Architecture: Protecting Muranów | Warsaw Insider
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In December, plans for a new eight-story residential building sparked a campaign to protect the historical integrity of the 1950s Muranów Południowy housing estate…... Architecture: Protecting Muranów
Architecture: Protecting Muranów Architecture: Protecting Muranów

In December, plans for a new eight-story residential building sparked a campaign to protect the historical integrity of the 1950s Muranów Południowy housing estate…

Photo: Shutterstock

Led by the Mayor of Wola, Krzysztof Strzałkowski, efforts are underway to enter the post-war estate into the register of monuments so as to prevent the unrestricted development of the Muranów area. The calls have come after it was revealed that both developers and the church were seeking to build a 33-meter apartment block in the spare plot next to the Church of St Augustine.

Galvanized by a wave of public support, Strzałkowski has now submitted an appeal to regional authorities to stop the project claiming that the investment will ruin the original architectural vision that has marked Muranów out to be so special. “Muranów’s hallmark has been the way in which its orderly design has traditionally formed a whole,” wrote Strzałkowski.

Photo: NAC

Michał Krasucki, the city’s conservator, has also gone on record to agree. “The concept [for the area] was not only comprehensive and coherent, but also completed,” he said. “That is why every new development in this area should respect these values and seek to blend in with the existing historical layout. In this proposed case, we are talking about a facility that goes completely against this,” he added.

The news comes amid a swell of affection for an area that has at times felt unloved and forgotten. Taking its name from the Venetian island of Murano, it was this title that was given to a royal palace that was built in 1686 close to the site of today’s Intraco tower. Designed by Simone Giuseppe Bellotti, the Polish Royal Court’s architect, the horseshoe-shaped residence found itself increasingly absorbed into the expanding city of Warsaw. 

Photo: NAC

From these beginnings, by the late-19th century this northern outpost had become the center of Europe’s Jewish life with Nalewki street serving as its spiritual core. Here, wrote one chronicler, “elegant tenements and seedy annexes” stood side-by-side, “where beauties mixed with eyesores and the sacred with the profane. Nalewki was a separate universe, a myth, a legend, and the only such street in the world.”

When Warsaw was occupied by the Germans, the entire district fell inside the walled perimeter of the Ghetto; having suppressed a Jewish Uprising in 1943, the Nazi leadership undertook steps to eradicate all traces of Jewish Warsaw by demolishing the district.

After the war, Muranów lay in ruin (image supplied by Polin)

Methodical in their duty, by the time they had finished much of the area was reduced to little more than a vast sea of bricks. In some parts, it’s said that the rubble stood three to four stories high. This, however, would quite literally serve as the platform for the new Muranów that would rise in the immediate aftermath of the war.

Photo: NAC

Authored by Boghdan Lachert, his blueprint for the area was made public in 1948 and was the most ambitious of all of the architect’s 150 projects. Using the First Warsaw Reconstruction Battalion to clear the masonry, this work detail was later joined by communist youth volunteers from Yugoslavia, Italy, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia.

Photo: NAC

Reliant on tents and equipment loaned to them by the army, together this international team loaded rubble onto a train that chugged up and down what is now known as Andera street.

Working at breakneck speed, by 1949 enough ground had been cleared to begin construction. Trained as bricklayers and lift operators, women constituted 30% of the workforce and the area soon became a hive of construction. With the press making daily reports on progress, something of a competition erupted between Muranów and work on the Socialist Realist city of Nowa Huta, with both seeking to outdo each other in terms of quotas, targets and personal bests.

Photo: NAC

To some extent, this actually hampered Lachert’s vision. He had seen Muranów as “an experimental estate-monument”, one that would be noted for its greenery, sunlit recreational spaces, and educational and cultural institutions. Traffic would be segregated from pedestrians, and each micro-area would be able to function in a self-sufficient manner. Although many of these ideas were implemented, others were waylaid as workers raced to meet their deadlines.

Deck accessed apartment blocks were built in a rush, and in March 1950 the first resident moved in – a janitor by the name of Franciszek Klapiński. As others followed, Klapiński was soon swarmed with complaints about damp and heating, points that offset the propaganda triumph that the local officials tried to claim. Regardless, there can be no doubt that, taken at face value, the estate looked impressive.

Photo: NAC

Largely built using materials saved from the Ghetto, several sections were constructed actually directly on top of compacted rubble. With no large-scale systemic excavations ever made, it’s unknown how many bodies, treasures or personal belongings lie underneath, but at the time these factors simply did not come into the equation – reeling from the slaughter and devastation of the war, this was a city that had no choice but to look forward.

And this it did. While some of the earliest of Muranów’s constructions were sloppily built, others seemed to capture the essence and ambition of this optimistic era. Nowotki street (today rechristened Andersa), in particular, stood out. Modelled on Berlin’s Karl-Mark Allee, the street was designed to house 15,000 people and it was here iconic landmarks were born such as the grand archway just above Kino Muranów and the quadrangular courtyard further up – it was here that a subway station was to be built.

Muranów, 1952. Photo: PAP (image supplied by Polin)

Looking statuesque in their dimensions and aesthetics, it’s little wonder that people visited from across Warsaw to marvel at “Stalin’s Palaces”. After the bloodletting of the previous years, this was a brave, new world that offered hope and relief. It cannot be argued otherwise, the stringent codes of Socialist Realist doctrine did limit Lachert, but he nonetheless proved himself an exceptional architect.

Moreover, while other capital city investments such as MDM around Plac Konstytucji were unashamedly reserved for the Communist hierarchy, Muranów truly was for the people of Warsaw. As naively Utopian and idealistic as it may seem now, at the time it was positively mind-blowing in its message – this was the face of the new city, and it could not have been any more different from the dank and squalid slums that once occupied its mass. 

Photo: NAC

Of course, not everything was new – even in Muranów’s case. A handful of buildings had survived, and of these none stood out more than St. Augustine’s, the church currently at the center of the present day row. Celebrating its first mass on December 10th, 1896, this Neo Romanesque landmark was allowed to continue functioning even after the borders of the Ghetto around it were sealed, and its two remaining priests worked ceaselessly to aid their Jewish neighbors – in particular, those that had converted to Catholicism.

Their efforts would ultimately cost them: one was shot dead on the steps in 1943, and the other would later perish in a concentration camp. The church, though, survived the razing of the Ghetto and was used by the Nazis as a warehouse to store recovered Jewish loot. When the Warsaw Uprising broke out, a German machine gun nest was placed at the top of its tower, something that made it a target for Polish insurgents.

Photo: NAC

In 1959, the church returned to the headlines once more, this time on October 7th when the figure of the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared hovering over the small globe capping the church’s steeple. News spread like wildfire, and for several days after up to 10,000 people would descend daily on the church to view ‘the Miracle of Nowolipki’.

Although the touted plans for a tower have since been officially scrapped as of last week, the incident has left locals and activists under no illusions as to the challenges the area will face in the future if action isn’t taken.

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