University of Warsaw Library
Content: Tall buildings, wide horizons | Socialist realism and the great slab | The turning-point | Public use buildings | Commercial buildings | Decorations | Religious buildings | Dormitories | Restoration
Tall buildings, wide horizons
The history of Polish architecture before 1939 was not very different from the general trends observable in European architecture of the time. The split from that tradition came only at the end of the Second World War when the country was drawn into the Soviet sphere of influence as it tried to rebuild itself from the devastation of war. The subsequent revolution in Polish architecture could take place only after the democratic transformations following 1989.
Socialist realism and the great slab
The characteristic of architecture in the Soviet bloc countries in the late forties and early fifties was socialist realism, obligatory in all the arts. Socialist realism instructed artists to underline "national forms" with "socialist contents". What such "socialist contents" was supposed to mean when applied to architecture nobody knew. Despite this, socialist realism (obligatory in Poland for a few years only) did leave many valuable architectural works, often extensions of the formal architecture in the thirties. The most monumental elements were taken straight from the classical tradition favoured by critics: hence the colonnades and the axial principles. During this period architects also drew inspiration from small-scale 18th century designs and to the modernism of the inter-war period. The crowning achievement, though far from typical of Polish socialist realism, is the Palace of Culture and Sciences - a huge tower block erected in the centre of the country's capital, Warsaw. Despite its Polish Renaissance belvederes, the Palace is reminiscent of the sky-scrapers built in Moscow on Stalin's instructions. Indeed, the project's designer was the Soviet architect Lev Rudnev. During this period many Polish designers were preoccupied with the reconstruction of sites of historical importance destroyed during the Second World War. The restoration of the Old Town buildings in Warsaw, Gdansk and Wroclaw were world-class innovative achievements of the time.
Socialist realism was completely discarded as early as 1956, when the "personality cult" of Stalin was rejected in Poland. Polish art returned to the same areas of search as were dominant in the West. The architectural project of the late fifties and early sixties were astonishingly innovative. Unfortunately, the architecture's progress was hampered by a shortage of good-quality materials and the nature of the socialist economy. Impressive, large-scale projects completed in the seventies were financed by money borrowed from the West. The vitality of the period was not, however, always matched by its quality: it was then that the endless housing estates made of great concrete slabs appeared - they were badly finished and appallingly maintained. The eighties, on the other hand, were a time of economic crisis which caused a standstill in construction, but then again this was also a time when the theoretical and intellectual groundwork was laid for a turning-point in Polish architecture, arising out of a critique of the theory and practice of modernism.
The year 1989, which brought with it radical political and economic changes to Poland, opened up an enormous opportunity for development in Polish architecture. At least three stages can be discerned in the history of Polish architecture of the last ten years.
During the first period, inferior projects from several years earlier, and still using primitive technology, were completed. At the same time, the first "imported" designs were built, the work of second- or third-ranked Western architects deliberately described as the "paratroopers". In those days glass curtain walling was king, and it concealed the paucity of formal resolutions. During this period hardly any public buildings were built and in commercial architecture the drive for quick profits and the budgetary savings associated with that were more important that quality.
During the second period, an increasing number of companies coming into Poland undertook the construction of elegant offices for themselves. Their aspirations gave rise to, among other things, commissions for the most talented designers and to the search for the best projects by way of open competitions. In hand with this was the appearance of numerous design studios in the market, often employing young, vibrant architects ready to work in the market economy.
The third period, in the late nineties, saw the appearance of large development concerns for whom success in the market place was every bit as important as the need for an attractive environment and an appropriate quality of architecture. These firms would often commission designs from the most famous architects in the world. An example of this is the Opera on Plac Saski in Warsaw where a large firm of developers commissioned the project from Sir Norman Foster. The Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill was involved in the development of the Praski Port in Warsaw. Specialists of the renowned Chicago-based firm of Pedersen, Kohn and Fox are involved in the construction of the Warsaw Financial Centre sky-scraper, which is probably the best designed sky-scraper in Poland.
