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The last postmodern reserve

27 of April '21

During the 15th Docomomo International Conference in Ljubljana, one of the founding fathers of the association was asked if it intends to expand its spectrum of interests to include postmodern architecture. Hubert-Jan Henket answered in the negative. Postmodernism , he argued , grew out of ideas at odds with those that shaped the modern movement. From neoliberal individualism that rejected the communal demands of the modernists.

Architecture is a document of the era in which it was created. It reflects the moods and relations of society. Postmodernism, as Henket rightly pointed out, was the product of an era that rejected the idea of the welfare state in favor of neoliberalism. This does not mean that PoMo architecture should not be protected. On the contrary, the Docomomo co-founder stressed the need for it. He merely noted the internal contradiction between the ideals espoused by modernism and representatives of the post movement.

proste modernist forms hidden under a postmodern costumeproste modernist forms hidden under a postmodern costumeproste modernist forms hidden under a postmodern costume

simple modernist forms hidden under a postmodern costume

il: Błażej Ciarkowski

In Poland, postmodern architecture is inextricably linked to memories of transformation. Wroclaw's Solpol, Elblag's Old Town or Cracow's Alchemist's House are products of the same era as pirated CDs and colorful fake jackets sold in bazaars and gray crowds of people laid off from bankrupt factories who camped outside labor offices. They are a document of a breakthrough that today, 30 years later, is increasingly beginning to be assessed critically. However, an individual's attitude to the transformation should not affect its architectural manifestation. Important examples of buildings erected in the spirit of postmodernism should be protected by law as relics of a bygone era. Here, however, an important question arises - are we able to say with certainty that postmodernism in architecture is a thing of the past?

Welcome to Lodz, the open-air museum of postmodernism! The trenches of the Holy Trinity of the 1990s! Architecture critic Tomasz Malkowski sighed at the sight of the published concepts for the new Lodz City Hall:

I thought these were designs from the 1990s.

If we take a look at the competitions of recent years, then we can see that styling straight from the last decade of the 20th century is popular among Lodz designers.

In the awarded projects of "Contemporary Łódź Tenement," "Parking in a Tenement" or "Green Market" it is difficult to find attempts to critically deconstruct the myth of the Promised Land. Instead, we find both elements of eclecticism, traditionalism in the spirit of Leon Krier, and new classicism under the sign of Quinlan Terry. There are references to high-tech design and immortal quotes from 19th century industrial architecture. Hovering over everything is the spirit of Lodz postmodernism under the sign of the Lodz Kaliska group.

Zielony MarketZielony MarketZielony Market

Green Market

il.: Błażej Ciarkowski

The reference to the art formation that triumphed in the 1980s and 1990s is not accidental. The position of the city's architect has been held since 2011 by one of the founders of Łódź Kaliska, the creator of many interesting architectural projects, such as the hotel-transatlantic or the glass tenement (both unrealized). Let us remember, however, that what was a breath of intellectual freshness and a successful architectural joke in 1997, a quarter of a century later, may raise legitimate doubts.

The Lodz Fabryczna station, with the reconstructed false elevations of the old 19th-century station building turned inward, is just such an outdated joke. A similar assessment can be made of the facade of one of the downtown townhouses on Piotrkowska Street, whose simple modernist forms have been hidden under a postmodern costume. Although the city's architect is not directly responsible for individual projects, but it is difficult not to notice his influence on the overall spatial policy and the formation of aesthetic concepts.

{Image@url=,alt=wnętrze of Łódź Fabryczna station,title=interior of Łódź Fabryczna station}

interior of the Łódź Fabryczna station

photo: Błażej Ciarkowski

Also, the new showpiece of Łódź, the Vladyka Street undergoing revitalization, is an open-air PoMo museum. Visualizations and the results of the construction work so far leave no illusions. Surprising juxtapositions of reconstructed fragments of eclectic facades and "modern" reflective glass. Modern interpretations of historical details and Daniel Libeskind's deconstructivist shabbiness. If the authorities of Lodz are really hoping that Włókiennicza (Kamienna) will attract crowds of tourists, perhaps they should advertise it as a time machine transporting visitors to the 1990s.

neo-downtown style

Postmodernism in architecture was a trend associated with a particular worldview. Ba, with a certain social position and gender. It is the architecture of the white affluent male. A current that perpetuates the social status quo. So should its popularity in 2021 worry us?

