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. 

Saturday 16 June 2018

Gdynia's Modernist Pearl - The BGK Building

Gdynia is an attractive city in northern Poland, on the Baltic coast. In 1870, just 2,500 people lived in the then small fishing village, but following the First World War and the free city status of neighbouring Gdansk, the Polish Government decided to develop Gdynia into a major, modern port city. Serious development began in 1928 and was so rapid that by 1939 over 120,000 people were living there. This necessitated a massive construction programme to house, serve and administer the city . Many of the new buildings were designed in the modernist style.

The apartment building of the Pension Fund of the Bank of National Economics (BGK) at 3 Maja, 27-31 (3rd of May Street) is perhaps the most iconic of these architectural treasures and is sometimes referred to as the pearl of modernism. Constructed in two phases, the first of which was completed in 1936 and the second in 1939, it is the tallest and largest residential building of pre-war Gdynia. The second phase was not quite complete when the Second World War commenced and the work was finished by the German occupiers who seized not only this apartment block but the whole of Gdynia, expelling all Poles from the city.

The tower and the older wing
The BGK dominates its corner position with the older wing rising to eight floors. The two upper levels are recessed adding interest to the design but it is the narrow tower that rises a floor further that most appeals to me. It suggests the nautical theme so typical of modernist architecture and so appropriate to a port city. The ground floor includes Cafe Cygernia which has beautiful curved windows and serves two kinds of cheesecake (I had both and slightly preferred the honey and cinnamon over the raisin!). The younger section is a longer structure, but with fewer levels defined by thick bands between the glazing. The rear of the building is almost as interesting as the facade and has a series of small balconies and thermometers or glazed stairwells. Still in the courtyard there is a series of two storey structures that may have been used as garages for the most important residents as well as housing their chauffeurs. Gdynia saw fighting between the Russians and the German occupiers at the end of the Second World War and bullet holes from the battle can still be seen in the walls at the rear.

Cafe Cyganeria
Rear courtyard balconies and glazed stairwells
The Bank commissioned architect Stanislaw Ziolowski to design the building. He was also to live there for a time at flat number seven. He did not survive the war, dying in Kharkov in 1940, but his brother Zygmunt, also an architect and a resident returned after 1945. The apartments were originally intended to house Gdynia's elite, including high ranking bank officials, lawyers and other wealthy and accomplished people. Ziolowski's designs spared no expense and included the finest materials, new technology and every modern convenience. Extensive use was made of high quality imported marble for the staircases and window sills,  coloured and patterned mosaics in the external lobby and copper detailing for  stylised detailing on the internal doors. Other modern facilities included a lift and a cyclops fitted to the door of every apartment. The cyclops was a small peephole  enabling those inside to see who was at the door without being seen themselves and to decide whether or not to be at home. The apartments were also very large, some in excess of 200 square metres with two bathrooms, several bedrooms, kitchen, salon and large hall.

Staircase - looking up
Staircase - looking down
Many luxury apartment blocks of the period offered residents 24 hour access to the services of a concierge and the  BGK was no exception. Less common was the provision of an underground car park whilst the worsening situation in Europe no doubt encouraged Ziolowski's inclusion of a basement bomb shelter. The shelter had a contraption for pumping in fresh air should the space need to be occupied. It still works today and was demonstrated to me when I visited.

The apartments in the older wing are larger and more luxurious than those in the still stylish second block and were built with living accommodation for servants. Additional spaces outside of the apartments were provided to enable these domestic workers to wash, dry and press the laundry of their employers. The technology available to the servants included a huge industrial style press of the kind used in a commercial laundry.

External lobby mosaics 
Residents name plat and cyclops on apartment door
Items from the Mini Museum
Much of the history of the building is preserved in a small museum housed in the former bomb shelter and lovingly curated and cared for by long time resident Maria Piradoff-Link. I was privileged to meet her during my stay in Gdynia. She very kindly showed me not only the museum but also the common areas of the building, pointing out the many remaining original features. What is now known as there Mini Muzeum began as a small collection of domestic items but now consists of many objects grouped under themes such as the living room, kitchen and bathroom. She explained that she had rescued many of the items from "rubbish" disposed of when apartments had been renovated. However now awareness of the museum has spread and regular donations arrive. The museum has recently won an award for an educational project related to cultural heritage whilst the national newspaper, Gzaeta Wyborcza featured Maria in a special series on influential Polish women in the 21st century.

Maria Piradoff-Link
It is not difficult to understand why the BGK has such iconic status. Not only does it have a  striking exterior and exquisite internal features it also has a fascinating, albeit at times dark history reflecting Poland's changing fortunes over eight decades. Its star is once again in the ascendancy as Gdynia's impressive built heritage becomes more widely known.

I must thank Witold Okun of the Agencia Rozwoju Gdyni for arranging a wonderful day of visiting many modernist buildings in the city including the BGK. Thanks also to Maria Piradoff-Link for hosting my visit and showing me the museum collection.

