Zofia Hansen was born in Kałuszyn. Her father, Tadeusz Garliński, was a teacher. Under the academic supervision of Romuald Gutt, a prominent representative of modernism in architecture, Hansen graduated from the Faculty of Architecture of Warsaw University of Technology. While at university, she met her future husband, Oskar Hansen, an architect and artist, who she married in 1950. Together, they co-created numerous architectural projects and were the creators of the Open Form theory.
The idea of Open Form is considered the most important modern school of thought in Polish architecture. According to the theory, artworks and architectural objects should be realised with the people who will interact with it in mind. This was the Hansens’ way of rebelling against closed art forms, alien to the viewer and leaving them without a choice. The theory hugely influenced Oskar Hansen’s students, including Grzegorz Kowalski, Zbigniew Frączkiewicz, Zofia Kulik, Elżbieta and Emil Cieślar, and Wiktor Gutt.
Oskar Hansen’s Linear Continuous System is an idea regarding the cities of the future. This theory was embodied in two projects the Hansens realised together – Osiedle Słowackiego in Lublin (1961) and Przyczółek Grochowski in Warsaw (1963). Their idea was to create a system of huge cities in Poland, spreading in four parallel strips running from the north to the south of the country. They were supposed not to have a clear-cut centre and peripheries circling it, but residential areas divided by zones of commerce, industry, and natural landscape.
The Hansens created several dozen projects, but only several of them were realised, including the apartment on Sędziowska Street (1955), National Exhibition of Interior Design at Zachęta Gallery (1957), the neighbourhood of Rakowiec in Warsaw (1958), and a house in Szumin (1968).
The reporter and photographer Filip Springer, who worked on the Hansens’ biography, said that it is the house in Szumin that realises the postulates of the open form most fully: ‘There was a bench at the plot that the Hansens bought. Peasants would sit on that bench when they were coming back from the field. The Hansens decided not to destroy the bench, but just build their house next to it’. According to Springer, the house connects humans with the natural environment, thanks to, among other things, its shape which matched the surroundings and windows through which one can see the horizon. As the reporter further elaborated:
I would love to live in a world created by them. There are no criminals or evil, people want to grow and take care of each other, respecting the greater good. This utopian modernist vision was a response to the times of World War II. The Hansens believed that if humanity was able to recover from this experience, the same mistakes would never be made again.
Even though Zofia and Oskar Hansen worked together, the critics and journalists frequently ascribe their achievements solely to Oskar. As Springer said, Oskar Hansen frequently emphasised that Zofia was an outstanding architect in her own right. In their relationship, she never played the second fiddle.
Sources: PAP, Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts, written by AS January 2013, translated by NS April 2017.