Having a lodging is one of the basic human needs. Housing conditions influence the most important life decisions regarding mobility, career development or even emigration. How did it look in practice in Poland since shortly before World War II and up until now?
The housing situation in Poland is subject to constant changes not only due to reflecting current housing policy, but also constantly changing house design. How has Polish housing changed over the years?
Form follows function
This adage of Louis Sullivan, an American architect, is the motto of the entirety of modernist architecture (created before and after WWII). Functionality was considered to be the greatest asset, which was translated into buildings with big windows, shapes and roofs of simple design, devoid of unnecessary decorations.
In Poland, such architecture was the style of elite buildings, although modernist housing estates were also erected (mainly cooperative housing). The so-called Glass House on A. Mickiewicz St. in Warsaw is a good example. Modernist estates were also established in Gdynia, Katowice (Ligota) and Warsaw (Saska Kępa, Stary Żoliborz, Stary Mokotów), among others.
Be it ever so humble, but there’s no place like home
The political situation in Poland after the war (and extensive damage cities suffered) significantly influenced Poles’ living standards. It is impossible not to mention the so-called “communals” – pre-war apartments divided between a number of families – an idea taken from the Soviet Union. Rooms were assigned to a given family, and corridors, kitchens, bathrooms, etc. were communal. The policy of renting, or rather adding new tenants to
privately owned apartments changed only after 1956. The period of the Polish People’s Republic is considered prolific with regards to the number of apartments built (although it still didn’t satisfy the needs of all city dwellers). According to the statistics from the period, between 1964 and 1989, the yearly number of new move-in ready apartments did not go below 150,000, though socialist architecture was infamous for hastily erecting large numbers of poorly constructed buildings.
The American, “frania”, wall unit
To this day, many people live in PPR-period apartments made out of concrete slabs. The apartments are relatively small, with few windows, kitchen and bathroom that have little sunlight. Storage space called “pawlacz” (overhead cupboard), added just below the ceiling of a narrow corridor, was used for keeping infrequently used items. Walls in the corridor were covered in wainscoting, and the main piece of furniture in the salon was
a wall unit designed by Bogusława and Czesław Kowalski. Bathrooms contained the most precious washing machine – “frania”. Children rarely had the luck to live in a separate room – mostly they slept on sofa beds called “the American”. Apartments erected during the existence of PPR set the standard for Polish housing for many years.
Long hard road to “a roof over one’s head”
In the mid 90’s a new housing policy was formulated. It introduced elements characteristic for a market economy: restitution of property rights, rent that includes maintenance costs, and mortgaging. After the regime change, Poles were able to afford bigger living spaces. Nonetheless, the housing crisis, which influences the market situation even today, was already taking its toll. There are still not enough apartments.
Contemporary housing policy makers reached for such solutions as TBS (Towarzystwo Budownictwa Społecznego, Social Housing Company: affordable apartments with lifelong leases) or programmes of partial credit financing (“Family on its own”, “Apartment for the young”). Statistics show that the majority of Poles prefer to own rather than rent an apartment.
Many people switch from small and dark apartments of the PPR era to houses that offer more space. Even though many complain about the style of such “villas”, there also exist projects combining dreams with style and good design. Arka (Arc) designed by Robert Konieczny is an excellent example of an avant-garde take on residential architecture. The building alludes to the classic form of a gabled house,
however it is comprised of two roofs – one of which forms the foundation of the building. The cast concrete form is suspended on the hillside and touches the ground with only one corner. Arka’s design has won many competitions, among which the WallPaper’s magazine prestigious “Building of the Year” competition. This means the 2016 best house in the world is in Poland!