Poland’s Most Beautiful University Campuses
A content-rich curriculum, promising employment prospects, distinguished professors – these are usually the criteria used by high-school graduates to choose a college or university. What if they chose their schools guided purely by aesthetic values? Find out which Polish campuses make the cut.
University campuses are built according to two main concepts. The first one assumes that students – whose presence invigorates each town or city – should be dispersed throughout the city, placing different facilities in different parts of the city. The second concept assumes that university communities should be tight-knit and that all school buildings should be in the same area. University campuses make life easier for students: they have convenient access to different faculties as well as to dormitories, clubs, libraries and sports facilities, all of which are located close together. These campuses have a unique atmosphere – a city within a city – where students can get to know each other better and function in their own little world.
For financial and logistical rather than ideological reasons, some Polish universities have been built according to the first concept. Most of them, however, do function in the form of clustered campuses, which bring together most campus facilities in one defined space. One might say that, in terms of campuses, Poland owes a lot to the communist regime, as it is in the second half of the 20th century that the majority of them were built – a number of them stand out with their superb and very clever design. Poland joining the EU meant a big opportunity for the campuses’ development and operation, as it led to a flow of investment funds and other forms of support. Since 2004, an unusual investment boom has been noticeable – practically each university, college or academy, thanks to the EU funds, has built new facilities for its students (and the majority of them were built on the grounds of existing campuses). But which Polish campus is the most attractive? Which is the best-designed?
Campus of the Maria Curie Skłodowska University in Lublin
The Maria Curie Skłodowska University in Lublin was founded in October 1944. It was clearly both a political as well as symbolic decision – the new university was established in the first big city to be liberated from Nazi German occupation, and at the time served as the temporary seat of the communist regime. In 1948, Czesław Gawdzik won the architectural competition for the design of the future university campus, and construction started the following year. In 1965, the area was already thriving with over thirty academic establishments and dormitories. Since their construction lasted many years, each new building reflected changes in the architectural styles governing at the time. Thus, social realist buildings (e.g. the first headquarters of the Faculty of Chemistry and the Faculty of Physics) stand next to formal experiments designed post-1956 (after the so-called ‘Gomułka’s Thaw’), such as the Students’ Cultural and Service Centre (the ‘Student’s Hut’ designed by Krystyna Różyska in 1958), as well as simple concrete blocks, such as a cluster of huge dormitories.
Although the campus seems to be a collection of buildings randomly scattered among greenery, it does have its ‘centre’ – a square near the library buildings (designed by Tadeusz Witkowski in 1963) with a modernist, 1970s ‘skyscraper’, which houses the Rector’s Office and the Law Faculty (designed by Stanisław Fijałkowski). An interesting solution to this ‘problem’ was the creation of suspended passageways connecting key faculties and buildings. Unfortunately, today the foot-bridges are in very bad shape and not currently in use.
Campus of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń
This is certainly the most cohesive, best designed, planned out and implemented university campus complex in Poland. The campus was built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Nicolaus Copernicus’ birth in October 1973. The overall design was supervised by Ryszard Karłowicz, but particular parts of the campus were designed by different architects:
- Konrad Kucza-Kuczyński – the Main Forum
- Marek Różański – the Rector’s Office and the event hall
- Witold Benedyk – the library
- Józef Łucki, and later Andrzej Jaworski – The Institute of Chemistry
- Bogdan Popławski – the Institute Faculty of Biology and Life Sciences,
- Wincenty Szober – the dormitories, hotels for university staff, and a dining hall
- Zenon Buczkowski – the clinic
The university property, which spreads over 82 hectares, is planned out around two axes: dormitories stand along the first one, and while all teaching and research facilities stand along the second. Between them stands… a forest. The designers managed to keep approximately 80% of the forest which once grew there, and the campus is full of greenery.
The Main Forum and its surrounding buildings are the heart of the campus. It consists of a square with a pool of water in the middle. To the south, a symbolic gate into the campus is formed by the Rector’s Office, a cube-like, modernist building, as well as a massive, flat event hall, the façade of which is adorned with a multi-coloured composition of enamelled cast-iron panels. To the east, there is a forest. The northern part features the library, whose simple, symmetrical and subdued form is spiced up by the division of the two lowest levels and the addition of glass walls. The western side of the Main Forum is closed off by the Faculty of Chemistry, which is the first in a row of academic facilities.
Campus of the University of Białystok
This is one of very few campuses in Poland which was built from scratch after 1989. In an area surrounded by forest, which once was crowded with allotment gardens, a cohesive building complex was designed by Marek Budzyński in 2009. In 2014, it already housed the Faculties of Physics, Biology and Chemistry, as well as Mathematics. Glass buildings were built on all four sides of Science Synthesis Square, and connected by suspended transparent glass passageways on the 1st floor level.
