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  • Polish (Poland)
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Two fascinating projects of converting the area of the Łódź Fabryczna railway station came into being just after the First World War. The point of departure was Adolf Goldberg’s Schemat idealny nowoczesnego zakładania miast (Ideal Outline for Modern City Founding), referring to the centuries-old idea of an ideal city. In Goldberg’s office, a daring plan was conceived: to move back the railway tracks and the Łódź Fabryczna station five hundred metres to the east. On the huge area released in this way, there was to be a spacious square with a huge new station building, the town hall, hotels and a whole array of representative buildings.

It will be a tale about visions, killed for many a reason, the beginning and the end of which took place in the minds of eminent architects, in their phenomenal plans, projects and sketches. A story of utopia. Is it worth being a visionary architect when the desire to reform the world is turning into a vague figment of one’s imagination?

Two-level Milan

When Leonardo da Vinci came to Milan in 1482, offering his services to duke Lodovico Sforza, the city was far from being aesthetically enchanting despite its fame, richness and hugeness. ‘Woven’ from, among other things, workshops famous for their austerity which produced weapons (armour for people and animals, lances, halberds) and military buildings, Milan functioned as a fortress, an urban fortified camp looming ominously on the horizon. Leonardo, who was an aesthete, could not stand crowds of paupers swarming in the streets, heaps of decomposing impurities, streets turned into sewers, food leftovers thrown away through windows. Didn’t what bothered Leonardo harm other people? As K. Ashenburg in her brilliant Clean; an unsanitized history of washing stresses, towards the end of the 15th century baths were becoming to be perceived as dangerous facilities. If initially they were pleasant places frequented not only for hygienic purposes, but also for broadly understood social reasons, then at the close of the Middle Ages they turned into in one of the areas causing plague. Part of scientists of the day came to the conclusion that hot water softens the body, which creates favourable conditions for opening of pores through which ‘poisonous air’ may easily permeate the organism! According to K. Ashenburg, fear of water was responsible for the aversion to taking a bath, and consequently had an impact on the acceptance of dirt which people tried to neutralize by wearing underwear: white shirts ostentatiously showing from the outerwear, and their love for perfume.

When between 1484 and 1486 there was an outbreak of plague in Milan, and terrified Lodovico left the city not to be taken ill, Leonardo decided that it was a perfect moment to show the duke one of his visions: that of a new city, plans of transforming Milan. The new city was to be free from plague, death and ugliness due to a few essential innovations. Firstly, it was necessary to resign from the city-behemoth and create smaller centres with the maximum of 30 thousand inhabitants, because only then ‘will it be possible to locate a mass of people that live crowded together like a herd of goats filling air with stench and spreading germs of diseases and death.’ Cities were to be founded by the river or sea so that sewer systems could, with the help of water, dispose of impurities, moving them farther, outside the city walls, as far as to bodies of water. Leonardo also called for building city public conveniences and eliminating that terrible reek with the help of unusual hoods placed on chimneys to eliminate stinking clouds of smoke. Cities were to be two-level, with the bottom part intended for workers, servants and other lesser mortals, and the upper level reserved for aristocracy and elites. Leonardo wrote that ‘no vehicles will be allowed to go into the upper streets which will be reserved only for those of noble birth. In turn, lower streets will be used for traffic of carriages and wheelbarrows as well as everything that the inhabitants happen to use. Houses should stand with their backs to each other, with lower streets situated between them. Through entrances [of houses] supplies such as wood or wine will be delivered. Due to underground passages, toilets, stables and other stinky places will be eliminated. The distance between two arcs of an arcade should be 300 ells, which means that the light from cracks from upper streets would reach every passage. Under each arc there will be winding stairs which in addition will be round, as people tended to use corners of square stairs for relieving themselves. On the first turn, there will be a door leading to a toilet and public conveniences: these stairs will allow passing from the upper street to the lower.’ New cities were supposed to be light, clean, and full of sunshine.

Leonardo’s architectural visions were truly healing. The artist, writing a memorial on the occasion of the contest for the construction of the Milan cathedral, compared architects to doctors as a doctor has to know human nature to cure the patient, whereas an architect, just as the doctor, has to know the nature of the building, principles ruling it and reasons why the mass stands and will last.

