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21 October 1999, Wednesday
1999 Photographs from Wroclaw and Krakow | Poland Site Index | Home

I set my alarm for 2:30am, took a quick shower, picked up my bag and made it to the front desk at 3:00am. I had to wake the security guard, who then woke the desk clerk to complete my check-out. I walked to another hotel where I managed to find accommodations during my search earlier in the week. Knocking on the door, I woke the security guard. He went to wake the desk clerk. I explained that I needed to leave my luggage and would formally check-in when I returned from Wroclaw late in the evening. The desk clerk called to wake the manager and verify the information. After disturbing a total of 5 people in the early morning hours, I walked to the train station for the 4:00am train.

At 8:30am, I met Roman Rutkowski at the Wroclaw train station. We met for dinner about a month earlier in New York, referred to one another by Romuald Loegler. Today's meeting would be speedy since both of us had engagements later in the day. Mr. Rutkowski plotted an efficient itinerary and driving route for the morning, visiting several of the most significant buildings of the city. Most of these were constructed in the first quarter of the 20th Century.

Our first visit was a residential housing estate, Sepolno, initially planned in 1919. The buildings are simple 2 and 2-1/2 story masonry buildings coated with white stucco and topped by pitched clay tile roofs. All of the facade designs are very simple, clean and elegant, void of any types of ornamentation aside from the basic elements of their construction and assembly. The neighborhood also has a local school at it center and a long public park extends from this building and into the neighborhood.

Nearby is a facility designed by Hans Scharoun, a building included in the Model Housing Estate of the 1929 Wroclaw ‘Wohnung and Werkraum' (Home and Workplace) Exhibition. The building was designed to serve as housing for young couples without children. Small apartments are arranged along one side of a long curving spine. The facility also has a dining area, communal room, a pool and other amenities for its residents. The housing concept seems totally logical to me even though I have never visited a place like it before. Approaching the building, the entrance is marked by an overhanging canopy cantilevered from the main building. It is a fantastic arced shape which appears to float in mid-air. The building's main mass curves gently around this canopy and adjacent front landscaping. The exterior is pure white. Divisions of the ribbon windows create repetitive geometric pattern across the main facade. The windows at the rear of the building are smaller but also establish equally successful patterns across the length of the building. The roof and parapet are flat. Bulkheads, chimneys, metal railings do not project above the roof randomly, they are a part of the building's balance and aesthetic. I see a ship's ladder on the roof and I know I could access it and climb to the building's peak if I desired it. The roof is not just an isolated plane.

Every architecture student knows about this period of buildings. The earliest built works of LeCorbusier, the Weissenhof Estate, this place in Wroclaw and many others are examples of the era, all built in the late 1920's and early 1930's. They are some of the earliest modern projects, designed partly out of the social responsibility to provide decent, clean, affordable housing and partly out of dogma to express the aesthetic and potential of the evolving industrial age. I have been inside buildings designed and constructed in the years immediately following this period. This was my first visit to one of these early modern housing structures and it is thoroughly impressive. This building is intimate and welcoming, some parts are even small. It is not foreboding in any way. On the interior, daylight pours into all the spaces, including the corridors, and many of the walls are multi-colored. Throughout, every assembly detail has been thought-out and well-executed in construction. There are no loose ends.

Following our walk-through of the apartment building, we drove to see the Centenary Hall designed by Max Berg and Hans Poelzig in 1913. The building is a reinforced concrete structure serving as an indoor gathering space for public meetings, concerts and sports events. Its structure is an engineering feat of reinforced concrete construction. On the interior, huge arches extend upwards and morph into one another. These arches are visually stunning because they are compound curves, bending in both the X and Y axis as they rise from the floor. The arches support concentric rings of windows, stacked one atop another like a wedding cake, allowing natural light into the large space. While I was in the building, only a small portion of the window shades were open. I can only imagine the effect when light pours in through all of the rings: Hagia Sofia x4.

