Historic Preservation in Poland Today

On March 9, 1998, over 100 preservationists from Poland and the New York gathered as guests of the Polish National Tourist Office at the Polish General Consulate Building in New York City. Presentations were made and a discussion was held to familiarize the audience with recent projects and issues in Polish preservation. Presentations were made by James Van Westering, Witold Karwowski, Marek Baranski and myself. Following are the notes for the presentation I made that evening:

(Presentation to follow Mr. Karwoski's and Mr. Baranski's introduction and background on working in Poland.)

Mr Karwowski has pointed out some of the sites our APT delegation visited on our journey through Poland last December. I'd like to take just few minutes to illustrate a few of those locations and point out some of the items myself and other members of the delegation found quite interesting and noteworthy. In many cases, the issues encountered are similar to our own in the United States.

As mentioned, the city Szczecin and the Antikon'97 restoration trade show was the focus of our trip. The city served as a home base for us providing the opportunity see other projects and buildings in the Pomeranian area in addition to our participation with Anikon.

The town of Trzebiatów lies about one hour to the north of Szczecin, near the Baltic Sea. This medieval town is a vacation destination during the summer. People spend time in the town, especially if poor weather arrives unpredictably on beaches. The earliest portions of Trzebiatów's town hall dates to 12th century. The building has undergone several additions including the main clock tower, constructed of heavy timber framing. The building remains as active part of the town government and has been adjusted to accommodate differing needs over time. Abandoned buildings stand across from Town Hall. These are deteriorating and have stood vacant for over 10 years. Obvious problems are present and shoring has been installed to stabilize the structures. What can the local government and community do? In many ways, the situation is not unlike the problems for many abandoned buildings in the United States.

Somewhat closer to Szczecin is Kamien Pomorski. It is a small medieval town with a 12th century cathedral, bishop's house, and other related buildings. An enclosed garden space is just outside the cathedral with simple baptismal stones located at either side of the cathedral door. Important church artifacts are housed in a series of rooms overlooking the garden. In all, a very beautiful composition. However, housing complexes begin to encroach on the qualities of the town and cathedral at a nearby site. Kamien Pomorski not seriously affected, but other towns have been drastically altered. Questions arise about protecting historic structures while allowing for community growth.

Outside the town of Swierzno is the Flemming Estate, the grounds of a somewhat wealthy 18th century Pomeranian family. Currently, the site is not in government ownership but is held privately by an owner who has not maintained the grounds. The exterior stucco coating is virtually non- existent, exposing structural members. The roofs are near collapse. Given the site's location in the Pomeranian landscape and it's nearness to the sea the place has great potential, possibly as a travel destination.

Krakow is one of the most beautiful medieval cities of northern Europe where preservation is continually ongoing. Kanonicsa Street is one of the most intriguing of the city, it served as the homes of nobles at base of the castle. Some facades are in disrepair but retain the potential to contribute to the beauty of the street. At Wawel castle, the approach to the main gate was restored in the 1920s and is being restored again. Donor stones from the 1920s are documented and the wall is disassembled. It is then reconstructed with new bricks and historic donor stones are placed in their original positions. Around the perimeter of the castle, patchwork of masonry can be seen, reflecting the repairs undertaken by its inhabitants and caretakers over the centuries.

Also seen in Krakow was the Collegium Maius. Through adaptive re-use the centuries old structure has become a university museum. It should also be mentioned that this building is noted by James Fitch in the book Curatorial Management of the Built World. The citing in James Marston Fitch's book raises an important point which is worth noting both for all of us who came here tonight whether via taxi or trans-Atlantic flight:

As far as preservation is concerned, there has always been an interest in Poland.

Mr. Baranski has outlined the rich history that is a part of Poland. What I have just shown are some of the cities we have seen and what they have achieved in terms of preservation and restoration. They are quite beautiful and extraordinary, indeed. I think the exchange of ideas on how these places are maintained and protected is what the APT group was trying to achieve on our visit. It is why there are 13 guests from Poland in the room with us this evening. What is happening this evening is not a new idea. We want to maintain contact between our countries and cultures.

As you are probably familiar, Dr. Fitch's book was not just on this one project, it had a whole chapter on Poland. This was not the first time Poland was used as a case study. In September 1963, a seminar on preservation took place in Williamsburg, Virginia. It's purpose was to discuss the past of the preservation movement and try to determine ways to codify it and progress forward. This was achieved with great success. The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 was based upon many of the recommendations put forth by the conference.

At the start of that conference, a series of presentations was given outlining the history of the preservation field which placed Poland's preservation activity in league with major theorists. One presentation was given on Viollet-le-Duc by Jaques DuPont. Another presentation was given on John Ruskin and the Anti-Scrape philosophy by Sir John Summerson. A third was given on the reconstruction efforts in Poland by Stanislaw Loretz, director of the National Museum of Warsaw. What I am trying to do is tie the history of Poland's preservation activity to us, here in the United States. Poland has always provided a key chapter in defining preservation. I'd like to briefly review the chapter we all know and, with the help of the presentations to follow, turn to the next page. As the other delegates and I found on our recent visit, there is more than just one chapter. A rather long book is being written.