Unfortunately, the urgent need for healing Milan, the city of dirt and impurities, came to nothing. Duke Lodovico had other problems, and trusting astrologers’ warnings that the plague could supposedly get him not because of dirt and poisonous fumes hanging over the city but because of excessive consumption of oysters, he welcomed the news of passing epidemics with joy and he would not hear of the city redevelopment any longer. Leonardo was forced to limit his long-term desires (horror of horrors!) to attempts of getting rid of unpleasant smells in stables and toilets.

On a radial plan

It has to be remembered that the unsuccessful revolution which Leonardo wanted to achieve offering a new quality of urban architecture to Milan but also to the whole world is not limited only to his plans and projects. It is worth recalling Antonio di Pietro Averlino called Filarete (1400-1469), a great sculptor and architect who in his Trattato di architettura (Treatise on Architecture) (1461-1464) was first to put forward a project of an ideal city founded on a radial plan, a city constructed from elements introducing to human life harmony, order, comfort, cleanliness and obvious clarity of the message. And just as in the case of the relation between Leonardo and Lodovico Sforza (Moro), also Filarete remains alone with his dreams that Francesco Sforza could not make true. Could it be the curse of Milan? Are there cursed cities in which making a healing architectural effort is always doomed to failure? And does this failure always have to be a consequence of the lack of imagination of their rulers or municipal councils or a shortage of funds?

The subsequent centuries brought urban and architectural visions as well as more or less successful attempts to accomplish them, such as Zamość, shaped in accordance with ideal plans at the end of the 16th century. It is also surprising to see the grand scale and simply fantastic forms of plans of an ideal city around the saltworks of Chaux in Arc-et-Senans made by architect Claude Nicolas Ledoux at the end of the 18th century (neo-classicism relished axial as well as radial urban compositions).

Staszic and Rembieliński

Attempts of similar quality gave birth to Łódź, an industrial settlement conceived by Stanisław Staszic and Rajmund Rembieliński, founded in imitation of ideal cities in 1823. The first settlement – New Town was this very shape, its centre was outlined by an octagonal square (now Wolności Square) surrounded by a square of streets: Wschodnia-Południowa (East-South) (Południowa is now called Rewolucji 1905 r.) and Zachodnia-Północna (West-North), forming an ideally axial arrangement. This layout was disrupted only by a rectangular area of gardens along Średnia Steet (currently Pomorska St.) on the east-west axis. Similarly, another part of industrial Łódź, Łódka settlement founded between 1824 and 1828, had a lot in common with ideal neo-classical concepts: crosswise streets and quarters divided into regular narrow plots were threaded on the long axis of Piotrkowska Street running along the north-south line. In this way a rational, well-thought layout was made. Unfortunately, we do not know the author of this project. Rajmund Rembieliński, the then president of the Mazowieckie Voivodeship Committee (equivalent of today’s voivode), a land surveyor Filip de Viebig and Jan Leśniewski played an important role in shaping the industrial settlements of Łódź.

The format of streets laid out in the 1820s developed successfully for the next several dozen years despite temporary stagnation connected with economic crises. Streets filled with houses of weavers with gardens at their backs, and big industrial buildings sprang up along the Jasień River, from which Ludwik Geyer’s factory stood out. The situation changed radically in the 1860s when as part of repression after the January Uprising the Polish administration was removed from power and replaced with tsar’s offices. The city, until that moment managed rationally, entered a phase of dynamic but at the same time uncontrolled, haphazard, unbridled development. City centre quarters started to be densely crammed with buildings, and too narrow streets, not broadened in time, became excessively crowded. Industrial buildings started to ‘invade’ residential areas, which resulted in extremely unfavourable mixing of residential and industrial buildings. Small rivers turned into sewage, the number of inhabitants at the turn of the centuries rocketed, and the city began to feel the lack of everything: hospitals, schools, churches, well-cobbled streets or water and sewer systems. The city condition was of no interest whatsoever to the Russian invaders who were interested only in exacting taxes from local manufacturers. As a result of that, large sums from run-down Łódź were used, among other things, to expand another city – Sankt Petersburg. Obviously, this was not the time of absolute fall or stagnation owing to the initiative of city citizens as well as resourcefulness and generosity of Łódź manufacturers: the Scheiblers, Poznańskis, Geyers, Grohmans, Silbersteins and many others helped set up schools, hospitals, churches, tram and railway lines. Also, the most important urban development undertakings of the day were a result of private initiative: thanks to private owners a wide avenue, Spacerowa Steet (currently Kościuszki Avenue) was laid out, and it was to be converted into a representative promenade. Factory owner Ludwik Meyer marked out a private street between Piotrkowska Steet and Dzika Steet (currently Sienkiewicza St.), building villas on it, and creating one of the most elegant fragments of the city.

