7 Decades of Polish Pavilions: International Exhibitions In The Face Of Politics, Trends & Shortages
small, 7 Decades of Polish Pavilions: International Exhibitions In The Face Of Politics, Trends & Shortages, The Polish Pavilion in Milan, designed by Wojciech Zamecznik, 1958, photo: courtesy of the Archaeology of Photography Foundation, polish_pavillion_in_milan.1958._wojciech_zamecznik.jpg
The second half of the 20th century was not the most fortuitous for Polish architecture, art and design. The political and economic conditions of the communist regime era constrained artists tremendously with many bans and regulations. There was, however, one place where they had some freedom: at international fairs and exhibitions.
Despite modest budgets and a lack of formal rigor, Polish designers competed with unique, modern designs unlike what their Western neighbours were coming up with. Although many of the projects were not implemented, this tradition of innovation is still alive and strong in Poland today.
The Reclaimed Territories Exhibition in Wrocław, 1948
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The Trade Centre of Chemical Industry Pavilion, designed by Tadeusz Brzoza and Tadeusz Herburt, at The Regained Territories Exhibition in Wrocław, 1948, photo: Jan Bułhak, courtesy of the Museum of Architecture in Wrocław
One of the first venues showcasing various exhibitions was in Wrocław. At the beginning of the 1850s, Wrocław organised the Silesian Industrial Exhibition, an event inspired by London’s Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations held in the famous Crystal Palace designed by Joseph Paxton. This particular event marked a turning point in Wrocław’s exhibition tradition. New buildings were constructed for future expositions. Max Berg designed the modern Centennial Hall (which held the Centennial Exhibition in 1913) and Hala Targów. Later, Hans Poelzig’s Four Domes Pavilion – now part of the National Museum in Wrocław – was constructed.
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In the aftermath of World War II, Wrocław was a different city. Not only were millions of bricks from war-torn buildings transferred to Warsaw to help rebuild the capital, but huge populations from Poland’s former eastern provinces were relocated to the West. Despite this, Centennial Hall (renamed ‘People’s Hall’ during the communist era) remained intact; rooms and towers were added to the design later on. With almost a hundred years of experience in organising such events, the city hosted the famous Reclaimed Territories Exhibition in 1948, one of Poland’s most expensive propaganda events. It featured contemporary art and design: from the Kapists like Jan Cybis to the modernists of the older generation (Władysław Strzemiński) and younger generation (Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz). Jerzy Hryniewiecki acted as the exhibition’s main curator and the interiors were designed by various artists, including the renowned Wojciech and Stanisław Zamecznik.
The pavilion at the International Food Fair in London, 1954
Władysław Strzemiński – Image Gallery
Food rationing schemes were temporarily introduced by governments all over Europe during and immediately after World War II. Queues for food became a regular feature of life for people not only in Poland, but also the West. For Great Britain, food rationing stretched for over fourteen years until 1954. When food rationing came to an end in Poland, the communist regime welcomed visitors with bread (150 types), vodka and caviar.
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While socialism still persisted in this eastern neighbour and the vision of a rural idyll dominated, the Polish pavilion was filled with works of artists associated with the Polish Poster School, which in the following decades would become an export good of Polish design, including Henryk Tomaszewski, Jan Lenica and Wojciech Zamecznik. They prepared modern arrangements, typography and unique exhibition elements. The rural accents were less pompous than in the USSR, but they were shown in an interesting and unique way. Eggs, for example, were represented by repetitive, hollow oval panels on an elegant, white pedestal in the shape of an avant-garde sculpture. There was simple yet elegant shelving.
Wojciech Zamecznik at the Archaeology of Photography Foundation – Image Gallery
The exhibition itself was under a unique roof patterned with Tomaszewski's drawings (including apples, fish, bottles of wine) and in the shape of sails – bringing to mind market stalls and various solutions used in modernist architecture.