During the last ten years, clear differences have emerged between the finest architectural centres in Poland. Apart from cosmopolitan Warsaw (which has developed exceptionally chaotically) which sheds its influence over the whole country, the most interesting centres seem to be in Krakow, in Upper Silesia, and in Wroclaw. In historic Krakow the leading architects go back to the roots of the modernist tradition (DDJM, Romuald Loegler, Wojciech Obulowicz). The architecture of Upper Silesia appears to be fascinated by the industrial aspects of the region, an expression of which may be its affection for deconstruction, for the use of daring forms in steel with brick surfaces adding a tinge of nostalgia (Andrzej Duda, Henryk Zubel, Malgorzata Pilinkiewicz, Tomasz Studniarek). Wroclaw's architecture is at the other end of the spectrum (Wojciech Jarzabak, Edward Lach, Stefan Müller). Here the source of inspiration isn't so much the town's magnificent modernist past as the distant echo of post-modernism, a tendency towards hedonism and a striking juxtapositioning of colours.
Public use buildings
One of the most interesting and creative architectural achievements in Poland over the last decade is the development of the Warsaw University Library. The competition for the building's design was won in 1993 by Marek Budzynski and Zbigniew Badowski and their team of architects. The low, but exceptionally spacious, concrete building is penetrated by the greenery of the botanical garden which has been situated on the roof. The structure, in common with the temples of art of the last century, contains complex iconographic decorations. The interior, though multi-storied, is basically on one level with countless shelves to house the collection of books (planned to hold two million volumes) and with secluded reading places distributed throughout. Combining with the Library building complex are two office buildings designed by Andrzej Kicinski. A small post-industrialist building has been transformed - as if by a touch from a fairy's wand - into a mini-office-block and a sunken garden has been built into the courtyard. The garden can be enjoyed from a bridge spanning the courtyard, made of stainless steel and wood. Another office block, the result of a renovation of an old building, is the mini-office-block of the Warsaw University Foundation, known as "Szara Willa" / "Grey Villa". The building's new tower has glass walling through which the steel construction can be seen; it also has glass roofing of large dimensions. The exceptionally meticulous attention to detail and the use of new (in Poland) technical applications are very noticeable.
Contemporary accoutrements is what the architecture of the Warsaw University Library shares with the equally splendid Silesian Library in Katowice. The architectural design, selected as a result of a competition, was made in the 1989, a key year for Poland. The authors of the project are Jurand Jarecki, Marek Gierlatka, and Stanislaw Kwasniewicz. The building's architectural forms, however, create the distinct impression that they were designed in the seventies. The dominant block of a four-walled storehouse, supported on slender columns, rises up from an octagonal plinth which is surrounded on all sides by an grass-covered "soil embankment". The building contains reading rooms, garages, technical quarters and offices. Yet this building, as it rises up from its base, is organically part of the surrounding greenery despite its own interior filled with electronic and uniquely technical elements. As in the Warsaw University Library, symbolic motifs decorating the exterior of the building are an important architectural element here.
The most interesting, from an architectural point of view, public use building erected in Poland in the early nineties (initiated by Andrzej Wajda, one of the country's most highly-acclaimed film directors) is the "Manggha" Centre of Japanese Art and Technology in Krakow (design by Arat Isozaki & Associates, Tokyo, and Ingarden-Ewy & Jet Atelier, Krakow). The development is situated opposite Wawel Castle. The designer wanted the building's architecture to inspire images of Japan since it was also supposed to be a place where two cultures met. The building blocks are shaped like waves, reminiscent of Japanese wood-cuts, and blending in with the curve of the River Vistula below. The restless wave-filled roof, when seen from Wawel hill, turns into a sculptural element of the view. The building's exceptionally spacious interiors combine the aesthetics of traditional building materials with advanced technology and daring constructional resolutions.
The New Air Terminal at Warsaw Okęcie is an example of mediocre architecture designed by a firm associated with a German construction concern. The air terminals built in Krakow, Wroclaw and Gdansk - their designs selected after competition - reveal a much higher standard of architecture. The most interesting of them is The Air Terminal at Krakow-Balice (design by Stanislaw Denko, Janusz Dulinski, Dariusz Gruszka, Piotr Wrobel).
