As a modernist pioneer in Poland's interwar period and influential in international architecture in the postwar era, Maciej Nowicki’s ambitious projects went beyond geographical bounds.
As a modernist pioneer in Poland's inter-war period and influential in international architecture in the postwar era, Maciej Nowicki’s ambitious projects went beyond geographical bounds.
Nowicki earned his place in the annals of architecture with a building constructed after his untimely death at age 40: the State Fair Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina, later renamed the J.S. Dorton Arena. Remembered as a contributor to architectural theory, he developed visionary plans for rebuilding Warsaw that never came to fruition and was at work on a new state capital in India when he died in a plane crash in 1950.
His memory was recently revived, with a Vienniese exhibition of original and facsimile documents from international archives and private collections in Poland, the U.S. and India (held at the Ringturn Exhibition Centre). Such photographs and drawings provide telling insights into Nowicki’s construction and design plans. The exhibition's accompanying catalogue contained personal descriptions of the man and his work and a selection of his articles from various publications.
Nowicki was born in Siberia in 1910, and his father became a consul general for newly independent Poland, posted to Chicago in 1919. After returning to Poland in 1929, Nowicki studied art in Warsaw and Kraków, then began a degree in architecture in the Polish capital. During university studies he designed a house for his parents at his father's request, whose aim was to expose his son to architecture's technical fundamentals. The result, a white cube with a windowless facade on its street side, was influenced by the functionalist movement and a tribute to Le Corbusier, with whom Nowicki had an internship.
He and his wife, Stanisława, were highly regarded graphic artists. During the war years, architects were largely restricted to designing posters and magazines, and Nowicki taught architecture in occupied Warsaw's underground universities. He resumed his work in 1945, planning for a revitalised centre of Warsaw, which had been methodically destroyed by the retreating German army. He chose a new direction and proposed bulldozing the city’s ruined buildings. Nowicki also began to publish his theoretical views on architecture and functionalism.
He travelled to the U.S. as a cultural advisor with the Polish diplomatic mission in 1945, and was a member of the United Nations Board of Design Consultants assessing Wallace K. Harrison’s designs for the new UN building in New York City, working alongside Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer and Sven Markelius. "Although it is hard to identify those features of the building that bear Nowicki’s design signature", write exhibition curators Adolph Stiller and Tadeusz Barucki, "he succeeded in leaving a lasting impression through his collaboration with such internationally renowned architects. What is certain is that Nowicki was a resourceful mediator when it came to settling differences of opinion. His talent for appraising situations, as well as his comments and sketches, were invaluable in defusing tensions within the group."
While in New York, Nowicki organised the exhibition Warsaw Is Still Alive and taught at the prestigious Pratt Institute School of Architecture. He moved to the North Carolina State College School of Design in Raleigh in 1948. Nowicki received his last major commission, for the planning of Chandigarh, the newly conceived capital of Punjab in northern India, from the architect Lewis Mumford. He began the Chandigarh collaboration with the development planner Albert Mayer, then had to return to North Carolina to put his affairs in order. The TWA flight to New York stopped over in Cairo then crash-landed in the Sahara after takeoff, with no survivors. (The Chandigarh commission was later realized by Le Corbusier.)
The only major building constructed to Nowicki's plans is the Paraboleum, now known as the Dorton Arena, a multi-purpose complex in Raleigh, North Carolina, renowned for its innovative intersecting parabolic arches and hanging roof. Nowicki and his partner, William Henley Deitrick, developed a groundbreaking, customer-focused solution for the new exhibition hall, using structural engineering techniques that influenced architects including Eero Saarinen and Kenzo Tange. The arena received the First Honor Award of the American Institute of Architects in 1953. To mark the centenary of Nowicki’s birth, an initiative was launched in 2010 to have the arena designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sources: article based on the press release of the VIG