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To the rescue of grape, point and line fishers. Protecting the Jaszowiec holiday district in Ustroń

29 of December '20

Docomomo and scholars of modernist architecture from Poland and abroad have supported efforts to place the Jaszowiec holiday district in Ustron under conservation protection. What unique values of the simple buildings, erected in the 1960s, caught the attention of the international body? Do the dozen or so relatively small modernist pavilions scattered on the slope of Równica really deserve such attention?

What about this socmodernism?

Let's start our deliberations with a simple question: should post-war modernism be protected? Most of us will unanimously nod. Irretrievably (?) gone are the days when icons of socmodernism such as Warsaw's Supersam or Katowice's PKP Railway Station became obstacles to be removed by developers with bulldozers. Warsaw Central Station has been on the register of historical monuments for more than a year. Similarly, the Cracovia Hotel or Wrocław's "Sedesowce".

Widok na dolinę Jaszowca
i dzielnicę wczasową

A view of the Jaszowiec valley and the holiday district designed by a team led by Jerzy Winnicki

photo: K. Dudys

So let's think about what to protect and how to protect it. Everything? Impossible! Technically unfeasible, and scientifically unjustifiable. Not every building built in the 1960s has monument value. Not every detail in a building is equally important.

So - what to protect? Unique works of monument status such as XXXX? Typical solutions? Or perhaps, as suggested by Kuba Snopek in the pages of "Bielajevo. Monument of the Future," socialist realism was the last style "that can be protected by traditional methods," and postwar modernism is "completely unsuitable for a classically understood monument"?

The recent history of the Jaszowiec holiday district in Ustroń brings together, as if through a lens, the most important problems and challenges of preserving the heritage of communist modernism.

from state awards to degradation

The design of the holiday district in the valley of the Jaszowiec stream was created in the 1960s as a result of a competition in which the concept prepared by a team led by Jerzy Winnicki was awarded. The realization, which was completed only in 1968, was part of the policy of developing collective, organized recreation. It was closely linked to the development of industry, and Ustroń (as well as nearby Wisla and Szczyrk) was to be a spa and vacation "base" for the steel mills and mines of Upper Silesia.

The development complex created by Winnicki together with Irena Kotela, Czeslaw Kotela and Zygmunt Winnicki, was favorably received by the architectural community. In 1962, the project was honored with the Second Degree Award of the Ministry of Construction for outstanding achievements in urban planning, and six years later with the First Degree Award for outstanding creative achievements in design in the field of architecture.

 Dom wczasowy typu

holiday home of the "punt" type

photo: B. Ciarkowski

Theperiod of political transformation was, as in the case of many resorts built during the communist era, a time of stagnation and gradual degradation of the entire establishment. The aesthetics of 1960s modernism were associated with socialist coarseness. Collective leisure activities ceased to be attractive. Over time, the new owners began to modernize individual buildings. Styrofoam and pastel-colored plaster appeared, along with glass balustrades and sloping tiled roofs. The immediate surroundings of the buildings have been cleaned up, with new parking lots and playgrounds arranged. However, it only takes a few steps to enter a "no man's land" - overgrown with weeds alleys with dilapidated benches, cracked asphalt of the promenade with a row of rusty lanterns.

in the shadow of the pyramids

Jaszowiec's value does not derive directly from the uniqueness of the individual buildings that make up the district. Even buildings that are unique in their own way, such as the commercial and service center (designed by J. Winnicki and his team) or the Teacher's House (designed by H. Buszko and A. Franta), can hardly be considered above-average examples of social modernism. In the popular consciousness, Jaszowiec remains in the shadow of the impressive pyramids at Zawodzie.

Dom wczasowy

holiday home of the "liner" type

photo: B. Ciarkowski

The unique value of Jaszowiec is due to the fact that we are dealing with a complex project of a holiday district, which has not only been comprehensively implemented, but has also preserved its most important features to this day. Buildings of varied typology (point, line, cluster) and intimate scale (it's worth juxtaposing them with Zawodzie!) were erected to bring out the greatest qualities of the landscape, and at the same time emphasize the contrast between nature and man's work. Situated on the slope of Równica, the buildings faced south, which provided optimal sunlight, as well as a spectacular view of the Jaszowiec stream valley. The holiday houses were complemented by a shopping and service complex and numerous sports and recreational facilities (promenade, sports fields, playgrounds or amphitheater), as well as carefully designed greenery.

The well-thought-out compositional layout of the whole assumed the realization of the highest and most compact volumes(punctuals) in the upper part of the hill. Lower down, perpendicular to the direction of the slope, objects of linear arrangement were distributed, and then - clusters. The authors aimed to ensure that the expression of the architecture "corresponded to the simple function and, through the right scale, optimistically harmonized with the landscape."

Dom wczasowy typu

holiday home of the "gronowiec" type

photo: B. Ciarkowski

Rescue for Jaszowiec

The aforementioned transformations of individual buildings and the degradation of their surroundings, did not significantly affect the integrity of Jaszowiec, despite the undeniably adverse impact on the image of the entire establishment. The gabarites of the individual objects, their layout, elements of infrastructure (e.g. individually designed trafostations) remained unchanged, making the original design concept legible. Only recently has a real threat emerged....

That threat turned out to be plans to turn Jaszowiec into a modern resort and conference complex. The ambitions of local authorities and investors seemed seemingly harmless, and the modernization plans - logical. It is impossible to treat the holiday district as a modernist open-air museum. The expectations of modern users are so far from the standards of the 1960s that changes seem necessary. The problem, however, is the extent of the transformation. One of the cruise liners has been demolished, and the top-notch spotlight has been subjected to "modernization and expansion." In practice, this means a complete transformation of the original structure and a doubling of the volume.

Modernizacja” domu
wczasowego z lat 60. (jednego z „punktowców”)

"Modernization" of a 1960s holiday home (one of the "point ships"). Both the effect of the work carried out so far and the visualization of the concept leave no illusions - none of the characteristics of the original design have been preserved

Photo: K. Dudys

A group of modernist architecture researchers (including the author of this text) came outin defense of the integral character of Jaszowiec. A letter addressed to the Provincial Historic Preservation Officer and the authorities of Ustroń was issued, emphasizing the legitimacy of protecting the district and taking action to promote its values. The initiative received the support of international organizations, led by Docomomo International, which posted information about Jaszowiec on its website.

The first reactions seem to be a good prognosis for the future. The Provincial Historic Preservation Officer has declared his willingness to protect Jaszowiec through appropriate provisions in the local zoning plan. Now it's time for the local authorities and the owners and users of individual buildings, whose awareness of the unique value of the holiday district is crucial for its preservation.

Błażej Ciarkowski

[1] K. Snopek, Bielajewo. A monument of the future, Warsaw 2014.
[2] J. Winnicki, Jaszowiec - a holiday district, "Architektura" 1969, no. 2-3.

The vote has already been cast