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"Spodek in Zenith" - Silesian gems

17 of November '21

There are different ways to write about architecture, and one of them is to collect like plants in a herbarium the most beautiful buildings from a region or era. Anna Syska's book "Spodek in Zenith" is just such an author's overview of interesting blocks from Silesia of the communist era.

We have known for a long time that Upper Silesia is a treasure trove of exceptional buildings. Political and economic conditions led to the creation of buildings in the region, already after World War I, that stood out for their innovation and originality; after 1945, this phenomenon increased even more. In the last decade, publications by Prof. Ewa Chojecka, Irma Kozina, Aneta Borowik, among others, and the activities of the Institute of Architecture Documentation of the Silesian Library or the Tychy City Museum (along with their publications) have shown Poland the uniqueness of the region's architecture. Already in the monumental monograph "Art of Upper Silesia" from 2004, architecture occupied an important place and this twentieth-century architecture stood out among the phenomena at least worthy of attention.

Anna Syska Spodek in ZenithAnna Syska Spodek in ZenithAnna Syska Spodek in Zenith

Anna Syska "Spodek in Zenith," National Institute of Architecture and Urban Planning, Warsaw 2020

© National Institute of Architecture and Urban Planning

In March 2021, the group of publications presenting the post-war architectural treasures of Silesia was joined by "Spodek in Zenith. A Guide to the Architecture of 1945-1989 in the Silesian Province" by Anna Syska. The author, who has been popularizing the region's construction industry for years (she is, among other things, co-author of a guide to interwar architecture in Silesia, "Gothic Style Excludes Itself"), selected one hundred and twenty projects from thirty-three localities and annotated each of them. There are widely recognized buildings such as Spodek (designed by Andrzej Żórawski, Maciej Krasiński, Maciej Gintowt, Wacław Zalewski), Tychy's Church of the Holy Spirit (designed by Stanisław Niemczyk), the pavilions of the Municipal Art Gallery in Częstochowa (designed by Włodzimierz Ściegienny) or Chorzów's Planetarium (designed by Zbigniew Solawa), as well as blocks unknown even to architecture enthusiasts. Among the latter, churches with their incredible wealth of forms, material and spatial solutions, such as the Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross in Pawlowice, an almost unknown project by Stanislaw Niemczyk and Marek Kuszewski, St. Joseph's Church in Piekary Slaskie-Józefka (design.Adam Lisik), expressive in its simplicity church of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ in Wrzosowa (designed by Stanislaw Kwaśniewicz, Marian Ficens) or a pavilion of stone, concrete and wood designed by Leszek Studnicki and Waclaw Lipinski, that is the church of St. Peter and St. Paul. Urban the Pope and Martyr in Mikołów-Kamionka, which could be built today in the Netherlands or Finland on the wave of fashion for ecological and human-friendly construction at the same time.

{Image@url=,alt=Kościół Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross in Pawlowice, designed by Stanisław Niemczyk, Marek Kuszewski, 1986-1994,title=Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross in Pawlowice, designed by Stanisław Niemczyk, Marek Kuszewski, 1986-1994}

Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross in Pawlowice, design: Stanislaw Niemczyk, Marek Kuszewski, 1986-1994

Photo: Marek M. Berezowski, collection of the author

Anna Syska's book mixes buildings important for the history of Polish architecture with intimate projects from smaller centers, "icons" with "discoveries." And it is the latter that constitute the value of the publication, it is for them that "Spodek in Zenith" is worth reaching for. They, too, evoke a great sense of insufficiency. It is a pity that the author, who knows her region better than most architecture researchers of the time, did not decide to compile a volume on lesser-known Silesia, to focus precisely on these smaller or less frequently described objects, which would not only be a discovery for readers, but also, perhaps, another brick for research on post-war Polish architecture. However, the nature of the voluminously rather modest publication, which devotes as much space to the well-known from the Baltic Sea to the Tatra Mountains Millennium Estate in Katowice (proj.Henryk Buszko, Aleksander Franta, Tadeusz Szewczyk, Marian Dziewoński) and the evidently ahead of its time, modern and simple at the same time elementary school in Pszczyna designed by the co-founders of Tychy Bożena and Janusz Włodarczyk evokes a sense of loss. Perhaps it would have been better if the well-known, repeatedly and widely described objects had given way here to these hidden treasures in smaller Silesian towns? Especially since the brief, laconic descriptions do not add anything new to our knowledge - unlike the author's selection of no less valuable objects from Rybnik, Świętochłowice, Jaworzno.

