In 1920, after graduating from the School of Economics, Józef Szanajca left Lublin, his birthplace, to continue his education at the Warsaw University of Technology’s Faculty of Architecture. During his university years he met Bohdan Lachert, who shared his interest in modern architecture (which was the topic of Tadeusz Tołwiński’s and Roman Piotrowski’s lectures in their studios at the time). Despite many differences (in temperament, disposition, and origin), Szanajca and Lachert formed a well-knit tandem. Together, they created nearly 150 projects, 40 of which were realised.
In 1926, as a part of their thesis work prepared in Professor Rudolf Świeczyński’s studio, Szanajca conceptualised the development of a residential area composed of multi-storey buildings. The project, futuristic and almost unreal in its scale (each apartment block was supposed to accommodate 2,800 residents), was envisioned to form a cascade of glazed, 12-story-high buildings, designed so that they ‘would look best when seen from a fast-moving car’. The design displayed fascination with the modernist aesthetics of machines. Lifts, travelators, and interiors which adapted themselves to their user’s needs – all of this was a fulfilment of modern architecture’s premises, emerging chiefly as a result of Le Corbusier’s activity.
While at university, Szanajca became acquainted with Szymon Syrkus – an architect a decade older than him who was a theoretician of new avant-garde movements and strongly connected to the international milieu (Gropius, Malewicz, and Le Corbusier among others). In 1926, Szanajca co-founded the avant-garde group Praesens.
Soon after graduating, in 1926, Szanajca and Lachert collaborated on the design (which, as it turned out, was never to be realised) of a modern villa in Kamienna Góra (in the vicinity of Gdynia), which was commissioned by Kazimiera Scheunert. In 1928, thanks to funding from Wacław, Lachert’s father, the duo was able to realise the project on Katowicka Street, in the district of Saska Kępa in Warsaw. The three-storey Lachert family house abided by the five rules of modern architecture formulated by Le Corbusier: reinforced concrete framing allowed to freely adapt the interior and elevation, and placing the construction on top of pillars left the ground floor partly open. The cutting-edge form, use of experimental materials and the interior, consistent with the rest of the building, made the villa on Katowicka Street one of the first fully avant-garde edifices in Polish architecture.
In 1930, also in Saska Kępa, the architects designed a house for the Szyllers, and in 1934, again under the commission of Wacław Lachert – a tenement house on 12 Francuska Street, one of the first gallery-style apartment blocks in Warsaw.
In 1927, Szanajca and Lachert, together with the construction engineer Stanisław Hempel, took part in an international competition for the design of the League of Nations headquarters in Geneva. Their concept was not awarded, but it was appreciated by Le Corbusier and other progressive architects affiliated with CIAM (Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne) – an international organisation working to improve the condition of cities. Szanajca, as one of Poland’s two delegates, was invited to take part in the activities of the congress.
During the Polish General Exhibition in Poznań in 1930, Szanajca and Lachert presented the functionalistic pavilion Centro Cementu, built of plastered wood (strikingly similar to concrete) and surrounded by small concrete architectural elements.
Concepts for flexible architecture which adjusted itself to its users, and were convenient but also typified (and thus inexpensive), were elaborated in articles in the Praesens journal and echoed in the designs of the estates.
In 1926, ten designs for inexpensive housing by Szanajca, Lachert, and Lech Niemojewski were presented at the 6th East Expo in Lviv. These concepts gave rise to designs for residential dwellings based on the rules of functionality and typification, later expanded on in the designs of the WSM estate in Rakowiec by the Syrkuses.
ZUS Housing and Building Association
In the years 1929-1939, Szanajca worked at the Warsaw University of Technology’s Faculty of Architecture in Katedra Projektowania Hal Przestrzennych (editor’s translation: the Factory Hall Design Cathedral) as senior assistant (and, in practice, deputy) of Professor Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz, who was commuting from Kraków. In 1932 he became a full-time architect of the ZUS Housing and Building Association.
He developed many designs for ZUS, such as the Warsaw I bureau housing on 27 Mickiewicza Street (1930-31). In the massive towers resembling silos, the architect hid staircases, connected with the gallery-style construction of the rest of the building with the use of bridges. Not long after that, Warsaw II edifice was built (located at 20 Krasińskiego Street), as well as Warsaw IV, covered in wavy fibre cement lining (20 Mickiewicza Street, designed together with S. Brukalski).
In 1936, in collaboration with Lachert and Roman Piotrowski, Szanajca designed a colony of single-family terraced houses on Promyka and Dziennikarska streets for ZUS. Functional solutions, previously used in villas on Katowicka street, were introduced: utility rooms were hidden behind small windows and sizeable glazed surfaces offered a view of the garden. In the 1930s, ZUS also commissioned a sanatorium for those with tuberculosis, located in Tuszynek in the vicinity of Łódź (1937) and in Kruk, close to Gostyń (1938).
Beata Chomątowska notes that over time the Lachert-Szanajca duo became known as architects capable of designing everything. In 1935 they worked on the headquarters of the Evangelical-Augsburg Tabita Care and Rehabilitation Centre in Skolimowo. In the 1930s they designed Warsaw tram stops, furniture, apartment buildings in Gdynia, Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego headquarters in Lublin, private investors’ villas and many more. They also took part in numerous competitions, such as for the adjustment of Piłsudski Square (1934) and for the Temple of Divine Providence in Warsaw (1935).
