Poland’s Promised Land: What Makes Łódź So Special?
Every city has its own gems – unique places which encapsulate its identity, pride and character, while, at the same time, drawing tourists in. What it is that makes Łódź special?
Piotrkowska Street is 4.2 km long. Although one could find streets in Poland that are longer, they are usually exit routes or located on the outskirts of the city. Piotrkowska Street – called ‘Pietryna’ by locals – lies in the very centre of Łódź. Partly a promenade, it constitutes the heart of the social life in the city. Hundreds of shops, restaurants and cafes make it one of the longest commercial streets in Europe (not so long ago it was even the ultimate shopping destination for Varsovians!). The varied infrastructure of Piotrkowska Street is nonetheless interesting – one can find opulent palaces and 19th century townhouses alongside modern pavilions and postmodernist blocks.
The Unicorn Stables
In 2015, a huge tram station was built on the intersection of Piotrkowska Street with Aleja Adama Mickiewicza, right next to the Central department store. A giant roof was built over a the tramways to protect commuters from the rain, sun or wind. The construction, designed by Jan Gałecki, was the object of a heated debate: some hated it, some fell in love. Inspired by ornamental Art-Nouveau forms, slender posts hold up a roofand walls , made from a special membrane. Covered in colourful geometric shapes, they bear a strong resemblance to Art-Nouveau stained glass. A mixture of classic and modern, the almost-kitschy construction is very functional. Known by the locals as ‘The Unicorn Stables’, thanks to its innovative and somewhat magical appearance, despite being ‘just a tram stop’ it has become a major tourist attraction.
Leopold Kindermann’s Villa
Iconic Houses, founded in 2012, is list of landmark houses from around the world. Founded in Amsterdam, it brings together architecture experts from all over the globe. The list features extraordinary houses by some of the world’s most renowned architects such as Le Corbusier, Antonio Gaudi, Frank Lloyd Wright, Adolf Loos and Erich Mendelsohn. In 2015, the first Polish building joined this noble company – the Leopold Kindermann Villa, built between 1902 and 1903, was designed by Gustav Landau-Gutenteger on Wólczańska Street in Łódź. The building is considered as one of the best examples of Art-Nouveau architecture, executed as a Gesamtkunstwerk – a piece where everything, starting from the architectural form down to the tiniest details are all kept in one cohesive style or motif. When it comes to Kindermann’s Villa, it is the floral motives – apple trees, vines, chestnuts, flowers – they are an integral part of the house.
Neoplastic Room in the Museum of Art
The Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź was founded in 1930 and is the second oldest museum of modern art in the world. Its initiators were members of the ‘a.r.’ Avant-Garde artistic group – Władysław Strzemiński, Katarzyna Kobro and Henryk Stażewski. They were the ones to create the museum’s programme and contribute to the collection by donating pieces from their own collections. In 1948, the institution moved to one of the Poznański family’s palaces at 36 Więckowskiego Street – where it remains to this day as a branch of the museum). That same year, Władysław Strzemiński opened the Neoplastic Room – a space designed entirely to present works by contemporary Avant-Garde artists. The carefully selected colours and wall trimmings were designed to harmonise with the abstract artwork. Destroyed by the authorities in 1950, the room was reconstructed a decade later and remains a focal element of the permanent exhibition of the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź.
The Film School
The Polish National Film School in Łódź was founded in 1948. Although its first head was Leon Schiller – a theatre director, the school quickly became associated with filmmaking. It was this very school that gave Łódź the nickname ‘Polish Hollywood’ or ‘Polywood’ for short. The Film School was lucky to have outstanding students and faculty from the very beginning (Roman Polański, Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Zbigniew Rybczyński, Andrzej Munk and Kazimierz Kutz, to mention only a few). It was always the centre of cultural and social life and its campus, located in the square between Targowa, Kilińskiego, Fabryczna and al. Piłsudskiego, still remains an important spot on Łódź’s artistic map.
Factory owners’ palaces
Although when thinking of Łódź, the first thing that comes to mind are brick factory buildings, it’s important to remember that their owners also built themselvesfancy residences. The ‘town palaces’ that they used to live in, in many cases they have been converted into local government and cultural institutions. The classicist palace of Juliusz Heinzl from 1882 is now the home for the offices of the City of Łódź, while the palace of Alfred Biedermann, built in 1912, has belonged to the University of Łódź since 1998. The most extraordinary palace was built and owned by Izrael Poznański (today it houses the Museum of History of the City of Łódź). The eclectic, ornamental building oftencalled the ‘Louvre of Łódź,’ is impressive not only because of its grand exterior, but also for its unique interiors. Karol Scheiber’s Neo-Renaissance palace is familiar to cinema aficionados as it is now the home of the Museum of Cinematography, while art lovers will know the villa of Henryk Grohman, inspired by Italian renaissance, as home of the Book Art Museum. The Florentine palaces also served as a source of inspiration for the project of Karol Poznański’s residence – now the Academy of Music.
Originally written in Polish, translated by WF, May 2017