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A repeat of neonization? Good idea, poor competition

09 of August '23

Four new neon signs are to illuminate the renovated center of Poznań. This is the result of a city competition. The effects, however, are meager: the projects are of a poor standard, and there were very few applications. The regulations lacked restrictions on the artistic level of the works, and the jury lacked professionals . There is no question of similarity with the golden years of Poznan's neon signs.

The competition under the name "Neon center of Poznan" was announced by Poznan magistrate in May. In this way, on the occasion of the protracted reconstruction of the streets of the city center, it attempted to refer to the outstanding neon traditions of the city from the 1960s and 1970s (which we recall more extensively later in the text).

neony przy placu Wolności w Poznaniu, lata 70. XX w.

Neon signs at Wolności Square in Poznań, 1970s.

© press materials of the National Museum Poznań (exhibition „Night Poznań in the glow of neon signs” from 2015).

A few days ago we learned the results. Of the six (!) submitted works, four will be implemented (two did not meet the formal requirements): two of a commercial nature (bar, hairdresser), one announcing the operation of the "Barrack of Culture" and one—of the most universal nature—wishing "good day". The result was modest, to say the least, both in terms of the number of works submitted and their quality. Suffice it to say that when announcing the competition, the City planned to select not four, but five designs.

innovation and ingenuity

A total of 80 thousand zlotys (a maximum of 16 thousand per neon) was allocated for the construction of the awarded neon signs. The area was limited to Św. Marcin, Gwarna, Kantaka, Ratajczaka, 27 Grudnia, al. Marcinkowskiego and pl. Wolności. The competition was intended for individuals, companies or housing communities that own or co-own property in the center, or have their headquarters there. The neon signs could be social, informational or commercial in nature. This excluded "offensive, discriminatory or illegal content." The organizers reported that:

The evaluation will be based on the innovativeness and ingenuity of the neon sign, its artistic and visual qualities, as well as whether the originator proposed a realistic cost of implementation. Chances for the highest number of points will therefore be for original and creative projects, tailored to the place and type of business or reproducing valuable historical solutions.

jedna z 4 propozycji w konkursie na neon w sródmieściu Poznania

One of the four proposals in the competition for a neon sign in downtown Poznań—the neon sign of a hairdresser on Św. Marcin Street.

© source: Poznan City Hall,

what makes the magistrate happy?

However, only one awarded work meets the conditions as such (the barber shop on Św. Marcin Street). Two are correct ("Barak kultury" and the entrance to the tenement, far from „innovation and ingenuity”, however), and one (Cappadocia bar)—extremely unsuccessful. This happened because—in principle—the City did not choose anything, but "awarded prizes" to those of the six works that met the formal requirements set by the regulations (we did not even learn the form of the submissions that did not pass this sieve).

jedna z 4 propozycji w konkursie na neon w sródmieściu Poznania

One of four proposals in the competition for a neon sign in downtown Poznań—the neon sign of a kebab bar on Św. Marcin Street.

© source: Poznan City Hall,

City representatives, however, do not seem to notice the failure or consider the submission of any works at all to be a success. The official city portal quotes the words of Katarzyna Parysek-Kasprzyk, deputy director of the Office of Project Coordination and Revitalization of the UMP (at the same time chairwoman of the competition jury):

We are very pleased with the interest of property owners and entrepreneurs in the announced competition. The submitted projects are graphically interesting. The authors assume the production of neon signs in traditional technology, which guarantees due quality and good visual effect. The submitted works are also perfectly in line with the objectives of the competition.

In juxtaposition with the effects shown and the number of submissions, these words seem strange to say the least. Where did the mediocre effect of the competition come from? Perhaps it is a consequence of the provisions of the regulations, in which there is nothing about the requirements for the artistic level of the works and the professional qualifications of the authors of the projects.

jedna z 4 propozycji w konkursie na neon w sródmieściu Poznania

One of the two correct proposals in the competition for a neon sign in downtown Poznań—the neon sign of „Barak Kultury” on Marcinkowskiego Ave.