Stylish architecture is the distinguishing feature of Warsaw's Stock Exchange Building (designed by Stanislaw Fiszer, Andrzej Choldzynski). It is one of the first buildings in Warsaw in which the simplicity of the architectural form is contrasted to the treatment of its natural materials. It is an open-plan building - each space opens up into the next, exposing it to the eyes of visitors and passers-by alike - and opening out onto an eighteenth century parkland. The modernist desire for clarity is matched here by a romantic search for ideal beauty.
Similar themes can be seen in the work of Poznan's Jerzy Gurawski. He is capable of combining traditional and contemporary architecture in a stunning way. Examples of this are his latest creations: The Poznań Academy of Music Building (a superb blending of the building into the extraordinary complex of buildings in the town's old castle district with exceptional, monumental government edifices) and the remarkable restoration of the interiors of the eighteenth century town hall in Leszno.
During the last decade of the century, there have been many town halls built - the seats of local government in Poland. The quality of their architecture is mixed. Of the most highly commended architecturally is The Town Hall of the Warsaw-Białołęka Council (design by Grzegorz Stiasny, Jakub Waclawski and associates). At first sight, however, the exterior of this visually pleasing building does seem to draw on both Willem M. Dudok's famous design for the Town Hall in Hilversum (1928-1930) and to the town hall of the Janow council in Katowice, built before 1931 and designed by Tadeusz Michejda. This shows how attractive the model for town-hall architecture established in the late twenties remains to this day.
After 1990, the Polish property market became very open to foreign investors. From the beginning, the most profitable enterprises were the erection of office buildings and luxury hotels, and, slightly later, large-scale commercial edifices. At this time, the most dynamically involved investors were foreign construction enterprises based in Poland. They had an awareness of the specifics and the needs of the burgeoning market. Of those, the most energetic were Sweden's Skanska and Austria's ILBAU. They became involved in development work, the financing of investments, construction work and the architecture of the buildings was designed by their own, in-house people. The architecture which came out of this process was not of the highest quality: the investors wanted to acquire large profits by cutting building costs to a minimum, which necessitated a turning away from more daring realisations and from the use of more permanent, and therefore more expensive, materials. Nevertheless, it must be emphasised that the buildings erected in this period were still the first for many years which could be compared with western standards of finish. Buildings designed, part-financed and built by ILBAU are of a respectable commercial architecture. Most of them were designed by their employee Miljenka Dumencic, a Croat resident in Poland. He was the co-designer of an office-hotel complex in Szczecin (Hotel Radisson and the Pazim Office Building). While the hotel itself is not architecturally exciting, the twenty-condignation office block has good "technological" proportions and rather cool details, dominating the whole effectively. Another successful high-rise block designed by Dumencic is The Bank Pekao Building in Warsaw. The best realisation of a design by Dumencic (co-designed by Stanislaw Dopierala) is The City Arcade in Gdynia. The architecture may be commercial, but it is of a decent standard. The buildings are sculpted, rather like the dynamic architectural models of the avant-garde in the twenties, but disciplined, too, with graceful proportions. The steel oriel in the facade is the only feature protruding from the street's frontage, making the building stand out from its neighbours.
The buildings constructed by the Skanska company in Warsaw under the collective name of The Atrium Business Centre display a more conservationist form of architecture. The designers of this project are: Derek Frazer, Tomasz Kazimierski and Andrzej Ryba. An attempt has been made to combine modern steel-and-glass with traditional materials in the somewhat ordinary elevations. The walls are not finished with plaster but rendered with dark- and light-pink stone. On the ground floor, the building is partitioned with the use of vertical posts that suggest a colonnade. The whole is finished off with cornices which are a clear echo of the neo-classical architecture of the socialist realist era.
One of the most impressive office buildings erected in Warsaw in the early nineties is the late-modernist Kolmex Building designed by Tadeusz Spychala. The elevations, faced with warm stone, glass and steel, introduced an element of restrained deconstructivism to Warsaw's architecture.
In the Warsaw office building Zielna Point (designed by Stefan Kurylowicz, Piotr Kuczynski, Katarzyna Flasinska-Rubik, Maria Saloni-Sadowska, Fryderyk Szymanski), the whaleskin-smooth, travertine elevations create one of the best contemporary corner buildings in the capital. The architects' master-stroke are the internal steel stairs leading up to the mezzanine.
