Road Network

The development of the motorway network in Poland should be considered as more oriented towards the transit of goods between the East and the West than towards ensuring connectivity between the country’s regions. The expanding network — in addition to cutting apart natural ecosystems, interference with the landscape (sound-absorbing screens) — through rarely and incorrectly located junctions and some of the highest charges in Europe creates a ‘tunnel effect’, which is why public transport and individual transport is forced to use the local network of connections.

Road near Krzanowice, Śląskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2013. Photo: Paweł Starzec.

Housing Construction special Purpose Act (Lex developer)

The Act that passed in August 2018 was an element of the government’s strategy to address the shortage and associated high housing prices. It facilitates development investments also in rural areas, allowing for housing developments (minimum investment size is 25 flats or 10 houses) in areas designated in local development plans for other purposes and allowing for changes in permissible development parameters. As a result, it causes the deepening of spatial chaos and the creation of settlements away from technical and social infrastructure and moreover, without taking into account the soil classes, it deprives the village of fertile land.

Construction site near Racibórz, Śląskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2017. Photo: Paweł Starzec.

Energy Landscape

The territory of the countryside is an important power producer from the point of view of the entire country. State investments in the energy sector after 1945 resulted in the degradation of cultivated land and water resources in the areas of opencast mines and irreversible changes in the natural and cultural landscape (removal of entire villages). The transition to renewable energy sources also puts the greatest burden on the countryside (construction of wind farms that interfere with the landscape or photovoltaic farms that consume land). At the same time, due to lower density and individualised households, rural areas have the greatest potential for achieving self-sufficiency through the decentralised renewable energy sources, which may allow them to sell their surpluses to cities.

Open cast mine ‘Bełchatów’ in the Łódź Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Michał Sierakowski.

Forrest Carbon Farms

One of the tools in Poland’s energy transformation proposed by the government is to be Forest Carbon Farms, which according to plans should offset a million tonnes of CO2 over 30 years. The programme includes, among others, reforestation and planting high-absorbing tree species. A questionable element of the programme is its scope of area (12 000 ha) and its negligible impact in the context of the entire country.

The entry "Forest Carbon Farms" was corrected by courtesy of Krzysztof Cibor
of Greenpeace Poland.

Forest in Bolesławiec municipality, Poland, 2020. Photo: Wojciech Mazan.

Non-agricultural production

Industrialisation, initiated in the 19th century, also transformed the territory of the countryside and its resources became an important source of capitalist and socialist economy (manpower for factories, natural resources above and below ground, land for factory construction). Today, the neoliberal principles of planning and economics make it possible to create production and shipping halls, especially in villages close to cities and traffic junctions, to some extent subordinating these areas to large corporations without any tangible social benefits (for example, through tax exemptions in special economic zones).

Logistics centre hall surrounded by fields in the Opolskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Michał Sierakowski.

Agricultural Production

The mass parcelling of land, initiated by the Agricultural Reform of 1925 and continued under new political conditions after 1944 (until the process of collectivisation had started), was adopted with resistance. It was claimed that the fragmentation of large assets would reduce agricultural production on a national scale and that small fields would be inefficient in producing food for cities. However, small farms with extensive production, intended mainly for the market of local communities, have a great potential to produce goods in an ecological way (white functions of agriculture), of better quality, and their income remains in the region (according to the Constitution, the basis of the agricultural system in Poland is the family farm).

Farmland, Opolskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2016. Photo: Paweł Starzec.

Spatial Dominants

Traditional, sacred dominants of the countryside in Poland, such as the towers of churches or monasteries, were weakened after World War II by secular silhouettes of grain silos (erected at the State Farms or much larger, free-standing ones). This is also reflected in the urban structure of the village — new buildings shifted the centre of gravity of the village, where previously the church had been mostly central. This might be a deliberate effect of the state policy towards the Church, which was in open conflict with the communist party since it took power. Therefore, the processes of collectivisation and nationalisation of agriculture can also be read through the prism of cultural change to secularise the ‘traditionally conservative’ countryside.

Church in Gliniana Górka in Opolskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Michał Sierakowski.