For years, Budzyński has designed buildings, which function in harmony with nature and are full of symbolism and meaning. The same goes for the Białystok campus. All of the buildings are surrounded by greenery (including specially designed gardens boasting 8 thousand shrubs and over 200 trees), they have green roofs and walls covered with ivy. Water is key in such a natural setting, so in the very centre of the campus – Science Synthesis Square, features a pond with a ‘Big Bang’ sculpture; smaller ponds were also made in gardens adjacent to each building. The glass walls of many faculty buildings have sentences and citations related to science etched on them. Furthermore, every courtyard has a sculpture related to each faculty, e.g. the courtyard of the Institute of Chemistry features a metal model of mammal DNA, and the Faculty of Physics courtyard boasts a large-scale Foucault pendulum.
The Morasko Campus in Poznań
The urban design concept of a university campus to be located in the northern part of Poznań in Morasko district was conceived in 1974. The idea of the city authorities was to build a campus for 14 thousand students, but in 2000 it was already serving 25 thousand students. The layout was planned originally for an area of 308 hectares. The urban design was developed by Marian Fikus and Jerzy Gurawski, who managed to seamlessly integrate the design into the landscape of this vast and forested area. The architects designed a main avenue, supposed to cut through the greenery, which would hide flat university pavilions in its midst. Unfortunately, the design was locked in a drawer for 10 years; the first construction works in Morasko only started in 1984. That year marked the construction of the headquarters of the Faculty of Physics (designed by Jerzy Gurawski), which is regarded as one of the best examples of post-modernist architecture in Poland. Moreover, the building is unique due to… the width of its corridors. The architect himself was proud of breaking with Polish designers’ idea that schools should focus on the classrooms, whilst forgetting about the importance of passageways and corridors. Inspired by German solutions, he designed wide and light-filled corridors, which became students’ ‘public spaces’, meeting places, a space to hang out or study together.
A dozen new buildings were constructed in Morasko after the year 2000; the campus is still growing and thanks to numerous different types of architecture the surroundings are far from dull. However, the very first design which integrated the buildings with the surrounding greenery has been forgotten. Today Morasko has more parking lots than green spaces.
Academy of Fine Arts (ASP) in Łódź
This facility is not a typical university, as it does not constitute a multifunctional building complex; it is a single building to which two new buildings were added in 2014 (the Art and Science Centre, which houses the library and Fashion Promotion Centre, including an event hall and am exhibition hall). The main building was opened in 1977. It was designed by the local Miastoprojekt team led by Bolesław Kardaszewski. According to the architect, who is well-known in Łódź, one can create unique, ingenious and interesting forms even from prefabricated materials (the use of which was mandatory in that period). The ASP’s headquarters are proof. The building is located on a steep slope. In order to construct the building on the slope Kardaszewski divided it into a few smaller pavilions, which are spread irregularly around the main building, namely the administrative building. Buildings which house particular faculties differ in size and height and are arranged so that they are all connected by courtyards, paths and suspended connecting passages, which function as students’ public spaces while complementing the surrounding area. The buildings themselves, constructed from prefabricated elements, brick and wood, may bring to mind some associations with industrial architecture (such an impression may be intensified by saw-tooth roofs with glass skylights).
The two extensions built in 2014 do not resemble Kardaszewski’s pavilions. The block structures are covered with multicolour panels. The colours of the panels are supposed to bring to mind the art of Katarzyna Kobro and Władysław Strzemiński. Unfortunately, when one looks at their box-like massive shapes, the first one thinks of is industrial warehouses at the outskirts of town…
Campus of the Józef Piłsudksi University of Physical Education in Warsaw
The University was established in 1929 as the Józef Piłsudski Central Institute of Physical Education; it became the University of Physical Education (Akademia Wychowania Fizycznego or AWF) in 1938. With 80 hectares of land, in 1930 the university was one of the biggest sports complexes in Europe. It was designed by Edgar Norwerth in collaboration with Stanisław Hempel. Professor Marta Leśniakowska, who specializes in modern architecture, characterizes the buildings as built in an ‘international style, combined with new classicism.’ The complex combines the extravagance of modernism with classical elegance – one can even notice some hints of art deco in the architectural detail.
In 1960, the AWF complex was expanded to include an Olympic Training Centre and a large sports hall. All the new facilities were designed by the architect and athlete Wojciech Zabłocki, who is famous for creating expressive, modern constructions. The buildings he designed for AWF are just that: plenty of glass, covered with wavy roofs. Just as the architect himself observed – seen from the air, the roofs look like large ‘magic carpets’ flying over huge patches of grass.
Stefan Wyszyński University Campus in Warsaw
Although established relatively not long ago (in 1999, in place of the former Academy of Catholic Theology) this Warsaw university, in the Bielany district not far from the University of Physical Education, is interesting due to its location and its… history. First and foremost, it is located in the middle of the Bielański Forest, far away from the centre of the city and its busy streets – all of its access roads lead through the forest. Another interesting feature in close vicinity to the university is an ancient post-Camaldolese priory complex, comprising of a baroque church built at the turn of 17th and 18th-centuries with rococo décor and a hermitage with 13 huts once inhabited by monks living in seclusion.