Useful links
Gdynia Modernism Facebook Page
Mini Museum Bankowiec (Facebook page of the small museum)
Gdynia Modernism Route 

Look out for another, more general post on Gdynia's modernism coming soon! 

Monday 11 June 2018

Peru - Trujillo's Marvellous Market, People and Portraits Part Two

Trujillo is Peru's second largest city with just under one million people living in the metropolitan area. It is home to some spectacular pre-Inca archaeological sites, colourful colonial architecture, a couple of excellent museums and an enormous wholesale market. This post showcases some of the wonderful people who work in the market and whom I had the pleasure of meeting and photographing during my recent visit.

Yolanda, stylish vendor of peppers
I have already written about some of the challenges of photographing people in Peru, but Trujillo was a very different experience to the rest of the country. People were more open to being photographed and not one person required payment. I must note that I had the superb assistance of a wonderful guide, Tali, who helped ease the way with the merchants, chatting with them a little about their stalls, families and experience before checking that they were OK with the camera. Thanks to Tali, the couple of hours I spent at the market were amongst the most enjoyable of my entire trip.

And so to the market. The first thing that struck me was its size. Gigantic. Tali promised me half a kilometre of bananas and another of potatoes and she did not exaggerate. The choice is wide and the competition is fierce as restaurant and shop owners come here to buy. Peruvians are rightly proud of their locally grown fruit and vegetables and like to tell visitors about the 4000 varieties of potato grown in the country. I think most of them were on offer here.

Of course, the colours, smells and scale of the market is impressive but it is the people that make it extra special. Wandering through the alleyways it quickly became obvious that there are many long established stalls here with several generations involved in different tasks from unloading to selling, and from sorting the stock to looking after children at the back of the stall.

Yolanda was one of the first stall holders I noticed.  Her sense of style stood out. She wore a leopard skin patterned ribbon in her straw hat and a long, buttoned cardigan. Simple garments but coupled with her posture and expression the effect was one of supreme elegance. Sitting beside  baskets of bright red, green and yellow peppers, she was serene, almost detached, indicating her agreement to a photograph with an almost imperceptible nod. She must be Trujillo's most stylish 65 year old.

Maritza "I grew this apple just for you"
Many of the vendors here are women, perhaps the majority. I have no doubt this is a tough job and some of the them can seem formidable at the first exchange. Initially, Gilberta was not keen to be photographed. She made faces and grumbled a little and I was resigned to moving on. But just as I was about turn away her demeanour changed and smoothing her floral blouse, she stood to attention and then to my surprise, began turning her head in different directions, acting the part of the model. What an actress! Perhaps she will like the picture I sent back for her.

I always think that selling must be like being on the stage and if Gilberta was a natural actress so was Maritza. She has an apple stall, was happy to be photographed and began playing up for the camera, taking an apple from her stall and saying "see this one? I grew it just for you".

The male vendors may not be foreword as Gilberta and Maritza but they also provided some interesting subjects. The butcher in the blue sweatshirt was peering between the cuts of meat hanging on his stall and smiling at passers-by. A little further along, another butcher's stall caught my attention, due mainly to the somewhat disturbing display of sheep's heads but also because of the mischievous smile of the stall holder. This part of the market was very noisy and when Tali asked his name, he misheard and assumed she had asked about the items for sale. "sheep's head" came the reply causing the surrounding stallholders to collapse into fits of laughter, unable to explain what they were laughing at for a moment. He eventually told us that he is called Juan, a name he shares with the butcher in blue and much more suited to him than the first response. Juan is a popular name amongst the male traders. The egg man's name is a little less common. He is called Napoleon.

Juan, butcher
Juan of the sheep heads
Napoleon, egg vendor
If the majority of stallholders are women, delivery is a job done only by men. Although most goods arrive in the early morning, deliveries take place throughout the day. At the time of my visit, consignments of bananas were arriving. In some cases the fruit is sorted into containers in the back of a truck and then handed down to porters using trolleys. Others simply load huge piles of bananas on to their backs and take them to the stalls. One young man was carrying a huge pile of bananas and when I began to shoot, he put on a little show, performing a few dance steps before disappearing into the main body of the market. Still on the subject of bananas, in the afternoon things quieten down a little and the woman in the picture below made use of the time to practice her needle craft. 

A delivery of bananas
The dancing porter
Keeping busy between customers

Luz and her grand daughter Damaris were playing happily together whilst other members of the family took care of their stall. As with Yolanda, I was much taken by Luz's sense of style. With her poncho of contrasting colours and wide brimmed hat, she was a match for any of those posh ladies out shopping in London's Knightsbridge or South Kensington. But little Damaris, aged just two stole the show with her pink kerchief, showing great curiosity and wanting to handle the camera. She looked most surprised when I showed her a picture of herself on its screen.