Orchard

Despite a relatively small share of orchard cultivation in agricultural areas (about 1.4%), the Polish countryside is in third place in the European Union in terms of their size — it has 167,000 hectares of orchards (compared to 1.295 million total area). The small increase of the area accompanies progressive concentration of crops (mainly along the middle course of the Vistula River). This is a result of easier access to distribution networks and technologies, while the lack of promotion of direct sales contributes to the disappearance of industrial fruit farming in other regions of Poland. On the other hand, household orchards (for own use) are inextricably linked to settlement in rural areas. Traditionally situated between the yard and the field, they also benefit the local fauna (shelter and breeding places for animals, food for pollinators).

Producers organization ‘Józefów Sad’ was formed in 2008 by eight orchardmans, today it connects 140 farms with 1100 hectares of orchard surface. Józefów nad Wisłą, Lublin Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Wiktoria Wojciechowska

Letterboxes

The scattering of rural settlements (hamlets, colonies, detached farms), related to the proximity of farmland — which ensures more efficient running of the homestead — also has another side. Distance from administrative centres, such as the municipality offices, results in difficulty in accessing services, both public (children’s travel to school collective letterboxes) and private (shops) — as compared to a village with a compact layout. The lack of investment in infrastructure and the associated migrations make small villages even smaller (the systematic increase in the number of rural municipalities with the lowest population density) and close to disappearing.

Letterboxes in Sokołowsko, Lower Silesian Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Wiktoria Wojciechowska

Dance Club

Nightlife in the countryside is scattered — the low density of buildings results in the lack of strictly entertainment centres; clubs form a constellation stretched between municipalities. Private dance clubs, often located in repurposed facilities of the shuttered State Agricultural Farms, offer group transport that makes it possible to safely reach them from different parts of the district. The development of the clubs and bars has resulted in an increased interest in them also in large urban centres — thus they have become one of the branches of agrotourism as a destination for city residents.

Dance club in Izdebnik, Lesser Poland Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Patrycja Wojtas.

Land Divisions

A balk is a strip or ridge of land left unploughed between two fields. It is a substantial element of property rights division in the vast landscape. At the same time, this no-man’s land is the most biologically diverse part of monocultural farm fields. During the collectivisation period (1948–1956) balks were protected by local farmers, serving as a tool of resistance towards the violent process of merging fields. Nowadays, with geographical surveys and GPS systems, we face a need to redefine the balk’s function and existence. One can either extend agricultural production by removing balks or preserve it as a ‘living monument‘, one of the last traces of ‘common land’ in rural areas.

Agricultural landscape near Paczków, Poland, 2019. Photo: Maciej Mazan.

Education

Schools in villages existed already before 1945, but it was only the actions of the government of the Polish People’s Republic that diametrically eliminated illiteracy among the rural population. New facilities were established in many small towns, making education available and universal throughout the country. The school building programme (propaganda related to the celebration of the millennium of Polish statehood) can be considered a success in building a free education system in the countryside in Poland. The marketisation of public services after 1989 resulted in the closure of many schools in small settlements (which were often the only elements of public administration), which deepened the feeling of isolation and being forgotten by the government administration in the countryside.

School in Henryków, Opolskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Wojciech Mazan.

Rural Sports Club

Rural Sport Clubs were established as the result of the campaign to bring sports to the countryside undertaken by the Management Board of the Rural Self-Help Cooperative in 1946. Apart from physical activation of young people, they performed a propaganda function, which was also an element of the political fight against the Church. LZS clubs played an important role in the landscape of the countryside — by 1978, more than 17,000 units had been officially established, becoming a platform for social integration of rural areas (as part of the A Pitch in Every Village programme in the 1960s, about 2,000 football pitches, 3,200 courts for volleyball and other sports, as well as 960 swimming pools were created).

Old football field in Dysa, Lubelskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Wiktoria Wojciechowska.

Internal Colonization

The aftermath of World War I left the borders of many states around Europe in a precarious condition. Thus, the countryside became an arena of internal colonisation, a process devised to subjugate the territory and establish the state’s dominance. The strategy directed towards newly incorporated provinces operated through establishment of new farms or worker settlements.