A more modest, unpretentious architecture can be seen in the "pocket-sized" Dipservice Office Building in Warsaw (designed by Konrad Kucza-Kuczynski, Andrzej Miklaszewski, Piotr Kudelski). A greenish facade is created by a curtain wall for a two-storey bay. After sunset, just like in a theatre with the curtains raised, the illuminated interiors of the office building are revealed.
Modern architectural designs showing some restraint but also a kind of sterile hypermodernity can be seen in the complex of (a projected ten) large office buildings in Warsaw's Służewiec District to replace the bankrupt factories' buildings there (designed by JEMS).
Whereas the large office blocks have been built chiefly in Warsaw, over the last decade there has been a bank built in almost every town in Poland. Bank buildings tend to be finished to a higher standard than office blocks. The largest are distinguished by their complex functional arrangements. An architecturally high standard attempt at late modernism are The Katowice Headquarters of the Bank Handlowy S.A. of Warsaw, designed by Kapuscik & Lekawa Architekten. The architecture of this building, jammed between monstrous tower-blocks of the seventies, is full of astounding details. The building, with its extraordinarily complicated mass covered by glass and soot-black stone, looks very like an abstract sculpture.
The first class A commercial building in Krakow which was of a high architectural standard were The Krakow Headquarters of the Bank Handlowy S.A. of Warsaw (designed by DDJM; architects: Marek Dunikowski, Artur Jasinski, Jaroslaw Kutniowski, Wojciech Miecznikowski, Piotr Uherek). The facade of this project unfolds a traditional, three-condignation compositional scheme: a plinth, a shaft and a cornice, expressed in contemporary architectural language.
In the early nineties many shopping centres were built. The most outstanding achievement of that period was the converstion of the gothic Great Mill in Gdańsk into a shopping centre with an atrium and numerous stores. This enormous, brick building, dating from about 1350, was one of the great medieval industrial edifices in Europe. The basic conservation concept entailed preserving the historic structure of the building and retaining the architecture's essential features. The designer, Elzbieta Ratayczyk-Piatkowska, and the construction engineer, Jerzy Sieminski, went for a radical solution: the outside walls of the historic edifice were left untouched, and a free-standing, steel scaffolding was brought inside, not resting against any of the existing walls.
Of the newly constructed contemporary shopping centres built before 1995, the most interesting architecture is to be found in The Solpol Department Store in Wroclaw, designed by Wojciech Jarzabka (associates: Pawel Jaszczuk, Jan Matkowski, Jacek Sroczynski). With its vivid colours and forms, and its obvious references to post-modernism, this building has aroused much controversy.
The artistic event of the years 1994-1995 was the completion of the Warsaw Hotel Sheraton (designed by Tadeusz Spychala and Piotr Szaroszyk). Although a deciding factor was the economics of the building which meant that the elevations were not finished off with permanent materials, nevertheless the architects succeeded in creating a very individual building which blends well with its surroundings. The attractive facade is best appreciated at night when the architectural partitions are created, in part, by original lighting.
The architectural qualities of Hotel Panorama in Szczecin-Podjuchy are a result not just of the picturesque setting, but also of the well-considered construction of treated timber and meticulously, though simply, designed special decorative effects (design by Studio Ar: architect Stanislaw Kondarewicz, associates: Ryszard Wilk, Robert Frydrycki, Zbigniew Mike, Jan Turowski; construction engineer: Zbigniew Misiak).
An increasingly widespread feature in both public use and commercial architecture of the late nineties has been has been the enrichment of buildings by use of monumental designs or autonomous works of art commissioned from outstanding artists. The facade of The Warsaw University Library was embellished with five symbolic books sculpted from bronze which symbolise the richness of the texts and the universal dimension of the library's collection. Aluminium panels with cast-iron symbolising print-outs of the exchange's prices can be seen on the elevations of The Warsaw Stock Exchange. The facade of The Supreme Court Building in Warsaw is rich in symbolism (designed by Marek Budzynski, Zbigniew Badowski and associates) where, for example, an entire exposition of Roman law can be found on a free-standing colonnade. Increasingly, even in very ordinary buildings, one can find the works of outstanding artists. The investor thus plays the role of a patron of the arts, financing artists, and the prestige of his building becomes greater. And so it is that the gigantic atrium of the banal office building in the Puławska Financial Centre in Warsaw is the site of a steel sculpture by Magdalena Abakanowicz.
