Warsaw Symbols

It’s impossible to think about a modern city and its architecture without looking at the city’s material history. This history can be told through historic buildings, ancient monuments, precious objects, significant documents and important accounts by witnesses of events. But the past of a specific place can also be seen in its neon signs, advertisements, posters, brochures and flyers – the minor visual elements connected with people’s lives and their daily activities.

Graphic symbols (in present times called logos) are the most ephemeral and, at the same time, the most important part of visual communication. Abstract symbols, artistic metaphors and graphic abbreviations are like the individual syllables or letters of a visual language system in which a city’s history is reflected, like through a lens.

During the communist period in Poland, graphic symbols were created for institutions, firms and organisations for very prosaic reasons – they served to convey simple messages and information about new ventures. The graphic symbols from this era trigger various associations, carry new emotions and have acquired completely different meanings with the passage of time. In the past, graphic symbols, signs and neon signs were like the city’s signposts for us. Now they exist solely in people’s memories and recollections. Most of the shops, offices and factories they were designed for no longer exist, and the city’s streets and public squares have become dominated by advertisements.

The graphic symbols selected for this exhibition were designed in the period between 1945 and 1989. They include logos for the Hala Mirowska trade centre, the Smyk department store, the National Philharmonic, the International Book Fair, the Friends of Warsaw Society, Polish Fashion and Czytelnik Publishing House. They were created by the best designers of that era such as Ryszard Bojar, Roman Duszek, Karol Śliwka, Stanisław Töpfer and Wojciech Zamecznik.

The “Warsaw Symbols” exhibition illustrates the history of Poland’s capital city through the best and most original graphic symbols that were created for institutions, firms and organisations connected with the history of Warsaw.

Designers: Maciej Buszewicz, Antoni Cetnarowski, Roman Duszek, Witold Janowski, Jerzy Jaworski, Karol Śliwka, Henryk Tomaszewski, Jerzy Treutler, Stanisław Töpfer, Wojciech Zamecznik

Curator: Rene Wawrzkiewicz

Texts: Magda Roszkowska

Cooperation: Patryk Hardziej, Marta Kowalska, Kaja Stępkowska, Artur Szczęsny, Karolina Wlazło-Malinowska

Translation: Agnieszka Mrowińska, Scotia Gilroy

The exhibition was organised in cooperation with the “Symbol To Logo” project: www.symboltologo.com

Organiser: Art in the City Foundation

The International Poster Biennale in Warsaw, 1966

The International Poster Biennale in Warsaw is the oldest event of its kind in the world. From the early 1960s the community of Polish graphic artists contemplated the idea of holding an international cyclic competition that would be representative of the international graphic arts/poster design scene.


The first biennale was held in 1966. The main advocate of this idea was Józef Mroszczak, later a long-time organizer of the biennale, an outstanding Polish graphic designer. The exhibition and the accompanying competition attracted artists from all over the world. Among the laureates were Andy Warhol, Hiroshi Tanaka, Kazamusa Nagai, Hans Hillmann, Milton Glaser, Henryk Tomaszewski, Jan Lenica, and Jan Młodożeniec.


In 2016, at the 25th edition of the biennale, the premise of the competition was changed: the exhibition – The Poster Remediated, curated by David Crowley, was held instead of the main competition. The exhibition was devoted to the role of posters in the public domain and electronic media.

The Institute of Industrial Design

During the post-war period, there was a huge demand in Poland for experts to guide reconstruction efforts. Therefore, the Institute of Industrial Design was founded on the initiative of Wanda Telekowska in 1950.


The Institute was a scientific and research institution whose aim was to improve the aesthetics of manufactured goods and identify the needs of consumers. The research activities of the Institute were focused on two domains: housing and work. Researchers analysed social, economic, aesthetic and cultural needs of Poles as the basis for establishing the practical and aesthetic standards for specific products. Special attention was paid to improving the lives of people with disabilities – the Institute analysed their needs, conducting special projects to come up with designs for interiors, equipment, and clothing catering to that group.


Currently, the Institute is a limited liability company offering consulting, educational, and promotional services. Each year the Institute holds the Young Design and the Good Design competitions.

The “Uroda” Warsaw Soap and Cosmetics Factory, 1967

The history of the “Uroda” Warsaw Soap and Cosmetics Factory dates back to 1899, when the Chemical Products Factory Joint Stock Company was established at Szwedzka Street under the name of “Praga”. At first, the company produced mostly floor wax and shoe polish, later changing its profile in the interwar period and launching its first line of soaps and washing powders.


