One of the most interesting and creatively inspiring challenges for historic cities worldwide, especially UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Kraków, is building bridges and meaningful connections between the legacy of the past and the needs and expectations of today’s societies. It is fair to say that reconciling the so-called classical aesthetics with modern-day urban functions is nothing short of an art form. It is also a testimony to the city’s holistic maturity and ability to apply the much-overused word ‘sustainable’ in meaningful and comprehensive ways.

Between Legacy & Compromise: Kraków’s Skyline

Looking at Kraków’s historic architecture “at roof level” you will inevitably discover that the city’s skyline is dominated by dozens of churches, representing different epochs and historic periods, a handful of high-rise buildings and, you guessed it, a castle. Not just any castle, but the country’s single most important symbol of national identity – Wawel Royal Castle.

Talking about the “roof level” (to use a layman’s term) is quite justified in case of Kraków as the city is rather consistent in not allowing for much architectonic discrepancy. As a result, you will not see any skyscrapers, per se, in the city.

Bernatka Footbridge – View From Podgórze on Kraków’s Historic Centre (Kładka Ojca Bernatka)

And so the big question is

Once you have established some basic rules about your city’s core aesthetics and the procedural requirements any new infrastructure development should meet before it’s allowed to step in, it is relatively easy to simply continue along the path already established. Ironically, however, this is also the stage when complacence is most likely to prevent you from raising the bar higher, if not blind you completely. It takes much more than ‘continuity’, to stand out from the crowd of historic cities, which, to a large extent, share the same types of challenges, issues and, yes, solutions finally implemented.

ICE Congress Centre in Kraków

The key word here, therefore, would probably have to be ‘boldness’. It no doubt requires a pinch of architecture-design genius and daring to build something that is unlike what everyone else already has. Not just for the sake of thinking, feeling and looking different, of course, but TO INSPIRE THE CITY’S RESIDENTS AND VISITORS, TO BUILD AND STRENGTHEN A DEEP SENSE OF LOCAL IDENTITY NOT JUST THROUGH DISTANT-PAST ACHIEVEMENTS BUT CONTEMPORARY ARCHITECTURE CHARISMA. IN OTHER WORDS, TO CREATE THE KIND OF ARCHITECTURE THAT GIVES JOY, ADMIRATION AND PRIDE, WITHOUT COMPROMISING THE LONG TERM VISION OF URBAN DEVELOPMENT, assuming your city already has one, in any serious sense of the word, i.e. other than the usual non-specific fluff of such documents.