A modernist architect with innovative views on architecture and urban planning, better known in the United States than in Poland. Born in 1910 in Chita in Siberia, died in a plane crash in Egypt, on 31 August 1950.
A modernist architect with innovative views on architecture and urban planning, better known in the United States than in Poland.
First works 1931-1945
The renowned British architecture researcher, Nikolaus Pevsner, introduced Maciej Nowicki in one of his architecture history books as a Russian architect. The reason was that Nowicki, born in a Polish family of noble-class origin, was born in… Siberia. He didn't spend much time there, though - soon after their son was born, the Nowicki family returned to Krakow, Poland.
Ten years later, future architect's father became a consul of Poland (the Second Polish Republic) in Chicago - it was the first time when Nowicki spent a few years stateside. He settle in the US again in 1945 and he designed his most famous work there - an event and sports hall in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Before it happened, Nowicki worked in the field of graphic design. As a student - together with Stanisława Sandecka, whom he met at the Warsaw Polytechnic Department of Architecture and whom he later married - he designed posters and flyers. One of their most famous posters is one announcing the Young Architecture's Ball, made in 1934.
The young architect's first work was a house for his parents, made in 1931. A small villa was built at Daniłowskiego street in the Warsaw district of Bielany. This quite humble work shows clearly that although Nowicki knew and respected Le Corbusier's guidelines for modern architecture, he interpreted them in his very own way. The architect softened the building's rough geometry with a mildly waved railing of the stairs. He applied a similar solution seven years later in his project of a holiday complex in Augustów. Entrance into a simple building with rhythmical order of windows is covered with a light, waving roof, resting on slim, tall pillars. Modernist clarity and simplicity of the form is broken here by covering parts of the façade with rough stone. Both buildings still exist today and are still used for their primary functions. The holiday complex in Augustów is a historical monument.
Another Nowicki's work, the building of Orzeł Sports Club's Physical Education Centre, is not protected. The subtle construction with a bulging roof, erected between 1938 and 1939 in the Warsaw district of Grochów, has fallen into disrepair.
During the interwar period, Nowicki often participated in contests for architects, popular in that era. Majority of his projects remained unbuilt, among them i.e. a mosque in Warsaw.
During the occupation, he designed interiors and small architecture together with his wife. One of their projects from that period was the famous Latona cafe located at the back of the Nowy Świat street, owned by the Blikle family. The architects created not only the interior design, but also an arbour and a fountain in the cafe's garden. Simultaneously, Nowicki participated in underground urban planning and architecture studios' activities, which planned the reconstruction of Warsaw whilst the war still continued.
Rebuilding Warsaw, 1945
In 1945, he belonged to the Wilanów studio department of Biuro Odbudowy Stolicy (Office for Rebuilding the Capital City) located in the Wilanów Palace, where he created a vision of rebuilding and remodeling Warsaw. His ideas - which never came to life - are still considered very innovative. Nowicki postulated designing the city centre from two perspectives: a pedestrian's and car driver's one. He intended to separate pedestrian and automotive traffic, which were supposed to be divided into two levels (built on the base of wartime ruins). Nowicki wanted to make the architecture varied enough to create an attractive "theatre" for every user. His ideas of dynamic changes in buildings' heights (e.g. groups of skyscrapers surrounded by lower buildings) were intended to create an urban atmosphere, at the same time remaining friendly to the eye. Simultaneously, the architect created a vision of a metropolitan city center with monumental buildings located on the slope of the Vistula river (next to the National Museum, which the architect wanted to cover with four domes). The central point of this project was a new Parliament building, with a flat roof resembling a bicycle wheel.
In 1945, Maciej Nowicki became the attaché of culture in Chicago and a consultant on behalf of Poland during the construction of the United Nations building in New York (built between 1947 and 1953). There, he met the co-designer of the building, Le Corbusier, whose intern he was in the 1930s. Nowicki didn't come back to Poland - he became the head of the North Carolina State University design school, lectured as a visiting professor at many American universities, and at the end of the 1940s, he published theoretical works in mainly American specialist periodicals (barely recognized in Poland; one of his essays, The Warsaw Slope from 1945, was recently revisited by the Bęc Zmiana foundation in their book The Glory of the City).
In 1949 he began to design a building thanks to which he made history of American architecture (as Matthew Nowicki). Dorton Arena, an event and sports hall in the North Carolina city of Raleigh, was announced a treasure of national heritage only 20 years after its construction. Nowicki applied his idea of a hanging roof, which he developed during his work in BOS. The Raleigh hall construction is a more advanced version of his idea for the new Polish Parliament building, on which he worked during the occupation - consisting of two intertwined parabolic arches, on which steel lines were spread. The lines hold the roof and glass walls. Thanks to them, no pillars are needed in the vast, open space of the hall. Even though the hall can fit as many as 8 thousand people, it still appears to be a light, transparent pavilion.
In 1950 Nowicki, together with American urban planner Albert Mayer, Nowicki began to plan Chandigarh, the new capital of the Punjab province in India. A new city for 500 thousand inhabitants, built from scratch in the wilderness, was designed in shape of a leaf, wih softly meandering streets and an administration district surrounded by small neighbourhoods. Unfortunately, the plane with which Nowicki - then 40 years old - was returning from India, crashed on the Egyptian desert in August 1950. The city was later designed by Le Corbusier, whose brutalist concrete houses don't bear resemblance with Nowicki's ideas.
Place in the history of architecture
As Maciej Nowicki himself said, his views of architecture were to a large extent shaped by the experience of being professor Rudolf Świerczewski's student. The author of i.e. Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego building in Warsaw thoughtfully connected newest modernist discoveries with the elegance of classicism, but the qualities which he put first were logic, clarity and propriety. He keenly used organic, soft-shaped details. Marta A. Urbańska, a researcher of Maciej Nowicki's work claims that he combined Le Corbusier's creative talent with Frank Lloyd Wright's sensitivity - the features of two most important contemporary architects, an orthodox modernist and a supporter of architecture closer to nature. Had he not died so soon, Nowicki would possibly have created more buildings which - like the hall in Raleigh - were ahead of their time and gave new meaning to "modernity".
Written by Anna Cymer, February 2013, translated by Olga Drenda, December 2013