Making Over a City: Reinvigorating Łódź for the 21st-Century
small, Making Over a City: Reinvigorating Łódź for the 21st-Century, Art Inkubator in Łódź, photo: Marcin Stępień / Agencja Gazeta, inkubator.jpg
Łódź is one of the most rapidly depopulating cities in Poland. Following the collapse of its famed industrial factories, the city has some challenges: how does it draw investors back, and how can it become more attractive and appealing to keep the locals from leaving and the tourists coming. It turns out that Łódź’s unique architecture may be the answer.
contemporary polish architecture
When in 2009 Frank Gehry’s design of a festival and congress centre in Łódź was made public, people were ecstatic – the world’s most famous architect was going to save the collapsing city with his visionary design. Optimists were imagining Łódź as a host of international film events, while others still doubted that a ‘fancy’ building would help the city with its social and economic problems. In the end, the building never came into existence, but Łódź has since gained a number of modern buildings which aim to change the city for the better.
The most impressive of them all is the new railway station – Łódź Fabryczna (designed by Systra). The huge construction which replaced the old train station in 2016 (which was taken down in 2011) stands out not only because of its impressive size: its most distinctive feature is its enormous glass roof, which covers the entire main hall like a dome. The walls of the hall resemble old townhouses – a tribute to the past and tradition, while multi-coloured murals decorate the steel, glass and concrete platforms. Will the new railway station inspire more arrivals than departures?
For many years now, Łódź has been focussing on culture – after all, artistic (especially film) traditions go back a long way there. Therefore it comes as no surprise that the former power plant located near the railway station was transformed into a modern centre for science and culture. EC1 Łódź (designed by Home of Houses) is not ready for use just yet – institutions dealing with the revitalised former industrial spaces are still getting things organised – but just by looking at the scale of it and the plants fresh presence, you can tell it will be special.
The former Scheibler factory buildings house the Art Inkubator – a thriving cultural institution which organises numerous exhibitions, concerts and performances. The artistic vibe is strong at OFF Piotrkowska – the vibrant hub located right by the main street of Łódź. An old cotton and textile mill, once owned by Franciszek Ramisch, was transformed into a centre for the ‘creative industries’ a few years back. It is full of artists’, designers’ and architects’ studios and ateliers, while fashionable boutiques and restaurants draw clientele from both Łódź and elsewhere. Those who seek a more ‘traditional’ approach to culture, should be sure to visit the Łódź Philharmonic’s new building, constructed in 2004. Situated between old townhouses, the design by Romuald Loegler has a modern glass façade, with a subtle hint of the historical buildings which surround it.
Łódź is full of historic buildings other cities can only dream of – beautifully decorated townhouses and manufacturers’ palaces. Many of them are in need of urgent and costly renovations, for which the city is trying to raise funds (a special programme of townhouse revitalisation Mia100 Kamienic has been instituted). What is important is that contemporary buildings are being built with a great respect for the city’s history. Łódź’s industrial infrastructure was an inspiration for the designers of the Ericpol building, constructed out of hand-made bricks (designed by Horizone Studio) or the Centre of Didactics and New Media of the renowned National Film School (designed by Dresler Studio), which ‘paraphrases’ industrial architecture with a modern twist. Keeping in mind the city’s rich film traditions, it’s worth mentioning the Hilton Hotel (designed by Kuryłowicz&Associates), which stands on the Feature Film Studio’s lot. It’s façade features... a printed still from Forbidden Songs – the first Polish feature film made after World War II.
The architectural identity of Łódź is strong and very clear – the city will never escape its industrial past. And that heritage should be creatively exploited, at the same time restraining from mere repetition. The new investments in Łódź prove that it is possible. But will they contribute to the city’s overall attractiveness? One thing is certain –great architecture makes for better lives.
Originally written in Polish by Anna Cymer, Mar 2017; translated by WF, Mar 2017; edited by NR, 27 Mar 2017