The year 1966 marked the thousandth anniversary of the establishment of the Polish state. However, the preparations for it began almost a decade earlier, as the main element of the state’s celebrations for the event was the construction of a thousand new schools.
On 24th September 1958, Władysław Gomułka announced that the approaching anniversary of the millennium of the Polish state would be celebrated with the construction of a thousand schools across the country. This concept was confirmed two months later at the 7th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party.
The decision to build the schools was not only a propaganda device – new facilities were very much needed. In the 1950s, children born during the post-war baby boom reached school age. In 1953, the number of school-age children and young people exceeded 800,000 (compared to 500,000 in 1946). There was a real lack of schools, so it is no wonder that a nationwide project to provide good learning conditions for the youngest aroused positive reactions. Although, of course, it also had a political overtone: it was supposed to overshadow the celebrations of the thousandth anniversary of Poland’s baptism, organised by the Church.
The following was written in the album Architektura i Budownictwo Szkolne PRL (‘Architecture and School Construction of the People’s Republic of Poland’), published in 1976 as a summary of the large operation of constructing 1000 schools for the millennium:
The events connected with the celebration of the Millennium of the Polish State’s existence have become a great lesson of patriotism and citizenship, a worthy reference to everything great, progressive and creative in the glorious history of our homeland.
On 29th November 1958, the Millennium School Construction Social Fund (SFBS) was established. The Millennium Memorial Schools’ were to be built from social funds collected in the form of contributions. Some of these were voluntary, but the SFBS taxed almost all citizens. Workers paid 0.5% of their earnings for this purpose, 2% was ‘given’ by farms, 5% of income tax was put on private companies, etc. Many organisations were involved in the creation of the Millennium Memorial Schools – donations were made by workplaces, Polityka weekly ran a collection of books meant for the school libraries, Nasza Księgarnia contributed publications for the purpose. The magazine Na Przełaj and a programme of the Polish Radio raised works of art, paintings and graphics, later given to schools. Contributions for SFBS were also collected among the Polish community living abroad. The army also made its contribution – it was the soldiers who, in just seven months, built the first of the schools in Czeladź. It was opened in July 1959.
Retro Illustrations to Children's Books
The success of the 1000 Schools for the Thousandth Anniversary campaign would not have been possible if the concept of prefabrication and construction with the use of identical or similar modules had not been developed before. The cornerstone for this was prepared beforehand: already in 1957, the Committee for Urban Planning and Architecture implemented the idea of prefabrication and standardisation into school construction, as it had done before with residential architecture. This made it possible to quickly erect more buildings. After 1959, there were many competitions for ready-made and replicable constructions. Contrary to what it might seem, there were many different models of Poland’s Millennium Memorial Schools – after all, different facilities were designed for villages and big cities. Some schools were combined with dormitories, others with workshops and technical studios.
What is important is that the work on the optimal form of the school building, carried out on the occasion of the 1000 Schools for the Millennium campaign, influenced the appearance of these buildings in a radical way. Ultimately, it was a change for the better. Previously, many schools consisted of dark corridors around which rows of classrooms stretched on both sides. It was Poland’s Millennium Memorial Schools that made the new model of the school building – low, pavilion-like, often composed of a number of smaller blocks – widely accepted. It has become very important to have sunlight and air ventilation not only in the classrooms but also in the corridors – hence the large windows and the location of the classes only on one side of the corridor. The break-up into smaller blocks allowed the building to the harmonise with its surroundings (e.g. with the sports grounds), and it also helped to avoid the impression of monotony. The lightweight, glazed, pavilion-like building seemed smaller and therefore more friendly.
Maria and Kazimierz Piechotka
Of the several models of buildings selected in competitions in the 1000 Schools for the Millennium campaign, the one which became the most popular is the large panel construction designed by Zofia Fafius and Tadeusz Węglarski. The first of the Millennium Memorial School was made according to their design – the building of Andrzej Frycz-Modrzewski Secondary School, commissioned in 1960, as well as the complex of sports schools on Piaseczyńska Street, also in Warsaw (built in 1967 and immediately awarded the ‘Mr Warsaw’ award). Fafius and Węglarski developed a simple body, densely complemented with characteristic large windows. The building’s modular structure could be freely extended by adding additional floors or wings, thus adapting the building to local needs.
Building Blocks: Poland’s Most Popular Homes
Although the schools were to be built from repetitive prefabricated elements, the architects tried to diversify their projects and, as much as it was possible and give them individual forms. The Millennium Memorial School designed in the 1960s by Halina Skibniewska in Warsaw was adapted to the needs of disabled children (in those days it was a novelty). It also had rooms available after school hours for the inhabitants of the area, e.g. a common room or a library.
In 1960 Józef Gołąb designed a building for a housing estate in Nowa Huta, perfectly showcasing the values of compositions constructed from small pavilions. This school consists of a dozen or so small, two-storey cubes containing classes, alternating along the corridor which connects them.
The school designed by Aleksander Franty and Henryk Buszko for the Millennium Housing Estate in Katowice is a low building in the shape of the letter ‘L’, cut by horizontal strips of windows stretching along the entire length of the elevation.
Wacław Kłyszewski, Jerzy Mokrzyński and Eugeniusz Wierzbicki, despite the fact that they used monotonous prefabricated elements to build a complex of art and music schools in Lublin, made them almost into a landscape concept. They constructed several zigzagging cubes and inserted them into an area surrounded by a slightly hilly park. These cubes were, in fact, large rooms, which they complemented with larger buildings, including auditoriums or dormitories.
polish people's republic
The common work on school construction, although largely imposed by the authorities, produced real results. Between 1959 and 1965, 1423 schools were built (1288 primary schools, 75 vocational schools, 41 high schools, special schools and boarding schools). In 1966, SFBS was transformed into the Social Fund for School and Boarding School Construction (SFBSiI) and continued to operate until the end of 1971. The aforementioned book Architektura i Budownictwo Szkolne PRL summarises the project spanning from 1959 to 1972 as follows:
Thanks to social contribution, the following was built: 2,791 schools with 21,000 classrooms, 10,000 boarding schools, 5,000 school workshops, more than 20,000 residential rooms for teachers, many kindergartens, orphanages, nurseries and special educational institutions. SFBSiI has also built 273 rural health centres, 23 clinics and 2 hospitals.
Tens of thousands of children still use them today.