Stare Miasto w Elblągu, fot. K. Rodziewicz

Postmodern Elbląg. The great reconstruction of the Old Town began in the 1980s.

Elbląg became an arena for fighting in 1945. German forces clashed with Soviet troops here. The fighting caused the historic buildings of the city centre and the Old Town to be destroyed. Much of this fabric was only rebuilt decades after the war. The city was revived, the post-modern Elbląg was filled with buildings symbolising pre-war architecture, but in a completely different style. This story will be told in the exhibition ‘Retroversy. On the postmodern reconstruction of Elbląg’, which will be on display in Warsaw. The author of the photographs published in the article is K. Rodziewicz.

The devastated Old Town of Elbląg was not cleared up until the 1960s. The city suffered from a lack of housing, so in the early 1970s there were plans to build a flat block in the Old Town area. The plans were not realised because there were not enough funds to carry them out. In retrospect, it can be said that “fortunately”.

In 1972, the reconstruction of the Old Town began. Work was intensified in the 1980s, when it was decided that the tenements would be rebuilt in such a way that their size and shape would symbolise medieval buildings. Postmodern Elbląg was taking shape.

The reconstruction was carried out according to the concept of retroversion. This is an original conservation doctrine developed by Professor Maria Lubocka-Hoffmann. It assumes that the character of the new architecture will relate to the pre-war one. The aim of the reconstruction was not only to fill the Old Town with buildings, but to restore immeasurable values – atmosphere, spirit and mood. As a result, the new townhouses were built on the outline of the historic foundations. It was possible to recreate the urban layout, the street grid and the scale of the quarters.

Throughout the project, the decision to choose a postmodern architectural form that interprets history in a unique way was a bold step. The reconstruction of Elbląg shows the history of transformation with economic changes and social processes that happened in Poland in the second half of the 20th century.

The reconstruction process will be better understood by visiting the exhibition ‘Retroversy. On the postmodern reconstruction of Elbląg’. The exhibition will open on 22 June on the initiative of the National Institute of Architecture and Urban Planning and EL Gallery. It will be on display in the SARP Exhibition Pavilion.

The narrative of the exhibition is based on two parts. The first is the historical and social background of the Elbląg reconstruction – previously unpublished archival photographs, documents, drawings and video footage. Visitors will be able to learn about the rudimentary history of the Old Town, unrealized modernist visions of reconstruction and the process of making and certifying Elbląg’s rubble concrete. The artistic part, on the other hand, enriches the story of post-war reconstruction with new reinterpretations by contemporary male and female artists.

The exhibition is the result of a unique collaboration between two institutions – the EL Gallery Art Centre in Elbląg and the National Institute of Architecture and Urban Planning – as well as the support of many local, Elbląg-based experts and the creative involvement of male and female artists from all over Poland. The exhibition was shown for the first time at the Galeria EL Art Centre in Elbląg in May and June 2023 under the title Retroversje: Sobie mieszkania -u miasto stareka,

Artists and artists: Maciej Cholewa, Jan Domicz, Roman Fus, Krystyna Jędrzejewska-Szmek and Kasper Jakubowski, Krzysztof Maniak, KinoMANUAL (Aga Jarząb and Maciej Bączyk), Anna Maria Karczmarska and Mikołaj Małek, Anna Królikiewicz (in collaboration with Justyna Kropidłowska), Filip Rybkowski, Dominika Skutnik, Joanna Stachowiak, TURNUS (Marcelina Gorczyńska and Kamila Falęcka), Aleksander Wadas, Wiktoria Walendzik, Ludwik Zamczyński.

Curatorial team of the National Institute of Architecture and Urbanism: Zuzanna Mielczarek and Mateusz Włodarek

The curatorial team of EL Gallery Art Centre: Emilia Orzechowska and Maciej Olewniczak

photography: K. Rodziewicz

source: National Institute of Architecture and Urban Planning

Read also: Postmodernism | Architecture in Poland | Curiosities | Tenement houses | History | whiteMAD on Instagram

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