Jakub Szczęsny, an architect and artist, came up with the idea for the unconventional home while sitting in a nearby café, Chłodna 25. From his table he could see a dark crevice between two buildings on the other side of the street. It would later become the location of one the most bizarre architectural undertakings in recent history.
The crevice that fascinated the architect is located in a very extraordinary place in Warsaw. It divides two buildings, each symbolising a different story – a tenement house built in pre-war times at Chłodna 22, and a 70s block of flats at Żelazna 74. Right next to them is the place where during World War II there was a wooden footbridge connecting the ‘Small Ghetto’ with the ‘Large Ghetto’. Szczęsny’s project is a reference to the history of the place, and so is the biography of its inhabitant – Etgar Keret, an Israeli writer whose family originates in Poland.
Keret’s mother was born in Warsaw in 1934. During the war she was trapped in the Warsaw ghetto, where all her family died. She later escaped to Israel through France. As the writer reminisced at a press conference before the opening of Keret House:
My mother never returned to Poland, but it’s important to her that my work is appreciated in the country she was born in. When she read my first book in the Polish translation, she said I wasn’t an Israeli writer but a Polish writer in exile.
Keret’s father was also born in Poland – he survived the war in an unidentified village where he stayed in a tiny hiding place together with other Jews.
The house Jakub Szczęsny designed for Keret has a floor area of 14 m2 and measures 122 cm at its widest point and 72 cm at its narrowest, which makes it the narrowest house in the world. Inside is everything a home should have: a living room with a pouffe, a desk, a cooker, and a toilet and shower. To reach the second floor where the bed and 90-centimetre desk are located one has to climb a ladder.
Keret said he is moved by the construction of the house, as his family hasn’t had one in Warsaw for the past 70 years. At a press conference which took place in October 2012 Keret said that it was the first time that he'd come to Poland not as a tourist or a writer promoting a book – then, he was coming home. He also mentioned the words of his mother, for whom Keret House is a way to bring back the family name to a place from which it once was supposed to have been removed. Keret is a Hebrew name that the writer’s father assumed in Israel. Keret stands for ‘city’. The writer translates his name and surname as ‘urban challenge’ and sees Keret House as a complementation of his name.
Keret was the first inhabitant of the world’s narrowest house. In later years, it functioned as a ‘crevice for creative works’ for artists and creators, a kind of a ‘hermitage’ – as the place is also called – for intellectual and artistic work.
Keret was also head of the jury responsible for the international residency programme of Keret House. The organisers invited artists from all over the world. Some of them came for short visits, others for longer residency stays. Keret House also hosts creative events, mostly connected with the history of Warsaw, and open days for visitors, which turned out to be hugely popular.
Jakub Szczęsny studied at the Faculty of Architecture of Warsaw University of Technology, Escuela Tecnica Superior D’Arquitectura de Barcelona and Ecoled’Architecture Paris la Defense and is the co-establisher of the Centrala architecture studio. Szczęsny’s works, such as Ohel, the contemporary pavilion of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews (2006), have won numerous awards. Szczęsny is the curator of Synchronicity festival, and the author of many projects: the revitalisation of Warsaw's Powiśle train station (2009), the Cervantes Institute in Warsaw (2008), the Lace installation in the Garden of Nations in Ramallah (2009), Pchechong in Jaffa (2009), and Tamaguchi Park in Bat Yam (2010), among others.
Keret House project was presented for the first time during the 2009 Wola Art Festival, organised by the Polish Modern Art Foundation. In 2010, Szczęsny, together with other architects working in Centrala, Tomasz Gancarczyk and Piotr Fabirkiewicz, presented his vision of small-scale architecture at the Reduction exhibition in Bęc-Zmiana Foundation in Warsaw.
The Keret house was mentioned in the New York Times after its opening.
The project was realised by the Polish Modern Art Foundation thanks to co-funding from the city of Warsaw. The National Centre for Culture is a partner of the project.
Author of the installation: Jakub Szczęsny
Curators: Sarmen Beglarian, Sylwia Szymaniak
Sources: http://www.awangardajutra.pl/Jakub-Szczesny-Centrala, http://warszawa.gazeta.pl/warszawa/1,34862,12446442,Buduja_najwezszy_dom..., http://centrala.net.pl/our-work/keret, PAP, own materials, written by Mikołaj Gliński 2012, translated and updated by NS October 2016