In the Second Polish Republic, as a result of the 1919 reform, internal colonisation led by J. Poniatowski introduced a new type of dwelling, the so-called ‘poniatowka’. Its simplicity and usage of precast wooden elements cut construction costs, and thus made the expansion process faster and more efficient.

In the Weimar Republic, between 1919 and 1925, the ‘Schlesisches Heim' company under directorship of Ernst May introduced elements of standardisation and unification to the design of new dwelling units. This allowed the inclusion of settlers in the construction process. Following ideas around ‘Kleinwohnung’ and transforming existing typologies, the plan was used in the most efficient way: by eliminating circulation and creating rooms that could facilitate many functions.

Regardless of the state, these settlements shared common characteristics. They tended to mimic the traditional aesthetic of the architectural form of a given area, despite the industrialisation of the construction process.

Poniatówka in Trzebień, Kujawsko-Pomorskie voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Wojciech Mazan.

Monoculture

Although the results of studies show the negative effects of the long-term cultivation of one plant species in the same area, and the European Union subsidy system promotes sustainable agriculture, monocultures are pushing out diversified cultivation. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), ¾ of species were excluded from agricultural production in the last century. The situation is aggravated by directives on co-incineration (pellet additives for burning coal) and biofuels, which increase economic incentives for the expansion of monoculture areas. Rural areas around the world are under threat because market mechanisms prefer expansive production (as opposed to traditional forms of cultivation), which is gradually transforming natural ecosystems. Biodiversity therefore not only determines the existence of the countryside as such, but the survival of all species depends on it.

Harvest time in Niemcza, Lower Silesian Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Wiktoria Wojciechowska.

Dissolution

As a result of the processes of intensive new building development since 1945, changes after 1989, and political projects aimed at weakening traditional rural models (collectivisation and nationalisation), original spatial arrangements were partially or completely blurred. Attempts at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries to develop a pattern language (referring to vernacular forms) for the Polish countryside were abandoned after World War II, and the contemporary liberal building policy promotes construction freedom leading to the fragmentation of spatial and social ties within the settlement.

Animal Husbandry

Industrial breeding of animals, especially pigs, poultry and fur animals, is a nuisance to the immediate vicinity due to the problem of odour. Zoning regulations specifying minimum distances of farms from settlements are an element of the so-called Odour Act, prepared by the Ministry of the Environment. According to the agricultural sector, such provisions are contrary to the government’s declared desire to rebuild the pig breeding sector. Additional controversies are caused by the exclusion from the draft bill of landfills, cement factories and construction material manufacturing plants, which are also sources of odour. The problem also touches on ethical issues and consumer responsibility, as shown by the debates surround the so-called Fur Act (which prohibits, among others, the breeding of fur animals and ritual slaughter).

Cow husbandry in Tymowa, Małopolskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Patrycja Wojtas.

State Agricultural Farm (PGR)

State farms became a political project implemented in order to subordinate the countryside to the new economic and political conditions in the Polish People’s Republic. Prefabrication and typification of construction (by developing repetitive designs and methods of their implementation) allowed for quick implementation of the plans, which resulted in unified construction throughout Poland. This process was part of a broader project of social and spatial homogenisation after World War II. PGRs emphasised their distinctiveness through their planning (independence from the road as the core of the settlement), functional (separation of production, housing — reproduction and administration) and social layout (new type of employment in agriculture — full-time work, insurance for farmers, access to health care and organisation of cultural life).

Residential unit of the former State Agricultural Farm today. Meszno, the Opolskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2019. Photo: Wojciech Mazan.

Radio Televison Towers

An analysis of maps of the range of individual radio and television stations lets us see the phenomenon of media exclusion of the inhabitants of the Polish countryside, which consists in limited access to public and commercial stations. The dispersion of inhabitants outside of cities (approximately 40% of the country’s total population) means that they have access only to the main media, and sometimes only to public broadcasters. This negatively influences the media pluralism of the rural territory, which becomes the addressee of the propaganda message coming from one source.

View towards Przerzeczyn-Zdrój, Lower Silesian Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Wiktoria Wojciechowska.

