Spatial structure of Przyczółek Grochowski Housing Estate

Hansen, Oskar: Osiedle Przyczółek Grochowski w Warszawie. Architektura, 1971, No. 10

Architecture as a Pedagogical Object: What to preserve of the Przyczółek Grochowski Housing Estate by Oskar & Zofia Hansen in Warsaw?

In 1990 a newsreel which documented the emergence of new types of services arising after the fall of socialism in Poland showed a private company working on a security scheme for the Przyczółek Grochowski Housing Estate in Warsaw. Bending over the plan of meandering buildings, the guards tried to establish effective procedures for protecting the inhabitants from increasing petty criminality. A difficult goal indeed, complained the narrator, since the buildings “were first harmed by the architects”. Yet also the designers themselves – Oskar Hansen, architect, artist and theorist affiliated with the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and an active member of Team 10, and his wife Zofia Garlińska-Hansen – did not hide their own disappointment with this project. Oskar stressed how much the buildings, comprising flats for 6 600 inhabitants, designed in 1963 and constructed between 1969 and 1973, differed from the original plans. More recently, Zofia pointed out mistakes of design rather than of execution, and confessed: “I think that in a practical sense, Przyczółek Grochowski is not a success, because people are not happy there.” Happiness of the inhabitants is not a modest criterion, and one that could make the architects an easy target for a critique of modernist “utopias”. When applied to Przyczółek, this commonplace is fused with a more specifically postsocialist debunking of large housing estates as symptoms of the fiasco of real existing socialism. While, as we will show in what follows, Przyczółek was by no means an example of “real existing modernism” and its position within Polish post-war urbanism and architecture is exceptional, this critique did not facilitate the acceptance of this complex as valuable architectural heritage, in spite of some recent suggestions inthe daily press. In the current political and economic climate in Europe, the housing projects of Hansen’s colleagues from the Team 10 network are often deemed too expensive for restoration, in particular since the broad public is not always convicted about their aesthetic value: some visual education is still needed to recognize the delicate details of the staircases in the Robin Hood Gardens in London by Alison and Peter Smithson, or the radiating surfaces of the Bobigny Housing by Georges Candilis, Alexis Josic, and Shadrach Woods….

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