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.
Table of Contents
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 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
Chapter 6: The Urban Context
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
Symbolic Representation of Community
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