The area surrounding the Centenary Hall contain massive parade grounds and other facilities. Exhibit Halls extend along an axis in one direction and a man-made lake surrounded by a colonnade extends on another axis. An array of free-standing columns is placed in front of the exhibit halls. The colonnade supports a sun-shading trellis, establishing a pleasant walking route. All the columns are precast concrete, unpainted and raw, yet, the proportioning of each is delicate and pleasing to the eye based upon a simplified classical vocabulary. Near the museum's column array, one of the buildings has a clock attached to its facade. It reminds me of the sundial on the Town Hall in Gda sk. This clock is a modern mechanical interpretation of the same idea.

Our tour took us into the heart of the city. We walked to the main cathedral and took a winding set of stairs to a small elevator. A few moments later we were at the top of one of the towers with a view over the entire area. Mr. Rutkowski gave me a brief overview of the city's urban history and layout. Leaving the cathedral, Mr. Rutkowski pointed out several sculptures and building elements along the streets of Wroclaw which he drew as an architecture student. Another drive took us to more 20th century buildings in the heart of the city.

Erich Mendelsohn's 1927 design for the Petersdorff Department Store is another modern monument within the city of Wroclaw. The building still stands, recently restored, and its curving glass corner wraps the edge of the city street with the authority I have seen in historic images. The stone spandrel panels are a color and quality I had not imagined. Everything about the design of this building references the long lines of the street facade and the curve at the corner. The building has a soffit at the second floor overhanging the sidewalk. Grooves are formed in the plaster soffit, spiraling to a close beneath the rounded corner. Every design detail has been considered and executed.

Wandering the city streets, we found our way to the main square, one of the largest I have seen on my visit through Poland. The square is not an open space but a wide open pathway that forms a rectangle wrapping the city hall and other central buildings. A true open market square is situated off one of the corners. Here, we visited another modern building, a bank. The interior has a tremendous ceiling across the entire space with translucent panels allowing electric light to filter down to the banking floor. It is a well-fabricated and installed assembly.

I am very impressed with the collection of buildings throughout Wroclaw. It was not always a part of Polish soil. For two centuries before World War II, the city was known as Breslau, one of the largest cities in Germany. It was an active business and banking center which explains the quality of the modern buildings throughout the city. Many Germans were walking the street this day, visiting the places where their parents and grandparents had once lived.

The morning hours went by quickly. Fortunately, I managed to visit many sites. In the early afternoon, Mr. Rutkowski took me back to the station for the return train to Kraków. I had made reservations on an InterCity train traveling from Berlin which was uncommonly late. It did not arrive in Wroclaw for nearly two hours, subsequently delaying my return to Kraków for another two hours. On my return, I jumped off the train and ran to Romuald Loegler's office, uncertain if he had left for the day. I managed to catch him and we rearranged a meeting time a couple hours later in the night. When I returned, we went downstairs for a drink.

Mr. Rutkowski told me that Romuald Loegler might be the most active architect working in Poland today. From my conversation with him that evening, I had no doubts. Mr. Loegler is highly interested in the quality and development of architecture in Poland and he is making every effort to assist the profession within his country. In 1992, he established Architektura and Biznes, an architectural magazine devoted to exhibiting projects built locally and abroad. He travels and lectures extensively, and is an active participant in national and international symposia and juries. In 1987, his office was the first private architectural practice established under the communist governmental structure.

What impressed me most about Architektura and Biznes was the editorial interest in publishing work by beginning or little-known architects. This allows growing architectural offices to become established within their own country and prosper within the expanding profession. Mr. Loegler also uses the magazine as an information tool to educate about architecture. These were points Mr. Loegler wanted to make especially clear to me during our conversation. He realizes that improving and promoting the quality of architecture and the built environment is a long term undertaking that requires the efforts of many people over many years. Acting alone or in one's own interests can not affect far-reaching or meaningful change. Education about Poland's architecture of the past and present while providing opportunities for the future is the best route to follow for the benefit of everyone.


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