The early nineties saw a continuation of the building of churches which had begun on a large scale in 1978, with the election of the Pole Karol Wojtyla as Pope. Among the churches that were built then were: The Holy Spirit Church in Nowe Tychy, (designed by S. Niemczyk, 1979-1983), St. Zygmunt's in Warsaw (designed by Z. Pawelski, 1980-83), Church of the Oblates of the Mother of God, Queen of Peace in Wroclaw (designed by W. Hryniewicz, W. Jarzabak, J. Matkowski, 1982), the elevation of The Holy Cross Church in Katowice (designed by H. Buszko, A. Franta, 1979-1993). The varied architecture of these churches draws on Gothic, modern and modernist traditions. Reminiscent of a Gothic cathedral is the brick church with buttresses of Dominicans' Church in Sluzew, Warsaw (designed by W. Pienkowski), while The Brick Oblates' Church in Wroclaw alludes to both the Gothic churches of Silesia and to twenties' expressionism in Germany.
Two hitherto unfinished examples of the most successful realisation of postmodernist ideas in church architecture are: The Holy Spirit Church in Wroclaw (designed by T. Zipser) and Our Lord's Ascension Church in Ursynow, Warsaw, which is imbued with Romantic motifs (designed by H. Budzynski, Z. Badowski). The best example of a post-modern building, not only in church but all architecture in Poland is the Resurrectionists' Seminary in Krakow (designed by D. Kozlowski, W. Stefanski, 1985-1993). The idea of this edifice is predicated on four symbolic gateways: Initiation, Knowledge, Hope and Faith. Its stunning architecture is full of astonishing formal resolutions, full of hidden meanings used deliberately and consistently.
Throughout the nineties, with the exception of the enormous Basilica in Licheń (designed by B. Bielecka as a deliberately historicising building based on St Peter's Basilica in Rome) there was no widespread extension of the construction of gigantic village and housing-estate "cathedrals" of the kind that had proliferated in the earlier decades.
The most beautiful achievements in church architecture in this period have been the small-scale ones. In The Church of the Mercy of God in Krakow (designed by S. Niemczyk, M. Kuszewski, 1991-94), the tiniest details have been planned meticulously and the graceful architecture seems to be a contemporary assimilation of expressionist art and art deco many examples of which can be found in the residential quarters nearby. In the equally small Greek Catholic Church in Bialy Bor in Western Pomerania, more important than the modest architecture of the exterior is an interior which creates a sacred world - to a greater extent the work of the painter Jerzy Nowosielski than the architect (B. Kotarba, 1992-97). A further architecturally interesting and exceptionally small-scale building is The Crypt of the Deserving People of Wielkopolska in the Church of St. Wojciech in Poznan (designed by J. Gurawski, 1997) in which the bared fragments of the church's walls and a traditional spatial arrangement are contrasted by contemporary materials and formal resolutions.
Whereas even as late as the mid-nineties most residential homes were built by housing associations, towards the end of the decade many of them started to be built by large concerns with foreign capital. Residential architecture in Warsaw shows a turn towards neomodernism. Numerous houses have been erected which were inspired by both the architecture of the inter-war avant-garde and by the luxury apartment blocks of the thirties. The neomodern buildings with their stepped-down ground floors, their long rows of windows and their terraces on flat roofs seem to be a very typical feature of Warsaw. But whereas the leading designers turn to historical models as a way of creating fully original pieces, so in the hands of inferior architects these models become lumber-rooms crammed with motifs in arbitrary juxtapositions and thus lead to banal architecture far from the equal of its pre-war precursors. In Warsaw, there are distinguished exponents of the better use of historical models, such as the Szymborski and Zielonka studio and the JEMS - Architects partnership. One of the most interesting buildings designed by the former is the thoroughly modern Pax Building in Warsaw in which echoes of the twenties' and thirties' avant-garde play a prominent part. But the building, as well as its virtues, shares the vices of the avant-garde of its time, of which the somewhat careless finish is one. The designers have masterfully grasped the proportions of the elevations: the building seems to float along the urban landscape like a transatlantic liner, the comparison made all the more vivid by the terraces/decks, the balustrades like a ship's railings, and the round, port-hole windows. Despite this eloquent effect and a certain excess in decoration, the architects have been restrained in their means of expression.
