Poland of the 1980s as a Laboratory for Community Architecture

17. 3. - 22. 5. 2017
Press Release for download here.

High resolution pictures for download here.

Architecture of the VII Day at the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art reveals the history of churches built in Poland between the years 1945 and 1989 even despite the Communist state’s antipathy to religion. Using waste and illegally obtained materials, parishioners built over 3700 churches that became not only a manifestation of faith, but also a protest against the government. The exhibition features photographs, diagrams, maps, and short narratives directly from church construction sites.

Since the end of World War II, 3,780 churches were built in Poland, more than in any other European country. Most of them were built during the 1980s, a time when church construction was neither permitted nor prohibited, and thus played a significant role in the politics of the Cold War.

In post-war Poland, millions of conservative, devout people from small towns moved to industrial cities newly built according to the Soviet functionalist template. But this template had no room for a parish church – a building where these newly industrialized communities could meet and consolidate themselves. Parish communities in Poland thus began to fill the spiritual emptiness of Communist ideology by building their own places of worship.

The authors of the Architecture of the VII Day project – Iza Cichońska, Karolina Popera a Kuba Snopek – are attempting to document these Polish churches and the circumstances in which they were built in a coherent manner. Not only do these structures defy the prefabrication and regularity characteristic of Eastern Bloc architecture of that time, but they are also the result of community efforts based on local financing investment long before these approaches became trends in twenty-first century architecture.

During the 1980s Poland thus involuntarily became the largest laboratory in the world of “bottom-up architecture”. The role of architects was transformed – modernistic technocrats serving the government became construction managers with limited resources and individual talent. The most talented architects and tradesmen participated in church construction, working side by side with their clients from the parish.

Instead of using factory-made prefab sections, churches were built slowly; parishioners met on Saturdays, devoted their free time to the project, and made small donations. During its construction, such a church grew commingled with the history of the local community and became a local legend,” explains Kuba Snopek.

Churches were often built only with shovels, pails, and small mixers, because large machinery belonged to the state, and weren’t loaned out for their construction,” adds Iza Cichońska. The construction of larger structures therefore required ideas and the cooperation of sometimes even hundreds of people, whose work was often coordinated by people from mountain areas.

After John Paul II, a Pole, was elected Pope in 1978 and after the creation of the Solidarity movement in 1980, church construction became not only an expression of religious faith, but also an expression of resistance to the Communist regime. Especially the Solidarity movement elicited a wave of new church construction. The regime ignored these new construction projects in the hope that this would help it stay in power. The fantastic architectural designs of churches stood in sharp contrast to the centralized state’s rigid urbanism, and are a testament to the creative force of those who built them.

Curators: Iza Cichońska, Karolina Popera and Kuba Snopek

The exhibition has been organized with the cooperation of the Polish Institute in Prague.


6 April 2017 | 7:30 p.m.
A lecture by architects Érica Lapierre (FR) and Kuba Snopek (PL) / Architecture of the VII Day; in English; the event will take place at Kino35 (Institut français de Prague)

8 April | 5:00 p.m.
A guided tour of the exhibition with curator Karolina Popera, in English, free with admission, reservation required at rezervace@dox.cz