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Following the Modernism

Modernism is an offspring of the interwar period, yet the trend mainly characterised by minimalism, glass facades, the avoidance of symmetry, was also continued in the post-war era. The capital of Wielkopolska is one of few Polish cities that managed to preserve some of the greatest pieces of postwar modernism. Perhaps nowhere else are the buildings of this style considered as symbols - as pieces proudly representing the city. The most interesting projects are located right next to each other in the very city centre. It is worth following the Modernism Route then.

Begin your walk at Kaponiera Roundabout. Even the underground passage under one of Poznań's major roundabouts can impress with its simplicity and the minimalist finish. Around the roundabout you can see two worthwhile buildings, the being Mercure Hotel (formerly Merkury) with a distinctive roof protruding over the main entrance. The design of the building was mainly inspired by the Paris UNESCO headquarters and the Berlin Hilton. The critics pay particular attention to the chequered elevation (which lost its clarity after the modernization in the early twenty-first century) and the fact that the building was erected on a stellar plan. The building of the Jowita Dormitory located on the other side of the road was designed to counterbalance Mercure Hotel with its strip window layout - preserved almost unchanged. 

 

Continue your trip along św. Marcin Street. Turn right at the junction with Niepodległości Avenue and go a few hundred metres until you see Collegium Novum (1968). Originally, these had been two stand-alone buildings - after two years of operation they were combined with a glass connector, today's meeting place of all kinds of philologists. Adjacent to the Collegium Novum is a glazed atrium including trees - a true haven of peace and tranquillity in the heart of bustling city. The facades of the buildings were made of reinforced concrete prefabs, the texture of which blends seamlessly with green surroundings. It is best to admire them from Marcinkowski Park. In the years 2001-2005, the south side of the building was extended by a three-storey glass structure of the Novum Philological Faculty Library.

 

We're going back to św. Marcin Street. It is here that Poznań has its modernist quarter. Throughout 1960s and 70s Poznań architects worked on the new organization of Poznań's centre. The nineteenth-century tenements were demolished to accommodate the 'Alfa' Retail and Office Complex. The new buildings directly alluded to the then global trends, according to which architects frequently designed complexes comprising several high-rise buildings standing in a row and connected with a one- or two-storey shopping and services complex. In terms of the then trends, 'Alfa' skyscrapers did not differ from similar designs implemented in Rotterdam and London's Barbican.

 

What should also attract our attention is the residential and shopping building erected as a counterweight to the Alpha complex at the south frontage of św. Marcin Street, immediately dubbed as "TVs" due to a radio and TV store situated on the ground floor and a distinctive facade of specific bay windows. Besides their compositional significance, the bay windows also had a practical function. This solution, unique countrywide, made it possible to illuminate the northern wall of the building, as the window bays face west. It is also worth seeing at the back of the building with classically modernist, glazed staircases.

 
 

From św. Marcin Street turn into Kantaka Street, which is hidden between 'Alfa' skyscrapers. At the end of the street enter 27 Grudnia Street and you will easily find a symbol of Poznań's modernism - 'Okraglak' (The Round House), a building designed by a renowned architect Marek Leykam. This is one of the most famous buildings in more than 1000 years of the city's history. Although it was created in the era pervaded by socialist realism (1949-1954), it represents all of the standard modernist features. What is so impressive about it is not only the fact that building is inscribed into the architecture of the nineteenth century buildings surrounding 'Okrąglak', but also architectural solutions employed in the building's interior. Indeed, there is few Poznaners that are not impressed by the two separate staircases winding up the walls inside the cylinder. Right next to 'Okrąglak' stands 'Kwadraciak' (The Square House) - an office building complementing the complex.

In the immediate vicinity Okrąglak you can also find two other interesting modernist designs - "Dom Książki' (the Book House) at Gwarna Street and the 'Domar' Department Store, with a roof covered by plates with characteristic round holes.

 

Continue your walk along 27 Grudnia Street, and, via Paderewskiego Street, enter Poznań's Old Market Square. The "Arsenał" buildings were constructed in 1962, stirring heated debates and polemics ever since. It was likewise when the buildings were commissioned. For some, it is an outstanding piece of Poznań's postwar modernism, for others, a 'box-like' scar in the historical layout of the Old Market Square. Few people seem to notice that the Arsenał's and the Wielkopolska Military Museum's buildings, refer to the historical buildings of the market despite their modern form. Even the little street running between them reminds us of the medieval layout of Poznań's market square. The 1960s emergence of modernist buildings in the heart of the historic market complex was justified by the lack of iconographic sources to serve as the basis to reconstruct historical buildings. It is worth noting that these venues were originally meant to house shopping pavilions - a Polish folklore shop and an electronics store. Just before opening, however, the idea was abandoned and the buildings eventually provided space for cultural institutions.

 
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'Arena' Sports and Entertainment Hall

The shape of the building erected in 1974 was inspired by the shape of Rome's Palazzetto dello Sport Hall commissioned several years earlier. Nevertheless, the shape is the only similarity between the two structures. Poznań's Arena Hall is made by a different technology, and, most importantly, is larger. The venue can accommodate 4,200 spectators, and its dome with a diameter of 80.5 m is propped by 24 radial arrangement of poles, also functioning as gutters draining water from the aluminium roof.

The interior of the hall has hosted countless concerts and sports competitions, including matches of Volleyball World League and Poznań's basketball players. 

The material was produced in co-operation with the "Źle Urodzone' project - the architecture of post-war modernism in Poland (literally: "The Mis-Born Project').

 

University School of Physical Education

According to architects and architectural critics, the building of Poznań's University School of Physical Education (built in 1972) is considered to be one of the best designs by Marek Leykam. The interesting horizontal body of the building is divided on the ground floor into three independent segments. The second floor has fully glazed walls and is partly overhanging the ground floor. During the day, the corridors inside the building are lit by the system of skylights mounted in the ceiling. The venue was designed from the outset as the premises of the University School of Physical Education - the design included three swimming pool basins in the basement inside and sports fields around the building.

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