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From Wola to Mokotów – The alliance of modernism and socialist realism

Smocza Street is close to Żytnia where one can admire St. Faustina’s Church of Divine Mercy – a place where this noble, well-known nun had her revelations. During 80s the church happened to be a shelter and safe space for opposition of that time. Architecture of the building is visibly related to the Early Christian style. Remarkable granite parquet floor of the church is inlaid with quotes from St. Faustina’s Diary. Hop or two away, on 97 Żelazna Street one can see Bogusławski Palace – built at the beginning of the XIX century for the director of the National Theatre and then (less than two decades later) redeveloped by the next owner – architect Henryk Galle. This post-war reconstruction is explicitly dominated by Classicism spirit. Back on Żelazna Street and further, on Nowolipie/Żytnia Street one can see impressive buildings’ façades designed by brilliant modernist architect Bohdan Lachert. A few years ago a mural to commemorate this outstanding designer decorated the building’s wall on 17 Nowolipie Street.

Before the war Żelazna Street was main communication route in Warsaw, a street parallel to representative Marszałkowska Street, which ended on the level of the Saxon Garden.

Arriving from the northern side and passing clubhouse area on Chłodna Street, everyone have to notice one of the most important relicts of the tragic history of Warsaw. An unobtrusive object with ,,63-71 Żelazna Street” plate – this is a gate that once led to the area of the Jewish Ghetto during the occupation. It is covered with thicket and suspended in topographic emptiness. Taking into account the historical context of the Holocaust – the sight is shocking and highly disturbing…

Today Żelazna Street represents a conglomerate of socialist realism and monumental type of modernism which happens to be a truly interesting architectural composition. At the intersection of Żelazna and Łucka Street one can also admire a post modernist building with unmistakable blue bay windows – slightly controversial realisation of the idea of contemporary designer Stefan Wrona.

At the intersection of Żelazna Street and Jerusalem Avenue one can spot a tenement house which was until recently a main redaction office of newspaper ,,Rzeczpospolita” (7/9 Starynkiewicz Square) – it is an example of functional modernism. During the Warsaw Uprising there was located one of the redoubts.

Heading south one will reach antique Warsaw Water Filters built in 1883-86 thanks to the initiative of tsarist president of Warsaw, Sokrates Starynkiewicz and designed by British engineer William Lindley. The location of this complex is also the highest point in Warsaw.

In the neighborhood of Wawelska, Krzywicki and Filtrowa Streets there is a villa complex called Kolonia Staszica. The home of the Warsaw intelligentsia, was built in the first half of the XX century. During the Warsaw Uprising there was a bloody pacification called the Ochota Massacre, which was performed by Russian troops in the German service (RONA).

After crossing the Wawelska Street (there is also a footbridge suspended over it), one can reach the Aviator Monument at the intersection of Raszyńska and Żwirki i Wigury streets. Before the war the monument was located at Union of Lublin Square. The object was unveiled in 1932 – the sculpture was made by Edward Wetting and the pedestal by Antoni Jarocki. The monument was destroyed during the planned demolition of the city after the Warsaw Uprising – it was reconstructed by Alfred Jesion in 1967. Next to the monument is an interesting building – 105 Żwirki i Wigury street – it was designed by Rudolf Świerczyński. This is a typical example of monumental modernism in Polish architecture of the 1930s – before the war it housed the headquarters of the Navy, nowadays: even more appropriately of the Air Force Command.

Going along Żwirki i Wigury Street for a hundred meters or so, one will reach the place where the least crowded road to Mokotów is located.

The Rostafiński Street is bordered by the Mokotów Field all the way to the intersection of Rakowiecka and Batory Streets from where you can reach the headquarters of the Warsaw School of Economics within a minute. The architecture of the complex of the SGH campus is anachronistic and syncopated according to expert opinion. Alterations of the project from the interwar period by Jan Koszyc-Witkiewicz (stylistically difficult to classify) were implemented in 1950 by Stefan Putowski. His socrealistic vision was finally complete by 1956. The effect was surprisingly unconventional – despite the use of materials such as marble – in accordance with the relevant rules of socialist realistic architecture decommissioned in 1949. Modern, innovative spatial arrangements applied along with original design resulted in a completely new quality. The impression is intensified by the fact that the complex consists of buildings considered as flagship examples of Polish art deco, i.e. the Experimental Factories and the library built in 20s and 30s. Let’s turn back to Rakowiecka Street and go towards Independence Alley. Reaching Fałat Street, one will find oneself in the very heart of old Mokotów. The Colony of Gray Houses is located here – an estate named after a cement gray brick, which was commonly used in Warsaw at the turn of the 20s and 30s. The designer of the Colony was Jan Stefanowicz, who was the first president of SAP. Referring to the Dutch standards, he used the model concept of functional modernist urbanism. This meant, among other things, minimization of construction costs and fully intended rawness of architectural aesthetics. The Colony also includes nearby streets – Akacjowa and part of Łowicka. It is worth to stop at 39a Łowicka Street. One can admire here a villa from the mid-thirties, designed by the leading representative of modernism in Polish architecture – Romuald Gutt. This outstanding designer believed that the core principle of architecture was to use practical and convenient solutions. The villa’s walls are lined with lemon clinker and sandstone slabs which was perceived in Warsaw during the interwar years as an example of modern luxury architecture and a good sense of style. Romuald Gutt has also designed, among the others, the building of the Central Statistical Office of Poland (GUS) located at 206 Independence Alley – an example of an interesting project implemented in 1948-51, in which influences of modernism and social realism intertwined. From Łowicka one can take a walk towards Kazimierzowska Street, jumping to the other side of the main artery of this quarter of the city, that is Independence alley. The building located at 46/48 Kazimierzowska Street is an example of contemporary architecture. The Klimt House was built in 2008-10 and designed by the Warsaw studio – mąka.sojka.architekci. It is an example of a middle-size residential building (six-storey) and is an interesting exemplum of brave transposition of monumental modernism (pre- and postwar). Nearby one can come across another example of a completely modern architecture, which goes well with the historical (low-rise) buildings of Mokotów (small manor houses). The Krasicki Villa (10 Krasicki Street), designed by Jasiński Kruszewski Architects, is built of stone, steel, marble and wood – it now houses one of the many embassies in this area (Algeria). After a tour through quiet and intimate streets one can turn back e.g. into Malczewski Street and head in the direction of Independence Alley – it is a large artery, which shaped the historical fate of the capital – monumental modernism and classic socialist realism have here their architectural emanations. An excellent example of socialist realism is the Polish Radio’s headquarters on the corner of Independence Alley and Malczewski Street, designed by Bohdan Pniewski – the leading representative of Polish modernism in architecture before the outbreak of the War. Well-deserved for the reconstruction of Warsaw – he has created plans of many public utilities in accordance with the rules of socialist realism. Despite that, he was excluded from the Academy of Fine Arts in 1949, and then rehabilitated in 1957. At Woronicz Street, passing by the postmodernist headquarters of TVP (Polish Television) one can get to the the building occupied by the Polish Police Headquarters – it is a white-blue-gray and massive object with typical social realist provenience. It was commissioned at the end of 1956, a few months before the Polish Radio headquarters was opened in 1957 – even specialists sometimes attribute the design to the ,,prince of the architecture” – Pniewski. In fact, the creator of the project is the contemporary “prince” and also the former follower of functionalism in architecture – Jerzy Beill. On the other side of the longest street in Warsaw – Puławska Street is the Królikarnia Park and another reconstruction of the classicist palace. One can find there the Xawery Dunikowski Museum of Sculpture – there are exhibitions, outdoor events, also many benches where one can sit for a while and relax.