Lucian Korngold's famous "Rubinsky House" in Tel Aviv, photo: Krystyna Fiszer
I was lucky enough to encounter the young French-Polish architect, Krystyna Fiszer, shortly after her holiday to Tel Aviv. Fiszer, who lives and works in Warsaw, warned me of her enthusiasm, “You have to know – now that I have started talking, I will go on for the next hour”. Fiszer was struck by the beauty and charm of Tel Aviv’s White City, with its omnipresent modernist architecture and dozens of beautiful Bauhaus villas. But the modernism of Tel Aviv was all the more revelatory in that Fiszer had spent much of last year in Gdynia, where she was working on the Forum Kultury (a complex of buildings with a City Theatre, Contemporary Art Gallery and Mediateka City Library.) What was the drive behind her enthusiasm was the parallels she was able to trace between Gdynia's impressively consistent modernist city structure and that of Tel Aviv. Recreating the young architect’s impression, we challenge you to a puzzle:
click here to take a glance at our Gdynia or Tel Aviv? Gallery Quiz
An ambitious intellectual programme determined the aesthetic form of high modernist architecture. With beauty defined as the rational mind's ability to extract formal rules from the surrounding world, architectural construction would seek to make transparent a universal mechanics of the perfect machine. European modernist architects saturated their work with social consciousness and at times, an inherent morality. Their revolutionary works discarded ornament, and often ran under the famous tagline of “Function over form”.
The architecture editor of The Guardian, Jonathan Glancey, sums up modernism in the following way:
Modernism was not simply a style: but more of an attitude, a determination to break with the past and free the architect from the stifling rules of convention and etiquette.
Both Gdynia and Tel-Aviv are cities where modernist architecture blossomed thanks to particular historic circumstance of not so much breaking with the past as bravely stepping into the future.
Tiling on the floor of a modernist housing building on Świętojańska street, photo: Przemysław Kozłowski, courtesy of modernizmgdyni.pl
The revolutionary modernist thought first emerged from the German Bauhaus school in Dassau. Faced with the rise of Nazi ideology and the closing down of the school, architects connected to Bauhaus fled Germany. Those of Jewish descent often headed for Tel Aviv. As a new city, Tel Aviv seemed to have the luck of being the right place at the right time, as it offered perfect ground for implementing the “modernist attitude”. Its building is a unique example of collaboration between architects, urban planners, and also local authorities. But, even prior to the incoming Bauhaus graduates, many architects from around Europe whose senses were acute to the emerging modernist tendency also decided to call Tel Aviv home.
Ogen House in Tel Aviv on 23 Pinsker str, designed in 1936 by Pinhas Huett
Even before the threat of Nazism, it was, most broadly speaking, the unparalleled allure of the new, and the prospect of building a city from the beginning that attracted them. Many Polish architects were among those responsible for creating the White City - a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2003. They created unique and solidly thought-out works, and yet, the names of some of them remain little known. One of the most famous Bauhaus style villas was built by Warsaw-born Lucjan Korngold, the Rubinsky House. Korngold never signed the design of many of his Israeli villas, and it was also the case with this iconic home on Rotschild Avenue. Korngold, who also studied at the Warsaw Polytechnic and daringly returned to the Polish capital in the mid 1930s, ended up making a career in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Other Jewish architects born and partially educated in Warsaw, whose constructions make up the charm of Tel Aviv’s modernism include Pinhas Huett, Jacob Pinkerfeld, Joseph Neufeld, Dov Kutchinsky, Joseph Klairwein and Arieh Sharon.
PLO Polish Oceanic Lines Headquarters on 24 10 Lutego street, designed by Roman Piotrowski and raised between 1935-36, photo: Przemysław Kozłowski, courtesy of modernizmgdyni.pl
The story of Gdynia is different to that of Tel Aviv - and yet, there are parallels. The Polish harbour town was raised in the interwar period, built as "the Polish Dream", and the newly independent country’s "window onto the world". It was actually founded in the place of a fishing village as late as 1926. Poland had regained independence only 8 years before, and there was the pressing necessity of a strategic harbour. Over just 13 years, the little fishing settlement grew into a city of 127 thousand inhabitants.
The ambitious construction of Gdynia gave young Polish architects and designers a chance to show off. The entire modernist Śródmieście (city-centre) was formed very quickly, within a decade. At an almost dizzying speed, there emerged arrays of cube-based apartment houses, and huge buildings with rounded walls and balconies all the more evocative of ships in this harbour city. Many industrial venues and private villas were also raised according to the concepts of modernism. Thus, both in Gdynia and Tel Aviv, there was the spirit of enthusiasm for a chance rarely offered by history – an opportunity to design whole districts anew.
Kazimierz Koziński's housing apartment on 41 Świętojańska street, 1936, designed by architect Stanisław Ziołowski photo: Przemysław Kozłowski, courtesy of modernizmgdyni.pl
Although the modernist movement emerged from Bauhaus in the 1920s, its intellectual and aesthetic programme persisted long after the war. In Poland, projects in the modernist style were realised also throughout the period of communism. At times, their long and winding road to realisation as well as real ideological entanglement made people associate the constructions with socialist architecture. This may explain a somewhat belated appreciation of modernist heritage.
Much like Tel Aviv, Gdynia is an example of the modernist vision applied from the very basis, and a case of close collaboration between architects, urban developers and the authorities. The only other town in the world more iconic of modernist spirit is the capital city of Brazil, Brasilia, Niemeyer’s “utopian” project. Yet neither Gdynia nor Tel Aviv have received the criticism given to the Latin American capital. Brasilia seemed such a perfectly designed city that it was mocked as a utopia or a land of fantasy. Yet, both Gdynia and Tel Aviv seem to have tempered their vision by real human need. The construction of both cities included working more closely with the pre-existing ground division and natural landscape.
The appreciation of modernism is now clearly on the rise across Poland. It is recognised also through the fact that the entire Gdynia city centre (Śródmieście) with its network of streets, ground distribution, and buildings was recently officially shortlisted as national heritage. A special website devoted to the Gdynia Modernist Route is run by the Gdynia Development Agency. The website, modernizmgdyni.pl, features numerous photo galleries and displays maps of the various routes of modernist architecture that can be explored in the company of specialist guides. Numerous lectures, workshops and supporting events are conducted throughout the year.
Author: Paulina Schlosser, 3/02/2014
sources: bauhaus.co.il, modernizmgdyni.pl, press release, own materials