Leading Polish architect dies in plane crash

June 7, 2011 - 1:43 PM
Poland Obit Kurylowicz

In this Picture taken Oct. 19, 2004 Polish architect Stefan Kurylowicz poses , in front of one of the buildings he designed in Warsaw Poland. Kurylowicz, 62, one of the most influential Polish architects, died in a light plane crash in Spain June 6, 2011. ( AP Photo) POLAND OUT

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Stefan Kurylowicz, a Polish architect who helped modernize Warsaw in the two decades after the collapse of communism, has died in a plane crash in Spain, an associate said Tuesday. He was 62.

Kurylowicz (Kur-eh-WOH-vich) was among four Poles who died when their two small planes crashed in foggy and rainy weather on Monday, said the deputy head of Kurylowicz's studio, Piotr Kuczynski.

The victims were flying from the northern Spanish city of San Sebastian to Portugal their planes crashed two-thirds of the way there — one into a parking area at Asturias airport and the other into a nearby hillside, Spanish officials said. The cause of the crashes was not known, and officials were conducting autopsies on the four bodies. The Spanish Interior Ministry said an investigation will consider reports that the two planes collided.

Kurylowicz was "a Renaissance man, the creator of outstanding projects which changed Polish architecture starting in the 1990s (and) a master capable of transmitting his knowledge to others," the Polish news agency PAP said.

The news of Kurylowicz's death brought expressions of sadness and shock from Polish colleagues and admirers of his work. Born in Warsaw in 1949, he has helped shape the capital as it evolved from a city dominated by drab communist-era architecture to a modern city dotted with tall glass and steel structures — some of the architect's creation.

"He helped shape the way Warsaw looks today," Jerzy Grochulski, the head of the Association of Polish Architects and a friend of the architect's, told The Associated Press. "This is a very painful loss."

Zbigniew Reszka, another leading member of the association of architects, told PAP that Kurylowicz had a unique style and that some of his projects provoked controversy at first. "But after a while — after a year or two — it turned out that they fit wonderfully with their surroundings," Reszka said.

Grochulski described Kurylowicz as a model of success in his profession, noting that he had opened an architectural studio in 1983 at a time when Poland's communist-era bureaucracy often stifled creativity.

Kurylowicz and his associates designed residential, commercial and industrial buildings, some of them award winning.

Last year he was among a group of outstanding architects chosen worldwide to advise the United Nations on a renovation of its New York headquarters. He also was deputy head of the Association of Polish Architects and taught architecture courses at the Warsaw University of Technology, where he also graduated from in 1972.

Grochulski said that Kurylowicz loved sports and had a pilot's license. He said Kurylowicz might have been piloting the plane he died in. He said the fatalities included one of Kurylowicz's associates, architect Jacek Syropolski.

A spokesman for Spain's Interior Ministry, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity, said a third plane had been traveling with the group but had opted to land at Santander, Spain — located between San Sebastian and Asturias — rather than go on toward Portugal. That plane was carrying two people, a Pole and a German, the spokesman said. The two were being interviewed by Spanish police.

The spokesman said the three planes had flown to San Sebastian from France. They were headed for the northern Portuguese town of Vilar de Luz.

Kurylowicz is survived by his wife Ewa, an architect who is a board member of his studio, and two grown up sons. One of the sons, Marek, is also a board member.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.