In the year World War I broke out, Lucjan Korngold passed his maturity exam. Two years later he was already a student of the newly created Architecture Department of the Warsaw Polytechnic. He prepared his diploma in 1923 with Professor Rudolf Świerczyński.
Lucjan Korngold’s view on architecture was shaped in a special period in the history of Polish architecture. While at the beginning of the 20th century the architects were interested in looking for a national style, fascinated by academic classicism and inspired by Polish decorative art, at the turn of the first and second decade of this century, avant-garde movements became more and more prominent. Polish designers knew Bauhaus and Walter Gropius, were fascinated with Le Corbusier and Soviet constructivists. In Warsaw and other Polish cities first buildings were constructed according to the laws of modernism and its extreme variety – functionalism.
In 1928 Korngold – as the author of the monograph on the architect, Grzegorz Rytel writes – published a text in a Hungarian magazine, summarizing two decades of Polish architecture development. He respectfully writes about the achievements of ‘classical’ architects from the previous generation, some of whom were his teachers: Czesław Przybylski, Marian Lalewicz, Tadeusz Tołwiński. He also notices though that the time of ‘paying court to the past’ is now gone and the time has come to ‘create new values’. Korngold’s view and style were shaped at the border between old and new, between classicists and the avant-garde. As his later work shows, he drew inspiration from both these styles, connecting order and discretion of the classicism with simple forms and geometry of the modernists.
From the beginning of the 1930s, Korngold had his own architecture studio in Warsaw. One of his first realizations was the abode of the Polonia Insurance Company at Dąbrowski Square in Warsaw, designed in 1931, in a collaboration with Henryk Blum. The façade of the four-storey building, incorporated into the frontage of the street, was elegant and discrete in its form – the investor decided that classicism was supposed to gain the clients’ trust. Different types of stone, balustrades and engaged columns, holding the cornice decorated with sculptures, gave the building an appropriate character. The abode of the insurance company ‘Polonia’, even though it was created with the superstructure of an existing building, thanks to the architects was turned into an elegant, classical palace.
Practically at the same time, Korngold (also together with Henryk Blum) designed one of his most famous realisations – a villa on Chocimska Street in Warsaw, an object of a totally different form. Placed on an escarpment, the building was composed of simple ‘boxes’ – white solids with no ornaments. The ground floor lifted on columns, the terrace on the roof of the lateral flank, vertical windows – the building was clearly inspired by Le Corbusier’s modern villas. Unfortunately in the 1960s the villa was reconstructed and lost much of its previous form.
In the moment of its creation, villa at Chocimska Street was at the forefront of the Warsaw and Polish avant-garde and a harbinger of purist functionalism, the so-called rational style.
– writes the architect’s monographer, Grzegorz Rytel, in his book Lucjan Kornglod. Warszawa - São Paulo 1897-1963.
In the 1930s Korngold designed many villas and townhouses – in the dynamic capital, among the rich businessmen and officials, there was a great need for private and office houses. Korngold, as well as other architects working in Warsaw at the time, such as Juliusz Żórawski, Maksymilian Goldberg, Hipolit Rutkowski or Jerzy Gelbard and Roman Sigalin (with whom he collaborated at the beginning of his career), he designed houses which connected modern form with sophistication demanded by the clients. It was evident in a careful choice of materials, elegant finishing touches and his care about the details, as well as luxurious equipment. Robinson’s townhouse, built between 1935 and 1937 at Koszykowa Street, is a great example. A crude, functionalistic solid with huge, glazed panels and a flat façade, rhythmically separated by strips of windows, hides an interior with an elevator and details made of bronze, chromium and nickel. Villas were shaped in a similar manner; Korngold is the author of functionalist, yet luxurious houses at Obrońców (designed together with Piotr Kwiek) and Francuska Streets (with Piotr Lubiński) in Saska Kępa district.
Lucjan Korngold also designed interiors and furniture, which also answered to the demands of the bourgeoisie: they had modern shapes that fitted their new town houses.
His Warsaw career was interrupted by the war. In December 1939, together with his wife and son, he escaped Poland. Thanks to pre-war contacts of Eugenia Korngold with the Italian embassy, the family can travel to Rome, and – 6 months later – even further, to Brazil. The architect wanted to start working there as soon as possible. In spite of appearances, in such an exotic country, modernist style was very well known.
The development of Brazilian architecture since the end of the 1920s, was stimulated by theoretic assumptions of modernist European architecture (…) Thanks to the European architects emigrating to South America and to Brazilians returning home after graduating from European universities, to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo information arrived about how avant-garde ideas were realized.
– writes Grzegorz Rytel about the situation in Brazil at the time when Korngold arrived there.
The Korngolds settled in São Paulo. The architect couldn't work independently as he wasn't a Brazilian citizen, so he started working for a big studio. There, in a collaboration with Francisco Beck from Hungary, he designed a series of public buildings, office blocks, and banks. The modernistic forms that he'd successfully used in Warsaw were popular and sought by investors also in São Paulo. The scale was different though: the Polish architect had to learn how to create skyscrapers. Since the mid-forties Brazil had been experiencing an economic boom, so there were many infrastructural investments happening. The office buildings in Brazil – like in the States at the same time – were modernistic, and constructions of reinforced concrete made it possible to build skyscrapers with glazed elevations, filled with stone detail. Such objects were designed by Lucjan Korngold in São Paulo. In 1946 the project of CBI Esplanada was created and the construction was built on one of the city’s main squares. When in 1950 the 33-storey building was commissioned, it was the highest construction of reinforced concrete in the world. Korngold gave it a minimalist form of a cuboid and filled the elevations with a dense net of thick window frames.
The balanced proportions of CBI Esplanada’s solid are characterized by restraint, typical of Korngold’s pre-war, Warsaw realizations. The building distinguishes itself in the landscape of São Paulo skyscrapers and, until today, despite many other high buildings created around it, is easy to recognize thanks to a harmonious architecture, homogeneous in its message, wrote Grzegorz Rytel.
Between 1944 and 1948 Korngold works on the office building Edifício Vista Alegre, with a rounded corner and an an elevation originally divided into small, square areas, all pierced with a square window.
In 1949 Lucjan Korngold received the Brazilian citizenship and so he could start an independent practice. He still designed office buildings and institutions, but started to work on private projects as well. In 1950s and 60s he designed many new offices but also villas and residential houses. All of them had simple, geometrical, modernist frames, enriched by original details. In the offices these were, among others, windows separated in multiple different parts, and in the residential houses – balconies and loggias, which provided the façade with rhythm and chiaroscuro. Luxurious villas created in the suburbs of São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro had similar forms to the ones in Warsaw, although in Brazil, due to the climate, geometrical compositions are often enriched by sheds and terraces.
Lucjan Karngold died in 1963 and was buried in São Paulo. His output is cohesive, though diverse. The designer, already during his studies, had contact both with the tradition of classicism and ‘national style’, and with avant-garde, functionalism and constructivism movements that became more and more fashionable. He was able to take some elements of both these styles and create a cohesive whole. His architecture was discrete and elegant. Modernization was not a goal in itself. Even though he used innovative construction elements, new materials and technologies, he used them to create rational and low-key objects.
Author: Anna Cymer, translated by N. Mętrak-Ruda
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