Soon its owners took over the premises of the neighbouring lamp factory, converting it to perfume and cosmetics production. It was here that the first cosmetics and powders were created in the 1930s, under the brand “Uroda” (“Beauty”). After the war, the company was nationalized and transformed into the Warsaw Soap and Cosmetics Factory. In 1958, the “URODA” trademark was registered by the Polish Patent Office.


In the 1970s, the brand became absorbed by the Union of Household Chemicals “Pollena” and has since functioned as Pollena – Uroda, remaining a leader in the production of Polish cosmetics, with product lines such as Kwiaty Polskie (Polish Flowers) or Melissa.

Polish Fashion,1958

In socialist countries even the way citizens dressed was centrally regulated. The most important fashion show in the 50’s was the International Leipzig Fashion Fair, where Poland was represented by Jadwiga Grabowska. On her return, she managed to convince party dignitaries that fashion could be a leading brand of the Polish light industry. In 1958 the State Enterprise “Moda Polska” (Polish Fashion) was established, and Grabowska was appointed its artistic director.


Designers and tailors employed at “Moda Polska” created collections inspired by Western fashion trends, and the clothes made by “Moda Polska” quickly became a symbol of good taste and luxury, appreciated for their high quality, interesting designs and excellent finish. Unfortunately, exorbitant prices meant that very few Polish women could afford them. Other women – DIYers – imitated the style of “Moda Polska” with the use of sewing patterns for clothing available at fashion journals.


The company operated about 60 fashion stores and employed 2,000 people. The main fashion store was located at Rutkowskiego Street (nowadays Chmielna Street) in Warsaw.

Karol Śliwka
The Friends of Warsaw Society, 1968

The Friends of Warsaw Society is a grassroots initiative that brings together people who want to work in the interest of the capital and its residents. The Society was founded by eminent historians, including Stanisław Lorentz, Stanisław Herbst, Juliusz Wiktor Gomulicki, and Janusz Durko.


Although the society was only established in 1963, it continued the pre-war traditions of similar societies operating in various districts of Warsaw. After Poland regained its independence, such societies represented districts in discussions on such issues as the development of municipal investments.


After the war, the Society had over a dozen local branches focused mainly on the dissemination of knowledge about the history and present life in the capital. Today, the Society operates as a public benefit organization, organizing guided walking tours of Warsaw and various other educational activities.

The Institute of Mother and Child

For over 60 years The Institute of Mother and Child has offered hospital treatment to mothers, children and adolescents. It was founded to combat infectious diseases and perinatal morbidity of infants and mothers.


One of the Institute’s greatest achievements was its introduction of the concept of developmental age, according to which drug dosing should depend on the age of the patient. The Institute opened the first clinic and ward in Poland for premature infants, the first oncology ward for children and the first neonatology ward. Thanks to the initiative of its manager, the hospital introduced the so-called health booklets for children that help monitor the growth and development of a child.


Currently, the Institute comprises 7 clinics and 14 wards. Every year over 100,000 young patients are treated at specialized clinics and 14,000 children are hospitalized at the Institute.


The International Book Fair, 1963

The International Book Fair was first held in Poznań in 1956. Two years later it was moved to Warsaw and since then has been held annually at the Palace of Culture and Science. During the period of the Polish People’s Republic, it was the largest event of its kind in the Eastern Bloc.


The idea was to bring together writers, publishers, booksellers and readers from all over the world. The International Book Fair was overseen by the ARS POLONA Foreign Trade Enterprise. Since 2010, the event has been organised by a trade association of a dozen or so publishers.

“Smyk” Department Store, 1976

„Smyk” Department Store, although built in 1949-52, during the height of socialist realism era in Poland, was one of the boldest late modernist tributes to modernity. The most important element of the project – designed by Zbigniew Ihnatowicz and Jerzy Romański – was a reinforced concrete structure of a 5-storey building erected on pillars with full-height glazing.


It featured one of the first underground parking lots in the Polish People’s Republic and the second escalator in Warsaw. Originally, the building housed the Central Department Store, visited by over 80,000 people during the first three days after the opening. On the open terrace on the mezzanine floor facing Aleje Jerozolimskie (Jerusalem Avenue) was a popular café. The spectacularly situated rooftop restaurant was a popular photoshoot location. The building was featured in the novel Zły (The Man With White Eyes) by Leopold Tyrmand as a place where the protagonist chases Filip Merynos.


In September 1975 the building was destroyed in a re. Unfortunately, much of the original design was abandoned during reconstruction. Since the 1980s, the newly opened building housed the „Smyk” Department Store offering children’s goods. The revitalization of the building ostensibly aimed at restoring its former character was begun in 2014, however, fewer and fewer residents of Warsaw believe that, as the building has been almost completely demolished.

