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Architecture getting better, space - fatal. Icons of cities and regions have been selected

04 of May '23

Do online polls on architecture make sense? It depends on how you look at it. The most interesting results of the selection of icons of architecture and space in the Gazeta Wyborcza campaign are the conclusions of the interviews and discussions accompanying the contest.

There is rather a consensus on online plebiscites. It's more of a game, not an authoritative survey. This is also the case with architecture, especially since it is often judged superficially, based on photos or film snapshots. Nonetheless, in Poland, any such action, even severely lame, is worth its weight in gold. One, it directs the spotlight on a neglected subject of public debate; two, it sometimes helps smuggle in deeper content that goes beyond mere voting. Such a noteworthy case is the online plebiscite of „Gazeta Wyborcza”, which ended before May, with the aim of selecting architectural or spatial „icons” of the country.

where is the architect?

The fourth installment of the campaign, called Supermunicipalities and Superregions, selected buildings or spaces from the last 30 years (with a few older exceptions) in individual cities and provinces. They were selected in advance (after submissions from readers) subjectively by local editors. The result? In large cities, the verdicts are not surprising: voters pointed to the most well-known, characteristic, noticed and liked buildings or development complexes (aggregate list: here). Thus, these are not always the most architecturally interesting objects, as the choice was also determined by the assessment of the functioning of the place, emotional issues and the impact of a given realization on the surroundings. However, while this approach is completely understandable, what is difficult to comprehend is the frequent lack of information in „Gazeta” texts about the architects of nominated or awarded realizations (in the ARCHITECTONIC plebiscite!).

Supermiasta i Superregiony 2023 - materiał graficzny plebiscytu

Supermunicipalities and Superregions 2023—graphic material of the plebiscite

Source: Gazeta Wyborcza /

Thus, while in Gdansk the winner was the European Solidarity Center (designed by Fort—Wojciech Targowski, Piotr Mazur, Antoni Taraszkiewicz and Paweł Czarzasty), in Gdynia the high-rise totem Sea Tower (designed by Andrzej Kapuścik) triumphed. Warsaw residents, on the other hand, did not point to skyscrapers, but to the Warsaw University Library (designed by Marek Budzyński). In Szczecin—an unquestionable victory for the Philharmonic Hall (proj. Barozzi Veiga). In Poznan—no major surprises: for the positive transformation of a large part of the city center, the laurels were again collected by the Old Brewery complex (designed by Studio ADS—Przemysław Borkowicz, Piotr Z. Barełkowski).

In Cracow, in turn, the winner was the Cricoteka building (designed by Piotr Nawara, Agnieszka Szultk of the nsMoonStudio studio; Stanisław Deńko of the Wizja studio)—also not only for its architecture, but also for its impact on Podgórze and areas along the Vistula River. In Silesia, which is abundant in good architecture, the voters were faced with a calamity of birth. In the end, the winner on a provincial scale was Katowice's Silesian Museum (designed by Riegler Riewe Architekten). The NOSPR headquarters standing next door (designed by Konior Studio), on the other hand, is number one in the provincial capital. A not very obvious, but very interesting realization was honored in Wroclaw. We are talking about the Old Town Boulevard—a comprehensive revalorization of the buildings of a former hospital (proj. Chamielec Architekci).

Supermiasta i Superregiony 2023 - materiał graficzny plebiscytu

Supermunicipalities and Superregions 2023—graphic material of the plebiscite

Source: Gazeta Wyborcza /

power plant, mine and castle

How did the slightly smaller cities fare? Number one in Toruń is the Jordanki Cultural and Convention Center (designed by Fernando Menis), and in Bydgoszcz—the Mill Island with a revitalized building complex on it. In Bialystok: Podlasie Opera House and Philharmonic (designed by Marek Budzyński) Radom, in turn, has set its sights on the Mazovian Center for Contemporary Art "Elektrownia" (designed by Kikowski Architects). In Walbrzych, the Old Mine (proj. Nizio Design international) triumphs unquestionably.

