1st Edition

Postmodern Architecture in Socialist Poland Transformation, Symbolic Form and National Identity

By Florian Urban Copyright 2021
    238 Pages 106 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    238 Pages 106 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Garish churches, gabled panel blocks, neo-historical tenements—this book is about these and other architectural oddities that emerged in Poland between 1975 and 1989, a period characterised by the decline of the authoritarian socialist regime and waves of political protest. During that period, committed architects defied repressive politics and persistent shortages, and designed houses and churches which adapted eclectic historical forms and geometric volumes, and were based on traditional typologies.

    These buildings show a very different background of postmodernism, far removed from the debates over Robert Venturi, Philip Johnson, or Prince Charles in Western Europe and North America—a context in which postmodern architecture stood not for world-weary irony in an economically saturated society, but for individualised counter-propositions to a collectivist ideology, for a yearning for truth and spiritual values, and for a discourse on distinctiveness and national identity.

    Postmodern Architecture in Socialist Poland argues that this new architecture marked the beginning of socio-political transformation and at the same time showed postmodernism's reconciliatory potential. In light of massive historical ruptures and wartime destruction, these buildings successfully responded to the contradictory desires for historical continuity and acknowledgment of rupture and loss. Next to international ideas, the architects took up domestic traditions, such as the ideas of the Polish school of historic conservation and long-standing national-patriotic narratives. They thus contributed to the creation of a built environment and intellectual climate that have been influential to date.

    This book will be of great interest to students and scholars interested in postmodern architecture and urban design, as well as in the socio-cultural background and transformative potential of architecture under socialism.


    Postmodern Architecture Across the Iron Curtain

    Architectural Innovation Under a Weakening Authoritarian Regime

    Private Houses and Small Cooperatives

    Sacred Architecture and the Influence of the Catholic Church



    Chapter Structure

    Chapter 1: Architectural Debates in Late Socialist Poland

    Poland around 1980

    International Postmodernism and the Polish Discourse

    The Polish School of Historic Conservation

    In Search for Truth

    Expressing National Identity

    The Post-functionalist City

    Chapter 2: Churches, Semiotics, and Patriotism

    The Ascension Church in Warsaw-Ursynów

    A House of Prayer in a Socialist Complex

    Semiotics and Patriotism

    Resourcing "Outside the Plan"

    Łazienkowska Street Church, Warsaw

    Immaculate Heart of Mary in Śródborów near Warsaw

    Our Lady Revealing the Miraculous Medal, Zakopane

    Our Lady Queen of Poland, Głogów

    St Jadwiga, Kraków

    Seminary of the Resurrectionist Congregation, Kraków

    The Postmodern Church and the Functionalist Block

    Chapter 3: Bottom-Up Village Churches

    Neo-historicism in the Countryside

    St Lucia in Rembertów: Pastiche Deconstructivism

    St Michael the Archangel in Kamion: Neo-historicism as Criminal Offence

    St Francis of Assisi in Mierzowice: A Neo-medieval "Decorated Shed"

    Church Building and Disobedience

    Traditional and Forward-looking

    Chapter 4: Postmodern Mass Housing Complexes

    Humanising the Housing Complex

    Łódź-Radogoszcz-East and the Spirit of Structuralism

    Łódź-Rojna and the Customised Panel House

    Poznań-Różany Potok and the Revised Modernist City Extension

    Kraków-Na Skarpie and the International Context

    Postmodern Mass Housing

    Chapter 5: Postmodernism from the Spirit of Historic Conservation – The New Old Town of Elbląg

    A Postmodern Old Town

    Rebuilding Through the Backdoor

    The Unrealised Neo-historical Panel Plan

    Elbląg Old Town and the Nikolaiviertel in East Berlin

    Postmodernism from the Spirit of Historic Conservation

    Momentum at the National Level

    Fledgling Market Capitalism

    The Realised House-by-House Design

    Completing the Old Town of Gdańsk

    Postmodern Reconciliation

    Chapter 6: The Urban Context

    Warsaw Infills

    The Ursynów Arcades in Warsaw

    Socialist Gentrification in Wrocław

    “Tooth fillings” in Łódź

    Historical Pastiche in Kraków

    Medieval Gables in Upper Silesia

    New Urbanism in Zielone Wzgórza near Poznań


    Bridging Contradictory Desires

    Beyond Compliance and Dissidence

    Increasing Individual Agency

    National Narratives

    Symbolic Representation of Community

    Urban Regeneration

    Postmodernism Across the Eastern Bloc

    Postmodern Architecture, International Exchange, and Fluid Meaning

    Pronunciation of Polish Names

    Index of Buildings

    Index of Architects

    Index of Subjects



    Florian Urban is a Professor of Architectural History and Head of History of Architectural and Urban Studies at the Glasgow School of Art. He was born and raised in Munich, Germany, and holds a Master of Fine Arts from the University of the Arts in Berlin, an MA in urban planning from UCLA, and a PhD in history and theory of architecture from MIT. He is the author, among others, of Neohistorical East Berlin: Architecture and Urban Design in the German Democratic Republic 1970–1990 (2009), Tower and Slab: Histories of Global Mass Housing (Routledge, 2012), and The New Tenement: Architecture in the Inner City since 1970 (Routledge 2018). In 2018–19 he was a Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute in Warsaw.

    "In Postmodern Architecture in Socialist Poland Florian Urban creates a complex view of Polish architecture of the 1980s. The author guides the readers through New Old Towns and prefabricated residential areas, prestigious sacral objects and the rural bottom-up churches. He goes beyond a dry description of listed buildings, establishing them in a wide context of socio-political changes. Urban proves that, although naming it as 'architecture of resistance' will be a simplification, postmodern architecture under the declining socialist regime was an agent of transformation."

    Dr. Błażej Ciarkowski, Lodz University of Technology

    "In this compelling new book, Florian Urban casts a completely new light on postmodern architecture, hitherto widely disparaged as a frivolous creation of American and Western European fashion-stylists working in an unholy alliance with neo-capitalist reactionaries. He shows how, semi-detached from Western postmodernism’s discourses of playful irony, a postmodernism of a different and altogether more socially embedded kind was able to emerge in a country such as Poland, where it significantly helped in the process of reconciliation following the traumatic ruptures of the 20th century."

    Miles Glendinning, The University of Edinburgh

    "Florian Urban describes the most interesting and important architectural implementations of Polish postmodernism by putting them into the wide context of political and economic changes in Poland in the 1980s and 1990s. It makes this book on architecture not only about buildings but also economic and social phenomena that are crucial for the end of the 20th century."

    Anna Cymer, Architecture historian, author of Architecture in Poland 1945–1989