The church, with its rich décor, is one the most precious historical treasures of Late Baroque in Warsaw. When, in 1988, Leszek Klajnert designed the buildings of the Academy of Catholic Theology near the church, he made the decision not to try to imitate its style. The catholic school was housed in numerous one-, two- and three-level modernist pavilions, which blend into the forest landscape.
Grunwaldzki Square in Wrocław – the Students’ Street
Grunwaldzki Square in Wrocław is a unique place. In contrast to its name, it is more of a long avenue than an actual square, along which a mixture of university facilities and city buildings stand – everyday city life mixes with the hustle and bustle of student life. Grunwaldzki Square Avenue is an axis from which roads lead toward a few of Wrocław’s universities. In 1964, an architectural competition was organised in order to develop the area for the needs of the universities. The plan was implemented in the following decades – the buildings on Grunwaldzki Square were constructed mainly in the 1970s, but the campuses located nearby are still growing. Today, original post-war modernist buildings are clustered together with ultramodern 21st-century architecture in a relatively small piece of the city.
A few distinctive buildings are located on Grunwaldzki Square. For instance, the over 300-metre long dormitory known as ‘Parawanowiec’ (The Screen) designed by Krystyna and Marian Barski in 1965. The Barski’s were the designers of many university buildings in Wrocław, including a majority of those situated on Grunwaldzki Square. These also include three glass-walled pavilions of the Veterinary Clinics of the University of Life Sciences built between 1957-1961 and the 10-storey Lecturer’s House located opposite the ‘Parawanowiec’, built as a vertical counterbalance to the long – and very horizontal – dormitory. Two dormitories erected in the years 1975-1980 (also a Barski design) tower over the other university buildings. Because of their distinctive pointed roofs, they are nicknamed ‘Pencil’ and ‘Crayon’. When talking about the avenue’s buildings, one cannot forget the Scientist’s House – designed by a team led by Jadwiga Grabowska-Hawrylak. Despite the fact that the details of the specially-designed facades were destroyed by contemporary thermal efficiency improvement, one can still admire its proportions and how well Wrocław’s first ‘skyscraper’ fits into its surroundings.
The Katowice Campus
The University of Silesia has four campuses – one in the centre of Katowice, one in the Ligota district, one in Chorzów and one in Sosnowiec. The campus in Katowice’s city centre is the most well-known (together with the adjacent University of Economy campus it creates a fairly large students’ town) – particularly since 2011, when the University of Economy and the University of Silesia’s ‘joint venture’, the Academic Information Centre and University Library (CINiBA), was opened to the public. The CINiBA’s building wowed critics, received numerous awards and contributed to the growing fame of the Katowice campus. Even with the CINiBA’s ultramodern and reserved design, created by the HS99 design studio, it blends in well with the modernist architecture of the campus and has become its symbol.
The campus’ first buildings date back to 1970s; the University of Silesia itself was established in 1968, and a few years later, construction work started on buildings for the different institutes and faculties, as well as dormitories and other academic and student facilities. Currently, the area is steadily growing, with newer and newer buildings appearing all the time.
The Katowice campus is a prominent location – it is in the heart of the city, right next to the Market and immediately next to the so-called Culture Zone – a complex of spectacular facilities such as The Silesian Museum, the seat of NOSPR (Polish Radio National Symphonic Orchestra) and the International Congress Hall. This accumulation of fantastic academic and cultural facilities would surely be an excellent environment for contemporary non-conformist intellectuals and artists, a space not unlike the Latin Quarter in Paris, which was made famous by young bohemians of the 19th-century. Alas, this beautiful idea cannot be a reality – the campus and the Culture Zone are separated by an expressway surrounded by noise barriers...
Academic District, Old Town, Kraków
The majority of Polish universities are housed in 20th-century buildings. Those of you looking for the Oxford-like atmosphere of old buildings and beautiful narrow streets, you should definitely take a trip to Kraków. Jagiellonian University is oldest Polish university and one of the oldest universities in Europe. Many of its departments are housed in buildings dating back to the end of the Middle Ages. Located in the Old Town, between Św. Anny and Jagiellońska streets, the walls of Collegium Maius, Collegium Minus or Collegium Iuridicum remember the 15th-century. Others were built in 17th or 18th-centuries. Strolling along the corridors of the neo-renaissance Collegium Broscianum, the Collegium Maius rebuilt in neo-Gothic style or the classical Collegium Physicum, one can still feel the presence of famous personalities who once studied there, such as Jan Kochanowski, Jan III Sobieski, Nicolaus Copernicus or Stanisław Lem and Wisława Szymborska.
Originally written in Polish, Sept 2016, translated by IS, Jan 2017