by Janina Krzysiak
Editor of Wroclaw In Your Pocket
Singlehandedly responsible for some of post-communist Poland’s most iconic architectural atrocities, Wojciech Jarząbek helped shape the face of modern Wrocław in ways that still ignite amusement or open disdain. His most famous, and arguably most controversial, creation remains the Solpol I department store, nestled between the Church of Sts. Dorothy, Wenceslaus, and Stanislaus and a 19th-century town house in the heart of Wrocław. Dubbed ‘a scaled-up 1990s ice-cream parlour’ by architect Aleksandra Wasilkowska, the building is an adventure in wonky shapes and flamboyant colour, designed during a single, intensive 120h period in 1992.
As large-scale shopping centres with hip Western chain stores and extensive parking lots began popping up in Wrocław in the beginning of the 21st century, Solpol I and similar department stores fell out of favor, gradually losing retailers until almost none remained. Since roughly 2009 announcements have been made periodically that the building is to be demolished by the owner and replaced with a more profitable (and presumably more ‘dignified’) structure, but luckily for its smattering of fans Solpol I continues to stand, albeit completely empty. Ideas to turn it into an Orange Alternative Museum or an information centre for the city’s 2016 stint as European Capital of Culture never left the drawing board; but a small yet dedicated group of activists have been attempting to get this oddball structure onto the Polish register of objects of cultural heritage. The justification is that Solpol I remains a testament to the transitional period of 1990s Poland, an apt reflection of a time when disco polo reigned king while colour and consumerist goods of all kinds finally burst into the gray post-communist cityscapes – good taste foregone in pursuit of novelty.
In a sense, Wojciech Jarząbek was the right man for these times. Born in 1946 (or maybe 1950, depending on whom you ask), Jarząbek reluctantly agreed to study architecture at his father’s request, despite considering himself to be better suited for fine arts: painting and sculpture. While studying at the Wrocław Technical University he developed a clear preference to what he called ‘technological baroque’ over contemporary minimalism and simplicity; his no. 1 inspiration became Paul Rudolph, an American architect known for complex, geometric concrete structures. After graduating, he worked alternately in the People’s Republic of Poland and in Kuwait, where he designed the Al Othman Center; in 1990 he returned to Poland for good to immerse himself fully in what is widely considered to be typical postmodernism – though Jarząbek himself prefers the terms expressionism and deconstruction.
Below we present a selection of his works.
Solpol Department Store
ul. Świdnicka 21-23
Church of St. Mary, Queen of Peace
ul. Ojców Oblatów 1
Corner of ul. Zielińskiego and ul. Swobodna
Wrozamet office building
ul. Żmigrodzka 143
ul. Strzegomska 42C/42B
wybrzeże Wyspiańskiego 36