The still underestimated field of design. A review of the book "Alina Scholtz. Designer of Warsaw's greenery"

22 of August '22

The review comes from issue 05/22 of Architektura&Biznes.

The catalog published on the occasion of the exhibition dedicated to Alina Scholtz can be considered a stand-alone publication, a monograph of this landscape architect, the most important for the history of Warsaw. The book restores the memory not only of Scholtz, but also of the still underestimated field of design.

For the past few years, an extremely important shift in the study of architecture and the narrative about it has been taking place before our eyes. There is an increase in projects, publications, debates aimed at appreciating, recognizing, highlighting the position and role of women in the world of architecture, learning about their achievements and verifying the gender ratio in this seemingly only male-dominated profession. For decades, women in the world of architecture remained invisible - although they have always existed in it. Jadwiga Dobrzyńska-Loboda, Poland's first female architectural graduate, began her studies in 1915 with the first class at the just-opened Faculty of Architecture at the Warsaw University of Technology (by the way, the Faculty of Architecture and the Faculty of Chemistry were the only ones at the university where women could study at the time). Often working in duets with their husbands, they remained in their shadows, were relegated to the role of draftswomen, and their achievements were depreciated. They were not treated as independent designers, they were associated with "feminine" fields, such as interior design, at best nursery design. Barbara Brukalska became the first female professor of architecture, and this did not happen until 1948. Even in the theoretically gender-equal period of People's Poland, the careers of Jadwiga Grabowska-Hawrylak or Halina Skibniewska were exceptions rather than the rule.

We are in the process of verifying knowledge about female architects, recreating their achievements, but also sorting out contemporary relations in the industry. For, although finally, years later, the word "female architect" evokes fewer and fewer voices of outrage, there is still a visible overrepresentation of men in the profession. This is all the more strange because for a long time now, women have definitely dominated universities, in some architecture departments they make up as much as 80 percent of the student body.
From June to November 2021, Warsaw's Wola Museum hosted an exhibition entitled. "More Green! Projects by Alina Scholtz" [cf. A&B 10/2021] curated by Klara Czerniewska-Andryszczyk and Ewa Perlinska-Kobierzynska. It was based on research conducted by a team consisting of: Natalia Budnik, Klara Czerniewska-Andryszczyk, Centrala Design Group (Malgorzata Kuciewicz, Simone De Iacobis), Ewa Perlinska-Kobierzynska, and the exhibition design was taken care of by Malgorzata Kuciewicz and Simone De Iacobis. Published by the Museum of Warsaw (of which the Wola Museum is a division), the book "Alina Scholtz. Designer of Warsaw's Greenery," although accompanying the exhibition, is a stand-alone publication, with chapters describing the life and achievements of the landscape architect and compiling a catalog of her projects and realizations.

Tor Służewiec od wiosny do zimy

Sluzewiec track from spring to winter

drawing by Natalia Budnik

The exhibition, followed by the book dedicated to Alina Scholtz, perfectly fits into the ongoing debate on the position of women in the design world. It even does it in two ways. Because it not only restores the memory of an extremely important figure for the development of Warsaw, it appreciates anew her achievements and tells the story of an undoubted career of a woman in a masculinized world. The presentation of Alina Scholtz's projects also turns the spotlight on the entire field of landscape architecture, proving that it is something far more important than creating floral compositions on lawns in the park. "The connection between landscape architecture and planning can be seen perfectly in Alina Scholtz's work and life. Throughout her career she has repeatedly participated, in collaboration with architects and urban planners, in projects of an urban scale. Among such works, one can distinguish those unrelated to residential architecture, i.e. parks-monuments, commemorative assumptions, concepts related to the reconstruction of Warsaw after World War II or, finally, large propaganda projects in People's Poland - green monuments," Ewa Perlinska-Kobierzynska, co-author of the publication and exhibition, emphasizes in the book. Already one of Scholtz's earliest realizations - the park around the Frederic Chopin museum in Żelazowa Wola - shows how much landscape can mean. As a mere twenty-four-year-old graduate of the Faculty of Horticulture at the Warsaw University of Life Sciences (defending her diploma, she received the title of horticultural engineer), in Zelazowa Wola she became the assistant of her lecturer and mentor, Professor Franciszek Krzywda-Polkowski. Here she learned how to create not only a mood, but also a message, a narrative, a story through landscape. After all, the entire setting of the park and the manor house in Żelazowa Wola was a creation that was supposed to stimulate patriotism, harmonize with the mood of Chopin's music, contain "Polishness" and appropriate picturesqueness.

Alina Scholtz also studied for two years at the Faculty of Architecture at the Warsaw University of Technology. It was there that she came into contact with Romuald Gutt, with whom she later collaborated many times. Because Scholtz co-created many projects today counted among the key projects for the development of Polish contemporary architecture, and it is no coincidence that each of them is still valued today also because of the unique role played by plants in them. It was Alina Scholtz who designed the gardens at the Chinese Embassy and the villas in Mokotow of Gutt's project, she was behind the greenery design for Halina Skibniewska's now iconic housing estates - Sady Żoliborskie, Szwoleżerów and Sadyba. Still in the 1930s, from Scholtz's hand came the design of the area around the modernist buildings of the Służewiec Race Track or the surroundings of the Polish pavilion at the "Art and Technology in Everyday Life" exhibition in Paris in 1937.

In 1945 Alina Scholtz joined the team of the Bureau of Capital Reconstruction, and in June 1946 she became head of the "Greenery" Studio of the BOS Urban Planning Department. One of the first projects from that time is the vision created in cooperation with Romuald Gutt for the reconstruction of the Saski Garden - to them we owe the park we all know. Projects created during Scholtz's work at BOS and in the following years still shape Warsaw today. It was she who created the vision of greenery along the W-Z Route and the Central Park of Culture in Powiśle, the Moczydło Park in Wola, the green surroundings of the school in Sadyba and the pavilion of the ZETO Computation Center at Pole Mokotowskie (both buildings designed by Halina Skibniewska).

"Greenery" - this is how landscape architects were called in the post-war years and quite contemporarily, "jokingly but somewhat condescendingly," as Klara Czerniewska-Andryszczyk notes. This is what was written about Alina Scholtz and Irena Bajerska, who died in August 2021, a long-time collaborator of Marek Budzynski, the author of the greenery of Ursynów (and, again, the estate is largely appreciated precisely for its greenery!) and the creator of one of the most beautiful corners of modern Warsaw - the garden on the roof of the Warsaw University Library. Is indeed the work of landscape architects only an "add-on" and "background" for architecture? A book about Alina Scholtz finally dispels these doubts. It shows the importance of her projects for the development of Warsaw, but above all the way of working, extremely close to urban, spatial thinking, seeing the city in a wide frame and - literally - very close to the ground at the same time.

The laborious (because few people were interested in it before) research work, followed by the exhibition and publication dedicated to Alina Scholtz, contributes to the development of knowledge about 20th century architecture, provides an important voice in the debate about the importance and role of women in shaping our space, and allows us to appreciate anew the value of landscape architecture. But that's not all. Describing the work on Warsaw's key "green" projects, they make it clear that it is largely green that makes the city a more bearable place to live.

Anna Cymer

Illustrations provided courtesy of the publisher, the Museum of Warsaw.

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