A group of young architects from Kraków are facing a formidable challenge. In the years to follow they are to determine the directions of development for the city which, since the Middle Ages – except for Nowa Huta, which was added from the east – has not changed its centralized and concentric structure. The office is given significant powers, gains the trust of orderers, has unlimited access to municipal plans, employs the best specialists in the area of urban planning and architecture. It quickly becomes a leading enterprise in the field in Poland.
There is lots of work ahead. Kraków’s crossroads require rebuilding, high-priority streets, strategic communication hubs. The growing city requires new districts, housing developments, public-use buildings. The last construction boom of the social-realist Nowa Huta did slow down but under Gierek cities gain new momentum. At the beginning of the 1970s they want to be the living monuments of a quickly accelerating epoch. The times favour growth and the office responds by providing ever more visionary projects.
At that time, working on a project translated to a multi-tier structure. Both metaphorically and literally. Task teams under the WBP brand developed an innovative method thanks to which time management is optimized in proportion to project complexity, without slowing them down at any of the stages. Occupying all floors of the modern office building, which, in years to come, will come to be referred to as “żyletkowiec”, architects were in a position to hand over to one another (across the building floors) the individual sections of the project, divided into thematic areas. The emerging construction or re-construction concept would go down the building floors, passing through the successive stages of architecture design, or would go up, depending on the needs and characteristics of the assignment.
Hence, one floor would be occupied by people in charge of accepting new orders and reviewing details of investment conditions in a given area. Another floor would hold working places for general architects. Others still would include urbanists, people responsible for detailed plans of technical infrastructure, water installations, electricity, and sanitary systems. The stage that followed was the valuation of projects and putting them within a specific timeframe.
The work of individual WBP team members across the many floors of the building situated at Kordylewskiego 11 (used by the office since 1977) could serve as illustration of an exemplary film about planning visionary cities, in the spirit of the cult “Metropolis” by Fritz Lang. This, however, would only stand as a superficial comparison. There is something more to it. Architects dressed in white coats, bent over their drawing boards, laid down the new lines of city development, outlined the contours of new buildings and fine-tuned the details of building elevations. The photographs from that era that have survived in the archives of BRK remind one of the famous Bauhaus images taken in Dessau, which, today itself, can be found at Berlin’s Bauhaus-Archiv at Klingelhöferstrasse 14. This is the testimony of the golden age of architectural design, which till today has remained a reference point for generations of architects, proving that design is not only a craft dependant on the equipment in use, a method or software. In essence, architectural design is the outcome of the creative work of designers and, by being under the control of the author, leads to the creation of something unique, not infrequently, without a clear extant reference. The Bauhaus programme, aimed at organizing public life through the full use of architecture, which was in no way an example of art for art’s sake. The team at WBK had a similar objective, while designing, among others, the new complexes of housing and plans for cities and municipalities in the region.
Sitting at tables covered with rolls of carbon paper, Rapidographs, paints, inks, compasses, rulers and set squares, architects would spend days and nights over the layers of maps, plans and layouts being developed. The laborious, Benedictine-reminiscent effort was about the scrupulous reproduction of reality and meticulously making their innovative ideas part of it. These calligraphic masterpieces drawn by the employees of the office inspire awe. Without access to computers or printers, they had to rely on their own manual and technical skills.
It is not by accident that the employees of the office enjoyed respect not only in Kraków but in various architectural studios across Poland. The scrupulous approach to various tasks had no match at the time. Buried in their work for hours, these architectural technicians proved that even if confronted with the most accurate machine, man is capable of proving his superiority. The precision of human effort resulting from the projects assigned to WBK had no equals. The same level of craftsmanship is passed on today to young architects, irrespective of the type of tools they use in everyday work. Over the first two decades, the office’s drawing boards, printers and plotters have seen the completion of several hundred ready projects, maps, projections, reports, plans, analyses and concepts.
Browsing through the archives of BRK, with all the achievements of the employees of the time, perhaps the most impressive aspect is the mathematical accuracy in creating projects. Everything had to match in the documentation process; everything had to reflect the reality on site. In the archive of the office, which, many years later, almost begs to be turned into a unique museum, one can come across true gems of architectural effort involving entire generations of Kraków’s architects and urban planners. Stacked in rows, the large-format maps, meticulously glued to rectangular pieces of cardboard, rolls of local development plans, including comprehensive descriptions and legends, datasheets with numbers, albums with photos and films, with captions written in technical writing, including topographic details (at the time, there were two separate structures responsible for photography and printing). Each and every aspect of the painstaking work performed by the office’s professional teams of planners has been meticulously described, catalogued and archived. Thanks to the work of archivists, in charge of documenting the office’s legacy, one can see the true scale of material developed over the years by the representatives of Kraków’s architectural office who looked to the future without any inhibitions. Using waterproof inks, Rapidographs, markers, technical pencils, each and every item has been archived in its proper drawer, stamped with a label denoting timeframe and arranged according to geographic location.
Thanks to this information, we can browse through how the city changed as Kraków was undergoing dynamic transformation, but also investment in the areas of Chrzanów, Maków Podhalański, Jaworzno, Tuchów, Słomniki, Andrychów, Sucha Beskidzka, Proszowice, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, Skawina, Zakopane, Oświęcim, Rabka-Zdrój, Trzebinia, Brzesko, Krzeszowice, Nowy Targ, Wieliczka and Limanowa. The images of successive industrial facilities built at the time rise before our very eyes, together with water and heat installations for housing developments gradually occupied by families, modernization of buildings, communication networks, roads and bridges. The voluminous files even include such rare items as meticulously accurate maps of the Polish Tatra Mountains, photographic documentation of Kraków’s Kazimierz or Podgórze districts of the time, aerial photos of villages surrounding Kraków, in place of which well-known housing developments were established, such as: Piaski Nowe, Kurdwanów, Prokocim, Prądnik Biały and Czerwony, Wzgórza Krzesławickie, Oświecenia, Ruczaj and Bieńczyce.