The palpable history


There is a period in Polish history, which absurdity was more burdensome than funny, people trained their patience standing in lines and skillfully minimized their needs convincing themselves that it actually not that bad, but probably only not to go insane. Ubiquitous mediocrity made all designing and building processes much harder, cleverness was a basic requirement of an architect. How to do SOMETHING out of nothing, continual cooking „soup nothing” (polish name of sweet soup on milk with sugar and vanilla), which wanted to be similar to modern ones and even okay to eat. And what? They managed to do it.

Opened in 1970 furniture store „Emilia” was one of many modernistic pavillions built that time, which supposed to be symbols of welfare and picture Poland in progress and on a good way to success. It was a change in mercantile strategy and they started to locate shops in free standing objects instead of tenement houses’ ground floors. It increased exhibiting features of showed products, but in practice they became almost sacral spots where poeple went to stick their nose to the store windows and watch all these magical things, which was terribly tempting but there was no chance to buy it. Typical PPR (Polish People’s Republic) collision of dreams and reality.

Emilia building itself is an example of late modernism where „structural logic, expression of construction and form, its functionality was in some kind of symbiosis”*. It was designed by Czesław Wagner, Marian Kuźniar and Hanna Lewicka as a comercial supplement to growing around residential development „Emilia”. Basic building’s element is totally glazed elevation, which was supposed to mash the border between inside and outside, lead people stop and watch shop window’s exhibitions, but it’s main aim was to brighten the furniture during the day. In the night Emilia was artifficially lightsome which was also an attraction, it looked like giant lantern in the center of Warsaw. The most characteristic feature is its roof with dynamic expression, contrasting with simple and clear form. Its shape was not only a decoration but also because of its rigidity there was no need to use dense support. They used only 12 collumns, which was pushed inside to keep the glass facade continuous. Rational construction and simple interior design gave a chance to plan the exhibition flexibly.

In this case architecture and its expression is the result of used construction. All elements create a coherent form which supposed to be a background for displayed exhibitions. As latter Musuem of Modern Art in Warsaw experience shows, it was not about the objects but about people.

After the change of political situation free market competition punished Emilia. Instead of an icon, it became a commercial taped relict of unfriendly past. It was given a new life by Warsaw MMA , which saw its unused potential. After many adventures (you can read about it in a book pubished by Karakter) they succeeded several years agreement and start cultural activity. Despite many technological problems Emilia turned out to be a perfect place for a museum and a perfect place for meetings. Its relation with surroundings, view of Palace of Culture and Science, mixture of old and new, big space with possibility to arrange it differently and open atrium „did the job”.

„This interior gives a performative tone to people’s presence. Their move, behaviour, diversity attract attention as much as ehibits. People create this space – this is probably a hidden dream of many architects, but very hard to make come true.” Marcel Andino Velez

This several years passed very quickly, new owner of the object appeared, in this location skyscraper will be built. The success of the Museum showed Polish people the value of modernistic pavillions and fierce discussions began. Poor law regulations are found to be guilty.

„Something which is tens years old is still too young to be added to registry of monumets or to give it any conservational protection (…). Such discussions should never exist, age criterium became a fetish, final argument. But this is a mistake, we are talking about past epoque, and it can be in extreme situation even something what existed yesterday and already finished. Emilia is obviously an object from previous period. From different time – in architectural style, function, socio-economic situation.” Michał Krasucki

There are many options to „solve a problem”, to compromise: adding a skyscraper on the existing pavillion, total demolition, partial transfer, especially the roof, in front of the Palace of Culture and Science, where it would work as orangery or, the most radical, entire protection. What will be the final solution noone knows, but there is a simple conlusion that such issues should be regulated by law and worked out some time before, not in the last minute.

Architecture, thanks to its durability, is a participating in daily life historical memento. It illustrates life of that time, people’s way of thinking which are hard to reproduce in more material manner. „Due to the architecture, topography of history is not an abstraction. Hence our tendency for creating simple commemorates as boards on houses walls which say: Mr X. lived and work here in the years.. All these is a palpable history which we need to take care of.” prof. Waldemar Baraniewski

Although in Poland aversion to a system is often transfered on architecture, the architecture itself isn’t guilty. Also architects – they had to face many situations which are unbelievable for us. We need to remember that bad memories will wipe out in time, new generations even now don’t understand standing in enourmous lines or eating oranges only for Christmas and that’s very good. But there is no reason not to show them the XX century architecture when it is very easy to find Baroque church or art nouveau tenement house.


*Architecture is always a good idea – short video about Emilia
Quotes: Joint study, „Emilia. Meble, muzeum, modernizm”, Katakter +MSN in Warsaw, Cracow-Warsaw 2016
Title photography: Voyagesmes
Photographies: Maja Wirkus

The palpable history

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