Marek Leykam was an architect and art historian. He designed the most distinctive buildings of late modernism in Poland.
He was born in Warsaw on 4th September 1908, where he died on 27 February 1983.
He attended the Stefan Batory Gymnasium between 1919 and 1927, and from 1925 to 26 he attended a night course at the School of Painting and Decorating. In between 1926-27 he studied at the Wojciech Gerson School of Fine Arts, but didn't graduate.
His first individual project was a concept for a typical wooden house to enter into an architectural competition organized by Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego in 1933 for exemplary types of small housing. Two years later, along with Professor Mieczysław Kotarbiński from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, he entered a competition to design a estate in Zułowo – the birthplace of Józef Piłsudzki. He also completed competition projects for a mosque in Warsaw and the Żeglarski Ośrodek Morski (Maritime Sailing Centre) in Gdynia along with a plan for the adjacent area of the Southern Pier (along with Marian Spychalski), and a project for the headquarters of Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego in Poznań (1938).
Marek Leykam’s main field of work before the outbreak of the war was journalistic writing. He wrote for such magazines as Arkady (Arcades), Architektura i Budownictwo (Architecture and Construction) and Plastyka.(Visual Arts), expressing his views on architecture.
During the war he took part in the September campaign and later fought in France in 1940. He was detained in Switzerland along with the 2nd Rifle Division, in a camp in Winterthur, where he attended classes organized for Poles by the faculty of the University of Technology in Zürich. At first, professors would come to the camp, but eventually the students and assistants were allowed to go to Zürich. Appearing under the name Jan Lewiński, he defended his doctoral dissertation about liturgical art, entirely written by hand. He also designed a book concerning the artistic and literary works of soldiers belonging to the 2nd Rifle Division which was published in 1943 under the title Na postoju (During the stoppage). He also designed a chapel dedicated to all the soldiers who died, which was built in Solura.
He returned to Poland in 1945 and got back to work. He taught history of medieval architecture at the Faculty of Architecture at the Warsaw Technical University, where he was an associate professor at the Department of History of Architecture and Art until 1948. He also collaborated with the Engineer School in Szczecin, which was the nucleus for the Politechnic University, where he led the Department of Public Utility Buildings.
In first years after the war, he took part in the most important architectural contests for public service buildings in Warsaw, such as the Central Railway Station (along with Jerzy Hryniewiecki and Jerzy Staniszkis in 1946, shared 4th prize), the edifice of the National Polish Bank (with Hryniewiecki, 1948), and the headquarters of the Ministry of Treasury (1948). His projects were characterized by a bold construction and modern form.
Leykam’s most distinctive works are the office buildings that he designed in the Warsaw government district between 1947-49, all on the axis along Wspólna street, planned to be the axis of the ministerial headquarters. The most significant buildings of his design in the area are the Military Information Centre on Chałubińskiego street, nowadays the Ministry of Defence (designed along with Hryniewiecki), the Central Bureau of Industrial Construction Research and Planning on St. Barbara Street (designed along with Władysław Pieńkowski), that stands beside the former Government Presidium Office (Wspólna Street) and an office building for the Supreme Chamber of Control and the Ministry of Industry on Marszałkowska Street (designed along with Hryniewiecki, structure designed by Stanisław Zalewski).
His most unusual form was the Government Presidium Office (nowadays Ufficio Primo), which was built around 1952. Due to the constraints of adapting the work to the socrealist doctrine, the architect chose a Florentine early Renaissance palazzo as inspiration for the structure, the interior on the other hand was arranged around a monumental, extraordinarily impressive vestibular rotunda decorated with galleries, all covered with a dome. Leykam was criticized for the building's ‘cosmopolitan deviation’ due to its high level of altered old architectural motifs and essentially modern technological and aesthetical solutions.
His other designs, like the new headquarters of the Geological Institute in Warsaw (designed along with Czesław Krassowski), were made based on a technological solution Leykam was very fond of in the late 40s. A skeleton-frame structure filled with prefabricated simple boxes simultaneously created the façade of the building. Due to the distinctive, deep embrasures that serve as protection against excessive sun exposure, the buildings were humorously called ‘żyletkowce’ (razors). The same construction principle was applied to the Central Department Store in Poznań (also known as Okrąglak).
Leykam’s first post-war buildings were completed during the period of socialist realism, yet all but one of his buildings – the Government Presidium Office – managed to avoid socialist realism in its architectural style. This was mainly due to the structure of the façade, which made it impossible to add any form of decorative details to it (the only exception being the pseudo-Renaissance portal of the Central Bureau of Industrial Construction Research and Planning).
In the 1950s, Marek Leykam still took part in architectural competitions along with Jerzy Hryniewiecki. Together they prepared many projects but some of them were never created, such as the pseudo-classical Polish Pavilion for the Agricultural Exhibition in Moscow or the monumental Arc of Liberation in Lublin as well as the Museum of Revolution in Warsaw, planned as a modern composition made of two structures. Leykam also designed the unrealized project for the Victory Monument on the Saxon Axis in Warsaw and, along with Bogusław Malisz and Marian Sulikowski, a competition project for The Polish Army House.
Author: Piotr Kibort, Translated by: Zuzanna Wiśniewska, August 2015