Open Form

On the Theory of the Open Form

Open Form is a concept that Zofia and Oskar Hansen have placed at the heart of their architectural, artistic and didactic work. According to this theory, architecture is the framework for life, and it works only when people actually use it. Architectural substance is the background for social relations, rather that the designer’s goal and an end in itself. The Hansens’ built projects were ahead of their time, in terms of thinking about participatory design, accessible housing, and public spaces. Their architecture was intended to provide a framework for everyday rituals and practices of its inhabitants. The synergy of circumstances, such as the accomplishments of architects centred round CIAM and Team X, the development of prefabrication technologies, and the pressure from the authorities of the People’s Republic of Poland, who were set upon rapid expansion of residential districts, became catalysts, enabling these architects—humanists to realise their vision. Mindful of the lack of individualized approach to public housing in the People’s Republic on Poland, they sought a form that would allow residents to become part of the process of creating the space around them.

The expression of the Open Form is found in three different projects that will be visited by participants of this year’s summer school: osiedle Słowackiego (housing estate) in Lublin, osiedle Przyczółek Grochowski (housing estate) in Warsaw, and the architects’ home in Szumin. For ten days, these three locations will become a laboratory of experience and reflection.

Housing heritage of modernity

Osiedle Słowackiego, belonging to the cooperative of Lubelska Spółdzielnia Mieszkaniowa, has long been an object of international interest, by virtue of its urban planning and architecture designed in the “human scale”. Determined to meet everyday needs of the community, the Hansens placed the inhabitant at the centre of their architecture, and they paid attention to proper infrastructure and greenery. Today’s users of these apartments, however, often feel that they are living in a neglected and degraded place. They point to the discrepancies between the concept and the implementation, as well as problems related to the aging of the development. A similar situation is found in the case of the second housing estate designed by the Hansens – the Przyczółek Grochowski in Warsaw. Impermanent materials, poor technical condition, and the failure of the social inclusion project conspired to build this negative image. Owing to the self-organization of residents, the condition of the estate is currently improving. Nonetheless, new challenges continue to arise, including the gated communities built in the immediate neighbourhood, which are changing the urban and social context of the housing estate.

A window to political transformation in the region

In the area managed by the housing cooperatives of Lubelska Spółdzielnia Mieszkaniowa and Spółdzielnia Przyczółek Grochowski, like in many Central European countries during the political transformation, free-market reality changed the way housing estates function, in particularly affecting their social, as well as retail and service infrastructure. Everyday habits of the residents changed, and along with that, so did the way public spaces work. For the first time since the establishment of such large-scale housing estates, they saw a generational change among the residents. The new tenants have neither the sense of being rooted in this reality, nor the experience of sharing responsibility for shaping the space of their housing estate. At the same time, housing estates erected during the People’s Republic of Poland remain an attractive alternative to the latest accommodations on offer from real estate developers. Their important advantages include affordability, ergonomic floor plans, and an abundance of greenery and open areas.