A 19th century Polish sugar factory becomes a multipurpose complex. Here’s how repurposing buildings can preserve history.

Warsaw-based architecture firm Bulak Projekt, led by architect Marek Bulak, is transforming the former sugar factory in Żnin, Poland, into a multipurpose complex dedicated to leisure and tourism while respecting the long history of factory. The twenty-seven building site includes two hotels, a conference center that can accommodate up to eight hundred people, restaurants, bars, a spa, cinema and water park, with more space dedicated to ongoing recreation of renovation.

The Żnin Sugar Factory was built at the end of the 19th century and produced sugar from beets from 1894 until 2004, when industrial restructuring rendered the factory obsolete. As a result, the factory complex was abandoned and designated for demolition by the European Union.

But in 2017, the fate of the factory changed when its ruined historic buildings were bought by the hotel group ARCHE. ARCHE, in collaboration with Bulak Projekt, MML Architects and MIXD Interior Design, created the design for the renovation and adaptive reuse of the complex.

Żnin sugar factory. Photo credit: ONI STUDIO.

Keeping History Alive

For years before its closure, the factory was the region’s largest employer, playing an important role in the lives of factory workers. For Bulak, it was important to pay homage to this history by preserving as much of the factory complex as possible.

“When we started construction, there was an open day for the people of Å»nin to come and see what we were planning to do. Some former factory workers were moved to tears because they were impressed by the way we respected their work and their life,” Bulak told ArchExpo e-Magazine in an interview. “Sometimes people would say, ‘That was my machine. I worked on that,” Bulak said.

Control room. Photo credit: ONI STUDIO.

When ARCHE bought the factory, demolition had already started and most of the factory’s equipment had been removed, but according to Bulak, whatever was left was recycled by the architects and designers and integrated into the new one. project. Old factory equipment in good condition was left in place, including the piping visible on the exterior of the building which was fitted out as part of the renovation and whose plants are growing today.

One of Bulak’s favorite features of the old factory building is its tall windows with multiple small panes. The glass had to be removed but the architects retained the small frames, preserving the efficiency and aesthetics of the original window. If the equipment was in very poor condition, it was dismantled and used as a design element elsewhere in the complex.

“In the entrance, we reused a tank from the old factory as a planter,” Bulak told ArchiExpo e-Magazine.

While preserving the resort’s original character, the designers and architects also incorporated contemporary details, including a red-painted staircase that complements the building’s brick walls.

Żnin sugar factory. Photo credit: ONI STUDIO.
Żnin sugar factory. Photo credit: ONI STUDIO.

Challenges during construction

According to Bulak, the biggest challenge of the Żnin Sugar Factory project was adapting the old materials to the new fire safety standards. It was necessary to better connect the many floors of the factory building to provide more exits, which was done by adding stairs, elevators and ramps.

In addition, the building structure is made of steel, which is not a fire-resistant material in itself. The steel would have had to be coated to make it non-flammable, but that would hide its characteristic appearance. To keep the steel visible, Bulak built a new structure inside the old one, with a new concrete structure around the old one and new concrete floors under the old ones.

One of Bulak’s big disappointments came at the start of construction when a hurricane hit Å»nin. There had been a large factory chimney which the architects had hoped to turn into an observation deck, but most of it was destroyed by the hurricane and its reconstruction was deemed too expensive, so Bulak had to say goodbye to this part of the plan.

Drag. Photo credit: ONI STUDIO.
Drag. Photo credit: ONI STUDIO.
Conference room. Photo credit: ONI STUDIO
Bowling alley. Photo credit: ONI STUDIO.

Other adaptive reuse projects

ARCHE and Bulak Projekt share a passion for historic buildings and have collaborated on other projects including the renovation of an old palace near Warsaw. They also worked together to convert an old communist-era building as well as a former hospital, both into hotels.

Adaptive reuse projects such as these and the Żnin Sugar Factory help keep the history of built environments and the people who have frequented them alive, as well as limit waste by reusing elements rather than throwing them.

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