5 Architectural Gems
After long days at work, nothing helps me relax and clear my mind like my daily walks. I am almost religious about them – I am known to walk close to, if not surpass, 10,000 steps during weekdays and it’s not unheard of for me to take long weekend walks doubling that.
Besides being able to enjoy the fresh air and weather, it’s always on these long walks that I stumble across some architectural gems in the city. I’ve collected a few modern and post-modern spots as well as their histories – some of them are quite wacky! – in one post so that you can discover the architecture of Wrocław along with me.
Located just north-east of the city center, Wrocław’s “Manhattan” pales in comparison to its North American counterpart. The cheeky nickname for this cluster of apartment buildings arose because during the time they were built, from 1970 to 1973, they were the most daring pieces of architecture in the city. Poland in the 1970s was a communist country and its architecture was marked by the trends of the era: apartment buildings were moderately tall (up to 11 floors), plain concrete structures with angular balconies jutting out from their grey facades. “Manhattan”, a collection of six high-rise apartment buildings, could be seen from far away, standing tall at 55 meters and 16 floors.
These buildings were designed in the modernist style by the Wrocław architect Jadwiga Grabowska-Hawrylak, who was inspired by the work of pioneer Swiss-French modernist architect and urban planner Le Corbusier. She wanted her Manhattan buildings to give off a Mediterranean feel, hence the (planned) white facade with brick details as well as exotic trees planted nearby. The rooftop was meant to be a garden oasis but never quite came to fruition. The balconies and patios are curved, and the windows rounded, serving as a direct contrast with the socialist realist style that was the norm at the time.
Recently, Wrocław’s Manhattan has gone through a revival. Begun a few years ago, the buildings’ facades and foundations have been restored and painted, no longer a dull grey but a bright white as they were intended. The shopping centers below will also be restored. They are now an iconic part of the Wrocław landscape, despite their roots in the socialist realist architecture of Poland’s past.
"Serowiec" - Wrocław University of Science and Technology
On a recent walk, I visited a part of the city that I rarely explore but always enjoy: Plac Grunwaldzki. That part of the city boasts the above-mentioned Manhattan buildings as well as the Wrocław University of Science and Technology, one of the best universities of its kind in Poland. The university is quite large, its faculty buildings mostly strewn about this area of the city.
The admissions building on campus is probably the university’s most well-known building. Its moniker “Serowiec” is a portmanteau of two Polish words wieżowiec meaning skyscraper and ser meaning cheese. One look at this building and you’ll instantly know why it’s called that – the 15,000 m2 building looks like a giant block of Swiss cheese, with circular windows all around.
The architect Bogusław Wowrzeczka was apparently inspired by perforated paper tape, historically used for data storage. It’s fitting for a building of a technical university, especially one located in the city of Wrocław where, in 1961, one of the first computers in Poland, the Odra 1001 (named after the river flowing through the city), was produced.
Kolorowa Plomba 1996 – Tenement House 36
On the way to the Serowiec mentioned above is a wildly colorful building sitting right in the middle of a row of historical tenement houses on Stanisław Wyspiański Street. The incredibly sharp contrast in architectural style looks out of place, its neon colors and wacky design contrasting the 19th and early 20th century architecture of the rest of the homes in the district.
Known as the Colorful Infil 1996 (Kolorowa Plomba 1996), the building connects the row of homes on Wyspiański Street. In the 1980s and 1990s in Poland, architectural infills were a popular way of creating more housing on open areas around existing homes without having to invest in the time and resources to break ground on a new development. In this way, they satisfied the growing need for housing in cramped cities.
The post-modern architect behind the building’s construction is Wojciech Jarząbek, who also graduated from Wrocław University of Science and Technology. His architecture stands out in the city, having designed a fair number of prominent (how could they not be?) buildings in this style. Love it or hate it, the building is a distinctive feature of the Plac Grunwaldzki neighborhood.
I can’t mention the Colorful Infill 1996, above, without also mentioning one of the most prominent buildings in Wrocław, the SolPol. Another one of Wojciech Jarząbek’s designs, the building is just as polarizing as the Colorful Infill. For the past almost two decades, it’s been vacant partially or totally, even having a demolition date set in February 2022, in favor of building a hotel in its place.
The post-modern building was completed in 1993 after it was designed in a week at the request of Zygmunt Solorz Żak, the billionaire founder of the TV channel Polsat. It functioned as a shopping center throughout the 90s until the early 2000s, when other, larger shopping centers rendered SolPol obsolete.
Personally, as garish as I think it is, it somehow fits on Świdnicka Street, completing the string of architectural styles all located practically next door to one another. It stands nearby the Church of St. Stanislaus, St. Wenceslas, and St. Dorothea (gothic), the Wrocław Opera (neoclassical), Monopol Hotel (art nouveau), and Renoma shopping center (art deco) – all important and prominent buildings in Wrocław.
Protests have postponed the demolition of the building for now, and it’s recently been announced that another Polish billionaire, Sebastian Kulczyk, bought SolPol, possibly with the intention of restoring it to its former glory… or demolishing it to make room for new housing developments.
The Ship - Building 51, Kiełczowska Street
In the Psie Pole district of Wrocław, to the north of center city, lies an… interesting… bit of architecture: a bright blue and yellow apartment complex in the shape of a steamship.
Built in the 1990s, it was surely a colorful and avant-garde response to the socialist realist architecture of the buildings built during the 1960s and 1970s in communist Poland. It had to have been, otherwise I cannot explain why anyone would deem it necessary. The 10 floor apartment building has two “smokestacks” as well as windows in the shape of portholes. It even has its own wave of water as a design element, in case you were worried it was stranded on land.
So what do you think? Are these weird enough for you? Are you team “love it” or “hate it” when it comes to SolPol and Tenement House 36? Leave me a comment and let me know.