Urban Playgrounds: Polish Designs for City Dwellers
#photography & visual arts
full-width, Urban Playground:
Polish Designs for City Dwellers, Open Air Museum, Cieszyn, RS+ Studio, photo: Tomasz Zakrzewski / archifolio.pl, center, #ffffff, open-air-museum-cieszyn-fot-tomasz-zakrzewski-archifolio2.jpg
No one doubts that artworks and installations are needed in public spaces. Thanks to them, cities become more interesting, more varied and more alive. Such projects are being created not only by Polish artists but also by architects and designers.
The installation of custom-designed works of art in public spaces has a long history. Many of these sculptures or murals have not only made an impact on the history of art, but they have also become trademark features of their respective cities – sites that draw tourists and give a strong sense of identity to the cities' residents. Some good examples of this in Poland are the iconic palm tree of Joanna Rajkowska's installation Greetings from Jerozolimskie Avenue in Warsaw, the Collection of Monumental Painting, a series of murals painted on the formerly blank walls of the Zaspa residential towers in Gdańsk, the sculptures of Jerzy Kędziora in Częstochowa and Bydgoszcz, and the Golem Monument designed by David Černý.
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All of the above are the works by Polish artists. But works enhancing city spaces are also being created by architects and designers. Looking at such projects, it's easy to come to the conclusion that their ideas for public spaces join together aesthetic and functional values. Let's examine a few of these projects.
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'Tailoring Alterations', Jakub Stępień a.k.a. Hakobo, Gdynia, 2015, photo: Rafał Kolsut / www.trafficdesign.pl
Brash signs and billboards, thoughtlessly designed, poorly executed, overlarge and most often inappropriate to their surroundings do more damage to their environment than they benefit the products or services they promote.
The Traffic Design Association has been trying for years to change their aesthetic appearance. This multidisciplinary team proves through its work that advertising can be both effective and attractive at the same time – well designed, advertisements can be outstanding examples of what was once called 'functional art'.
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An unusual piece of urban furniture
A few years ago, the neighbourhood of Chwaliszewo in the city of Poznań underwent a revitalisation. One element of this project was the creation of a city square featuring an extraordinary piece of furniture designed by Paweł Grobelny. Made of Corten steel and wood, the large circular object has no defined function – you can run on it, sit on it, lie on it, or you can just view it as a sculpture adding a touch of variety to the surrounding green space.
Paweł Grobelny, who has situated similar objects in many parts of the world – for example, in Paris's La Défense or in the Jardin d'Albertine gardens in Brussels – said that he wanted the users of these objects to decide for themselves what they were for.
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The silver 'Nave'
Another object without a clear function is the installation Nave designed by Oskar Zięta for Wrocław's Wyspa Daliowa (Dahlia Island). The object was built in 2017 and was tied to Wrocław's recognition as the European Capital of Culture that year. The Nave was designed using Zięta's proprietary technology called FiDU, which pumps flexible metal forms full of air under high pressure, creating metal objects with a soft appearance.
Oskar Zięta developed the technology a few years ago and he uses it now to produce various items for daily use, furniture, and car parts, as well as art pieces. The Wrocław Nave is composed of 35 steel arches which, when 'blown up', formed a single spatial construction. The mirror-like surfaces of the 'inflated' sculpture reflect its surroundings and form a gateway or tunnel through which one can walk; in creating the Nave's shape, the sculptor also paid homage to the nearby architectural landmarks of Ostrów Tumski.
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Birds & the city
The Wrocław architecture studio menthol Architects has been thinking of the city's smallest residents, too. Amongst its projects are a few developed with birds in mind. In 2011, menthol Architects won a competition announced by STOP, the Capital City Association for the Protection of Birds, for the design of a nesting structure for swifts. A tall tower with dozens of nesting niches for these exceptionally useful small birds was erected in Warsaw's Białołęka District.
In 2014, a design for another nesting structure by the same menthol Architects won the MAKE ME! Award at the Łódź Design Festival. Both projects bring together aesthetics and contemporary design to provide solutions for the needs of their avian clientele.
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A street lamp for birds
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For centuries, people have been gradually taking living space away from animals, building roads and structures over meadows, forests and fields. Many animals have thus been sentenced to living in an urban environment.
With this in mind, various projects are being developed for urban areas taking into account the needs of city birds. One of the more interesting ones is the 'pregnant lamp' – a street lamp designed in 2010 by the Poznań studio Ultra Architects. In the vertical support of the lamp, the architects included a nesting area for birds, wooden and removable, making it possible to clean it out once the birds move on.
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Although the tradition of erecting roadside crosses and chapels is no longer as popular as was once the case, those that remain from the past continue to evoke positive feelings. But they are not only places for religious reflection; they also serve as landmarks or as meeting places for local communities.
With this tradition in mind, the Silesian studio Medusa Group created a chapel in the Bronowice district of Kraków in 2016 at the request of some private investors. Behind its tall, see-through 'fence' made of Corten steel bars, the architects raised a glass cross. The rust-coloured fence separates the sacred space from the profane and the tall, slim rungs also create an exceptional mood inside the chapel. The architects from the Medusa Group explain:
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We wanted a person inside the chapel, looking upwards, to get the same impression as if he or she was looking at slim lines of trees leading high into the sky.
An open air museum
While the word 'museum' continues most often to evoke images of elegant buildings and white-walled halls in which exhibits are displayed on the walls or in glass cases, modern museums can take on somewhat different forms.
The Cieszyn Open Air Museum, built in 2019, is a visitor-friendly public space, embellished by various smaller features. This unusual museum was constructed along the banks of the Olza River in order to relate the most important moments of the history of a city divided between two countries. The Open Air Museum was designed by RS+ studios: the architects proposed that it take the form of round, flat platforms on which plaques would be fastened bearing information about Cieszyn's history.
But the platforms have turned out to serve not only as information providers. De facto, they have become a kind of comfortable urban furniture on which people sit and spend their free time.
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A design from the past
The design of unusual public buildings is nothing new and some designs from the past continue to capture the imagination today. This happened a few years ago when Łódź city authorities recalled a preschool built in the 1920s and 1930s according to a design by one of Poland's most-honoured twentieth-century sculptresses, Katarzyna Kobro.
The artist designed the modest building to resemble her best-known sculpture: she shaped it out of white planes arranged in an abstract spatial composition. A few years ago, her design was updated to meet contemporary needs and it was slated to be recreated on the campus of the Łódź Academy of Fine Arts. For now, however, this concept remains in the planning phase.
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A dome for the community
In the autumn of 2020 on the roof of the Bauhaus-influenced Liebling Haus – The White City Centre – a well-known and valued cultural institution in Tel Aviv, Polish architect Jakub Szczęsny will be building an unusual structure. It's going to be a special canopy resembling a dome, which will be a starting point for a variety of activities.
The 'dome' will serve as a location for the organisation of workshops for weaving, braiding, decorating – events that will serve to support the community's experience and activity in the public arena.
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art in public space
Also in autumn 2020, at the Holon Design Museum, Israel's leading design institution, the famed Polish designer Tomek Rygalik is planning a project which will be a symbol of community, meeting, and the value of being together.
The Polish designer will build two benches out of recycled bottle caps in a crescent shape. Intended for an urban, accessible space, with their attractive form lending itself to interpersonal contact, the benches should draw people in and bring them together. Central to this concept, too, is the use of recycled materials, promoting the value of recycling to the economy.
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