© source: Poznan City Hall,

This is also probably a result of the selection of the jury, in which it is difficult to find a professional visual artist or outdoor advertising specialist. The regulations, moreover, lack names. There is only mention of representatives of the Office of Project Coordination and City Revitalization, the Office of the City Conservator of Monuments, the Department of Urban Planning and Architecture and the Management of City Roads, as well as the Saint Marcin Coalition and the Old Town Neighborhood Council. Finally, the third reason: the amounts allocated for a single neon sign may have seemed too modest to potential competitors.

jedna z 4 propozycji w konkursie na neon w sródmieściu Poznania

One of the two correct proposals in the competition for a neon sign in downtown Poznań—a neon sign over the gate of the building at 5 Wolności Square.

© source: Poznan City Hall,

golden times are over

What now? „Selected” neon signs are to be made by the end of the year and hang in the indicated locations. Deputy Director Parysek-Kasprzyk announces:

We want to expand the spatial scope of the project in subsequent years and restore the tradition of decorating downtown Poznań with neon signs, which was abandoned in our city in the 1990s.

The intention is absolutely right, but its implementation must take place completely differently than the first time. Otherwise, there is no way to even partially approach the quality of years ago. After all, Poznan was once a neon powerhouse. In the 1960s and 1970s, the local authorities conducted a program of comprehensive neonization of the city center—in cooperation with high-class visual artists. Interestingly designed neon signs overflowed both in the downtown area and—partially—in the surrounding historic districts, with an emphasis on Głogowska Street adjacent to the Poznań Fair.

neony przy ul. Głogowskiej w Poznaniu, lata 70. XX w.

Neon signs on Glogowska Street in Poznan, 1970s.

© press materials of the National Museum Poznań (exhibition „Night Poznań in the glow of neon signs” from 2015).

It was, among other things, to this then prestigious international event that Poznań owed its great saturation with neon signs. The authorities wanted fair visitors to see a modern, colorful city teeming with life, and the neon decorations were perfect for this. They masked the imperfections of neglected facades in the evenings, and in the 1960s—before modern skyscrapers were built in the center—they were a testament to the modernizing ambitions of Poznań residents.

Poznań's neon signs were of a high standard. Interestingly designed compositions were inscribed in the facades of buildings and—thanks to the coordination of neonization activities—aptly harmonized with each other. Some served as signs or advertisements for stores or eating establishments, while others promoted visits to monuments, museums, gardens: zoological and botanical, national park, trips to nature or reading. Only some constituted advertising: they encouraged saving at PKO, insuring property at PZU, washing with IXI 65 powder and reading local newspapers. Neon signs also greeted visitors in front of the train station and at the entrances to the city. Sometimes they served to mobilize people for work or social deeds (for example, the neon sign "you work well / rest well").

coherently and consistently

The neon signs of the1960s were of the highest artistic quality, which a decade later were partially replaced by slightly less sophisticated designs. However, the neon luminaire of the downtown's main streets, led by 27 Grudnia Street and Swietym Marcin Street (then Red Army Street), was still a coherent, well-thought-out composition.

neony wkomponowane w zadaszenie nad chodnikiem ul. Święty Marcin - lata 70. XX w.

Neon signs incorporated into the canopy over the sidewalk of Święty Marcin Street—1970s.

© press materials of the National Museum Poznań (exhibition „Night Poznań in the glow of neon signs” from 2015).

