Poland rising: how architecture helped build, and define, the country after regaining independence

When Poland regained its independence in 1918 after 123 years it was not only a moment of great joy, but also a great challenge.

The country was in a state of ruin after the First World War. The three powers of Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary had ravished the Polish landscape as they tried to cling onto their empires.

The economy had almost ceased to exist in any meaningful sense with most industrial infrastructure having been intentionally wrecked or carted back to Germany or Russia.

Most bridges that could have been used by armies on the move had been destroyed and Polish roads were cloggy tracts of mud.

The huge rebuilding task was complicated by the need to merge regions that had been parts of separate states for over 100 years, which had different populations and levels of development, culture and economy.

It was necessary not only to smooth over these disproportions, but also to rebuild in people a spirit of unity, and an identity based on being citizens of a modern 20th-century republic. To achieve this, architecture played an important role.

Polish architects had a whole new range of techniques and ideas available to them under the banner of modernism. New homes for Poland’s new citizens would move away from the cramped tenement style buildings of the 19th century, and monumental public buildings would build in people a new consciousness as citizens of a modern state.

The building programme of the 1920s and 30s lead to new innovative projects, many of which are still standing today, as the concrete-frame modernist buildings withstood the trials of World War II much better than the buildings from previous generations.

Though neglected and ignored for many years, these modernist buildings are now enjoying renewed interest. TFN’s gallery of the Architecture of Independence showcases some of the best examples.