About Nowa Huta - a Short History of the City near Cracow - Andrzej Lorek

52 years have passed since a decision was taken to localise a new metallurgical complex near Cracow, which, together with the new city built to meet the needs of its employees, was to change the conditions deciding about the development of the historic capital of Poland. This originated the awareness of the importance of that fact in the history of the city about which the particular words were once written on the Merian's panorama: CRACOVIA TOTIUS POLONIAE URBS CELEBERRIMA ATQUE AMPLISSIMA REGIA ATQUE ACADEMIA INSIGNIS. The decision, taken on February 24th, 1949, to choice Pleszów as the site to build Nowa Huta brought about a new function added to the Royal Cracow insignia - heavy industry.

Basic objectives of Nowa Huta's urban-design composition

The decision to build the new city was taken immediately after the selection of the site for the steelwork complex in the area of Pleszów, a village near Cracow, had been made. In May 1949 the detailed localisation of Nowa Huta was accepted and as soon as on June 23rd the construction started. The concept of the plan was accepted on February 10th, 1950, during the session of the Division of the Workers' Estate, in which also the members of the party's Political Bureau participated.

The first concept of this 100-thousand-city was prepared within three months since its localisation had been established. It was made by the team of urban planners and architects in Miastoprojekt-Nowa Huta, the office specially established for the needs of the creation of a big city. That sketch plan presented below shows the main objectives of the city composition. The team of young urban planners guided by Nowa Huta's chief designer Tadeusz Ptaszycki created an original, wholly author's plan, which resulted partly from the topography of the site and partly from the great tradition of axial compositions in the European urban design. According to an opinion by the co-author of that concept - professor Stanisław Juchnowicz: The shape of the city's plan resulted from the most characteristic features of the area. The wide curve of the slope, its height approximately 14 metres […] was to become the main element of the plan composition. Five main traffic and compositional directions radiating from the Central Square, situated over the edge of the slope, link the most important centres located outside the plan with the central part of the city [...] The city's centre was shaped in the Socialist Realism convention .... The architecture in the central area is of monumental »historicising« character." There is another document presenting the development of Nowa Huta's urban plan, presented in a unique book by Bohdan Garliński published at the time by the Institute of Urban Design and Architecture. Perhaps it is worth to quote a fragment of the opinion by the Judging Collegium, called for that design, during the Regional Show of Architecture in 1952 in Cracow. "Significant amount of the concept work should be emphasised as well as humanistic and compact image of the whole. Good architecture, following the tradition in a creative way." That opinion concerned the Nowa Huta urban model (below), which presented the final compositional shape of the city including also its part west of the Kocmyrzowska Street.

An important element of the urban structure of Nowa Huta was the division into estate complexes featuring individual names and composition resulting from their localisation. Each estate had its own functional structure, which could be compared to the idea of the neighbourhood unit by Clarence Perry. With their educational functions (nurseries and schools), health service (nurseries and local health centres) and commercial ones (shops on the ground floors of residential buildings), each estate was self-dependent, which created good living conditions including upbringing of the children. Significant amount of the greenery, both in the inner parts of particular estates and along the city main streets, turned out to be one of the most precious elements of Nowa Huta. Nowadays Nowa Huta is the greenest district of Cracow.

The urban composition of Nowa Huta can be appreciated when looking at the aerial view, on which the great compositional axis was marked with two points at its ends. The Central Square, lacking the termination on the slope side (see objectives of the Nowa Huta's centre), still awaits the realisation of a complex of architectural objects in the proper scale and value, which will offer an adequate answer to the compositional importance of that place and its value. The opposite point terminating the Alley of Roses is the location of another church in Nowa Huta to be built, designed by professor Witold Cęckiewicz. The tall tower of that new Nowa Huta temple will terminate the city's main axis in the future. An attempt to present the urban idea of Nowa Huta may be finished with concluding that that it is the most representative example of the city of the "Socialist Realism" era, being also the biggest city centre to have been built basing on the objectives of the Socialist Realism doctrine.

The Nowa Huta's urban composition chief designer - Tadeusz Ptaszycki - was awarded the State Prize of the First Degree in 1955 for the creative elaboration of the tasks in planning and building of big urban complexes, and Nowa Huta in particular. An analogical Prize of the Second Degree was granted to the team of architects co-creating Nowa Huta, both in the urban scale and, in particular, in the architectural range. Those architects were: Bolesław Skrzybalski, Janusz Ingarden, Adam Fołtyn, Stanisław Juchnowicz, Tadeusz Rembiesa, Janina Lenczowska, Tadeusz Janowski, Andrzej Uniejewski.

