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Postmodernism is doing well. The new old-town infill refers to the late 1990s?

31 of January '23

Something to sweeten the deal for fans of demolished specimens of Polish postmodernism: a building is to be constructed in Poznań that seems to hark back to this colorful trend. Postpostmodernism? There is much to suggest it. The question arises, however, whether this is the right direction.

Designing among monuments or in old town areas is always difficult. Complicated context, preservation restrictions, the habits of residents and the expectations of the investor - a mixture of these conditions often leads to realizations whose style is difficult to define, although they are usually closest to postmodernism. Recently there has been quite a lot of publicity about the postmodern in spirit and body revaluations of old buildings on Włókiennicza Street in Łódź. Now it's time to present a project from Poznan.

view from three sides

It's about a developer's residential project on the very edge of the Old Town, at 68 Garbary Street, designed by Poznan-based Wojtys Wójtowicz Architects. The building is to be built in a key location: at the intersection of Garbary and Great Street. The latter leads to the Old Market Square, offering a perspective view of the towers of the City Hall and the so-called Royal Castle (designed by Witold Milewski), built a decade ago. Until the occupation, a magnificent tenement house stood on this corner plot, exposed from three sides: from Garbary and Wielka Streets and - in the most spectacular way - from the side of the Warta River, which then flowed along an old riverbed buried in the 1960s.

Przedwojenna kamienica nad Wartą na rogu ulic Garbar i Wielkiej - widok z mostu Chwaliszewskiego

A pre-war building on the Warta River at the corner of Garbary and Wielka Streets - view from Chwaliszewski Bridge

German postcard from before 1918.

The tenement house(partially demolished by the Germans during the occupation, and later - completely after the destruction of 1945) stood on the retaining wall of the river bank. It flanked the entrance to the Old Town from the - also now defunct - Chwaliszewski Bridge.

From the war until now, no permanent buildings have been built on the corner (only a one-story commercial pavilion and a parking lot). Until the beginning of this century it was similar on the opposite side of Garbar, but the breach in the western frontage of this street has been "patched up" with an extensive infill building by Klimaszewska & Biedak studio. This postmodern building is just one of many Poznan realizations of this type by this office.

Parking w miejscu przyszłej zabudowy

Parking lot at the site of the future development - on the left, Wielka Street, in the perspective of the city hall and the so-called Royal Castle, in front, the postmodern infill from Klimaszewska & Biedak studio

Photo: Jakub Glaz

repeating the divisions

Now, after more than two decades, it is joined by a project by developer Vinci Immobilier. The corner lot will be filled with a seven-story building with an underground garage and with 95 apartments ranging in size from 28 to 116 sqm. (smaller units predominate). And, although the mass is one, the elevations have been divided into fragments of varying drawing, color and tectonics. Architect Marcin Wojtys explains:

The proposed architectural creation is intended to introduce a kind of discourse with the character of the surroundings. On the one hand, we refer to the historical divisions of the plot, on the other hand, we propose a completely contemporary architecture. (...)The numerous divisions and changes on the facade are meant to suggest the construction of more townhouses filling the frontage, suggesting the progressive process of building up the city.

Budynek mieszkalny przy ul. Garbary 68 w Poznaniu, wizualizacja

Residential building at 68 Garbary Street in Poznań, visualization - view from the parking lot in the old Warta riverbed

proj. Wojtys Wójtowicz Architekci

This approach is in strong harmony with the method adopted by architects from the studio of Izabella Klimaszewska and Tadeusz Biedak. The sculpting of fragments of the facade by means of rhythms of semicircular shallow niches, the "harmonious" form of the facade on the side of the old bed of the Warta River, or the corner indentation of the block are reminiscent of the repertoire of means of expression used in the postmodern plomb on the other side of the street. In any case, the new design is closer to this still young building than to the character of the surrounding architecture of the 19th and 20th centuries. Wojtys explains the procedure this way:

On a macro scale, the overriding goal turned out to be to paste the block - gabbily, into the surrounding buildings, while at the same time trying to break it up to avoid the impression of a dominant monostructure.

A step into the Middle Ages?

The method adopted, however, seems rather controversial if we compare the contemporary design with the tenement that stood in the same place until the occupation. It was a uniform historicist massing differentiated by means of risalits, decorative gables or corner turrets. In this building, typical of the metropolitan architecture of the early 20th century, one could not see artificial divisions suggesting the fragmentation of ownership.

It would have been much more beneficial, therefore, if the new design had referred in a contemporary way to the spirit of this particular architecture, rather than to the dense divisions of the medieval Old Town. Fragmentation of this type was not present in Garbary Street in its current course delineated after the demolition of the medieval walls in the early 19th century. Meanwhile, references to the development of the Old Town Square are indicated by another author's comment:

Thefree interpretation and reference to the Builders' Houses [standing next to the Town Hall in the Old Market - editor's note] are not accidental.

too bad it's not a competition

The building, postmodern in spirit, also stands in contrast to other additions to the development that have appeared in the area in the last 15 years. We're talking primarily about another infill on the corner of Garbary and Wodna Streets by Easst Architects (Marcin Sucharski, Lukasz Sterzynski, 2014). Its contemporary, but set in the scale and character of 20th-century tenements, design was selected in an investor competition. Such a method of selection seems most appropriate in a difficult old town space, and it is a pity that Vinci Immobilier did not reach for this method in such a prominent location. Such a solution should also have been enforced by the city's architectural services. After all, the building is being constructed partly on a plot of land that the investor - by way of an exchange for other land - acquired from the City.

kamienica garbary 68 działka poznań garbary wielka kamienica vinci poznań

The corner plot for the new infill, with a decapitated pavilion and parking lot; 1. view from the intersection of Garbary and Wielka streets, 2. view from Chwaliszewo (from the site of the former Chwaliszewo bridge)

photo:Jakub Głaz

The only thing that remains is to count on the high quality of workmanship and materials used, according to the designer's declaration, who writes that

In cooperation with the Municipal Conservator of Monuments and thanks to the openness and will of the Investor, we have selected exceptional facade materials, which we feel will allow this building to stand the test of time.

We should also be happy that an extremely neglected space with a decapitated pavilion and parking lot will finally disappear from the Old Town landscape. Now it's time for another move, this time from the magistrate's side: the development of the backfilled (in the mid-1960s!) northern section of the Warta riverbed transformed into extensive parking lots. The municipal park created seven years ago in the eastern section of the old riverbed shows which way the city government's efforts should go.

Jakub Głaz

The vote has already been cast