A little further on we came across Maria with her grand daughter Beatriz. As we passed, Maria looked up from grinding garlic and waved at us. Beatriz was standing close to her, a very serious little girl, also aged two. It is very easy to see Marie's love for her grand daughter from the scene below.  Such hope, such affection. When I showed her the pictures she became a little emotional to the point of shedding a tear or two. By now she should have a copy of the picture below. I hope she likes it. 

Luz and Damaris
Maria and Beatriz
As well as the established stall holders, the market attracts vendors who walk its alleys, offering sweet and savoury snacks to both stall holders and shoppers. Maria sells bags of popcorn from a tray. She stopped to watch our exchange with Gilberta and seemed very curious about what I was doing. She was less keen to be photographed herself, seeking reassurances that I wouldn't "steal her" with the camera. Before I had a chance to respond she seemed to have a change of heart and presented herself for a picture. When I showed her the result, she looked for a moment, nodded and went on her way.

Maria, popcorn vendor
Markets are generally very open places. Anyone can wander in and as long as they behave can stay as long as they like. You don't even have to buy anything. That must be what attracted the little group in my final people picture from Trujillo's wholesale market. I love this little scene, one fast asleep, the woman with her hat pulled down laughing a little, someone else intent on securing a parcel and the "character" engaging with the camera. I love Trujillo. 

And to finish, a little more spice.

You can see more pictures of Peru here.
You might also like Peru - People and Portraits Part One or Lima Art Deco

Thursday 7 June 2018

Lima Art Deco

Lima, Peru's capital city underwent significant development during the 1920's and 1930's. The built heritage of that period included many art deco structures, primarily residential, middle-class homes but also public and commercial buildings including department stores and cinemas. Examples of the style can still be seen in several parts of the city. This post concentrates on the Centro Historico, rarely visited by tourists but full of impressive architecture and with a busy street life.

Edificio Santa Rosa
The architects working in the style including both native born Peruvians and European emigres. Augusto Guzman Robles was responsible for several buildings across Lima. Unfortunately, some of these have been demolished but Edificio Aldabas on Azangaro Avenue still survives. During my recent time in Peru, it had been painted white, covering an earlier orange incarnation. Designed as an apartment building arranged over three floors, it was completed in 1931 and was one of the first in the city centre to be constructed in reinforced concrete. The facade features both arched and rectangular windows and simple art deco motifs. The doors are especially attractive with decorative metal elements and cement fans above, but most of them are in need of loving care. The ground floor is now occupied by cafes and retail with what appears to be residential use above.

Edifico Aldabas, Augusto Guzman Robles, 1931
Also on Azangaro Avenue, Edificio Gildermeister stands opposite the Aldabas building. Built in 1930, it was designed by the German architect Lange Benno Werner.  Asymmetrical in design, it is much starker than its neighbour and runs to five floors with an end tower climbing to a sixth level. The lobby had a heavy security presence at the time of my visit but it was still possible to see what looked like a marble staircase, hinting at the original grandeur of the Gildermeister.

Edifico Aldabas
Edificio Aldabas
Edificio Gildermeister, Lange Benno Werner, 1930
Edificio Compania Peruana de Telefonos in Giron Antonio Miroquesada is an interesting example of a building with a facade remodelled into art deco style.  Built in 1929, the modification was the work of architect Ricardo Malachowski. Born in 1887 near Odessa, he completed an architectural degree in Paris before undertaking further studies in the same city at the School of Fine Arts. He arrived in Lima in December 1911 to work on a two-year project but spent the rest of his life in Peru designing several significant buildings including banks, embassies and palaces. His son and grandson, both named for him,  also became architects. 

Edifico Compania Peruana de Telefonos, remodelled by Ricardo Malachowski, 1929
Edificio Jesus Nazareno
Lima even has an art deco McDonalds. Edificio Jesus Nazareno in the same street as the Telefonicos building, is a huge structure, devoted primarily to residential use but with a branch of the burger chain on the ground floor. Unfortunately, as with much of Lima's art deco and modernism, it has proved difficult to find details of the architect or date of construction. There appears to be little information on the internet (at least that I can find). This together with the poor state of much of the Centro Historico's art deco and modernism may reflect a seemingly limited interest in the city's built heritage, albeit with notable exceptions. This is reflected in their physical condition whilst as in many other cities around the world, others have been  lost to demolition in favour of office blocks.

I plan to continue my research of Lima's wonderful art deco and modernist architecture and will update this post as I discover further details. If you know more about these buildings please let me know. My thanks to Juan Carlos Guerrero who identified the yellow building below as the former toy department of the famous Oechsle department store. In the meantime, a few more examples of my favourite style, without least for the moment.

Former toy department of the Oechsle department store.
Modernist building Agenda Nicolas de Pierola
You can see more pictures from Peru here.