Klubokawiarnia "Towarzyska", proj. Jan Strumiłło, fot. Jakub Certowicz
Above the counter at Chłodna 25, a well-known Warsaw café-club, someone wrote the following slogan: "Cafés trigger artistic revolutions of all kinds." This is a statement made by Tadeusz Kantor, a Polish avant-garde artist and theater director. In fact, since the 19th century, cafés and bars in Warsaw have often served as "independent culture centers." Such places have hatched innovative artistic concepts, bred counterculture movements and given birth to new social ideas. In the Polish People’s Republic – Poland under the communist regime which was established after World War II and lasted until 1989 – cafés became meeting places for artists and members of the intelligentsia, where information was exchanged, authority was contested, society scandals erupted, rebellious writers provoked fights, and playful artists and designers drew on the walls.
Towards the end of the 1950s, after the weakening of the Stalinist terror that had dictated how people were supposed to spend their time and in what style artists were meant to create their works, the seeds of consumer culture appeared in Poland. Objects and architecture were meant to educate people and create a better world through the spreading of beautiful forms in daily life. The thaw brought about a return to modernist, organic, imaginative and functional forms. On the streets of Warsaw and other Polish cities, light-weight, glazed pavilions sprung up – true masterpieces of engineering and outstanding works of architecture. Product designers were inspired by new materials, biological forms resembling structures seen through microscopes, and Western European avant-garde painting. Fences, walls and advertising pillars were covered in clever, artistically outstanding posters, known as the “Polish poster school”. Satirical drawings, brilliant collages and highly imaginative illustrations filled the pages of newly established cultural and lifestyle magazines. Modernism in Poland after WWII reached back intellectually to the pre-war European trends in design and architecture, which were characterized by faith in progress and industrialization and the conviction that designers can, and should, participate in social change – namely, in the building of a "wonderful new world." Cafés provided a space in which independent thought, creative freedom, new design trends and modernist experiments could meet. The interiors of the Warsaw cafés and bars that were opened at the end of the 1950s and in the 1960s were designed by the most outstanding artists of the time; their walls were decorated with fancy fabrics and murals painted by illustrators and painters. The café became an incarnation of the modernist ideal of “the total work of art” – a place where progressive ideas met with sophisticated design, where writers sat on chairs resembling organic forms, and artists adorned the walls with their drawings. The Lajkonik Café in Warsaw is a famous example of such a place.
Despite the blossoming of unusual, innovative forms in architecture and design, the communist economy was not in a state which enabled them to be carried out on a wider scale. Many of the innovative furniture designs, such as, for example, the armchairs designed by Roman Modzelewski, never left the prototype stage. Daily surroundings consisted of cheap, mass-produced, banal objects, such as the simple canteen drinking mugs which have started to be produced again in recent years as a nostalgic icon of the communist era. Manufactured from poor-quality materials, outstanding examples of socialist-modernist architecture started to be torn down at the end of the 20th century as a result of aggressive tactics of developers and the lack of a policy protecting communist-era heritage. Such a fate was met by the Supersam building, which has been preserved in the form of a porcelain figure designed by Magdalena Łapińska. Consumer goods became less and less accessible and of increasingly poor quality – the phenomenon of "hunting" for everyday products towards the end of the communist era is exemplified by the "Queue" board game, produced by Manuka Studio.
However, in recent years Polish designers have begun to return to the ideas and forms of post-war modernism. This has been a result, on the one hand, of a wave of nostalgia for the communist era, which in many cases is, quite simply, nostalgia for one’s childhood. On the other hand, this phenomenon has risen from a wave of interest in the city, its material culture and identity. People have begun to re-discover the modern forms of glazed pavilions, to produce re-editions of icons of post-war material culture, to carry out previously unrealized designs and to write the history of Polish post-war architecture and design. At the same time, in Warsaw and other Polish cities, so-called “citizens’ cafés” have appeared which have become the seeds of new urban movements – initiatives arising from the city and local communities, and oriented towards social and political change.
