The Guide to Polish Design: Retracing 100 Years of History, Design & Culture

By Matthew


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As we get ready to dive into another decade of design achievements, innovations and trends, we wanted to take a look back at one of our favorite design launches of the past year: the groundbreaking Guide to Polish Design. Curated by design historian and critic Krystyna Łuczak-Surówka, and organized by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, it retraces the past one hundred years of Polish design history through a meticulous selection of rare images and videos, many of which can now be seen by an international audience for the first time.

An interactive digital project, the guide is the first of its kind, allowing the online world to experience the very best that the past century of Polish design has to offer. A living archive, the guide features rare and valuable images highlighting more than 100 objects from 90 celebrated Polish designers. It represents a historic initiative for the Adam Mickiewicz Institute as it leverages for the first time an exclusively digital platform to extend its reach to new audiences eager to discover the country’s rich design heritage. Having the power to gain a widespread international audience, this guide provides everyone the opportunity to embrace and interact with the stories, objects and experiences that have shaped Poland.

Girl figurinesBambinovasesR58 chair

(From left to right: Girl Sitting Figurines designed by Henryk Jędrasiak, 1958, produced by Ćmielów Porcelain Factory; Bambino Gramophone designed by Bogdan Ciesielski, Bernard Kowalski, and Jerzy Radwański, 1963, produced by Łodz Radio Factory; CALLA LILY Vases designed by Jan Sylwester Drost, 1970s, produced by Zabkowice Glass Works; RM58 Armchairs designed by Roman Modzelewski, 1958, produced by VZÓR in 2012).

This digital compendium is divided into eight different chapters, each exploring the stories behind the designs, the biographies of their designers, and taking a closer look at selected objects, offering a glance into how past histories have permeated into everyday objects we encounter and use every single day.

Clockschairfroggyflower vases

(From left to right: Z-312 Mantel Clock, 1970s, produced by the Predom Metron Factory in Toruń; Feathers chair by Jan Jurzatkowski, 1936, ŁAD Artist’ Co-Operative, Photo by Michał Korta, National Museum in Warsaw; Żabka (Froggy) Toy, designed by Małgorzata and Wojciech Małolepszy, 1987, produced by Studio MP; A goblet and cup, model no. 1761, designed by Michał Titkow, produced by the J. Stolle Niemen Glassworks Joint Stock Company, 1930s, Photo by Michał Korta).

Every detail and aspect of the guide was carefully and meticulously planned by Krystyna Łuczak-Surówka, the Adam Mickiewicz Institute and Bright Media, an award-winning Polish agency. As readers explore the site they are accompanied by melodic ballads composed by Wojtek Oleksiak, a Polish musician, adding yet another layer of Polish culture and excellence to an already intriguing work of art.


(Zakopane in winter- view from Gubalówka mountain. Photograph: T & S Zwoliński, 1938, courtesy of Tatra Museum in Zakopane).

The beginning of the guide reveals a moment after the first world war in which modern Polish culture and design were starting to take shape. Artists and designers sought inspiration in their new freedoms and shared experiences, transforming Polish visual identity through their crafts. The Zakopane style was one such expression that was born from this movement. Considered to be the winter capital of Poland, Zakopane appears fairytale-esque. It quickly became an escape for artists, writers and musicians from the city, who would travel to Zakopane to get a breath of fresh air, rest and ignite their new capacity for innovation. Created for the “city slickers” who fell in love with a small village-turned-sanctuary, the Zakopane style illuminated Polish culture and kindled a creative spark that would grow over the next century. Just one of many stories illustrated through this digital tour through time, the story of the emergence of the Zakopane style serves as an origin story for everything else that follows, from the runaway success of the RM58 Classic chair by Roman Modzielewski in the 1950s to the head-turning works of Oskar Zieta today.

willa pod willa pod 2

(The Willa pod Jedlami (House under the Firs), photo by SelectStar, First model House entirely designed in the Zakopane Style- inside and out, completed in 1903).

The masterful creation of this guide brings to light aspects of Polish history that are largely undiscovered in the rest of the world. It reveals the power of design as an expression of culture. The designs featured in the Guide to Polish Design have shaped Poland’s past and now its present as they live on through this trailblazing digital tome, an absolute must-scroll.


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