In 1937, the Polish Utility Pavilion designed by Szanajca and Lachert was awarded the Grand Prix at the Paris exhibition Art and Technology in Modern Life.
In the years 1936-1939, Szanajca was the head of a design bureau in the Ministry of Post and Telegraphs, for which he designed the Central Post Office. However, the monumental, 250-metre-long and six-storey-high edifice was not completed because of the outbreak of war.
Unable to serve in the military because of a spine defect, Szanajca volunteered as a driver for the army. On 24th September 1939 he went to the Lachert family home in Ciechanki. He died in the vicinity of Płazów, shot with a machine gun.
Originally written in Polish by Natalia Cichowska, August 2017, translated by Patryk Grabowski, October 2017.
Selected projects and realisations:
- School of Political Science Headquarters on Wawelska street in Warsaw (with B. Lachert), competition design (honourable mention), 1926.
- Villa of Kazimiera Scheunert in Kamienna Góra, close to Gdynia (with B. Lachert), 1926 (unrealised).
- New types of wooden houses in Klementynów (with B. Lachert), 1926 (unrealised).
- Inexpensive housing, ten competition designs presented at the 6th East Expo in Lviv, 1st Prize (with B. Lachert and L. Niemojewski), 1926.
- Crematory model, student design under professor Czesław Przybylski, 1926.
- League of Nations Headquarters in Geneva competition design (with B. Lachert, consulted with S. Hempel), 1927.
- Development design of a residential area, composed of multi-storey buildings, graduation work under Professor Rudolf Świeczyński, 1927.
- Officer house for twelve families in Kowl, commisioned by Fundusz Kwaterunku Wojskowego (with B. Lachert and W. Winkler), 1928.
- Officer house for eighteen families in Kowl and Stanisławów, commisioned by Fundusz Kwaterunku Wojskowego (with B. Lachert and W. Winkler), 1928.
- Headquarters of the Evangelical-Augsburg Tabita Care and Rehabilitation Centre in Skolimowo (with B. Lachert), 1928.
- Szyllers villa at 756 Wal Międzyszyński in Warsaw, (with B. Lachert), 1928.
- Lachert three-family home on Karowicka street in Warsaw (with B. Lachert), 1928.
- Centro Cementu pavilion during the Polish General Exhibition in Poznań (with B. Lachert), 1928.
- ZUS. Bureau housing Warsaw I at 27 Mickiewicza Street (with S. Brukalski), 1930.
- ZUS. Worker housing Warsaw II at 20 Krasińskiego Street (with S. Brukalski), 1930.
- ZUS. Apartment blocks in Gdynia at 10 Lutego Street and Piłdudski Avenue (with B. Lachert), 1931.
- Temple of Divine Providence in Warsaw competition design on Sejmowa Avenue (with B. Lachert), 1931.
- ZUS. Warsaw 4 houses on Inwalidów Street in Warsaw, 1932.
- Gallery-style Wacław Lachert’s house at 12 Francuska Street in Warsaw (with B. Lachert), 1934.
- Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego Headquarters in Lublin (with B. Lachert and J. Pańskowski), 1934.
- Regulation plan for Józef Piłsudski’s square (formerly Saski’s square) in Warsaw, competition design (with B. Lachert), 1935.
- Szanajca’s own house at 18 Czerska Street in Warsaw, 1936.
- Józef Piłsudski bridge on the Vistula river on Karowa street in Warsaw, competition design (with B. Lachert, Z. Wasiutyński and F. Szelągowski), 1937.
- ZUS. Semi-detached house on Święcicki Street (with B. Lachert, J. Reda and R. Piotrowski), 1937.
- ZUS. Terrace house on Dziennikarska Street (with B. Lachert and R. Piotrowski), 1937.
- ZUS. Terrace house on Promyka Street (with B. Lachert and R. Piotrowski), 1937.
- ZUS. Tuberculosis sanatorium in Tuszynek, close to Łódź (with B. Lachert), 1937.
- Polish Utility Pavilion at the International Art and Technology Expo in Paris (with B. Lachert), Grand Prix, 1937.
- ZUS. Tuberculosis nursing home in Kruk, close to Gostyń (with B. Lachert), 1938.
- Main Post Office at the crossing of Jerusalem Avenue, Żelazna and Chmielna streets, 1938.
- Polish Pavilion at World Expo in New York, competition design, 4th prize (with B. Lachert), 1939.
- Lachert B., Szanajca J.. Architektura, Katalog wystawy Muzeum Architektury we Wrocławiu, Wrocław 1980.
- Chomątowska B., Lachert i Szanajca. Architekci Awangardy, Wołowiec 2015.
- Krasucki M., Piwowar M., Powalisz M., ŻOL. Ilustrowany Atlas Architektury Żoliborza, Warsaw 2014.
- Piątek G., Piwowar M., Trybuś J., SAS. Ilustrowany Atlas Architektury Saskiej Kępy, Warsaw 2012.