The JEMS-Architects' most striking realisation is the small-scale, very luxurious, residential estate in the Warsaw district of Żoliborz (designed by Olgierd Jagiełło, Maciej Miłobędzki, Jerzy Szczepanik-Dzikowski, and Violetta Popiel-Machnicka and associates). This small estate's architecture has been skillfully blended into the district's modernist complex of villas and is a compromise between the style of an urban villa and a low-rise, multi-occupier building.
An excellent example of a luxury, neomodernistic residential complex is the estate designed by Dumenciæ at the edge of the sea in Gdynia-Orłowo. Houses with flat roofs and white walls are sculpted with loggias, bays and terraces. Horizontal partitions dominate, reinforced by steel balustrades. They are balanced by the verticals of staircases, masts, and the azure grillwork and lattices to be found under the roofs. The light-coloured plaster of the walls is countered by the details in wood - the sliding azure blinds of the loggias. The complex is best viewed from the sea front, for it incorporates a fragment of the town's buildings, creating a kind of mini-boulevard.
A fascination with modernism can be detected in the work of architects in other Polish towns, too. Particularly noteworthy are the buildings and projects designed by the Krakow architects Romuald Loegler and Wojciech Obtulowicz. Of their work in 1998-99, the most interesting has been their design for a residential complex in Wola Justowska, Krakow. The houses with their classically modernist partitions are surrounded by enormous lattices of pergolas over which, in time, greenery will climb. This green wall becomes like a summer fence, and is an additional elevation in the edifice.
Architects in Wroclaw have taken a very different creative path. Their architectural solutions are closer to the poetics of postmodernism, though there is still some reference made to the architectural tradition of the avant-garde of the twenties. Constantly being realised "fillings" and detached buildings alike are often somewhat shocking in their colour-schemes and their formal resolutions. Undoubtedly the greatest individuality of Wroclaw's architecture in the nineties has been Wojciech Jarzabek, whose most spectacular residential building is the "filling" on Wybrzeże Wyspiańskiego. This is eased into the row's frontage but is distinguished by the unusual composition of facade and colour-scheme. The designer has treated the building's exterior as a kind of free improvisation on a theme of the Secession's poetics of stained-glass windows.
The most outstanding residential buildings in Poznan are those designed by Izabela Klimaszewska and Tadeusz Biedak. Each one of their houses has a differently designed elevation. The Silver House on Poznanska Street has a facade enlivened by a serrated, semi-circular top and very contemporary details made of a silvery steel. Situated nearby, The Golden House has a sharp, glass bay. Although some of their buildings do seem a little pretentious, it's hard to deny their originality. The most interesting residential complex in Poznan, which consists of several towers rising from a common plinth, can be seen in Słowiańska Street (designed by Aleksandra Kornecka, Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, Katarzyna Weiss). What is particularly interesting is not just its form, which draws on the architecture of the inter-war years, but also the creation of a vivid urban frontage in the very heart of a huge, seventies' estate.
A new addition to residential architecture comes in the form of luxury estates and houses for rent built by large construction companies. These are, of course, examples of commercial architecture, though investors are increasingly willing to commission architects of the highest class, like Wojciech Szymborski, Jacek Zielonka or Jerzy Gurawski from Poznan. The most striking feature are the enormous residential buildings completed to a standard undreamt of in Poland since the Second World War. They contain luxurious fixtures and fittings, are filled with modern installations, they have large living areas, roof-gardens, swimming pools, a varied functional programme and, of necessity, security features. For all that, however, they are distinguished for their size rather than the originality of their architecture. Structures like Babka Tower in Warsaw, with their multi-storeyed tower in a corner setting are not very different from their American or Far Eastern counterparts.