In the 1970s, canopies adorned with sequences of neon decorations were placed over the modernized commercial first floors of old tenements. Some of these structures, already without neon signs, have survived in disastrous condition to this day.

poznańskie neony

Poznan neon signs—canopies over ground-floor shops on Św. Marcin Street; the worn-out structure from the 1970s was originally decorated with a thoughtful composition of well-designed neon signs

photo: Jakub Głaz

The neon boom ended in the late 1970s. The economic crisis was not conducive to the installation of new compositions. Existing neon signs were also extinguished—by shortages of electricity and lack of funds or materials to repair the illuminated signs. It happened that for a long time only part of the letters or graphics were lit. Collapse, in turn, occurred in the 1990s. The reasons were numerous. Many neon signs became obsolete, as the stores and establishments they advertised ceased to exist. Private tenants or owners also lacked the funds to repair and brighten up the installations.

poznańskie neony

Poznan neon signs—one of the few surviving neon signs from the communist era (part of a larger composition from the previous location)

photo: Jakub Glaz

coffers instead of tubes

Finally, neon signs became unfashionable and gave way to coffer signs: cheaper, more convenient and perceived as more modern. These new forms were generally not prepared by visual artists, and even if they were, they succumbed to the purely utilitarian requirements of the commissioning parties. At the same time, professionally designed neon signs and very interesting artistic compositions promoting parks, museums and cinemas, among others, gradually faded away. Despite repeated announcements, to this day the outstandingly successful neon sign of the now-defunct Bałtyk cinema, which—in several sequences—showed the viewer transforming into various film characters, has not been restored.

dawny neon kina Bałtyk, zdemontowany w 2002 roku, fotografia z lat 70. XX w.

The former neon sign of the Bałtyk cinema, dismantled in 2002, photo from the 1970s.

Source: FB / Neon signs of Poznan

Only the neon sign promoting Poznan's Stuligrosz Choir ("Poznan Nightingales") lived to see renewal in 2007, and until recently it diversified the space of Swiety Marcin Street with colorful sequences (now it is waiting to be launched again).

poznańskie neony

Poznan neon signs—the only large-format neon sign surviving from the communist era on Swiety Marcin Street, opposite CK Zamek, restored in 2007 and waiting to be repaired again (currently not operational)

photo: Jakub Glaz

Renewed interest in ne onsigns began in the early decades of this century (a Facebook profile called Neons of Poznań was created, among other things), and its apogee was a successful 2015 exhibition devoted to neon signs at Poznań's National Museum. Its lasting testimony is the post-exhibition album by exhibition curator Magdalena Mrugalska-Banaszak , "Night Poznań in the Glow of Neon Signs." Despite the fashion for neon signs and the appeals of their enthusiasts to re-beautify the city along the lines of the 1960s and 1970s, the city authorities did not do much about it.

poznańskie neony

Poznan neon signs—the „freedom” neon sign from 2017 on the Arkadia building at Wolności Square; it is now in occasional operation

photo: Jakub Głaz

Poznan still does not have a place dedicated to old neon signs and , in general , with minor exceptions , has not made any new ones. There have been a few commercial signs of this type of varying aesthetic quality, a successful neon sign of the Higher School of Banking (the result of a competition) and one municipal neon sign on Wolnosci Square with the word "Freedom" encircled by animated graphics.

poznańskie neony

Poznan neon signs—reconstructed neon sign of the Muza cinema on Św. Marcin Street (based on a design from the 1960s).

photo: Jakub Glaz

Two very good neon signs have also been created in recent years, remarkably: based on old realizations from half a century ago, both next door on Św. Marcin Street. The first is a signboard for the Muza cinema (realized through the efforts of the city's cultural institution Estrada Poznańska).

poznańskie neony

Poznan neon signs—reconstructed neon sign of Kociak coffee bar opened after a break last year, Św. Marcin Street.

photo: Jakub Głaz

The second is an advertisement for the once iconic Kociak coffee bar reactivated this year (the work of a private entrepreneur). For several years, the Old Town Neighborhood Council has also been calling for the renewed neonization of downtown's main streets. However, it was only this year that the City Council unexpectedly announced a competition, the results of which we have just learned.

Jakub Głaz

The vote has already been cast

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