In the past year, the word "grandfather" gained media popularity to describe a male individual with archaic views on women and minorities, which he imposes on others convinced of his infallibility on every subject. We can easily find a "grandfather" in the world of architecture. Its emanation will be any conservative trend, which according to its proponents is "natural", "true", "rooted". Architecture, like pop art according to Richard Hamilton's definition, should be:

...witty, sexual, captivating, bringing in great revenue.

The result is superficial solutions, easy on the eyes, but essentially hiding a void beneath a shell of glitz. So if one wonders whether the popularity of postmodernism/neoclassicism is a worrying symptom, my answer would be yes.

When an art historian residing in Paris for a living saw a photo of the completed facade of an apartment building at 6 Vlókiennicza Street, where geometrized figures of caryatids with prominent breasts boast on a mirrored glass wall, she pronounced that here we have a style of

neo-dadaers - based on a tradition of rubbishy eroticism, combined with a penchant for materials once considered exclusive and innovative.

The elewacja of the building at 6 Vlókiennicza Streetelewacja of the building at 6 Vlókiennicza Streetelewacja of the building at 6 Vlókiennicza Street

Elevation of the building at 6 Włókiennicza Street, proj.: Formart Pracownia Architektury

photo: Błażej Ciarkowski

In the era of the struggle for women's rights and the era of #metoo, the spirit of Lodz Kaliska has manifested itself again. Defenders of the traditional world order will probably recall the Greek caryatids as an argument defending the realization. Fans of the group's work will mention the affirmation of the beauty of the female body. It is as if nothing has changed over the past few decades.

The revitalization of Textile Street could have been a great opportunity to initiate change. It won't be. It turned out that in the face of global change, Lodz architecture can really only afford the ruddy nipples of pseudo-cubist caryatids.

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postmodern caryatids

il: Błażej Ciarkowski

Łódź "to the best of our ability"

Postmodernism read as an architectural costume of the neoliberal world is part of the cult of constant growth. Ambitious investment intentions, the long-term effects of which leave the ground scorched, we can see, for example, in Seville. It is no accident that I juxtapose this city with Lodz. The capital of Andalusia hosted the 1992 EXPO, the organization of which was (is?) a dream of the Lodz authorities.

What's left of the Seville exhibition is a huge infrastructure, deteriorating exhibition grounds and a nightmarishly expensive, impressive bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava. Lodz's dreams of power are coming to fruition in a similar way. The cult of over-scaled investments "to our liking" brought a huge train station in a concrete desert and a highway leading nowhere near it. It materialized in the Orientarium - a modern zoo, the very creation of which is an idea straight out of the last century. The only thing missing to complete happiness is a building designed by Daniel Libeskind, which will create a Bilbao effect in Lodz.

boczna elevation of Łódź Fabryczna railway stationboczna elevation of Łódź Fabryczna railway stationboczna elevation of Łódź Fabryczna railway station

side elevation of Łódź Fabryczna railway station

photo: Błażej Ciarkowski

None of these realizations and concepts contribute anything to the local discussion about space. It does not solve the basic problems of the city and its residents. Let's go back to the competition for the design of the new city hall. Isn't it telling that no leading Polish architects competed in it? That the competition was organized without the participation of the SARP? In such a situation, can we be surprised that we received the result in the form of concepts that contribute nothing to the discussion of contemporary architecture and the city?

Probably in some time there will be a magistrate's building that will be both "contemporary" and "referring to tradition". It will satisfy the ambitions of the authorities and some of Lodz's residents. However, it will not provide an answer to any of the pressing social problems of the shrinking city. It will become just another exhibit in Lodz's PoMo open-air museum.

To paraphrase a popular saying: whoever lives in Lodz is not laughing at postmodernism.

Błażej Ciarkowski

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