Individual Transport

Since the 1990s, the car has been an inseparable attribute of the middle class, and thus the garage has become an integral part of the modern house in the countryside (sometimes occupying almost half of the building area). Its clear, often emphasised form, dominates the ground floor plan and may serve as the main entrance. The position of the garage in relation to the gate determines the location of the building on the plot, subordinating the comfort of the residents to the functionality of the car, which has thus almost acquired the status of a family member, and since it is entitled to the largest room, one can risk saying that the most important one.

Local Business

All types of non-agricultural business are conducted in rural areas (out of the 3 million businesses registered in Poland, approximately 700,000 have their registered offices in rural municipalities). Thanks to the entrepreneurship and creativity of rural residents, we can find all kinds of businesses there — from modernised craft workshops to the broadly defined IT sector. Today, in the era of global access to the Internet and unlimited shipping possibilities, enterprises located in rural areas can gain a global reach, while at the same time, they contribute to activating the region — by modernising the infrastructure, supporting cultural undertakings and creating jobs outside of agriculture.

Company from Przerzeczyn–Zdrój, which offers a broad variety of gravestones, Dolnośląskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Wiktoria Wojciechowska.

Petrol Station

Petrol stations, essential for the functioning of car transport, serve additional functions in rural areas. Open until late at night, they offer hot food and drinks, a parking space and shelter in case of inclement weather, which often makes them a meeting place for young people. Usually located in undeveloped areas between villages, they give visitors the illusion of anonymity.

Petrol Station in Uście Solne, Lesser Poland Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Patrycja Wojtas.

Landfilling

Ineffective state policy in the field of recycling and utilisation of municipal waste means that the main method of its utilisation is landfilling (over 80%), and thus rural areas have become the depository (although the average rural resident produces 40% less waste compared to the urban). Despite the statistical decline of landfill sites, the problem is becoming more and more serious — increased consumption and rising waste charges result in illegal landfills which are often deliberately set on fire, polluting larger territories. However, small rural communities have the potential to create closed circuits in which waste is continuously recycled.

Landfill in Białężyn, Wielkopolskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Wojciech Mazan.

Window

The window and the fence of a home in the countryside are linked. Originally, the small windows, intended to ensure minimal contact of the interior with the exterior (less heat loss in winter), gave a sense of intimacy and security in the living quarters. Modern horizontal terrace windows blur the border between the living room and the garden, putting the life of the residents on display. This forced the evolution of the fence, which transformed from a small fence to walls that sometimes evoke associations with prisons. Protecting their privacy, the owners create isolated enclaves within the village and increase social distance.

Bronisława in the summer kitchen. Komarów-Osada, Lubelskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Wiktoria Wojciechowska.

Enclosure

Fencing of the land appeared after humanity’s transition from a nomadic to a sedentary lifestyle — along with the concept of ownership and the need to mark their territory. Contemporary fortification of new settlements, excluding road and social infrastructure (e.g. playgrounds) from shared use, causes the disintegration of traditional habitat and isolation of the incoming population. Moreover, negating the need for investment in common spaces results in the disappearance of ties between neighbouring rural communities and local entrepreneurship.

Fenced house in Bukówka, Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Michał Sierakowski.

Bench

A bench set up by a fence, on the public side, serves as a place of socialisation for residents of the village. It becomes a place for exchanging ideas and clashes of views on modernisation processes. Spatial transformations in the countryside between 1989 and 2020 are perceived ambiguously by the inhabitants of these areas. The dynamics of change, much weaker than in cities, is at the root of the belief that the countryside does not benefit from economic development. The centralisation of the economic life of the country and the marginalisation of the public service sector lead to a feeling of exclusion and a polarisation of opinions on the issue of modernisation among people living in rural areas. However, modernisation also concerns the benches themselves. Their gradual disappearance, resulting from the reconstruction of pavements and fences, may be interpreted as a symbol of the decay of neighbourly relations and the social disintegration of rural areas.

Bench in front of the house in Brzuza, Mazovian Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Patrycja Wojtas.

Roof

The pitched roof is of great cultural importance in the construction of houses; it became an element of the ‘conservative revolution’, which appeared as a response to global modernism in Polish architecture at the end of the 20th century. After a period of standardisation and reduction of housing forms, which materialized in ‘box’ houses, an aesthetic thaw came along with the political one. It was then that the first sets of typical slanting roof projects were published, following popular demand. This type of a roof refers to the archetype of the house, present in the Polish territory in the form of the ‘Polish manor house’, which serves as reference for rural cottages from the early 20th century.

