2018 | 28 | 169-197
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Modernity and Compromise: The Church of St. Michael the Archangel in Warsaw and its Designer Władysław Pieńkowski

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Despite the considerable influence he exerted on post-war church architecture in Poland, the designer Władysław Pieńkowski (1907–1991) is today an altogether forgotten figure. The current paper outlines his biography and his early oeuvre; this is because his experience in designing office blocks and industrial plants gained while working under the supervision of the most outstanding Polish architects of the mid-20th century, was to be of key importance to his later, independent designs for ecclesiastical buildings. The paper focuses on a particularly important work, one which in many ways constitutes a breakthrough in the architect’s career, namely the church of St. Michael the Archangel in the Mokotów district of Warsaw. This was the first entirely new church to be erected in the capital of Poland after the year 1945. Its construction depended on the dynamic changes in the balance of political forces. The church could be built owing to the support of the PAX Association circle, including the direct involvement of Bolesław Piasecki. In spite of their patronage, however, construction works were repeatedly halted and extended over several years, and the architectural design had to be reworked. The paper contains an analysis of three fundamental designs for the church, now held in the St. Michael the Archangel parish archive and in the architect’s records preserved by his heirs. The first design dates from the period of 1948/9–1951, the subsequent one from the year 1954, and the final one from 1956–1961. The evolution of the design moved from the initial continuation of forms typical of the pre-war Modernised Revivalism, through a peculiar reference to Socialist Realism, to rigorous Modernism. The church of St. Michael the Archangel became Pieńkowski’s testing ground; there, he tried out several solutions which he would consistently utilise in the subsequent years of his career, e.g. the large-scale application of prefabricated elements in both the construction and the decoration of the edifice. The construction of this church was concurrent with important events of a political (the Thaw) and religious nature (the Second Vatican Council). Tracing the history of the design for the Warsaw church and clarifying its connections with contemporaneous church architecture in Poland and in Western Europe made it possible to present the key problems faced by the Polish designers of ecclesiastical architecture in the first decades of the People’s Republic of Poland.
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