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Tracing Praesens : roots and context of Modern Movement in Poland Malczyk, Agata

Abstract

During the 1920s and 1930s, in the aftermath of World War 1, Europe had a vivid political, economic and cultural scene. During this period nations were rebuilding their homes and values. This dynamic environment nurtured and accelerated the development of several significant modern movements, events and modes of thought, including the ideas of: Le Corbusier, CIAM, Werkbund, Bauhaus, De Stijl, Constructivism, Suprematism and others. In 1918 Poland reemerged as a sovereign state after 150 years of foreign occupation. Polish artists were able to switch their primary focus from patriotic and nationalistic issues of preserving national culture and identity to more universal and progressive ideas. The first important group of the Polish artistic avant-garde was the Formists. This group became active in Krakow around 1919-1921. By 1924 another influential group, Blok, was officially established. It promoted socially aware, logical and utilitarian art designed for industrial mass production. Artists also called for collaboration with architects. In retrospective, one of the most significant artistic events during this period, but considered marginal at the time, was the formation in Warsaw of the avant-garde group Praesens. The group was launched on the initiative of a young architect, Szymon Syrkus, and included a new generation of architects and artists. Together they began the essential task of solving the social problems of the time, which they believed, could be achieved only as a result of common efforts. Ideologically, the members of Praesens subscribed to the principles embodied in functionalism. The name of the group Praesens (a Latin word similar in meaning to the English "presence") was a manifestation of the arrival of the young artistic avant-garde and its existence on the cultural scene. The use of a foreign word also suggested the international interests and character of the group, which was typical for the Modern Movement. Members of Praesens propagated their ideas by projects, lectures and publications. They also introduced the Modern Movement to Poland and contributed to the development of international events. In particular, young Polish architects were actively participating in the early works of CIAM. The progressive architects of Praesens were involved in housing projects. Low-income housing was the primary focus of their efforts, as this was perceived as one of the most immediate social needs. They worked with other organizations established to improve the conditions in workers' housing. WSM (Warsaw Housing Cooperative) and TOR (The Association for Workers' Housing) received in Poland the greatest accolades in this area, as well as international recognition at CIAM meetings. Praesens architects also taught at the Warsaw School of Architecture, where they passed on modernist ideas to a younger generation. Their educational activities were important to the assimilation of the Modern Movement in Poland and are an important link with traditions broken by WW2 and the resulting change in the political situation. Their principles regarding modern design survived decades of neglect and abuse and are currently being harvested by contemporary Polish architects. This study was conducted exclusively using digital tools. Digitally recorded data was processed in image processing software. Drafting, modeling and animation tools were used for the reconstruction and analysis. The final presentation was composed using multimedia software. Extensive application of digital media in this study allows a better comprehension of the subject and demonstrates the significance of the group Praesens. Digital tools facilitate research and analysis. Digital reconstruction of buildings or their fragments enhances the understanding of tradition. Also, because of the dynamic character of the media it is possible to consider and compare different aspects of various projects. Through the interaction with studied buildings an opportunity to break from the linear character of the analytical process is introduced. Finally, the result of the study is a multimedia publication, which allows a multi-faceted presentation, and one that is more engaging for a viewer because of its interactivity and nonlinear structure. Three architectural teams distinguished themselves among the members of Praesens, as they strongly marked Polish Modern Architecture with their projects and related professional activities. The teams were formed by: Helena and Szymon Syrkus, Barbara and Stanislaw Brukalski, and Bohdan Lachert and Jozef Szanajca. The subject of this study is narrowed down to the work by these three teams, and selected projects are analyzed in detail. The work of other architects related to Praesens or to the principles of the Modern Movement is also referenced in the CD-ROM presentation.

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