Interest in the material culture of modernism and the re-discovery of under-appreciated icons of post-war design have thus coincided with the appearance of the café-club – a place which combines gastronomical and entertainment activities with rich programs of cultural events and social initiatives. Café-clubs have become a natural environment containing furniture and objects inspired by modernism, with artistically ambitious posters for cultural events hanging on the walls. Café-clubs hold events dedicated to architecture, and the most interesting books and magazines (from the perspective of both their design and their content) are available on the bookshelves of café-clubs – anyone who comes for a cup of coffee can take one to read. Thus, there has been a return to the phenomenon of the café as a place for social initiatives, events and cultural discussions, as well as a space whose appearance is designed by local artists. The staple of this phenomenon is the reference to the Polish modernist tradition of the 1950s and 60s – on both the everyday level (in the basic set-up of the café-club) and the aesthetic level (in the return to designs and forms of the thaw period).
 A. Strzemińska, J. Mencwel, K. J. Olesińska, „Kawiarnie kultury. Diagnoza”. Raport z badania, http://stocznia.w1.laboratorium.ee/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Kawiarnie_..., s. 3.
 J. Kusiak, W. Kacperski, Kioski z wódką i demokracją. Polityczna historia warszawskich „kawiarni obywatelskich” jako miejsc kształtowania się nowych ruchów miejskich i reprodukcji podziałów społecznych [w:] Chwała miasta, red. B. Świątkowska, Warszawa 2012, s. 138.
 W. Bryl-Roman, O racjonalną i piękną formę codzienności. Poodwilżowa nowoczesność „Projektu” [w:] Wizje nowoczesności. Lata 50. i 60. – wzornictwo, estetyka, styl życia, Materiały z sesji „Lata 50. i 60. w Polsce i na świecie: estetyka, wizje nowoczesności, styl życia.” Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, 15 kwietnia 2011, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, Warszawa 2012, s. 64.
 Ibid., s. 132.
>Edgar Bąk works in the field of visual communication, concentrating primarily on visual identification and magazine layout. He also works on smaller projects, illustrations, posters and music album covers. Together with Charlotte West, he prepared Projekt: The Polish Journal of Visual Art and Design, which was published by Unit Editions, a London-based publishing house. Edgar Bąk has received many awards in Poland. The magazine WAW, for which Edgar is the art director, has gained international recognition, having received the "Merit Award" from the Society of Publishing Designers in New York.
Ola Niepsuj is a Warsaw-based graphic designer and illustrator. She combines collage, pencil, ink and paint with digital media to create humorous and eccentric images. She studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poland and Portugal. She designs posters, visual identities and infographics, while her illustrated commentaries have found their way into numerous Polish and international magazines, books, textbooks and children’s publications. Companies such as Nike, Converse, Braun, and Apple Polska have ordered illustrations from Ola.
Beza Projekt is a studio in Warsaw run by Anna Łoskiewicz and Zofia Strumiłło-Sukiennik. It focuses on product design as well as the production process of limited series. It also designs minor architectural elements such as playgrounds, artistic installations and furniture. Beza Projekt’s portfolio contains realizations of daring, non-standard product designs and concepts. As designers, Anna Łoskiewicz and Zofia Strumiłło-Sukiennik strive to free products from stereotypical solutions and to introduce innovative ways of thinking.
Agata Szydłowska studied art history at the University of Warsaw and the Graduate School for Social Research at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology in the Polish Academy of Sciences. She lectures on the history of design at the School of Form in Poznań and the history of visual communication at the Polish-Japanese Academy of Computer Skills in Warsaw. She works as a curator for projects connected with design, and publishes texts about graphic design. She is the co-founder (with Rene Wawrzkiewicz) of Design Critique Platform.
Aleksandra Ubukata is an independent graphic designer and illustrator currently based in Tokyo. She is a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and Tama Art University in Tokyo. She is a coordinator and co-organizer of exhibitions and conferences dedicated to design, such as “Design for Freedom, Freedom in Design” at Claska Gallery in Tokyo, and curator of the “Poland Graphic Design” exhibition during Tokyo Passport at 3331 Chioyoda Art in Tokyo. She is a scholarship recipient from the Japanese government. Her design portfolio includes stamps for the Polish postal service and the visual information system for the Narita Airport in Tokyo.
Architect. Studied architecture at Technical University in Warsaw and Berlage Institute in Rotterdam. Together with Emiko Hayakawa, he runs his own practice in Tokyo. The most important recent projects include: House in the woods near Warsaw selected for the exhibition “For example. New Polish house” and newly opened art gallery Blum & Poe in Tokyo.