reconstruction the central volume was divided into two floors. Light was introduced into the ground floor by converting the old cinema halls' side aisles into open atriums. On the first floor, the light was provided through the roof – three-metre-wide skylights were placed on the roof, through the entire length of the hall.
Most of the original structural materials were retained with minimal intervention - original brick walls, raw plaster, concrete on floors and ceilings; while all new equipment is made of three materials - oak for floors and spruce veneer and raw steel for wall cladding and interior finishing’s.
ACE: How do you think your projects will age?
3LHD Architects: Some projects age better than others. Materials play an important role in this, but in most cases - maintenance is crucial. From the beginning of our practice, we have tried to use natural materials wherever possible. We think this honesty in applying the essence of the material is important and we do not mind the natural aging process of these materials.
We have worked on more than 300 projects in the past 26 years, learning and improving with each of them. Material application is no exception.
ACE: What are the new trends you see emerging in architecture?
3LHD Architects: More and more architects are embracing ecology and sustainability, not as restrictions and limiting factors in the creative process, but as opportunities to investigate and apply new materials and techniques. Another trend that is present in recent years is re-use - adaptation of existing buildings and heritage sites and their integration back into the public space. Projects of revitalisation should take into account social circumstances, ecology and sustainability, and inclusiveness. Helping to activate social change, they are a great opportunity to encourage education, communication, and innovation.
These trends come hand in hand with initiatives such as the 15-Minute city project, which promote and support urban transformations centered around people, making urbanism ambitious, inclusive, measurable and effectively implemented.
ACE: What is your definition of quality in the built environment?
3LHD Architects: The built environment should encourage social interaction; it should be inviting to users, in software terms - the user experience should be effortless.
We can say we establish high quality in all of our projects, and we strive for them to be long lasting, understandable and useful, environmentally friendly and thorough down to the last detail.
ACE: Odile Decq’s advice for young architects is that the should "be curious about the world, want to discover the world without restrictions and accept all the differences." What is your advice for young architects?
Saša Begović: Develop and grow, master all the necessary knowledge and skills and be dedicated to your profession. Always have a desire for continuous improvement.
Marko Dabrović: Be critical, dedicated and curious.
Architecture is a slow profession, the average time from the concept to the realisation of a project is longer than 7 years. Architects need patience, curiosity, criticism and dedication to complete a project and see it built.
3LHD Architects is an architectural practice based in Zagreb, focused on integrating various disciplines – architecture, urban planning, design and art. More information: www.3lhd.com/en