"Spodek in Zenith" poses quite a challenge to the reader. Showing him undoubtedly a masterpiece of the region's architectural heritage, it sparks interest, but does not give an answer as to where this phenomenon of Silesian architecture came from, what phenomena influenced it, why exactly this region in the times of standardization and prefabrication saturated itself with so many remarkable realizations. After all, nothing similar happened in the same years in either Mazovia, Pomerania or any other province. The collection forces one to think about the extent to which the communist architecture influenced contemporary Silesian identity. We still view Upper Silesia through the prism of mines and familoches, yet subsequent eras also influenced the shape and character of the region. To what extent were the forms of architecture from the 1960s or 1970s shaped by the Silesian climate? Why was it that the "Hat" Exhibition Hall (design: Jerzy Gottfried), the "Skarbek" Department Store (design: Jurand Jarecki) or the Church of the Holy Spirit in Chorzów (design: Mieczysław Król, Jerzy and Zygmunt Winnicki) could have grown up there? And to what extent did these consecutive, architecturally unusual eras influence the work of Robert Konieczny, Tomasz Konior, Przemo Łukasik and a whole legion of infernally talented architects who came from Silesia, studied and developed there, and today have a considerable influence on the architectural shape of Poland? "Spodek in Zenith" is another publication about the province with its capital in Katowice that provokes such questions.

{Image@url=,alt=Dom "Skarbek" Department Store in Katowice, designed by Jurand Jarecki, 1972-1975,title=Dom Handlowy "Skarbek" in Katowice, designed by Jurand Jarecki, 1972-1975}

"Skarbek" Department Store in Katowice, design: Jurand Jarecki, 1972-1975

photo: Grażyna Rutkowska © National Digital Archive

The success of a series of small architectural guides to Warsaw neighborhoods (including "SAS," "PRA," and "MOK") published by the Architecture Center since 2012 has shown that compilations of the best, prettiest or most interesting buildings are needed and find their readers. Catalogs presenting interesting blocks serve as guides during expeditions and walks, and allow us to get to know better the architectural treasures of the region or the nearest neighborhood. "Spodek in Zenith" as a helper during a trip will probably work less well, because it covers a huge area of the Silesian province, stretching from Częstochowa to Szczyrk. It also takes into account buildings that have already been demolished or significantly rebuilt (the juxtaposition of archival photos of the Municipal Cultural Center in Radlin designed by Maria Ostrowska-Siemek and Krzysztof Siemek with its contemporary appearance is striking). However, it will certainly become an incentive to wander through the cities of Upper Silesia. The author herself writes in the introduction to the book: "This guide, however, is not intended to present all the vicissitudes of post-war architecture, it only serves to signal the complexity of the phenomena behind it, which for some readers may become an inspiration for further independent research."

Miejski Municipal Cultural Center in RadlinMiejski Municipal Cultural Center in RadlinMiejski Municipal Cultural Center in Radlin

Municipal Cultural Center in Radlin, designed by Maria Ostrowska-Siemek, Krzysztof Siemek, 1961-1964}

Photo: Jan Siudecki, postcard RUCH | archive of Anna Syska

It would be great if Anna Syska's book did not turn out to be an episode (it was the author who brought the previously prepared material to the publisher, the National Institute of Architecture and Urban Planning), but started a series in a similar way presenting the architectural achievements of the other Polish provinces. In this way, NIAiU's mission to promote Polish architecture would be given a fair embodiment that does not favor some regions, but allows lesser-known corners to be discovered as well.

Anna Cymer

Illustrations provided courtesy of the National Institute of Architecture and Urbanism.

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