The “UNIVERSAL” Foreign Trade Centre, 1959

The “UNIVERSAL” Foreign Trade Centre was one of the leading state import and export institutions in communist Poland. Due to the nature of its activity, the regular staff had to work alongside security service undercover agents.


From its founding in 1959 UNIVERSAL was importing consumer goods such as watches, samovars, razors, refrigerators, juicers, bicycles, and food processors. Its exports included screws, nails, electric household appliances, and sports and travel equipment. The enterprise stood out from other state-owned enterprises, as evidenced by the “Universal” building erected in 1965, next to the Warsaw Rotunda. The building has recently been demolished and a new office building will be erected in this place.


In 2003, court declared bankruptcy of the Capital Group “Universal” Inc. (which after the political transformation privatized the company). The first president of the Capital Group, Dariusz Przywieczerski, involved in the FOZZ (Foreign Debt Service Fund) scandal, is still on the list of the most wanted fugitives.

The “UNITRA” Union of Electronics Industry, 1962

The “UNITRA” association of Polish consumer electronics manufacturers was established in 1961 as a union of consumer electronics manufacturers, such as Radmor, Tonsil and Diora, which produced watches, radio receivers, tape recorders, speakers and television sets. The company had its own R&D department for developing and testing new technologies and products. At the height of its prosperity, UNITRA factories employed tens of thousands of workers. The products were sold not only on the local market, but also exported to other countries of the Eastern Bloc. Due to the high build standards, UNITRA factories received commissions from global companies, such as the Japanese electronics company Sanyo. After the political transformation, the union broke up into smaller units and each of them attempted to survive on its own.

The Warsaw Philharmonic, 1955

The original building of the Warsaw Philharmonic was erected in 1901. The eclectic structure based on the Paris Opera was designed by Karol Kozłowski. The Warsaw Philharmonic was the concert hall for the greatest contemporary musicians, as well as international piano and violin competitions and contemporary music festivals. The building was destroyed in one of the first German raids, and nearly half of the Philharmonic’s orchestra members were killed during the war.


In 1955, a completely new building designed by Eugeniusz Szparkowski and Henryk Białobrzeski was opened, and the Warsaw Philharmonic was renamed the “National”. From the outside, the building is a classic example of socialist realism, while the interior is dominated by decorative art with magnificent chandeliers and ornamental detailing of stairwells.

The Grand Theatre, 1962

The Grand Theatre was built on the former location of the Marywil commercial and services complex. Marywil was destroyed in the 30’s and replaced by a theatre building in the neoclassical style designed by Antonio Corazzi. The building suffered heavy bombing in 1939, and 5 years later the rest of the building was destroyed by the Nazis in retaliation for the Warsaw Uprising.


Only the east side of the façade and the columnar front façade survived the war. The theatre was reopened in 1965, following 12 years of reconstruction; only the original façades facing the Theatre Square and Wierzbowa Street were preserved. One of the largest opera stages in the world with a total area of 1150m2 and a height of 35m was built according to the design by Bohdan Pniewski.


The Grand Theatre was to be one of the most innovative scenes in Europe with a revolving stage platform, six trapdoors, eight lighting bridges above the stage, and three television circuits. The Haunted Manor by Moniuszko was staged at the inauguration of the theatre.

Hala Mirowska, 1962

Hala Mirowska is one of the twin market halls built between 1899 and 1901, at the site of the former barracks of the Horse Guard of the Polish Crown Regiment. Its name derives from the name of General Wilhelm Mier, who was commander-in-chief of the Guard.


The brick facades and steel roof trusses designed by Boleslaw Milkowski and Ludwik Pankiewicz are examples of early modern style inspired by medieval architecture. The market hall was the place of execution of several hundred civilians before it was completely burnt down during the Warsaw Uprising. To this day bullet holes mark the north wall of the building.


After the war both market halls were rebuilt, the eastern one housing the sports hall of the Gwardia club, and the western restored to the former commercial function, with food stalls interspersed by luxury shops like Pewex. In the 1960s, a modernist commercial pavilion made of glass and concrete was added to the hall’s front, almost completely covering the western façade. To this day, the building retains its original character as a vibrant marketplace with a wide selection of food products.

The Association of Polish Artists,1958

The Association of Polish Artists was established to support and promote the artistic activity of its members. Founded in 1911 in Cracow by Tytus Czyżewski, Zbigniew Pronaszko and Andrzej Pronaszko, the association initially had only 112 members.


