In their book Day-VII Architecture A Catalogue of Polish Churches post 1945, Kuba Snopek, alongside Izabela Cichonska and Karolina Popera, document 100 churches from the communist era in Poland, unveiling a brand of architecture unlinke anything we’ve seen before.
And there are several reasons for this.
When the Iron Curtain drew a line in the sand across Europe in March of 1946, every facet of life was affected, and one key facet was religion. As a new secular state, taking after the Soviet Union, Catholicism became harder to practice.
Politics had separated Poland from the Vatican, but the majority of Poles remained religious, and it was this struggle that produced some of the most intriguing churches you will cast your eye upon.
It was a local venture, with Catholic communities recieving no government assistance in terms of machinery or materials, and red tape was strewn all over the place to try and prevent these churches being built.
And so, the design, funding and building of them had to be sourced locally, and often on a Sunday, which is how the unique strain of architecture gains it’s moniker; Day-VII Architecture.
You wouldn’t associate vast, sprawling warehouse-looking buildings with the Catholic Church, and certainly not ones with copper roofs! But this church, designed by a man they call the Polish Gaudi, is a prime example of the distinctive builds that sprung up across the country.
Stanisław Niemczyk was the designer and architect, and he truly let his imagination run wild, combining a separated spire tower to the right of the building.
However, arguably the most intriguing element of this building is the inside.
Pictured below, the church looks like a primary school classroom, with colourful imagery decorating the walls, with a skylight at the top of the building.
Kuba Snopek highlights the importance of the decor,
“His work was complemented by the paintings of Jerzy Nowosielski – an artist, whose sacral works were greatly inspired by the aesthetics of orthodox icons. Together, they have created a really unique sacral atmosphere.”
With the backdrop of a series of rising towers and large stadia to the left, this church already feels of a modern era, and the designer certainly thought so too!
With a corkscrew spire twisting up into the sky, the place of worship-come-spaceship was designed by architects Henryk Buszko and Aleksander Franta.
Interestingly, they were also the minds behind the housing estates facing the church, and it’s a very interesting conflict of state-built housing versus Day-VII Architecture. For it was the state who commissioned the large, rising towers and the local parish community who built the church with locally sourced materials.
And the difference is clear to see.
Pictured below is HEKKTA’s favourite of the bunch.
Like something out of Star Trek, the Church of the Divine Mercy is like a rising shrine to God.
Whilst this is a religious monument of sorts, it’s also an amazing example of maths.
The parishioners sought the help of some local mathematicians that used complex calculations and geometry to assist the designers, allowing them to create difficult shapes with the materials they had, as Snopek explains,
“This church wouldn’t have been built, if not for collaboration between the parishioners and a team of mathematicians.
“The geometry of this building is based on hypars (or hyperbolic paraboloids) — shapes, which are complex and difficult to calculate. But once the calculations are done, it’s possible to build hypars using very primitive building techniques.
This is exactly what happened in Kalisz.
Again of a modernist style, the Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace, of the combined architectural brains of Wojciech Jarząbek, Jan Matkowski and Wacław Hryniewicz, is an example of how the communities worked together.
A combination of materials were used, with traditional brickwork topped with copper and other metals. Out of all the churches above, this could be seen as the most traditional, yet not traditional at all!
Snopek explains why this example is a favourite of his,
“I love this example, because its architecture expresses an inter-generational collaboration. At the time, when they designed it, the architects were very young, around 30. On the construction site they met old and experienced masonry masters.
“This inter-generational cooperation resulted in an original Japan-inspired postmodern form (the most cutting-edge style in the early 1980s), complemented with amazing stone- and brick-work (the contribution of the old masters).”
It is apparent, from the architects and constructors alike, that they were keen to strive for more, pushing architecture forward in times of control and oppression of their beliefs.
It is that resilience that shines through in the architecture; design of true creativity and imagination, standing tall as a beacon of hope.
What is so unique about these churches, brilliantly displayed in the book, is that it is a physical and visual manifestation of how society is directly shaped by politics and conflict through time.
These bizarre shapes that form many of these churches came out of being cut off from the heart of the Catholic world, and Snopek does not underestimate the significance this unique strain of architecture has had in our society,