Jerzy Staniszkis. Architect - graphic designer

Jerzy Staniszkis. Architect - graphic designer

28th June - 8th September 2019

Format B2 Gallery

Curator of the exhibition: Izabela Iwanicka


The exhibition Jerzy Staniszkis. Architect - graphic designer presents a selection of works from the Jerzy Staniszkis family archives, including applied and artistic graphics, architectural designs, drawing studies from his work on interior design and exhibition stands, and posters from the Poster Museum’s collection.


Staniszkis was a versatile artist, who developed a characteristic way of solving design problems not only in the field of architecture, but also in those generally regarded as different fields of activity, such as graphics. His holistic approach to commissions was often marked by boldness and vision, but also a sense of responsibility.


He wrote that "every work of art is the result of studies, often protracted ones; they constitute a period of research. Such studies do not of themselves constitute art. Only the final product justifies them". (Jerzy Staniszkis, On teaching and architecture [in:] Jerzy Staniszkis, exhibition catalogue, 23/11 - 05/12 2004, SARP Warsaw, p. 101)


The events of his life directly influenced Jerzy Staniszkis the artist, beginning with the Second World War, when he was incarcerated in German prisoner-of-war camps, among others Oflag II C Woldenberg. While in captivity, together with the architect Jerzy Hryniewiecki, he designed six posters promoting the so-called Olympics behind barbed wire in 1944. There too he worked conceptually on designs for such things as a prison camp community centre and theatre hall. He created decorations to mark special occasions, theatre sets and some exceptionally fine graphics – for example, the woodcuts Progress and Small town. He was also involved in applied graphics, designing the camp’s postage stamps.


The post-war years saw him involved in design activities connected to his work for the Warsaw Reconstruction Office, the Warsaw Urban Planning Office, the Central Office of Industrial Construction Studies and Projects, and the Warsaw City Design Office. At that time, Staniszkis also worked on the design of exhibition stands and graphic design. He made posters for some extremely important exhibitions at the National Museum in Warsaw, such as Warsaw accuses, The Ruins of Warsaw, RAF and 50 years of the French Cinema. He also contributed to the design of exhibitions put on by the National Museum in Warsaw.


Staniszkis was one of the architects that created the Exhibition of Regained Territories in Wroclaw in 1948, along with Jerzy Hryniewiecki, responsible for its overall artistic supervision. It was with Hryniewiecki that he had previously worked in the Woldenberg prison camp, and after the war created competition designs for the Warsaw University District and the Central Railway Station in Warsaw. At that time, Staniszkis also designed a display system called "stick and ball", which became an ideal solution to Poland’s post-war exhibition problems. This system was also used by the architect in his furniture designs.


Staniszkis was also the successful designer of many Polish pavilions for international trade fairs, among others in Leipzig in 1954 and 1955, Brussels in 1958 and Paris in 1952. Often in cooperation with Wacław Zalewski, he designed the Book Pavilion they called the "parasol" for the Poznan International Trade Fair in 1955.


The years 1960-1961 constituted another stage in Staniszkis’ life and work – a period spent in Iraq, where he lectured at Baghdad University’s Faculty of Architecture and served as artistic consultant to the Iraqi General Directorate of Exhibitions. There too, in 1961, together with Aleksander Markiewicz and Kahtan Awni, he won first prize in a competition for the design of AWQAF’s head office building in Baghdad, which probably still exists to this day.


Following a short stay in Lebanon, Jerzy Staniszkis moved to the USA, where he was appointed professor at the University of Detroit’s Faculty of Architecture and remained professionally involved with the university for the next twenty odd years. His role of architect and lecturer was based on several fundamental principles, many of which said much about his approach to architecture in general:

"The role of the architect is to harmoniously coordinate all incidentals making up a design, supported by theory and spatial imagination.

Ready formulas fed to students only reduce their field of vision.

Criticism should be creative – appealing to the imagination, and never, but never destructive.

If we understand architecture as art in the service of society, then every object is important.

When a teacher uses suppositions like axioms, he does his students a disservice.

Modesty is the distinguishing feature of a master; conceit is a feature of mediocrity. (...)

Designers’ ambitions stimulated by greed exceed each other in extravagance, and their direction is untrue.

A teacher who uses cheap effects to make an impression is dangerous. In every design what counts is quality.

Only a very strong personality is able to reject poor teaching habits".

(Jerzy Staniszkis, On teaching and architecture [in:] Jerzy Staniszkis, exhibition catalogue, 23/11 - 05/12 2004, SARP Warsaw, p. 101)


Staniszkis developed a unique way of conducting lectures - unheard of at an American university. In this he took as his frame of reference the didactic tradition of Professor Stanisław Noakowski consisting in drawing discussed topics on the blackboard and solving all architectural issues using a blackboard and chalk. A collection of these photographed drawings were published in book version as Chalk Talks in 1984.


Staniszkis’ activities in the USA were not limited to university work. He was an active architect and also designed applied graphics. Among the conceptual drawings and designs presented at the exhibition – some of which were architectural design studios commissioned in America, particular mention should be made of the Wybranowski family residence in Bloomfield and his own house in Lakeville. Staniszkis also undertook the design of churches, two of which were executed – in Gingelville and Saint Martin’s in Pittsburgh, along with stained-glass windows depicting the fourteen Stations of the Cross on the Road to Calvary.


The architect was also absorbed by large-scale urban planning designs. From the early 1970s, he worked on a concept for Detroit, developing it to provide solutions for closely connecting two cities – American Detroit and Canadian Windsor on opposite banks of the Detroit River.


After returning to Poland in 1993, Staniszkis together with Wacław Zalewski and Wojciech Zabłocki developed the Vistula - bridges and islands concept. Guided by the conviction that the river should unite and not divide, the design, known as Nawiślami, aimed to connect the urban infrastructure on both banks of the Vistula. This convergence was to be achieved by means of pedestrian bridges and a network of community and service centres.


In 1998 - at the age of 85, Staniszkis won a competition for a monument to Poland’s wartime Underground State and the Home Army in Warsaw, which was unveiled the following year.

As Tadeusz Barucki recalled:

"The Americans valued Jerzy Staniszkis not only as a great artist and an architect passing on his vast experience to new generations, but also as a human being. A man deserving a lasting memorial in the place where he had worked".

(Tadeusz Barucki, Jerzy Staniszkis, Architecture 1988, No. 3, 4th page of the dust cover)

In recognition of his contribution to the development of the Architecture Department, and in appreciation of Staniszkis as an artist, the University of Detroit named one of its rooms the Jerzy Staniszkis Exhibition Hall.

The exhibition Jerzy Staniszkis. Architect - graphic designer has been made possible thanks to the kindness of Jerzy Staniszkis’ relatives – his son Jan and daughter Hanna, and the involvement of Joanna Jaszuńska.

Curator of the exhibition: Izabela Iwanicka

Translated by Ryszard J. Bialy

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