Architectural icons

The Upper Silesian region, as well as the City of Katowice, are famous for its architecture. Thanks to the latest projects which have been finished recently, are under construction or will launch soon, the world of architecture rediscovers the region and defines its new icons. This is an article’s excerpt of the “A10” architectural magazine which took a tour of architecture in Upper Silesia in its latest number. The chosen excerpt focuses on Katowice.

Love of logic and simplicity

Located in southeastern Poland, Upper Silesia undoubtedly occupies a special place in the Polish architectural scene. Pragmatism, a rational way of thinking, an economy of idea-driven solutions – these are the features associated with Silesian architecture after 1989. Some critics even talk about a phenomenon: the Silesian School of Architecture. Does it really exist?

As in other post-communist countries of Central Europe, the past 20 years have been a period of incredible advances for Poland and for Polish architecture in particular. In 1989, Polish architects were finally given an opportunity to do more sophisticated architecture in terms of the technology used and the kind of problems to be solved. Upper Silesia – the biggest conurbation in Poland – entered this period as a region with tremendous social problems, dying coal mines, a ruined natural environment and a great pre- and post-war architectural heritage. It is this heritage that has continued to shape people’s image of the region. Upper Silesia is dotted with very simple pre-war residential and industrial buildings designed mostly by engineers and nearly always in brick. There is also, mainly in the urban centres, a refined, high-class modern architecture from the pre-war period and a newer urban fabric of very light and brave post-war modernism from the 1960s, and ‘70s. And then there are the grey and soulless housing estates erected in the 1980s, which were the direct cause of the backlash of the 1990s when the only acceptable approach was to make everything as colourful as possible, in combination with various pseudo-historical and sentimental architectural gimmicks.

If the Silesian School of Architecture really exists, it is certainly connected with the local, Gliwice-based Faculty of Architecture, which has a tradition of promoting the deep-rooted Silesian love of logic and simplicity in architecture. […]

The capital of the region, Katowice, is located in the centre of the Silesian conurbation with a highway separating its centre to the north from its vast suburbs to the south. In the latter, three pieces of residential architecture are worth visiting. The first, sited beside a stream in the western suburbs, is a triangular house (Braci Wieczorków St.) designed by Wolnik and Konieczny: a massive object in light brick is set back from the building line to create a vast, south-facing terrace. The second, situated in the eastern suburbs, is another house (Granica Wesołej St.) by the same architects: almost touching the neighbouring forest, it was conceived as a huge curved ramp that gradually emerges from the plot. The third, halfway between the other two, is a row of housing (Hierowskiego St.) by Konior Studio: a simple series of white habitable units in which the owners were given some say in the composition of the central, brown-coloured section of the elevations. On the northern side of the highway, the 19th-century part of Katowice begins. On its edge and visible from the highway is the Regional Courthouse designed by Archistudio. The long, extremely functional structure stretches between two streets. It is composed of two volumes separated by a void and with elevations clad in light-coloured brick and pierced by hundreds of identical windows. Not far from here, heading south, is the Science and Music Education Center “Symfonia” Konior designed for the local Music Academy. Squeezed between beautiful old buildings, the new architecture carefully picks up their dimensions and materials, introducing a contemporary quality and evoking a suggestion of musical rhythms in its facade.

Of course, Upper Silesia is not content to rest on its architectural laurels. Among many new projects under construction or in the design phase, are several worth mentioning and although they are not strictly speaking examples of the Silesian “school”, they will inevitably affect the urbanity of the region.

Still in the regional capital, the Silesian University and the Academy of Economics are busy building the Scientific Information Center and Academic Library. The outcome of a national competition won by Dariusz Herman and Piotr Śmierzewski of the Koszalin-based firm hs99, it will be a simple box enclosing an introverted space where the sunlight will be filtered through a large number of vertical window slots arranged with monotonous regularity in the red stone elevations. The southern border of the university campus touches Roździeńskiego Avenue. Here, next to one of the boldest post-war modernist buildings in Poland, the “Spodek” multifunctional hall, several important new buildings are planned. All winning competition entries, they will together constitute a huge cultural centre for the region. The new International Convention Center, proposed by Warsaw-based JEMS Architekci, will be a horizontal rectangle in which geometrical rigidity will be broken by a roof deformation providing an interesting space for all kinds of outdoor activities and a shortcut to the neighbours. The closest neighbour will be the home of the Katowice National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra designed by Konior Studio. The brick box with vertical perforations will house an 1800-seat concert hall separated from the perimeter functions by means of a high, glass roofed atrium. The other neighbour will be the new Silesian Museum by Graz-based duo Riegler and Riewe. The building, placed almost entirely underground, will be marked in the urban space and illuminated inside by means of glass lanterns scattered across the site. […]

All projects, wheter designed by local or international architects, will adhere to the basic elements of the architecture of the region where there has been practically no call, either official or unofficial, for architectural icons.

A full version of the article, including descriptions of architectural projects in other cities of the region, can be download from the Konior Studio’s webpage>>>.