During the communist era it was controlled by the state, but still managed to be very active, running art galleries all across Poland. In 1983 the association was dissolved by the authorities in retaliation for supporting the demands of “Solidarity”. It was reactivated in 1989.


Today, the association has some 7,000 members – painters, graphic designers, sculptors, and other artists operating in the areas such as ceramic art, glass, stained glass, artistic fabrics, interior design, and industrial design, stage design and others. The association has two branch offices and 22 sub-branches in Poland.

Hotel “Victoria”, 1976

For many years “Victoria” Hotel, one of the symbols of the “openness and modernity” of the Edward Gierek’s era, functioned as ersatz for Western luxury in the minds of Poles.


A pop rock music band Kombi released a hit song about the hotel and Lieutenant Borewicz of a popular TV series “Come in, 07” was chasing dangerous criminals in its corridors. Some 290 rooms and 52 five-star suites hosted local and foreign celebrities, party dignitaries, western intelligence agents, luxury prostitutes, and terrorists. It was here that in 1981 Mossad agents attempted to shoot a Palestinian terrorist, Abu Daoud, who was at that time in the Opera café on the first floor of the hotel.


The café was frequented by wealthy the Warsaw’s wealthy residents, while others preferred the green-and-gold décor of the bar located on the ground floor or the hotel casino. The building with the H-shaped design was erected at the Victory Plaza which gave it its name. The hotel was designed by a team of architects from Sweden and Poland. Its repetitive facades made of oblong white plates were inspired Swedish of ce architecture of the 1970s. In 2011, the characteristic “Victoria” sign was taken down from the main entrance and became part of an art installation in a public space in Lisbon.

The “Czytelnik” (Reader) Publishing Cooperative, 1945

The “Czytelnik” (Reader) Publishing Cooperative was founded in Lublin in 1944. In 1945, the headquarters moved to Warsaw. The oldest post-war publishing house in Poland, “Czytelnik” initially established libraries and bookstores and published such newspapers and magazines as „Rzeczpospolita”, „Życie Warszawy”, „Przekrój” and „Przyjaciółka”.


Since 1951, publication of newspapers and periodicals was taken over by the “Prasa” (Press) Workers’ Publishing Cooperative and “Czytelnik” switched its pro le purely to literature and humanities, publishing books by Polish authors and translations of foreign works.


The oldest book series of “Czytelnik” is Nike, which includes translations of 20th century world literature, as well as Nowy Sympozjon, which includes translations of contemporary literature.

The Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, 1991

The Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle was opened in 1985, although the authorities decided that the rebuilt castle would house a new art institution even before the institution of the Martial Law in 1981. The idea behind the centre was not only to present contemporary art, but also to document it, develop art criticism and cooperate with artists on the international arena.


Wojciech Krukowski, the founder of the Academy of Movement (one of the most important independent groups combining performing arts, visual arts, theatre, and film) was appointed director of the centre after the political transformation. His broad experience allowed him to create a completely new and modern type of institution focusing primarily on experimental art.


In the 1990s, the Centre for Contemporary Art was hailed as the most important art institution in Central and Eastern Europe. Krukowski was bold enough to promote critical art emerging at that time, as well as organising the first solo exhibitions of artists such as Katarzyna Kozyra, Zbigniew Libera, Artur Żmijewski, and Paweł Althamer. During that period, apart from regular activities, such as the development of a permanent collection and organization of temporary exhibitions, the centre published the art magazine “Obieg”, operated a cinema, video library, bookstore, a space for performative arts, and a café.


Today, the Centre for Contemporary Art remains one of the most interesting institutions devoted to contemporary art.

Works prepared during the design workshops „How to create a logotype of a place in 48 hours”

On September 23-24th, 2017 the Art in the City Foundation organized design workshops titled “How to create a logotype of a place in 48 hours”. The event was part of the “Warszawskie Symbole” (Warsaw Symbols) exhibition. The activity was led by the graphic designer and curator of the exhibition Rene Wawrzkiewicz. During these two days, workshop participants designed twelve logotypes dedicated to the European Square in Warsaw. Workshops participants: Marta Bajena, Emilia Bińkowska, Mateusz Dudkowski, Agnieszka Kotowska, Magdalena Królikowska, Agnieszka Kwiatkowska, Agnieszka Madej, Sebastian Mazur, Wojciech Pietrzak, Alpha Sanneh, Mateusz Sieniewicz, Izabela Skolmowska, Maja Sutkowska, Anna Wilczyńska, Maria Zielińska.

The layout of each work presentation

left: selected two sketches

right: logotype design

bottom: project creator