The eye is our primary organ for interpreting the space around us. The discussion about the aesthetics of city space is gaining momentum, which might be the result of activists’ protests against the ubiquitous ads, or publications that fall on fertile soil and surprisingly quickly educate the Polish society. Modernism is a very important part of this discussion. Its uncomfortable heritage is valuable, although we often fail to see it at first glance.

It also applies to the grey and almost identical tower blocks. In many people’s opinion, they emphasised the depressing ugliness of the People’s Republic of Poland. But why do we identify this particular kind of aesthetics with a given political period in Poland? Is the current “colour madness” an effect of that permanent greyness? Have these colours succeeded in changing their image and reception? Will we like our landscape once all the blocks have undergone thermal efficiency improvement and changed their appearance? One of Wrocław urban bloggers wrote: “Ugliness is the new Beauty” – but perhaps this is merely an attempt to rationalize the status quo, perhaps Walter Gropius was right when he said that architecture should be black and white while people should be colourful?

The discussants will include:

– Michał Dębek, PhD, an urbanist and psychologist. He works at the Faculty of Architecture of Wrocław University of Technology and at the Faculty of Psychology of Wrocław University. His unusual education (there are only 600 environmental psychologists in the world) and his curiosity compel him to ceaselessly analyse space, which often brings surprising results. He investigates the mental mechanisms connected with using public spaces, commercial centres and housing developments. He also examined the role of colour in the perception of high-rise housing.

– Krzysztof Ziental, an art historian and art restorer. He specialises in Modernist architecture – he is well known for his involvement in preserving the architectural heritage of Krystyna Barska in its proper form. He is also interested in high-rise housing estates and their variety of forms, which is difficult to recognize at a glance. For the last few months, he has worked as an art restorer in Kalisz.

– Marcin Szczelina, a critic and curator of architecture. He was the assistant of Aaron Betski, Director of the 11th Architecture Biennale in Venice. He is a correspondent for the Domus magazine and columnist for the Sukces monthly. He was among the experts of the 2015 Mies van der Rohe European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture. He is a co-founder of the Architecture Snob collective and founder of Furheart Gallery, an independent space for testing the limits of architecture. He initiated a debate on Modernism, which resonated with the architects’ milieu and beyond.

“The Anatomy of Tower Blocks” is a cycle of five meetings organised by Wrocław Contemporary Museum concerning issues connected with slab block high-rise housing. During the meetings we will think about what Polish high-rise housing estates are like; whether the negative stereotypes associated with them influence the quality of life and experiences connected with living “in the blocks”; whether it is possible to change their social perception. The subsequent meetings will focus on the scale of an entire city, a housing estate, and an individual building. Our focus will shift from aspects pertaining to the society as such toward the interests of individuals who live in these housing estates.

Coordination: Bartek Lis (curator of debates and MWW public programme)