Posters by Henryk Tomaszewski - Image Gallery
The International Fair in Izmir, Turkey, 1956
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The Polish Pavilion in Izmir, 1956, photo: courtesy of the Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts
In the pavilion at the International Izmir Fair in 1956, Oskar Hansen made two major decisions. The original idea was to fill the pavilion cover with helium – hence, the oriental nickname of the pavilion: Flying Carpets. The modular pieces were to be easily transportable, transforming according to the exposition’s spatial requirements. However, the project was not implemented due to difficulties in obtaining the necessary helium. The project that was executed in Izmir in 1956, although more mundane, followed similar artistic assumptions. Hansen referred to the pavilions he designed as the Open Form Laboratory. The Izmir pavilion, designed together with Lech Tomaszewski, was also meant to be transformable, with large open surfaces at the expense of detail. They provided a background painted with a striped fabric base forming a roof. The interior of the pavilion was designed in the same spirit by architects working with Zbigniew Kaja. As Hansen described:
We created an ‘environment’ which consisted of painting the entire interior space: the ceiling, walls, floors, so that man would ‘be in the painting’. Not in front of the painting, but in the painting, which created a very unique exhibition.
Brussels World’s Fair , 1958
Oskar Hansen's Projects – Image Gallery
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The Polish design from the Brussels World’s Fair, 1958, photo: courtesy of the Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts
Shortly after the events of October 1956 – the liberalising ‘Polish thaw’ and collapse of socialist realism – Polish architects and artists were once again able to create innovative and original projects. The EXPO World Exhibition organised in Brussels in 1958 was an excellent opportunity to display remarkable Polish design. Although a Polish pavilion was not put up in the end, the remarkable original designs have survived. One, Oskar Hansen’s concept, included softly curving lumps composed of shell-like structures (made from sections of cylinders).
Oskar Nikolai Hansen
Awarded a distinction, Hansen’s model was implemented by the Artistic and Research Unit of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and later recreated by Jerzy Sołtan in Brussels. The light structure weaved together paintings by Wojciech Fangor, music and specially-prepared film projections.
International Fairs in Milan, Fiera Milano, 1958 & 1959
Selected works by Wojciech Fangor - Image Gallery
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The Polish pavilion in Milan, 1959, photo: Wojciech Zamecznik, photo: courtesy of the Archaeology of Photography Foundation
One of the most outstanding designers of exhibitions was Wojciech Zamecznik. He was also a graphic designer, poster artist and photographer. His first cousin, Stanisław Zamecznik, played an equally important role in the development of Polish post-war exhibitions. Designers sometimes worked together, sometimes separately. Most of the projects designed by the two embodied key concepts in the Polish exhibition tradition and stood out from the crowd.
In 1958 and 1959, Wojciech Zamecznik designed the Polish pavilion for one of the most prestigious exhibitions: the trade fair in Milan. At the time, Poland did not have huge achievements in the field of industry. To shed some light on Polish design, Zamecznik created a unique one: walls and shelves with a unique geometrical design which proved too harsh for modest Poland. Zamecznik also included photographs in his 1959 design, an entirely new concept in Polish design. Apart from the expositions, the artist used various elements as part of his compositions, arranging them in unusual shapes and structures.
Art Biennale in São Paulo
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Oskar Hansen’s Polish Pavilion at the International Exhibition in Sao Paulo, 1959, photo: Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw
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The Art Biennale in São Paulo dates back to 1951 and was modelled on the famous Venice Biennale. The Brazilian city began organising contemporary art fairs which quickly rose to fame, leading to a purpose-built hall designed by Oskar Niemeyer. Collections of Polish design were sent to São Paulo and included in the Art Biennale from the outset. Outstanding collections of art – featuring classic and contemporary artists – were sent to Brazil. After very successful presentations, Poland’s own Tadeusz Kulisiewicz was awarded the Biennale Grand Prix in 1961.
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The most unique Polish design in the history of the São Paulo Biennale was presented a few years earlier in 1957. Commissioned by Mieczysław Porębski, a biotechnical structure known as Windmill was transported to Brazil. The light, canvas structure became the perfect example of Hansen’s Open Form, designed by Oskar Hansen in co-operation with Zofia Hansen and Lech Tomaszewski. The aim was to contrast it with the heavy, concrete Niemeyer building (considered architecturally as Closed Form) that it stood next to. The structure’s roof also protected from all weather, be it sun, rain or wind.
International Fair in Buenos Aires, 1960
There’s no hiding that the most valuable Polish design product worth exporting and presenting abroad during the 1950s and 60s was Wojciech and Stanisław Zamecznik themselves. The two designers created dozens of exhibitions which were praised in Poland, in the West and the Eastern Bloc. The extraordinary skills and spatial compositions of the Zamecznik cousins were immeasurable compared to the other Polish exports being boasted about, such as coal and tinned meat.