Variety of roofs in Wola Zagojska Dolna in the Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Michał Sierakowski.

Social Infrastructure

A characteristic feature of many social amenities in the countryside is their multifunctionality. It manifests itself in a transgressive programmatic nature of the building, where the original service function is accompanied by cultural, social and sporting components. In this way, Voluntary Fire Brigade units (Polish, Ochotnicza Straż Pożarna, OSP), apart from rescue services and representation of the village at local celebrations, activate the residents by sports activities, local events such as dances and festivals, not to mention that it is possible to rent the building for a wedding party. Similarly, in the case of Municipal Cooperatives (Polish, Gminna Spółdzielnia “Samopomoc Chłopska”, GS), which were established after World War II to serve trade, they were involved in running shops and restaurants, as well as organising community centres and running People’s Sports Complexes (Polish, Ludowy Zespół Sportowy, LZS).

Voluntary Fire Brigade unit in Wróblin in the Opole Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Michał Sierakowski.

Rural Womens' Clubs

Created in the 1860s as a form of grassroots social self-organisation, the Rural Housewives’ Clubs paradoxically flourished in the times of centralised communist power in the Polish People’s Republic (more than 35,000 Clubs in the 1980s. They were a carrier of progress, emancipation and assistance for families in the countryside (organisation of nursery schools, distribution of hard to obtain goods). Today, the Clubs’ drawing on tradition is twofold: on the one hand, they maintain the same idea of an organisation that brings together women, and on the other, they take up activities to reconstruct (or create) customs characteristic of the countryside (rituals, regional costumes, cuisine).

Table with traditional dishes, urban-rural municipality of Lublin, Lublin Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Wiktoria Wojciechowska.

Public Space

The formation of common space in the countryside is connected with the history of the settlement. A compact arrangement of buildings surrounded an area (road, square) that, on the one hand, fulfilled a transit (access to homesteads) and economic (shelter for cattle) function, and on the other hand, set a place of contacts and social events. The public function was often emphasised by the church building located in the centre of the village or benches placed along homestead fences, as well as trees and flower gardens. The process of disappearance of the public space, observed especially in linear settlements, is connected with the dissolution of the village layout. As a result, there is no clearly defined centre of the settlement that would focus service and administrative functions, as well as make it possible for the residents to socialise.

The center of Szumin village, Mazovian Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Patrycja Wojtas.

Ecological Corridors

Ecological corridors create a complex network of natural infrastructure, essential for the survival of wild animals (the way technical infrastructure is for modern humanity). They connect separated islands of protected areas of rural territory, enabling movement and species exchange between them. Understanding the nature of the corridors allows us to prioritise when they conflict with human infrastructure, as well as leads to the elimination of ecological barriers, which is evidence of the maturity of a democratic society.

Wildlife crossing over highway in Jasień, Lubusz Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Patrycja Wojtas.

Ponds

Anthropopressure and climate change are a major threat to hydrographic conditions in Poland, where water resources are among the smallest in Europe. The Polish countryside, which is undergoing urbanisation and modernisation processes and infrastructure development is nearly devoid of small retention consisting of preventing the outflow of rainwater and its slow drainage. Implementation of programmes to support the construction of retention reservoirs should be made a priority in countering increasing droughts, which affect over 80% of municipalities and cause large losses in the production of food, as well as the disappearance of water ecosystems (drying up of lakes, swamps and peat bogs).

Water hole in a private garden, Rudy-Rysie, Lesser Poland Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Patrycja Wojtas.

Houses up to 35 m²

Amendments in construction law (Article 29) introduced in June 2015 provided an exemption from the obligation to have a construction permit for, among others, free-standing, individual recreation buildings, understood as structures only for leisure, with a development area of up to 35 m2. In other words, the construction of a house of up to 35 m2 does not require the involvement of an architect, builder, installer or electrician. Thus, the investor becomes the designer, taking decisions of the form of the building, materials and location. Buildings of this type are most often constructed in areas far from other buildings, which is intended to provide their uses with the desired peace of mind and, as a result, contributed to the progressing fragmentation of rural settlements. This phenomenon applies to two groups of users: those who treat the 35-metre house as a place of rest and those who live there year-round. While in the case of the former group these are investments with a larger budget, in the case of the latter group, the majority are projects with limited funding.

