Narrow 52-Inch Studio to Bridge Polish, Jewish Culture

Keret House site
A narrow 52-inch gap between Warsaw buildings -- for years a garbage-screwn alley -- is to be made into one of the world's narrowest homes. The project is named in honor of Etgar Keret, an Israeli writer. Source: Jakub Szczesny/ Centrala via Bloomberg.

A garbage-piled alley between two buildings in Warsaw is to be turned into one of the world’s narrowest buildings.

Polish architect Jakub Szczesny found it easy to touch both walls in the gap just 133 centimeters (52 inches) apart -- and realized he had the chance to think big.

The new building will have a gray concrete structure built under communist rule on one side. It will now be linked with its neighbor block dating from before World War II, when the city was home to Europe’s largest Jewish community.

Szczesny plans what he calls “an extravagant tie” between Polish and Jewish culture. He asked Etgar Keret, an Israeli writer whose mother once lived in Warsaw, to endorse the project that plans to provide working space for aspiring artists.

“Warsaw and Poland need initiatives that can open our minds to the impossible, breaking the traps of routines, culture and history,” Szczesny said in a telephone interview. “Keret is a creative guy, a fully contemporary character who can take the cultures of Poland and Israel above historical adversities. The house is narrow, but it should help widen minds.”

Keret House will be located in Warsaw’s former Jewish district, where the Germans established Nazi-occupied Europe’s largest Jewish ghetto during World War II.

Constructed around a steel skeleton with a glass roof, it will have a one-bedroom apartment. The cost of the project, managed the Polish Contemporary Art Foundation and coordinated by the National Center of Culture, is 200,000 zloty ($57,450).

Record Gap

The building, scheduled to open in October, will be among the narrowest in the world. The Sam Kee building in Vancouver, Canada, considered the world’s narrowest building by the Guinness Book of World Records, is 125 centimeters (49 inches) at its base. Great Cumbrae in Scotland holds the title of skinniest house front, at 47 inches (119 centimeters) at its narrowest.

Keret House is “a unique adventure” for everybody who takes part, including municipal offices and private companies that needed to adjust their daily routine to “a space that at first offers nothing but limits,” said Szczesny, 38, who specializes in designs for limited spaces and is also working on a house to be built in a cave. People are lining up to spend time at Keret House, according to Szczesny.

That “proves that people are just hungry for a different mind-set” and Keret House has the potential “to inspire everybody, not only artists or writers,” he said.

Best Seller

Keret, 44, whose “Suddenly, a Knock on the Door” was among Amazon’s best-selling short-story collections this year, is the son of Holocaust survivors.

His father, Efraim, hid in a hole in the ground for 600 days in a Polish village, according to His mother, Orna, who lost her entire family in the Ghetto, survived with a fake Christian birth certificate and left Poland when she was 12, according to the documentary “In Search of Lost Time.” They passed on an affinity to Polish culture.

“I loved Polish poetry in my twenties but, before that, had only absorbed Polish culture through my parents,” Keret told critical.mob this year. “I guess that all the books they’ve read had defined what they’ve found funny or interesting and as a child I’ve absorbed something of that in a totally unconscious and indirect way.”


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