City at a meeting of cultures
Bialystok was formed as a multicultural center, a city located at the meeting of east and west. The territories in which the city lies were influenced by Tartar, the Christianity of both rites was present, and the city was colored by Jews. The symbolic role of Bialystok as a gate to the east – which was also an impulse for the development of the city – was sealed after the fall of the November Uprising – when a customs border between the Polish Kingdom and Russia was established in the vicinity of the city. Border trade led to the flourishing of the city, at the end of the 19th century Białystok had a water supply and sewage system. Today Białystok has remained a multicultural city by Polish conditions – the Orthodox community is visible in the city, Tatar centers of Podlasie are still alive – but this is barely a faint memory of the pre-war city color. The period of German occupation and the extermination of Jews led to the destruction of the element that set the tone for the pre-war city. It should be remembered that it was the Jewish community that constituted the elite of the urban patriciate of most Polish cities – it was no different in Bialystok. However, the city’s location as a gate to the east remained. Today’s political situation emphasizes this role of the center and – as in the nineteenth century – it creates great opportunities for the city.
The Beit Szmulel synagogue was one of about 100 houses of prayer of about 60 thousand people of the Jewish community of the city. During the construction of the synagogue, i.e. at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries in Bialystok, Jews constituted the most numerous nationality group and they shaped the city’s elite. The Beit Szmuel synagogue, named after the eminent activist of the Zionist movement Samuel Mohilewer, was a center gathering the elite of the city’s Jewish community. The project assumed the construction of a building in the then fashionable Moorish style, with facades finished with clinker and a rich detail, covered with a high envelope roof. The building was more modestly built – the facades were plastered – however, the stylistic convention was kept. and a high envelope roof. The interior of the building housed a prayer room surrounded by women’s galleries (Reform synagogue). Access from the street to the prayer room via two symmetrical staircases. The preserved materials show that the design of the rectangular building was prepared in plan – then adapted to the skewed plot. As a result, the building’s geometry was based on a parallelogram plan. Fate dealt with the building of the synagogue more kindly than with the Jewish community of the city – during the German occupation the building was burned, but it was not completely destroyed. Like most such facilities, it was rebuilt in the post-war period for a sports hall.
It was from Białystok that Ludwik Zamenhof came from, shaped in a multicultural city, he believed that creating a universal language, simple and understandable for audiences around the world would contribute to the relief of conflicts and bring closer the utopia of world peace. We believe that architecture can play the role of modern Esperanto – with a universal message, responding to universal, universal needs, creating a space of reconciliation and understanding.
Introducing the function of the city council hall to the synagogue building is a legitimate move, it will restore the synagogue’s building to its rank in the city structure. At the same time, the fact that the city council meeting room was placed in a building serving as a house of prayer and a cultural center for the Jewish community would be a gesture honoring the role of the Jewish patricate in building and shaping the city.
The Beit Szmulel synagogue building was devastated and deprived of its historical exterior. Also, the function of the building underlying the historical interior has become a thing of the past. In this situation, the only existing world of history are bare, stone walls, currently hidden under layers of post-war plaster. Just as the archaeologist removes subsequent layers of the earth to discover preserved testimonies of history, so we want to remove post-war plaster layers to reveal elements that still remember the pre-war city and the drama of the occupation period. The building is intended to be a book telling the story of a city that no longer exists. At the same time, it is to be filled with the life of the city that exists. The restoration of the synagogue building to the city is to be based on three basic elements.
Land development concept
In order to emphasize the role of the synagogue building, we assume the demolition of both annexes of the building filling the space between the historical building and neighboring buildings. In this way, the Beit Szmulel Synagogue will be “cut” from the frontage of ul. Branicki. New annexes will be built on both sides of the building with a height of one floor. This solution allows us to locate the infrastructure necessary for the functioning of the City Council without the need for a superstructure and deep interference in its
Tender project / PFU
December 13, 2019