Basic compositional objectives of the Nowa Huta's centre

Compositionally, since the very beginning the centre of Nowa Huta has been its most important part. According to the Socialist Realism urban design theory the core of a socialist city is made by its centre to shape its image. The city centre, as L. Bolz wrote, is the centre of the population's political life. The most important political, administrative and cultural posts are located in the centre. In his theses concerning building the Socialist cities the author pointed at a meaningful, in his opinion, aspect determining the size of such a centre: The centre makes an aim of political demonstrations and parades; with its squares it is an area of peoples' celebrations - therefore the centre's measure is not a passenger speeding through the city in a modern car - but a walking pedestrian, a political demonstrator and the pace of his marching".

An ideological dimension of that justification does not darken the thesis that in the city's centre pedestrian traffic should be preferred to car's traffic. In the concept of Nowa Huta's centre one can distinguish three urban "interior" spaces of public character and two objects of monumental architecture playing an important role in the composition of the city. The most important public interior space is the Central Square as a joining point in Nowa Huta's composition, where five main streets get together, defining the most basic urban axes of the city. The next space is created by the frame of the initial section of the Alley of Roses with a characteristic widening of the space, which enjoys all features of a plaza. It was there that the W. Lenin statue by Marian Konieczny was erected in 1973; the statue was contested by the city's society to be finally demolished in 1989. Nowadays this section of Nowa Huta's central zone is being modernised and the atmosphere of contemporary public space is recreated.

The third interior space was an square-shape plaza, where the symbol of power was localised - the town hall with a tall tower following the Renaissance town hall in Zamość. The author of the design, Tadeusz Janowski, situated the town hall in the place that was optimal from the city composition's point of view. The town hall was not built and the place is now a vacuum. The similar situation applies to the termination of the Central Square, which according to the original design was ensured by the theatre building with two-floor arcades making the southern wall of the square. Because in the original version the localisation of Nowa Huta was connected with water reservoir whose waters were to be very close to the line of Central Square buildings, the theatre design included a descent down the terraces directly to the water level.

Nowadays we look at Nowa Huta from a different time perspective. The 20th century has passed away to the history, characterised by two World Wars and powerful totalitarian systems. Their emanation was Socialist Realism in architecture and art as well as its Fascist equivalents in Italy and Germany. Providing all the ideological entourage of those times and their reflections in European art are rejected, one can refer to the values of those cities' spaces, realised in the soul of Socialist Realism. Considered in this way, Nowa Huta is a symbol of the city whose compositional compactness and logical functional structure, can still cause real admiration. It is worth to present an opinion by one of the creators of the city, professor Stanisław Juchnowicz, who (during the conference dedicated to the cultural heritage of Nowa Huta) defined his own objectives referring to the city's public space: "The »urban floor« of the plan's main elements (Central Square, entrance to the HTS Steelworks, estates service centres etc.) should be provided with special care. And most of all the Southern Park at the foot of the Wisła slope should be realised with possible water elements, extended educational and recreational programme to take the protection of natural environment complex into consideration. The realisation would constitute an element of the green areas system along the Wisła valley, while it would also contribute to change the image and perception of Nowa Huta by the Cracow residents. It would be the contemporary input in the improvement of the Cracow agglomeration eastern areas environment conditions." The centre of Nowa Huta was completed with architecture of the residential buildings co-creating its character, granting particular spaces the adequate scale and required monumentality whose forms, in comparison with other projects of the time, do not overwhelm. The Nowa Huta's architecture can be recognised as original achievement of Polish architects. The forms entail classical referring to historic architecture.

Comparing architecture of Nowa Huta with other cities of the time, one can clearly note its constructive role in building the space and composition of the city.

At the end

A question is risen: how should the contemporary man perceive that city? - what emotions can be awaken? The co-author of Nowa Huta, professor Stanisław Juchnowicz, judging the city's values and development potential, states: "The city of Nowa Huta with its urban plan stretching to the Kocmyrzowska Street was recognised as a historic monument and remains protected by the Conservator of Monuments. The character of that complex, particular architectural objects and more important interiors of service, cultural, administrative and commercial buildings should be protected and maintained as the evidence of a certain period, which marked its stamp on the image of Polish cities. The present district of Nowa Huta also features potential opportunity of further development. Good traffic accessibility and spatial conditions enable introducing new services. The exchange of the residential spaces on the ground floors of the buildings along the main compositional elements would contribute to district's enlivening and modernisation. However, it has to be carried out under the control of the Conservation office." Nowa Huta used to be described as an "indestructible monument", "bastion of Socialism", "younger Komsomol sister", "great and ravishing task", "symbol of increasing powers of peace", "built on the granite foundations of friendship with Soviet nations", "masterpiece, which has not been known in the history of our nation so far", "the place where the foundations of prosperity and justice are growing". What has remained today is - only the shapes of the City.