Futurama Warsaw is an exhibition about the spatial potential of Warsaw and the potential of Warsaw architects. The introduction to the exhibition is a map of the Warsaw land reserves, or “dormant” areas that may in the future serve the implementation of various types of investment plans ranging from transport infrastructure through green and sports areas up to architectural developments.
The curator of the exhibition, architect Jakub Szczęsny, proposed to eight Warsaw architectural studios to interpret the potentials dormant in the Millennium Route. Its originator was Mayor Stefan Starzyński, however the route has never been created.
Today, due to the development of the city, the concept of merging Praga Północ and Praga Południe districts becomes relevant again.
Based on the Zodiac, the astrological tradition of reading the future from the position of celestial bodies dates back to time immemorial and intrigues many to this day. Who has never looked at the horoscope section of a magazine in search of answers to what the future might hold? While neither architecture nor astrology are regarded as scientific disciplines, both draw on science and both disarm the more critical minds with their the desire to enchant the future and enthral anyone hungry for knowledge about what is to come. Astrologers offer recipes for winning a spouse or a fortune, while architects create visions of a better future. For the public, the most recognizable expression of these visions are the computer-generated visualizations of architectural projects, always depicting the happy residents of buildings surrounded by paradise-like gardens situated beneath the gracious and tranquil, eternally blue sky. Among both architects and astrologers, one can encounter people truly dedicated to bringing a better life to others and scheming cynics shamelessly exploiting human naivety.
One such attempt to enchant the future was — to some extent — the Futurama, one of the most important elements of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Created by the American designer Norman Bel Geddes, Futurama — the main part of which was an enormous mechanized model of a future city — showed how America could look twenty years later. The unfulfilled visions of flying cars — later depicted in popular culture, from The Jetsons and Blade Runner to the animated series of the same title — were joined by quite realistic inventions, such as the automated motorways prototyped in the 1960s by General Motors (the exhibition’s sponsor) and, popular since the 1970s, ‘urban malls’, i.e. city zones featuring a complete separation of pedestrian and car traffic. The exhibition has become a breeding ground for radical modernist reformers, including Robert Moses, the ‘master builder’ of New York City, whose missteps (e.g. the Cross-Bronx Expressway, cutting through the neighbourhood) and achievements (e.g. extending the acreage of city parks) still affect the lives of Great Apple’s citizens.
Although at first glance the history of Warsaw does not abound in utopian social ideas or unrealistic technological visions, the Archigrest group’s Time Machine brings us closer to a number of already forgotten, surprising architectural projects. The installation also shows how specific taxonomies of ideas, such as the triumphal arches or the Temple of [Divine] Providence, have come back at different points in Warsaw’s history, often appearing and disappearing for several decades. One could say that Warsaw’s pre- and post-war architects generally did not make attempts at imagining reality on any abstract temporal scale, as in the visions presented during the exhibitions of impossible architecture, Terra 1 and Terra 2 in Wrocław. They had to respond to present-day problems, the time horizon for which were celebrations such as The Six Year Plan or other, often unrealistic deadlines for the delivery of flats, schools, green area pavilions, or department stores for the capital’s Internal Trade Company, of which there was always a shortage. Since the beginning of the 20th century, architects and planners have been confronted with the limiting reality that required pragmatic solutions disallowing any excessive recourse to fantasy. And yet we owe the green aeration corridors, the reconstruction of the Old Town, the no longer existing urban icons, Supersam and the Chemia Pavilion, and the holistically designed housing estates, from Żoliborz to Ursynów, to their vision, ambition and almost superhuman perseverance. Here, it is worth turning to the Time Machine again — many of the unrealised, yet far-reaching plans were ‘enchanted’ in the form of urban records. These include the 200 metres height limit for buildings in parts of the Śródmieście district — introduces by Mayor Stefan Starzyński, and still in force today — or the inclusion in local plans of many roads and routes that have not yet been completed, and which make up the map of land reserves. We bring this subject closer within the framework of our exhibition, a part of which is:
THE MILLENNIUM ROUTE [TRASA TYSIĄCLECIA]
According to Mayor Stefan Starzyński, the Route and Tysiąclecia Street were to be the modern backbone connecting Praga Południe and Praga Północ, parallel to Towarowa Street and the road running along the former Jabłonowska Railway (which today is the Wał Miedzeszyński-Szczecińskie Embankment- Helskie Embankment, sequence of streets that comes to an abrupt end). According to post-war urban planners, they were supposed to provide a collision-free route from the Miedzeszyński Embankment to the today’s Żaba Roundabout by crossing two railway lines, Skaryszewski Park, several large housing estates and the mostly historic buildings of Kamionek. Both the Millennium Route and Tysiąclecia Street appeared in a number of subsequent urban studies and investment plans, including the list of priorities for EURO 2012, but to this day, both of them remain unrealised, although they were included in the next Local Planning documents and in 2018 the City Hall managed to obtain funds for the construction of a tram line running along the Międzynarodowa Street and the allotment gardens that would to connect Gocław with Waszyngtona Avenue. The future shape of the route remains unknown, leaving plenty of room for imagination.
This is why we decided to treat the MILLENNIUM ROUTE/TRASA TYSIĄCLECIA as a pretext to speak about the future, covering not only how our space (landscape, architecture, infrastructure) will look like, but above all how — hypothetically speaking — we will live tomorrow or in a few decades. We have invited eight architect teams, differing in their interests and ways of working, as well as the duration of their practice and often radically dissimilar professional experiences. What they do have in common is an intellectual openness, healthy criticism, good sense of humour and the desire to undertake a risky experiment — namely, a journey into the future. (These are all features, we believe, all creatives including architects should possess.) We gave the teams a complete freedom in defining the scope of their project, the selection of topics, and means of expression. For comments on the Millennium Route we also asked the urban planners: prof. Krzysztof Domaradzki, whose studio has developed the local development plan of the Route and Prof Sławomir Gzell, whose students at the Faculty of Architecture, Warsaw University of Technology have worked on this subject and created a series of films, also presented at the exhibition. Zodiak, Warsaw Architecture Pavilion will also have room for Stół Architekta/The Architect’s Table, designed by Maciej Siuda in collaboration with Michał Jońca, including their personal manifesto about the Route.
We believe that Zodiak will become a space where Warsaw residents, visitors and architects will be able to see interesting, important, and good architecture and as well as all related phenomena. We also hope that Zodiak will become a meeting place for various groups of architects, students, city activists, and representatives of professions that deal with the shaping of urban space. However, it is also important for us to show the meaningful potential of architects and how much they can offer us — not only as professionals and sometimes artists, but ALWAYS as IMPORTANT PARTNERS in shaping the future.