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In 1960, Stanisław Zamecznik received the Gold Medal at the International Fair in Buenos Aires. The jury was impressed by the organic-like labyrinth inside the pavilion which was composed of wavy partition walls. Viewers could wander around and lose their sense of direction, and at the same time discover a selection of Polish products presented inside the labyrinth.
In 1960, Zamecznik himself wrote a letter to the editorial office of the magazine Projekt in which he explained the origin of his concept:
It started while driving a car on the road. When I drive at a high speed on a straight and flat road, I have the impression that the road bends inwards, that it’s concave. This impression is directly proportional to the speed and, at the moment of stopping, the road seems straight to me again. [...] Under the spell of this discovery, I started to include curved surfaces in my designs in which I also stumbled upon interesting spatial obstacles. The bent form itself was always a sculptural interior texture.
It was this vision that formed the basis of the Polish pavilion in Buenos Aires, resulting in a great success for Poland.
Architecture Biennale in Venice, 2008
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The Rondo 1 office building in Warsaw, photographed by Nicolas Grospierre & Kobas Laksa, architects: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Azo, Epstein, photo: labiennale.art.pl
The Architecture Biennale in Venice has been held every year since 1978, alternating with the Art Biennale. This key event is one of the main international events in architecture. There are many parts to the Biennale, the two most important being the main exhibition created by a visiting curator, and the national pavilions, where each country presents architectural solutions in urban planning related to problems in the contemporary world. The first Polish projects at the Architecture Biennale in Venice were not very successful. It wasn’t until 2008 that Poland gained recognition. The curators Grzegorz Piątek and Jarosław Trybuś and photographers Nicolas Grospierre and Kobas Laksa created an exhibition entitled Hotel Polonia.
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The exhibition was awarded the Biennale’s main prize – the Golden Lion – for the complex and detailed montages depicting ‘buildings living after life’ (a skyscraper now a cemetery, a church converted into an aqua park, a library now a shopping centre). ‘Recycling architecture’ became the main topic of the event: investigating how societies cope with the overabundance of vacant buildings in the face of economic, political and cultural changes in the world. The idea proved not only effective but prophetic: that very same year, the world was overcome by a huge economic crisis brought on by a real estate crisis.
Architecture Biennale in Venice, 2018
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For the last decade, the Polish exhibition at the Architecture Biennale in Venice has been chosen through a competition. This year, the jury gave the highest score to the design led by curator Anna Ptak and designers from the CENTRALA group (Małgorzata Kuciewicz, Simone De Iacobis in co-operation with Iza Tarasewicz and Jacek Damięcki). This proposed exhibition is unique, connecting the contemporary with the most important achievements of the Polish pavilions from the 20th century. Małgorzata Kuciewicz and Simone De Iacobis have been researching, analysing and processing the achievements of 20th-century modernism for many years, especially the innovative visions that went far beyond designing ‘ordinary’ buildings.
At the Architecture Biennale in Venice in May 2018, the authors will present Amplifying Nature, an exhibition ‘based on the premise that architecture is part of processes occurring on a planetary scale.’ It will be a personal journey for visitors, who will experience the various elements of the exhibition through the senses. They will also have the chance to learn about the achievements of artists such as Oskar Hansen, Jacek Damięcki and the Research Department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. The curator and CENTRALA want to present artists and designers who view the field of architecture as intrinsically connected with such phenomena as gravity, water circulation, and the cycle of day and night.
The Wycinanka Pavilion, Shanghai Expo, 2010
Selected realizations by Centrala — Image Gallery
polish design around the world
venice architecture biennale
the polish poster school
The WWAA Studio – which designed the Polish pavilion for the Expo Shanghai 2010 – drew inspiration from the original exhibition and design of Józef Czajkowski’s pavilion for the 1925 International Exhibition of Decorative Arts and Modern Industry in Paris. For the Shanghai project, pieces of modernism and folk ornamentation were intertwined. The open, light-permeable structure drew reference to folk cut-outs, replicating the façade of the Arab World Institute in Paris. The cut-out motifs were also found on the interior of the pavilion, broken into sections like sheets of paper. The ornamental features transformed into both a map and a design – aside from representing Poland’s strong folk history, it adopted a narrative function.
Originally written in Polish with help from Anna Cymer, April 2018; translated by EN, May 2018