Apr 11–May 17, 2024

(No) Return.

Survived Buildings and Lost Lives
Stefano-Franscini-Platz 5, 08093 Zurich

Interwar modernist architecture embodied ideas about a better life that was anticipated after the First World War, especially in newborn states in central-eastern Europe like the Second Polish Republic, founded in 1918. Lwów, a city in the eastern Polish borderlands (today’s Ukrainian city, Lviv), was the centre of urban avant-garde experiments, which combined international style and local architectural approaches.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the city’s multi-ethnic community was seeking to express itself and trying to find unity through modernist architecture, leaving traditional ways of life behind. Many architectural projects – office buildings, schools, hospitals and housing – took shape one after the other in the city. However, the mood changed dramatically in the second half of the 1930s, with Europe slipping into the abyss of fascism, totalitarianism and anti-Semitism and facing another world war. People were going to work and returning to their comfortable modernist homes in fear of a catastrophe, which erupted in September 1939 when after the German invasion of Poland, the Soviet Union occupied Lwów.

Almost all the people who were living in these modernist houses were forced to leave and, in the worst cases, deported to Siberia. The dream of a comfortable and happy future came to an abrupt end. After the war, 90 percent of the city’s population was lost: Polish people were resettled, Jewish people were killed by the Nazis, and Ukrainian people were deported or killed by the Soviets. Only buildings were left untouched, hiding the names and stories of lost people within their walls. Besides tragic events, shifts from commercial to communal, private to public, as well as changes in political systems and ownership left physical imprints on this architecture.

The exhibition shows 3D models of three buildings: an office skyscraper, a housing complex and a villa, simultaneously places of habitation and loss. Each building embodies beautiful modernist forms, a layering of time and a story about past and present. Films allow us to walk through the buildings, observe details and even hear the sounds of the buildings and their surroundings. We can visit these virtual spaces as much as we want but can never actually return home. History can go around in circles, and names and stories can return from oblivion, but our previous lives have been stolen, even if these buildings are still standing.