Curtis Plaza, Curtis Centre & Panorama
Curtis Plaza was designed in 1991 by the architectural firm Geokart Projekt and the building was finished a year later. The designers of the building, Mirosław Kartowicz and Romuald Welder, finished the symmetrical structure with reflective blue glass and white façade panels. The entrance situated in the middle of the building and is enclosed in a vertical glass ‘tube’ running up all six floors and onto the roof. The white panels look like two staircases going in opposite directions.
At the time of its construction, Curtis Plaza was not only original and intriguing but also luxurious - due to its standing, an international architectural competition for the design of its interiors was announced. It was the first modern office building to be built in Poland that has such an interesting structural form. It was also the first building built in the post-industrial Służewiec district in Warsaw. Today, Curtis Plaza is surrounded by dozens of modern corporate headquarters – the memento of the beginnings of Polish capitalism sits at the heart of a boundless business district.
The Polish Act on the Protection and Care of Monuments specifies that a monument is a ‘testament to a previous epoch’. The economic system is still the same, but as far as design and architecture goes, Curtis Plaza, barely 25 years old, is most definitely a tribute to a long-dead phase in Polish architecture – a relic of playing catch up with the West and designing office buildings for young, up-and-coming Polish firms and big foreign investors. It certainly is a kind of a monument – a relic of the not-such-old times, which, however, seem to have been ages ago.
Two other shopping centres in Warsaw fit into this category: Bogusz Centre and Panorama. The first one, was built right next to Warsaw’s Central Station between 1989 and 1991 by Pewex, a company selling otherwise unobtainable Western goods in exchange for Western currencies under the communist regime in Poland and Warimpex, an Austrian investor. The building no longer exists – it was replaced by the Złota 44 skyscraper designed by none-other-than Daniel Libeskind. The Panorama building, on the other hand, still stands. Somewhat forgotten, it has retained its dated look and interiors. Designed in 1990 by the APAR architectural studio and Przedsiębiorstwo Usług Consultingowych Wadeco (editor’s translation: Consulting Services Company Wadeco), the building shares its style with Curtis Plaza – it also boasts a reflective glass and white ceramic façade. It was a building that had the first ever panoramic elevator in Poland and a glass-roofed patio on the rooftop, while its interiors were made up of 30 different types of rock (from all over the world), nickel, steel and glass.
Solpol, Raddison Blu, Pazim
Another shopping centre from the time, Solpol in Wrocław, was built in 1993. The multi-coloured building erected next to a gothic church is an icon of Polish post-modernism. Its architect, Wojciech Jarząbek, emphasises that each element of the construction was inspired by details taken from neighbouring historical buildings. However, each of them was slightly altered – the angular corner tower is pink, the cornice is decorated with purple triangles, one of the façades is cut with a zig-zag bay window, the windows are triangular, round and square. The walls are finished with green, cream-coloured and brown siding.
Colour also plays an important role in the building of the Sobieski Hotel in Warsaw, it’s another important example of post-modernism, the short-lived trend in Polish architecture during the political transformation. While designing the hotel built in 1992, Wolfgang Triessing and Maciej Nowicki took their inspiration from traditional forms of tenement houses with domes accentuating decorative corners, however, they diverged from traditional colour schemes. A rainbow of pastel colours radically changed the face of the historicising building. Today, these flashy, postmodern buildings are considered kitschy and tasteless.
The building shares its reputation with the new old town complexes built at the turn of the 1990s in Elbląg, Szczecin and Kołobrzeg. The apartment buildings were erected in the cities’ old towns which weren’t reconstructed after World War II. They were a melange of styles, a take on each old town’s historical architectural development, as well as a clear break from decades of prefabrication, standardisation and the domination of modernist, boring ‘boxes’.
After 1989, Poles wanted to catch up with the West as fast as possible, but it wasn’t necessarily an easy road. In 1992, a very elaborate Pazim complex was opened in Szczecin – houses an office building, a hotel and a financial centre. Its designer, Miljenko Dumencić, wanted the cylindrical glass 92-metre skyscraper to dominate the complex.
Manggha, Silesian Library, Blue Tower
Shortly after, Arata Isozaki, Krzysztof Ingarden and Jacek Ewý took a radically different approach in their design of the toned down, stone, wavy construction of the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology in Kraków. In 1989, Jurand Jarecki, Stanisław Kwaśniewicz and Marek Gierlotka won a competition for the design of the Silesian Library in Katowice, four years later, the University of Warsaw Library was designed by Marek Budzyński. Even though both of them are successful and important, as far as style is concerned they are not years apart – they are lightyears apart! When the construction of the modernist skyscraper Błękitny Wieżowiec (editor’s translation: Blue Tower) and the National Library in Warsaw were being finished in the 1970s, Janusz Matyjaszkiewicz was designing a new incarnation of the Pałac Jabłonowskich (editor’s translation: Jabłonowski Palace), a frontage of Plac Teatralny demolished in 1954, by moulding it into but a ‘packaging’ of a modern office building. From the outside, it looks like a building that survived the war and was just renovated, on the inside it is the modern home of Citi Bank Poland.
The buildings from the 1990s are no longer in many people’s good graces, however, Solpol’s demolition was postponed by a group of activists and Curtis Plaza is still appreciated by connoisseurs and architecture historians. But many buildings constructed right after 1989 just don’t exist anymore.
Churches built at the time have a much better reputation. In the first half of the 1990s, a few of Stanisław Niemczyk’s projects were completed – kościół Miłosierdzia Bożego in Kraków (editor’s translation: Divine Mercy Church) and kościół pw. Jezusa Chrystusa Odkupiciela in Czechowice-Dziedzice (editor’s translation: Jesus Christ the Redeemer Church); in 1992 Jerzy Nowosielski cooperated with Bogdan Kotarba, an architect, to design the exterior and the interior of the Orthodox church in Biały Bór. The argument for massive stylistic divergences within church design at the time is easily presented – let the construction of the Basilica in Licheń, designed by Barbara Bielecka, which began in 1992 be an example (below).
Architectural icons of the Polish political transformation are disappearing from cities, giving way to more modern, bigger, fancier, ‘even more capitalist’ buildings. It would be worth creating a list of buildings from the 1990s that are worth preserving and protecting, if only to show how Polish architecture has progressed over the years.
Originally written in Polish by Anna Cymer, Jul 2017, translated by AP, 26 Jul 2017