ed. by Aleksandra Kędziorek, Katarzyna Uchowicz, Maja Wirkus, National Institute of Architecture and Urban Planning, 2019, ISBN: 978-83-951542-2-5

‘In my dreams I see piles of letters yet to be answered,’ Helena Syrkus, an architect, complained to Sigfried Giedion, an art historian. The correspondence of architects is published relatively seldom, contrary to the correspondence of writers, artists or public figures. In the case of Helena Syrkus, who would use a typewriter as dexterously as an architectural line, the letters are the best way to discover her fascinating and complex, but also controversial biography.

A publication, which initiates a new series ‘Origins’ by the National Institute of Architecture and Urban Planning, is a selection of letters between Helena Syrkus and her close friends as well as significant figures of an international architectural milieu—Walter and Ise Gropius, connected with Bauhaus; Dutch urban planner Cornelis van Eesteren and his wife Frieda Fluck; Sigfried Giedion, the secretary-general of CIAM— International Congresses of Modern Architecture.

The publication will be a great source of information on the history of architecture for everyone interested in the works of Helena and Szymon Syrkus, one of the most important actors of Polish architectural scene in the interwar period. For others it may be an intriguing picture of a person drawned into the maelstrom of history.

The correspondence reflects the complex political history of Poland and the world, which affected architectural milieu—antisemitism of the 1930s, the tragedy of the Second World War or illusions accompanying the introduction of socialism. ‘In these troublesome times, the best we have is the net of friendships going around this trembling ball,’ as Walter Gropius comforted Helena and Szymon Syrkus in one of his letters.

Helena Syrkus (1900–1982) was an architect, a lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture of the Warsaw University of Technology, a literary translator. In 1926–1930 she co-created an avantgarde group Praesens. She was involved in CIAM from its very beginning, in the 1930s becoming the secretary and since 1947—a vice president. After the war she worked at the Warsaw Reconstruction Office. Together with her husband Szymon Syrkus she designed, among others, the WSM Rakowiec estate and WSM Koło estate in Warsaw. She also wrote ‘Ku idei osiedla społecznego,’ 1925–1975 (Towards the Concept of the Social Housing Estate, 1925–1975).

Read an excerpt.

Awards:

  • 2019 Architecture Award of the President of Warsaw, nomination
  • 2019 Polish Graphic Design Award, special mention
  • 2020 ‘Dobry Wzór’ Award, Institute of Industrial Design, Warsaw, nomination