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Will Cepelia share the sad fate of Warsaw's icons of modernism?

19 of March '24

A monument in the center of the city, abandoned and neglected for years is finally about to undergo renovation. However, the restoration work by its scope resembles more a demolition than a renovation, and the investor and designer are not revealing the project - the previous one was rejected by the restoration services. Will Warsaw's Cepelia share the fate of other icons of modernism?

The Cepelia pavilion, standing in one of the busiest places in the center of the capital - at Daszyńskiego Roundabout - was designed by Zygmunt Stępiński, in cooperation with architect Andrzej Milewski and designer Aleksander Haweman. The first concepts of the building date back to 1961, a year later the final design was approved, and in 1966 the pavilion was put into operation. The building consists of two aboveground floors and a basement, and is sited slightly above the level of the sidewalk, so that its architecture was better exposed against its neighbors and in the context of the intersection. The structure, based on steel pillars, meant that the structure, which was devoid of load-bearing walls, shone at night with the lights of store interiors and neon signs designed by Stępinski.

neonization and artistic mosaics

The curtain walls were made of polished aluminum corrugated sheet metal, but glass dominated Cepelia's architecture. The building was complemented by outdoor display cases and neon signs - including the inscription "Cepelia" in handwriting, glowing white at night, and a trademark in the form of a distinctive rooster that glowed yellow. The light installations were part of the concept of "neonization" of Marszalkowska Street, prepared in 1960 by Zygmunt Stępinski and Eleonora Sekrecka.

In addition to the neon signs, an element that diversifies the almost industrial character of the building is the ceramic decoration adorning the curved walls of the northwest corner closest to the entrance to the Metropol Hotel. Its author was most likely Stanislaw Kucharski, and it was realized at the Małopolska Cooperative of Ceramic Products "Kamionka" from Lysa Góra. Made of azure blue stained, glazed tiles with elements of relief structure with geometric motifs or resembling archaized figural motifs, the decoration has survived to this day.

unwanted fast food

In 2019,a visualization showing Cepelia after adaptation to a McDonald's restaurantsaw the light of day. Developed by the Maas Projekt Architectural Studio of Dariusz Hyc and Henryk Laguna, the concept took into account the historical character of the building, which was already listed in the municipal register of historical monuments. However, the visualizations presented were very vague, but one could read from them the intention not only to change the function from retail to catering, but also plans to modify the shape of the facade and finishing materials.

conservator's veto

The publication of the project resulted in Cepelia's inclusion in the register of monuments by the then Mazovian conservator of monuments, Prof. Jakub Lewicki. The conservator's office argued on its website at the time, the building, "as one of the modernist commercial buildings erected in that period, and one of the few preserved to the present, has a special documentary value." Lewicki also stressed that "no project that destroys the architecture of Cepelia will be approved by me." The fast food bar project has been shelved.

Cepelia w 2024 roku

Cepelia in 2024

Photo: Adrian Grycuk | Wikimedia Commons © CC BY-SA 3.0 en

renovation by order

Five years later, Cepelia has again attracted public interest - the building was fenced off and cleanup work began with the dismantling of the advertisements it had grown into over the years. The investor company Sienna 111 began its renovation, ordered by the provincial conservationist. The WUOZ informed of the decision with immediate enforceability on January 26. The work is necessary due to the threat of destruction or significant damage to the monument.

Remont Cepelii

Cepelia renovation

photo: Kacper Kępiński

zero specifics

The current renovation is being carried out on the basis of a construction project prepared by AMC Choldzynski. As Andrzej Choldzynski admitted in an interview with Radio RDC, the architecture of the pavilion is to be restored to its original state, and the commercial and retail function of the building is to be maintained. However, neither the investor nor the designer reveal the specific function or tenant to be housed in the pavilion, or even the date of completion. No visualization showing what Cepelia is to look like after completion has been published either.

Remont Cepelii

Cepelia renovation

photo: Kacper Kępiński

rejected proposals for changes

This approach seems to be due to previous experience and complications related to the rejection of a previous project. Although we don't know the design of the building, some of the information can be inferred from the decisions made available by the WUOZ related to the reconstruction project's agreement. Among other things, the conservator did not agree to the placement of advertising on the roof and facade, changing the geometry and raising the roof of the building, and introducing secondary divisions on the ground and first floors. The investor was obliged to carry out the work under the direction of a person with conservation qualifications.

Remont Cepelii

Cepelia renovation

photo: Kacper Kępiński

Although the architect argues that the work is a conservation effort and is intended to restore the original shape of the building, observing the work being carried out, it is difficult to be without concern. After all, Cepelia is currently devoid of all partition and curtain walls, finishing elements (except for the mosaic), as it looks like a demolition site rather than a conservation renovation of a listed monument.

Remont Cepelii - mozaika przeznaczona do zachowania

Cepelia renovation - mosaic to be preserved

photo: Kacper Kępiński

full of (justified) concerns

Unfortunately, neither the investor nor the designer answered any of the questions we asked about the scope of the renovation. We do not know whether the original finishes will return to their place after the cleanup, whether the building will retain its qualities, or when to expect the result of the work. Knowing the experience of the Emilia Pavilion, the demolition of the Rotunda or the redevelopment of Smyk, the public has a right to be concerned about the lack of information from those responsible for the renovation. Warsaw has lost too many icons of modernism - both those demolished for the construction of office buildings or shopping malls like Supersam and the Pavilion of Chemistry, and those only ostensibly restored but de facto of no historic value like Rotunda or Smyk - to afford another such action. The redevelopment of such a significant building, in such a prominent location in the capital, should be done transparently and carefully. At this point, unfortunately, there is no question not only of dialogue, but even of access to information about the plans for this piece of Warsaw's heritage.

Kacper Kępiński

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