Small house in Borucza, Mazowieckie Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Patrycja Wojtas.

Forest

Due to nationalisation (1944), most of the forest areas in Poland (around 80%) remain under state control. They are considered a common good under the management of the State Forests. However, access to goods is limited — the monopoly and concessions apply to logging and hunting wild animals, while forest products (fruits, mushrooms, etc.) are not licensed. The state plays the role of a mechanism to prevent disturbance of biological reproduction of forest land, just as commoners did on the common pasture.

Forest near Kleszczów in Łódzkie Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Michał Sierakowski.

Farmstead

The functional layout of rural homesteads is based on traditional patterns (the authors of studies modernising the Polish countryside at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries referred to the layout of manor farms); however, the roots of such a pattern can be found in the models of monasteries, where the central courtyard served a production function (cultivation of herbs), while gardens and fields were located around. In the case of the Polish homestead, the buildings do not form a compact structure, but only flank an extended rectangle of the yard, through which we have access to particular functions — house, cowshed, barn. The combination of the place of residence and work in one functional group results, to some extent, from the nature of individual agriculture, where there is no strict distinction between the time of work and rest (as was the case in the State Agricultural Farms, where hired labour introduced shifts and normative working time).

Farmstead in Krzyżanowice Dolne, Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Michał Sierakowski.

Stork Nest

A stork nest, inhabited seasonally, is a sign of changes in seasons and rhythms in nature. In the past, a nest — located on the roof or a post — was considered to bring happiness and prosperity; the household took care of it so that it would be inhabited every year. Today, it is often perceived as a problem and an additional obligation, which makes the renovation and relocation of nests the responsibility of the municipality.

Stork nest on the top of a utility pole in Łęki, Lesser Poland Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Patrycja Wojtas.

Countryside Borders

The lack of a uniform method of determining the proportion of rural areas in a country’s area results in, among others, differences in the interpretation of data concerning European Union countries. The population density criterion used by Statistics Poland (GUS), as well as OECD and EUROSTAT, seems inadequate — it does not take into account the nature of development, functional and social links, or the structure of employment, which affect the perception of an area as ‘rural’ or ‘urban’. Additionally, the dichotomous city–countryside classification leads to everything that is not a city being considered as countryside, overlooking the cultural and natural diversity of the territory, and setting rigid boundaries where they are in fact blurred and nuanced.

View from the so-called „Stasin Everest” towards Lublin. Stasin, Lublin Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Wiktoria Wojciechowska.

Shrines

In rural religiousness, the belief in revelations and magical elements related to the environment plays an important role. It was the motivation for the construction of small sacral forms — shrines — at crossroads or in places of events important for the local community. Their architectural expression resulted directly from the sense of aesthetics of the builder — most often a resident of the village — and local conditions. Thus, the shrines became carriers of folk craftsmanship or a record of naive art.

St. Adalbert and St. Elisabeth shrine in Borzęcin, Małopolskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Patrycja Wojtas.

Estate

The history of the Polish countryside can be seen as a history of internal colonisation of the population, including — as in the case of overseas colonies — economic oppression, labour exploitation, serfdom and even slavery. On Polish lands, the post-feudal system developed large-area farms owned by the nobility, which compensated for their losses (incurred due to speculative values of selling crops to western markets), worsening the situation of peasants working there (for example, the law prohibiting them from leaving the village without the owner’s consent de facto legalised slavery). Thanks to the almost free labour force, the manors became the basis for the economic strength of the upper classes of society. Their existence was ended by the Agricultural Law of 1945, which nationalised and partially parcelled out all the estates.

Estate in Objezierze (former production facilities with the water tower), Wielkopolskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Wojciech Mazan.

Land for sale

The commodification of land in the transition to a free market economy increased its value and turned it into an instrument of financial speculation. The liquidation of the State Agricultural Farms in 1991–1993 began the process of privatising public property (referred to as ‘the return of assets illegally nationalised after World War II to religious organisations and former landowners’). However, the large amount of land still remains under the management of the state agency (2.1 million hectares, or almost twice as much as the agricultural area of the Netherlands) raises questions about a new strategy to use this potential: whether for agricultural production purposes (political plans to set up new private-state farms) or to implement environmental demands (afforestation of the country).

