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Marta Wróblewska - "Third Way. The Beginning of the 21st Century in Wrocław's Biskupin".

01 of February '21
Technical data
Type: master's thesis
Year of defense: 2020
Author: Marta Wróblewska

Dr. Roman Rutkowski

The first beginages were spontaneously established in what is now Belgium and the Netherlands in the 12th century. They were intended exclusively for women; the residents led simple, modest lives in them filled with prayer and help for the poorest, but they were not nuns. They were not ordained nuns, and their stay in the community was completely voluntary; they could leave it overnight. Beginage was a "third way," not a religious order, but not marriage either. It was a choice dictated by the gender disparity of the time, as well as poverty, which precluded entry into a religious order. In medieval patriarchal times, when women were not allowed to decide their own lives, the choice of a beginner was a kind of rebellion. Being referred to as the first emancipated women by many historians is therefore not coincidental.

Beginages are a true urban phenomenon. These small urban settlements consisted of strings of terraced buildings with a small walled garden with a gate on the entrance side. The buildings wove together in a series of narrow streets, surrounding a central square where a church was customarily located. They were usually built on the outskirts of the city, and gradually absorbed over time, becoming "cities within cities." Although they were not enclosed, they created a semblance of isolation. Buildings and their entrances were situated in such a way that facades without entrances formed a wall surrounding the individual. They gave a sense of crossing a certain boundary, while at the same time being open to the outside world, in which, after all, the beginnings worked. Looking at this phenomenon, one gets the impression of a correlation between the space and the philosophy of the beginnings.

The wnętrze of the multifunctional building of the Local Activity Centerwnętrze of the multifunctional building of the Local Activity Centerwnętrze of the multifunctional building of the Local Activity Center

interior of the multifunctional building of the Local Activity Center

© Marta Wróblewska

The example of medieval beginnings made me reflect on the contemporary social condition. Population aging is not a new problem. Women live eight years longer on average, which, with a dynamically aging society, gives us a clear result. In a few decades, older women will be the dominant group in Poland and Europe. More than 75 percent of men over the age of sixty-five are married. As for women, more than half are already widowed. It is therefore worth thinking about what old age means. For a man it will mean living with his chosen one, for a woman it will mean many years of loneliness.

Almost 30 percent of Polish families are single mothers. Increasingly, we are choosing to live alone or get tied up only in our thirties. The normative family model is no longer dominant. We are facing great changes in age structures, while at the same time confronting the problem of gender inequality, which has remained unchanged for years.

The 21st Century Beginage project in Wrocław's Biskupin is a translation of the medieval philosophy of the "third way" into a contemporary urban premise aimed at women. The concept is based on architectural and urban design principles from the Middle Ages, while being firmly rooted in the context of Sepolno and Biskupin.

sytuacja; kontekst Biskupina i Sępolna

The situation; the context of Biskupin and Sępolno

© Marta Wróblewska

Wrocław's Sępolno was established almost a century ago. It is a model example of a garden city. In my subjective opinion, it is the most valuable urban fabric of Wroclaw, hence the choice of location. The scale, density, saturation with greenery, at the same time inclusiveness and sense of intimacy, which Sępolno is characterized by, were identical to my vision of a contemporary beginage.

The layout of the nine blocks I designed respects the character of its surroundings, with a similar scale and color scheme. Located on the south side of Dembowskiego Street, the premise consists of nine blocks, eight of them are strictly residential, and one serves as the Local Activity Center. The urban layout is compact, facing inwards. It creates a semblance of separation, but does not completely close itself off. Located to the north, the development strip opens up in three places. They deliberately fall in the middle of the facades of the buildings on the opposite side of the street. The fourth opening from Dembowskiego Street falls on the corner. The building form creates a small square plaza that precedes the entrance to the main space. It directs to the building of the Local Activity Center: a multifunctional space with an urban dominant in the form of a 20-meter tower.

plan zagospodarowania terenu

site development plan

© Marta Wróblewska

The building has a slightly different architectural character. It makes a strong centerpiece, referring to the churches located in the centers of beginas and to the King Gustav Adolf Memorial Church, which dominates Sępolno. The rectangular-plan building has an internal bypass, in which auxiliary functions and greenery are placed, surrounding an internal multifunctional space.

The basic residential unit is a one-story cage with a basement and a shared attic. A walled garden adjoins the building. There are two apartments on one floor. The entrances to those on the first floor are on an elevated level, so that the windows of the rooms on the outside of the quarter are higher, out of sight. The layout of the apartment and its surroundings constitute a sequence of interiors from the most private night zone, through the living zone, the shared garden, and finally the quarter, or urban interior.

{Image@url=https://cdn.architekturaibiznes.pl/upload/galerie/42897/images/original/6ce5ed7c0749c622c2e518667d00fe67.jpg,alt=wizualizacja of the interior of the quarter, parallel to Dembowskiego Street,title=visualization of the interior of the quarter, parallel to Dembowskiego Street}

Visualization of the interior of the quarter, parallel to Dembowskiego Street

© Marta Wróblewska

Medieval beginages grew out of the needs of women who were doomed by fate to social ostracism. The modern Beginage is a new vision of social housing not only for women, but all single people who do not fit into the normative social framework. The traditional family model, which is primarily supported by Polish social policy, is no longer dominant. Gender inequality, loneliness, old age, domestic violence and, finally, intolerance of different sexuality are the problems to which 21st century beginage responds.


Illustrations: © Author

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