• July 12, 2014
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Modernism and Socialist realism in Vilnius

Our tourist wandering around the streets of Vilnius are looking for the trace of Polish beings in the Old City. And they are right. Because in the Old City is the biggest amount of them. However, we, unfortunately, rarely remember that near modern Gediminas Avenue – the street which during last century often was changing the name – from ŚwiętojerskaStreet through Mickiewicz Street to Lenin Avenue – are located unusually interesting buildings, built during twenty years interwar. And what is interesting they are still functioning now almost as earlier.

While shopping in Zara on the Vilniaus Street we enter an impressive department store, which does not remind those post-war Social realistic buildings. Really. Because this is the famous Jabłkowski Brothers Department Store which has his popular twin- building arisen in 1913-1914. Today it is considered to be the leading, outstanding example of modernism. It was designed by Karol Jankowski and Franciszek Lilpop, giants of architecture.

Department store in Vilnius was built a bit later or earlier however its history reaches 1914, when a famous Vilnius family Zawadzki decided that in the city centre should be built a modern shopping centre. Such as where appearing in all big European cities at that time. The project was made on the initiative of Kazimierz Krzyżanowski and finished after World War I according to the project of Jankowski and Lilpop.

Both Vilnius and Warsaw projects have some things in common. Big windows, spacious hall, rounded walls and color scheme- these distinguishes the style of Jankowski and Lilpop.

The Vilnius house was basically revamped only once, in 1965, when the second stairway was built inside and window was moved closer to stairs. After 1991 the building inside was only freshened, windows were changed.

The Jabłkowski Brothers Department Store is only one example of Polish pre-war modernism. Because really close, on the same street you can find the house of old Polish Bank in front of which before 1939 had to be located the monument of Mickiewicz. As we know – it is not. But the building was built. And built so soundly that it is used even today. The same story actually is with old post office, which was designed by Z. Puget and decorations inside were made by Lubomir ślendziński.

People who are really keen on modernistic architecture we can recommend also the building of Public Insurance Agency built in 1938 and also the old office of Association of Trade and Crafts, 1932. All these interesting buildings are located, for sure, on the Gediminas Avenue.

And stories connected with them can be found in a book ‘Vilnius 1900-2013. Guide to City Architecture’.

This book was published by Vilnius architects and historians of art. Despite Polish examples which I have written about earlier authors are describing different twentieth-century styles and architectonical fashions. It reveals that even Vilnius Socialist realism was not so awful. And in spite of the fact that today almost nobody would like to live in subdivision of Lazdynai now,  in 60th when it was built from the bottom up it is truly ‘city out of the city’, the solution suggested  by Lithuanian architects belonged to the most progressive and functional. Unfortunately they did not outlive the test of time and now housing is in decline.

The building of Vilnius airport is really interesting as well. It arisen in 1954 and was rebuilt lots of times, in 2007 became a downright interesting hybrid of tree architectonical trends – Socialist realism, neoclassicism and postmodernism.

Translated by Diana Donichenko within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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