Suburbanisation

The settlements growing around the cities mostly did not meet the expectations. Built without social infrastructure (nursery schools, kindergartens, schools, community centres, common rooms) and often technical infrastructure (no public transport, pavements, paved roads), they are islands isolated from existing villages, but also not integrated internally (high fences, lack of spaces for communal interaction).

Single-family house in Stara Huta-Koszary, Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Michał Sierakowski.

Fief Urbanism

Assigning an investment value to agricultural land after 1989 coincided with a planning vacuum, which was filled by developer investments created on the basis of local building permits, that is, single-issue official decisions. This practice led to the creation of housing complexes (usually single-family or row houses) occupying a narrow strip of land with a shape and size that were exclusively the result of administrative decisions related to the use of cultivated land, and not of a deliberate design. The building areas are disconnected from each other, creating fenced islands, separated from the context, duplicating the road and technical infrastructure.

Row houses in the middle of the fields near Głubczyce in the Opolskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Michał Sierakowski.

Internet

Costs associated with access to the Internet and the lack of infrastructure are the main reasons for the digital exclusion of rural areas. The low percentage of rural residents using the Internet (40% compared to approximately 65% of residents of large cities) means limited opportunities for obtaining information, professional development, improvement of one’s enterprise or conducting remote education, and thus a reduction in productivity and effectiveness of the use of funds. Paradoxically, one of the positive effects of lower online activity may be more intensive relationships between residents in reality (this is manifested, among others, in the use of the Internet for communication — in the countryside, this is declared by about 50% of users, in large cities over 80%).

Communication tower in Tymowa, Małopolskie Voivodeship, Poland, 2020. Photo: Patrycja Wojtas.

Tłoka

Before the 20th-century modernisation of the countryside, relations between its inhabitants were strengthened by traditional rituals related to work. One of them was tłoka, the custom of neighbourly help practised for at least several centuries. Farmers would call on their neighbours to work on harvesting crops, constructing buildings or preparing materials for the construction, such as chopping wood and carrying it. When the work was finished, the farmer would invite everyone for a shared meal, which customarily ended with a party. Today, the word tłoka is losing its original meaning, and more often refers to the cultural activities of the inhabitants, not necessarily to work. Perhaps this was the influence of the State Farms Project, which imposed a new model for organising life and work in the countryside and made traditional practices a thing of the past.

PROLOG +1, curators of Polish pavilion, would like to thank the curators of Philippine pavilion – Alexander Eriksson Furunes and Sudar V. Khadka Jr., for sharing the concept of tłoka. It has its counterparts in many cultures, reflecting the nature of cooperation and assistance for the common good. The Philippine pavilion explores how traditions of mutual support can inform architectural practice. Titled Structures of Mutual Support the exhibition includes more than 19 such traditions from around the world, and a building that was built through bayanihan with a community in the Philippines.

Strawberry collective harvest, district of Garwolin, Mazovian Voivodeship, Poland, 1973. Photo: National Digital Archives

Website

Trouble in Paradise website accompanies the exhibition under the same title in the Polish Pavilion at the Biennale Architettura 2021.

Intro images by Paweł Sarzec (1-3) and Michał Sierakowski (4-10).

The Panorama of the Polish Countryside by Jan Domicz (collage), Michał Sierakowski (photographs, collage), Paweł Starzec (photographs), PROLOG +1 (concept).

Glossary images by Michał Sierakowski, Paweł Starzec, Wiktoria Wojciechowska, Patrycja Wojtas, PROLOG +1.

Texts by PROLOG +1.

Six Projects for the Countryside by Atelier Fanelsa, GUBAHÁMORI + Filip + László Demeter, KOSMOS Architects, Rural Office for Architecture, RZUT, Traumnovelle. Architectural models images by Michał Matejko, videos by Michał Sierakowski.

Trouble in Pardaise website design by Kuba Maria Mazurkiewicz (zespół wespół). Coding by 8080.studio.