Located in the historic heart of Toruń, Poland — a beautifully preserved medieval town centre which has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site - "Apartamenty Monka” is a new residential development of nine rental apartments that unfold across three floors of a picturesque gothic building. Designed by Polish architect Paweł Tatara and architectural practice Znamy Się, the project addresses an architectural conundrum facing historic European cities such as Toruń: how do you reconcile the need for contemporary dwellings with the imperative to preserve the city’s building heritage? The issue was especially pronounced in this case as the architects had to work with a centuries-old building that was initially built not for housing purposes but as a granary.
A matrix of round-top windows, which once served to load and unload the sacks of grain into the storage facility, imbue the building with a fairy tale quality, enhanced by the bright red brickwork and the steeped gable roof. What the windows provide in scenic value, they take away however in layout flexibility and daylight penetration made all the worse by the low ceiling height. In order to resolve these issues, the architects ingeniously designed the second and third-floor apartments as two-story, loft-style maisonettes, which maximise the potential for natural light courtesy of the double-height spaces and the open-plan layout, while for the fourth-floor apartments they took advantage of the attics above to increase the ceiling height and introduce skylights.
Due to the irregularities of the historic structure each apartment is different in layout, an attribute that the architects have embraced and boosted by introducing unique details and colours, most notably in the design of the bathrooms. Conceived as monochromatic steel cubes, and placed in the middle of the apartments, the bathrooms serve several purposes including acting as a buffer between living and sleeping areas, and introducing a contemporary element amid the age-old architecture of timber beams, round-top windows and thick masonry walls.
The introduction of the bathroom as separate volumes provides an opportunity for customization with each apartment sporting a different colour, its vivid hue in juxtaposition with the neutral palette of white and natural wood that otherwise rule. Furthermore, each cube has a unique stained-glass, floor-to-ceiling window whose design was inspired by the city’s history. In apartment number 2 for example, the design refers to the tripartite vault found in Toruń’s Cathedral while apartment number 4 pays homage to its gothic trefoil. The graphic stained-glass design not only adds a subtle decorative flair but also allows natural light to reach the bathroom area. Interventions such as these exemplify how inhabiting a historic building doesn’t have to mean a restriction of creativity, on the contrary, it’s an opportunity to showcase the old in a new light.