Many of these choices are quite obvious, which is not a reproach, but only shows that in larger cities it is rather difficult to make great discoveries in the very generally defined spatial category of "icon." On the other hand, it is more interesting on a regional scale. Here, thanks to the plebiscite, realizations from smaller towns broke through more strongly into the public consciousness: interesting or surprising. Again, architecture from the first league did not always triumph, as evidenced by the victory of the Sealarium in Hel or the observation tower in Wysokie Lakes (Lubuskie). The editors in Bialystok were led to slight despair by the choice of the icon of Podlasie, which turned out to be, according to readers... Tykocin Castle. The editors write:

We included the object [...] in the voting with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it's a place with a phenomenal history [...], but on the other hand it's a kind of mock-up, erected in modern times, on historical foundations. [...] As politicians say—vox populi, vox Dei. It remains to respect and accept it. Although it is possible to disagree with him.

a cliché about the sourdough

In other regions, instead, strong realizations triumphed. In Greater Poland—an exceptionally successful and efficient complex of the Culture Depot and City Library in Pleszew (designed by Lukasz Trafas) in the expanded facilities of the narrow-gauge railroad. In Mazovia, meanwhile, the successful Skansen Hotel in the complex of the Mazovian Village Museum in Sierpc (proj. Consultor Architekci; why only the hotel and not the entire museum was nominated will remain a mystery to GW editors) was selected. In Lower Silesia, the renewal of the market square in the city of Nowa Ruda was appreciated, as was the light ribbon footbridge over the Bystrzyca River (proj. Jan Biliszczuk), which was trotted out in the vote.

Supermiasta i Superregiony 2023 - materiał graficzny plebiscytu

Supermunicipalities and Superregions 2023—graphic material of the plebiscite

Source: Gazeta Wyborcza /

The voting itself, preceded by an editorial preselection and fraught with the drawbacks of an online plebiscite, was certainly an opportunity for a certain summation and to see what kind of architecture Poles identify with today. However, the greatest value of the „Wyborcza” campaign was the accompanying texts and interviews with selected architects, planners or those responsible for shaping space and educating future designers.

The common denominator of these statements was a statement that can be encapsulated in a short slogan: "architecture is getting better, but urban planning—terrible". It seems like a cliché, but it's worth repeating, especially to those architects who unabashedly delight in architectural raisins, while neglecting the Polish breadcrumbs from which they are plucked. And also to those who spread their hands, claiming that nothing can be done with a hopeless planning system and a hole in the law, and that the tone should be set primarily by economics.


A very valuable insight was therefore shared at the end of the plebiscite by urban planner Dr. Ewa Heczko-Hyłowa:

We made a mistake when we were admitted to the EU. In general, after 10 years of pre-accession negotiations, we pledged to respect the Community Rules [the so-called acquis communautaire, acquis politique], which is the foundation of European integration. As for the local government level, we disregarded urban planning rules and standards [acquis URBAN], and our accession was done with a disregard for the urban planning acquis. We were able to reject it because it was not a prerequisite for receiving European funds. In addition, the organization of urban planning/planning services remains the responsibility of the member state. We failed to recognize the important role and content of the European model of strategic, integrated planning for development and/or urban renewal. We chose the "Polish way of urban planning," ignoring the suggestions of EU experts.

Art historian and architect Michal Wisniewski, among others, also spoke in a similar vein. As he rightly pointed out, the debate on changing priorities

is a discussion that should take place at the state level. Various parties and coalitions have ruled Poland, but I don't recall any of them dealing with spatial order in a constructive way.

Instead, a subsoil for discussion could be a more interestingly designed plebiscite, the outline of which was proposed on his Facebook profile by architecture and urban planning researcher Kuba Snopek:

In my alternative plebiscite, iconic "buildings" are not judged, but iconic "fragments of the city." The condition is that they were designed jointly by at least three entities. Let it be three developers who jointly agreed on something. Or a developer and two different city hall departments. Or the state, local government and a private investor—there are many possibilities. The important thing is that it should not be a single architectural statement, but an architectural-urban discussion, consisting of at least three interlocutors.

The proposal is worth thinking about. For, just as from putting an expensive piece of furniture in an apartment will not become tidier, the space of Poland will not become more bearable from single architectural icons. Comprehensive thinking and looking are most important now.

Jakub Głaz

The vote has already been cast