This is the image Warsaw we can see today as shown in this photo of a beautiful carved stone window surround. Today, the city aspires to be tourist destination, complete with artists paintings of the city scape to purchase and take home. This is the main square in December 1997.

The city and country were very different in 1945. Warsaw suffered dearly as result of the Nazi order that "the city be razed to the ground". 80% of the buildings and 90% of the historic structures were destroyed. Damage was particularly heavy in the oldest parts of the city. These slides show the extent of the destruction. The efforts to rebuild were a remarkable undertaking and achievement. Nothing of its scope had been undertaken before. Fortunately, previous documentation of structures by students and others before and during the war had been protected and hidden. These were used as a basis for the reconstruction.

Evidence of Warsaw's past can be seen throughout the buildings of the city. When reconstruction efforts began, stones which could be recovered and identified were placed back in their original locations. These pieces ranged in size from entire lintels to small fragments from the stones of door and window surrounds. When only a fragment exists, the missing portion is carved anew, incorporating the fragment as a kind of dutchman repair. The effect can be extraordinary. Small fragments of weathered and battered stone, perhaps totaling no more than 5-10% of a door surround, create a composition of humility in a field of freshly cut stone. Only the vaguest knowledge of the city's history is needed to deduce their meaning.

But as I said, this was only a first chapter. The reconstruction efforts continue to this day. Next I will show a reconstruction, but bear in mind that other preservation activity is happening as well. I believe we all can learn and be inspired by Poland's example.

The city of Szczecin lies about 100km inland from the Baltic sea, on the Oder River. It is in the northwest corner of Poland, near the German border. Its location is a key shipping point for the agricultural production of the region. The city was established as a part of Poland in 11th and 12th centuries. Much of the city was built and re-built after Franco-Prussian war. At the urban scale, the city plan was inspired by Barron Haussman's plan for Paris. Over the years, the city changed political hands often between Poland, Sweden and Germany. During World War II, the city was destroyed by Allied carpet bombings since it was site for German U-Boat production. After the war, the city was returned to the political control of Poland and inhabitants from around the country were brought to populate the city.

In this slide, the Castle of Pomeranian Dukes can be seen on the hill above (most walls of the castle remained intact after the war). Also seen are the excavated ruins of the medieval city, with some foundations dating to 8th century, others to the 10th century.

The site plan of Podzamzce shows the castle in the upper right, the reconstructed Merchant's House at the top center, Town Hall (now a museum) near the middle and the highway wrapping the lower portion of the plan. At the right half is the area of the excavated ruins previously seen. The area of current construction occupies the left portion of the plan, immediately to left of the Town Hall building.

The Podzamzce site has had a long history. In 1952, the area is designated as a class 1 landmark. Serious debate took place on how to treat the area. Several discussions unfolded in the intervening years and the site remained only as an open, grassy field. Around 1960, modern apartment buildings were constructed nearby. Because of the adjacency to the historic site, the apartments are a much lower scale those typically constructed. In the early 1970s, a highway was constructed along river's edge. In 1984, a competition held for the site, but the winning scheme was not undertaken. A final decision to develop the site was made in 1986. A co-operative board was established in 1988 to oversee research, documentation, initial site work, design and construction

The Co-Op Organization has an interesting position. They begin work with the original medieval foundation ruins. Historical research and archaeological investigations are completed. Streets are re-established with historic names and addresses The Co-Op is effectively responsible for stabilizing and preparing the site, a job that is sometimes difficult with unstable soil conditions often encountered. Utility service to is also provided to each site. The Co-Op then oversees design and co-ordinates construction.

Each of the sites are purchased by individual owners, each with separate architects, contractors and design intent. New designs must maintain the original foundations in the original conditions and configuration. These original building lines are also referred to as "Regulation Lines". Buildings must also maintain the divisions in elevation between buildings, original floor heights and overall building height. When design is completed, approval is required by the Co-Op and city preservation and construction officials.

Two tiers of design regulation exist. The regulation as described above generally applies to mid-block structures. Liberties can be taken within reason to allow for new programed uses. Typically seen were retail, restaurants or bars at the cellar and street level with 3-4 levels of apartments above. The second tier of design regulation applies to reconstructed buildings. These are key buildings in the development located at street corners and other visually prominent locations. Facade massing and configuration, window fenestrations, door openings and other elements closely follow historic documentation.

All the buildings use contemporary construction methods but variety exists in the particular methods used. Structural systems seen included concrete slabs, interlocking clay tiles, concrete piers, masonry piers and even hybrids of several different methods within a single structure. This variety of methods seems to be an asset to the project. Since each owner and architect can select their own structural system, no one method is dominate, adding a subtle layer of variation to the scheme as a whole.

(Continue site walk-through with remaining slides)

Thank You.

(Return presentation floor to Mr Karwowski.)



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