Friday 29 June 2018

Gdynia - Poland's modernist masterpiece

A couple of years ago I came across an article comparing Gdynia's modernist architecture to that of Tel-Aviv which regular readers will know is my favourite city. After reading the article I wanted to see Gdynia for myself and earlier this month I was able to do so. I found a charming seaside city with wide boulevards, a couple of interesting and well presented modern museums, good cafes and restaurants and of course, many modernist buildings.

Until the 1920's Gdynia was a small fishing village. Following the First World War, the League of Nations declared nearby Gdansk an international city and so the Polish Government identified Gdynia to be developed as a port. The city grew so quickly that by 1939 the population had risen to over 120,000 from just a few thousand in 1920. A massive construction programme took place in order to provide homes and facilities for the new citizens as well as appropriate accommodation for the civic administration and businesses. Many of the new buildings were designed in the modernist style. Gdynia suffered some destruction during the Second World War but much of that marvellous modernism survived and can still be seen today. The importance of this built heritage was recognised in 2015 when the centre was declared a Monument of History by Poland's President.

Former ZUS building, now Gdynia City Hall

The former ZUS building at 10 Lutego 24 has one of the city's most striking exteriors. It was designed by architect Roman Piotrowski and completed in 1936. Damaged during the Second World War it was later rebuilt to the original design and passed to the ownership of Polish Ocean Lines. Constructed with two wings, a lower ocean liner style section on Lutego with its beautiful curve and a taller, more austere section on3 Maja. The Ocean Lines company planned to equalise the heights but fortunately the efforts of conservation officers and architects prevented this and the building was awarded official protection in 1972. Since 2008 it has served as the City Hall. Piotrowski was one of Poland's leading architects and in 1945 he was appointed to head the Capital Reconstruction Bureau charged with rebuilding Warsaw. 
A. & M. Orlowscy Tenement House
Swietojanska is the main thoroughfare and runs for two kilometres. It is a rather grand boulevard, lined with modernist buildings. The A. & M. Orlowscy Tenement House at number 68 occupies a large corner plot and stands out due to its brilliant white facade. It has two wings separated by a narrow recessed section at the corner of Swietojanska and Zwirki I Wigury. The Swietojanska side culminates in a nautical style curve whilst that of Zwirki I Wigury is angular and rises to an additional floor. Each floor is denoted by a band of white cladding running between the glazing. As with most of Gdynia's tenements the ground floor is given over to retail use whilst the upper levels are residential. Completed in 1936, the Orlowscy House was designed by Zbigniew Kupiec.

Kupiec was one of Poland's most accomplished architects in the pre-war period. Born in Krakow  he studied architecture at the University of Lviv, then in Poland. In 1933 he established a practice in Gdynia, going into partnership with Tadeusz Kossak in 1935. Appointed to the Gdynia Building Committee in 1938, he was to lose everything the following year when his business and home were confiscated by the occupying Germans and he was amongst those deported from Gdynia. He was never to work there again and spent the post-war years first in Wroclaw and then Krakow. Despite this he left his mark there with at least 40 completed designs, a number in partnership with Kossak.

Another project of the Kupiec/ Kossak partnership is a short step from the Orlowscy Tenement House. The Krenski Company Tenement at Swietojanksa 55 was completed in 1939. It has a series of five remarkable balconies running the width of the facade on each floor. The balconies are asymmetrical,  curving outwards and suggesting waves. The rear is also interesting and has a glazed stairwell. Unfortunately the original windows appear to have been replaced but the upward sweep of the enclosed staircase still has a dramatic impact.

Krenski Company Tenement House
Rear of Krenski Company Tenement House
The Krenski Tenement is just one of many on Swietojanska that can boast beautiful balconies. Number 122 was built for lawyer Antoni Ogonczyk-Bloch and Leon Mazalon in 1937. It features a series of small, semi-circle balconies over four floors. They have a strangely organic appearance, seeming to grow out of the facade. They were the work of architects Stefan Kozinski and Leon Mazalon who was also one of the owners.

Ogonczyk-Bloch and Mazalon Tenement House
At number 42, the Franciszka Glasenappowa Tenement House has four levels of balconies suspended across the pavement from the side of the building. Theses exquisite features display Bauhaus influences and to some observers reference the recurring modernist ocean liner theme. For me they also resemble diving boards especially when seen against a beautiful blue summer sky. It is a shame that the owners have recently seen fit to cover them in netting, presumably to deter the seagull and pigeon population. The house was completed in 1938 and was designed by Tadeusz Jedrzejewski who was responsible for many of Gdynia's buildings of this period, frequently making use of nautical references. The ground floor houses a branch of Starbucks, not quite the cafe society of the 1930's but a coffee house nonetheless. The architect was called up as a Reserve Officer in 1939 and died of wounds sustained during the defence of Kutno. He was 41 years old.

A little further long Swietojanksa, on the opposite side of the road, number 41 also has some impressive balconies. The Kazimierz Kolinski Tenement House was designed by non other than Stanislaw Ziolowski who was also responsible for the iconic BGK building about which I have previously posted. Originally a stand alone structure the Kolinski is now sandwiched between two new, reasonably sympathetic buildings and although this takes away some of the original drama those balconies will still stop you in your tracks. There are two runs of them. A series of small semi-circular ones grace one side of the facade, whilst a second set of four protrude from the opposite corner of this asymmetrical building. 

Glasenappowa Tenement House
Kazimierz Kolinski Tenement House
Gdynia's modernist architecture boasts some impressive exteriors. However many of the most beautiful features are not visible from the street. The lobbies and staircases of some of the tenements are real treasures. The architects clearly spared little expense, making use of expensive marble, ceramics, high quality wood and stylish lacquer finishes, emphasising the confidence, modernity and affluence of the city during its period of rapid growth. Many of these common areas have been well maintained and carefully preserved but even where this has nor been the case there are still hints of former glory. The pictures below give just a hint of what lies behind the main doors of Gdynia.

Staircase, Peszkowski Tenement House
Staircase, B.&G. Orlowscy Tenement House
Decorative floor, Swietojanska
Detail of lobby floor, B.&G. Orlowscy Tenement House
Detail, lobby on Swietojanska
Modernism also influenced commercial architecture. The City Market Hall at Wojta Radtkego 36 was built in 1937 and designed by Jerzy Muller and Stefan Reychman. Once filled with fresh produce, a significant amount of space is now given over to the sale of cheap clothing and plastic household goods but some of the original feel remains. The hall is built around a metal frame and has significant glazing on the facade, partitioned by reinforced concrete pillars. Like several other architects Muller served in the Polish army during the Second World War. He was taken prisoner in 1939 and held in captivity until 1945.

City Market Hall
I have already posted about the BGK Housing Estate but can't resist finishing this piece with another picture of that most elegant of apartment blocks. Gdynia is an attractive city, compact, well looked after and filled with wonderful architecture. I am sure I would enjoy a second visit.

BGK Housing Estate
Thanks are due to Witold Okun of the Agencia Rozwoju Gdyni for making it possible for me to see so much during my short visit and for sharing his enthusiasm for the city's architecture. 

1 comment:

  1. Gdynia has plenty of places with "gorseciki" tiles that were so characteristic for modernism in Poland.

    I'm talking about those tiles.

    The thing is that I'm still not sure if there's a specific name for those tiles in English and if there's a wider recognition for those tiles. Google "Gorseciki Gdynia" or "Warszawskie Gorseciki" and you'll be amazed.