The first free-standing residential tower-block with a hall and a reception area is The Eagle Residence in Warsaw's Mokotow. The investors were keen to have a building of high architectural quality and they commissioned the design from a well-known studio - Majewski, Wyszynski, Hermanowicz. The architects, who had specialised for years in interior design, treated this enormous residential building as a gigantic piece of furniture with niches for expensive trinkets.
The last decade of the century brought with it another phase of rebuilding urban complexes, chiefly along the coast and in Lower Silesia. The Old Towns of Elblag and Kolobrzeg have been revived since the eighties, and in the nineties the restoration of the Podzamcze in Szczecin and the Old Town in Glogow has been started. Preparations are being made for the restoration of the Old Town in Kwidzyn.
Each urban complex restoration is unique. In Kołobrzeg it is a new district that is being created around the Old Town and the Cathedral, not so much a re-creation along old ownership lines or of pre-war complexes, but rather an attempt at creating an old town ambience.
In Elbląg, on the other hand, rigorous conservation guidelines are being followed. New buildings are to be erected, as far as possible, using old foundations and cellar walls. A requirement is the preservation of the former exteriors and the dominant skyline and vertical partitions of the facades. The most important tenements are to be rebuilt with the help of iconographic records. With new edifices the designers are to use contemporary forms and details while, simultaneously, seeking to establish formal links with the previous architecture of the Old Town. Most of the reconstructed elements are the work of Szczepan Baum and Ryszard Semko.
A completely different way of financing and designing the buildings under restoration has been adopted in Szczecin's Podzamcze. The building work is paid for entirely out of the funds of the association which owns the site. Investors in individual buildings become the owners of the properties only when the work has been completed. The design of each individual building has been left to individual architects. As a result, the composition of the entire quarter is somewhat reminiscent of a collage - individual architects add their pieces to a greater whole.
In other towns, too, whole quarters and individual edifices are being restored. In Gdansk, one of the largest projects in the nineties has been the restoration of the quarter on Granaries Island (designed by Stanislaw Michel, Kazimierz Jarosz, Stefan Philipp, Andrzej Sotkowski) and of several tenements on Chlebnicka Street (designed by Stanislaw Michel). The restoration of the complex on Stągiewna Street and the construction of the Hotel Hanza on the banks of the River Moltawa show two different approaches to contemporary architecture in Gdansk. The restored quarter on Wyspa Spichrzow is an example of the preserving kind of conservation. The Hotel Hanza elevations, on the other hand, are a creative and contemporary interpretation of the town's former architecture.
In Poznań's Old Town, the architects Pawel Handschuh and Piotr Chlebowski have constructed an exceptionally clever adaptation of historic buildings into the Universal Credit Bank. Squeezed into a medieval plot, this contemporary "tenement" with its new-style late-modernist sandstone elevations and glass-and-stainless steel, can be seen as the best example of this kind of restoration in Poland.
A rather unusual development is the construction of contemporary edifices behind mock-nineteenth century tenement facades. An entire frontage of this kind of building is being raised along Pańska Street in Warsaw (designed by Leszek Klajnert). The apparent nineteenth century facades are purely the architect's fabrication.
The evolution of individual designers' architectural style in their search for fresh formal applications, often cannot keep pace with technological change. It is hard to evaluate the condition of Polish architecture in the century's last decade in isolation from the situation it found itself in at the end of the Polish People's Republic. The eighties can be seen as a period of architecture's collapse brought about by the economic crisis and the drying up of all building work. On the other hand, however, it did provide time for a theoretical and intellectual preparation for a turning-point in architecture which came from the critique of the theory and practice of modernism. Unfortunately, the projects being prepared in that period, apart from religious buildings, had little chance of being completed. The year 1989 and the economic changes in the country following it gave architects a fresh opportunity. Whether or not they took advantage of it remains an open question. It would be hard to over-estimate the impact of the arrival of world-famous architects in Poland. It could be that in the first years of the new millennium, their work will serve as a kind of spring-board to launch Polish architects into the sphere of art.
Author: Jerzy S. Majewski.