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There was a monument - no monument? The uncertain future of Votum Alexa

11 of April '24
w skrócie
  1. Unique chapel: Votum Aleksa is a wooden chapel in Tarnow, designed by Marta and Lech Rowinski. Built between 2009 and 2011, it stood out for its simplicity and intimate character.
  2. A monument of the 21st century: the chapel was added to the Register of Historic Places in 2022, which sparked controversy. The new owners of the property appealed the decision, and the entry was revoked.
  3. Heritage protection discussion: The case of Votum Alexa became a pretext for a discussion about the protection of 20th century heritage and the role of the investor in the historic preservation process.
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One of Mazovia's sacred architectural masterpieces is disappearing before our eyes, and we are left only to watch the whole dangerous process, which has lacked understanding and discussion. The clash between the individual sacrum and the reality of the profane is becoming even more painful.

A few days ago, Gazeta Wyborcza reacted in an alarmist tone to the disappearance of the Votum Alexa, in which, based on information gleaned from readers, Tomasz Urzykowski reported on the demolition of this young but already historic building. What is the story behind the building and why is its destruction stirring up so much excitement and controversy?

time asleep

In December 2022, Professor Jakub Lewicki, the then Mazovian Regional Historic Preservation Officer, made the decision to enter the Votum Alexa - the work of Marta and Lech Rowinski of the Beton studio, who undertook to design a private chapel commissioned by the investor - into the register of monuments. The building, which was under construction in 2009-2011, is a small-scale structure built in a wooden structure covered with shingles in the village of Tarnów (Wilga commune, Garwolin district) immediately won recognition that went beyond the small town.

In 2011, Alex's Votum was short-listed for the European Mies Van Den Rohe Prize, which in itself was a huge event in the Polish archi-environment. Reactions reinforced the building's image as special, unique and something the local community should be proud of. Over time, Alex's Votum has sharpened in the minds and receded somewhere into the background.

The subject of the chapel returned to the media on the occasion of the listing of the then only eleven-year-old building in the Register of Historic Places. The subsequent history of the building, however, provides a sad picture of the misunderstanding of its uniqueness. The private investor who commissioned the project and its implementation died in 2021, and the chapel ceased to be his property even before his death. The new owners of the property decided to appeal the preservation decision, which was overturned by the ministry and referred to the WUOZ for reconsideration. An objection was then filed with the Provincial Administrative Court, resulting in the conservator not having to review the decision again. Alex's Votum disappeared from the register of monuments.

individual sacrum

Formally, Alex's Votum was never consecrated, so it did not function as a temple. However, this did not take away from the mysticism and unique expression of the sacrum that had been created on the Garwolin escarpment. Its simple and intimate character complemented its unique function, which is disappearing before our eyes.

the role of monuments, the role of the investor and the role of sustainability

The case of Votum Alexa is an excellent contribution to the discussion of the range of problems associated with the protection of architectural monuments. The entry of the chapel could have started a precedent of a serious approach to the protection of the heritage of the recent past - but nothing has changed in this field, as exemplified by the demolition of Solpol. The earliest buildings from the interwar period are still most often considered historic, and certainly not a place of worship that is only a dozen years old. Although the statutory definition has not indicated the required age for a monument for years, this myth continues to complicate architectural reality.

Alex's Votum is also an important contribution to the discussion of the role of the investor, which in this case was crucial not only at the stage of project development. It is difficult to find another investment of this kind, which was the true mission of the procurer. The attachment, as well as the need, defined this building as much as the construction or the materials used.

At the same time, the case of Votum Alexa can be a prelude to a discussion of the sustainability of today's architecture. Despite its eminence, the building began to deteriorate after a dozen years.

Are we ready to better protect the heritage of the recent past? It is a pity that the full lesson was not learned after Solpol - the chances of succeeding with Votum Aleksa are equally small.

compiled by Wiktor Bochenek

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