Less is More: Polish Architecture in 2018
default, michal-brach-pawilon-w-arboretum.jpg, A bird’s eye view of the pavilion in the arboretum of the Warsaw University of Life Sciences in Rogów, designed by Jacek Krych. J, center
This year, Polish architecture took a step back from the large and spectacular buildings, which kept popping up over the past few years. It looks like we finally began to understand that true architecture doesn’t only have to mean flashy and impressive. We are finally learning to enjoy architecture and, most importantly, to believe that it can improve our lives.
Autumn was full of architectural awards: the best new buildings receive prizes from city authorities (in cities such as Kraków, Poznań, Warsaw, Gdańsk, Szczecin and Wrocław) and regional authorities (Silesia has separate categories for buildings and public spaces). While analysing the designs that were submitted for consideration, it is difficult not to see a certain pattern –more and more buildings are not only functional and beautiful, but also take into consideration the specific space in which they are built as well as tend to the needs of those for whom they are designed.
Pavilions among the trees
A good example of this kind of architecture is the pavilion built in the arboretum of the Warsaw University of Life Sciences in Rogów, designed by Jacek Krych and his JRK72 studio. A light, open structure, winding between the trees, very subtly separates the roofed area from the space where the plants take centre stage. The 55 Architekci studio created a similar design, when they made a nature path and observation points at the Bobrowisko natural enclave near the meeting point of the Dunajec and the Poprad rivers. There, the wooden, geometric structures were also planned with a sensitivity towards nature in mind.
The construction of the pavilion of the famous Desa auction house and gallery in Warsaw had emotions running high, because of its location – the outskirts of the historic Ujazdowski Park in Warsaw. The Arch Magic studio, which designed the building, placed part of the pavilion underground and planted greeneryon its roof – all to make sure that the building didn’t encroach too much on its beautiful surroundings.
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Less is more
Using a smaller scale in specific contexts, in response to the needs of specific groups of people is the forte of many architects. Whether it is designing a neighbourhood kindergarten (like Trójprojekt and their building in Żory), or a local market, squares or plazas – and there are dozens of such projects completed all the time – architects have to show their understanding of the character of the site, but also their modesty, because such projects do not allow for showcases of formal mastery. We will soon see, if a small, modest design, which respects its surroundings will become the perfect space for architectural debates.
At the end of 2018, the Zodiak Pavilion was opened in the heart of Warsaw. It is a modernist construction built in the complex located on the eastern side of Marszałkowska Street (designed in place of the café by Kalata Architecki studio) and it is supposed to become a meeting place for discussions and exhibitions about architecture.
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Maybe Zodiak will one day organise a meeting about temporary architecture. This is a new phenomenon and it is developing all around the world. Buildings ‘just for some time’ are built for various reasons – when there are no funds for more permanent structures, to develop an unused area, to show people what is going to be built somewhere in the future, or to convince people to move to a previously unpopular area. We will also see some temporary buildings in Warsaw – Jakub Szczęsny, best known for the Keret House, the narrowest house in the world, designed the Implant. It is a structure consisting of 272 containers, which will be placed on a parcel in the city centre and will remain there until the owner of the land will begin construction of a skyscraper. The Implant is going to house stores,entertainment and service vendors, as well as serve as a space for cultural and social events.
This idea is a novelty in Polish architectural tradition – until now, we treated new designs very seriously, not even imagining that new buildings could be constructed… for fun, for pleasure and just for a moment. It seems that we began to once again realise the impact of architecture on our everyday lives. During the last 30 years in Poland, the construction of housing became an almost entirely privatised business and as such, apartments became a product that not everyone can afford. This showed, all too clearly, that there are branches of architecture that are so important in our lives as to warrant being regulated. Both the government and the local authorities began looking for ideas for social housing programmes that could not only increase the availability of flats but also improve the quality of residential areas.
Even though these ideas are still a work in progress, it is worth noting that competitions for the design of residential neighbourhoods and for technologies for their construction are now being organised. There was, for example, a competition for prefabrication technology that would make it possible to build more quickly and more affordably.
This idea makes sense. A house on Sprzeczna Street in Warsaw was designed by BBGK studio thanks to the initiative of a Polish producer of prefabricated elements, who wanted to break the ‘curse’ of concrete prefabs and show that ready-made construction elements didn’t have to limit architects’ imaginations. The goal was achieved – the house on Sprzeczna Street is excellent.
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Protect or demolish?
Despite many positive changes in Polish architecture, a large problem remains: that is buildings that, well, already exist. For many years, experts have lamented about a Polish passion for demolishing. The ‘replacement’ of old structures with more modern ones is of course a natural element in the development of cities, but it cannot take place without the analysis of the historical value of the objects that are going to be taken down.
We have irreversibly lost some true icons of post-war modernism because we had no time to discuss the fact that despite economic interests, some buildings were worth preserving for future generations as exemplary of the period. It is time to conduct similar analyses on postmodern buildings from the first years following the political transformation. It is precisely those buildings that are now the most endangered – more and more often we demolish buildings from the beginning of the 1990s. It is the last moment to pick and preserve some relics of this recent, but already fading era. Just to make sure that, for example, the famous Solpol in Wrocław does not share the fate of Warsaw’s Supersam.
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The focus on small, local designs does not mean that no huge buildings were constructed this past year. In Warsaw’s Citadel, works began on the headquarters of the Museum of History of Poland and the Museum of Polish Army, two unquestionably necessary institutions. It is worth following how the original architectural shape will be connected to the modern and approachable exhibitions.
The year 2018 was also a year of well-deserved praise heaped on the new main building of the Department of Radio and Television of the Silesian University in Katowice (designed by BAAS Arquitectura, Grupa 5 Architekci & Małeccy Biuro Projektowe), which links large scale and unusual functional requirements with a unique shape that is both modern and respectful of the historical fabric of the city.
But there is one blank space on the map of Polish museums, which is being filled with interesting institutions that appeal to visitors from near and far. Why, at a time when we speak more and more about ecology, has there been no movement to construct a Museum of Natural History? Such a building could allow the old and the young to understand natural processes, their role, value and impact on our present and future lives. During this holiday period, I would like to wish all the lovers of architecture and all those interested in Polish culture, that such an institution will be created in the near future.
Originally written in Polish, translated by MW, Dec 2018
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