Attempts of healing

Even the most enthusiastic private efforts to change the surroundings were not able to change radically the extremely unfavourable conditions of buildings and the appalling sanitary situation. One has to remember that on the threshold of the First World War Łódź, with its half a million inhabitants, was one of the European cities with the poorest health condition of dwellers and the highest death rate. The layout of the city was inefficient, there were no representative squares, public buildings or greenery in the city centre. After the Germans had taken the city at the beginning of the First World War, alarmed at the condition of the city they hastily set out to prepare a plan of healing the city. Dr Christopher Ranck, an urban specialist and ‘healer’, was brought from Hamburg, and in 1917 he prepared a plan of urban healing of Łódź. It assumed widening of exit roads, building an East-West axis on the line of Główna Street and św. Anny Street (plan accomplished around 1970 – Mickiewicza Avenue and Piłsudskiego Avenue), creating new squares and introducing more greenery to the city centre. Christopher Ranck brought Adolf Goldberg to help him. He was originally from Łódź and, after graduating from architecture studies in Munich, he stayed there, finding a job in the construction office as an urban planner. Adolf Goldberg came to Łódź and actively and enthusiastically joined in the work in the Department of City Development. With the end of the war, when Christopher Ranck returned to Hamburg, Adolf Goldberg was in charge of works which were a continuation of studies made during the war.

Vision of a new district

In 1919, already in the period of independent Poland, extraordinary phenomenal plans of creating a new city centre of Łódź were elaborated in the Department of City Development run by Adolf Goldberg. These were truly visionary plans, evoking the renaissance discourse on architecture (these plans in the form of large charts are kept in the Museum of History of Łódź). The point of departure for the newly conceived idea was Schemat idealny nowoczesnego zakładania miast by Adolf Goldberg, which makes references to the centuries-old idea of the ideal city and assumes a clear division of functions as well as lucid, clear and rational transport layout.

Among the plans prepared at that time, there are two fascinating alternative projects of redeveloping the surrounding area of the Łódź Fabryczna station. One of the main maladies of the city was the lack of a representative centre with public buildings, yet there was no room anyway for such a centre in the already existing tissue of the city (Nowy Rynek – Plac Wolności, which dated back to the beginnings of industrial Łódź, could not serve this purpose). In the office of Adolf Goldberg, a daring plan was conceived: to move back the railway tracks and the Łódź Fabryczna station five hundred metres to the east. On the huge area released in this way, there was be a spacious square with a huge new station building, the town hall, hotels and a whole array of representative buildings. The chart elaborated in accordance with the proposal of engineer Edward Szenfeld, a graduate of the Riga Technical University, who came to Łódź from Vilnius and co-operated with Adolf Goldberg, is equally impressive. It contains a vivid vision of a new district with the square in front of the station directly linked through Targowa Steet with Targowy Square (Dąbrowskiego Square) and the surrounding streets (as they are called today): Narutowicza, Uniwersytecka, Jaracza, the neighbourhood of Staszica Park, with rows of grand tenement houses and a visible building of Szkoła Zgromadzenia Kupców. The new centre of Łódź was to acquire a European dimension, making references to new districts of German, Austro-Hungarian or French cities.

There was one more alternative proposal elaborated in a more detailed way. It featured a thought of leading a railway line on the north-south axis running in excavations under present Narutowicza Street and Jaracza Street northbound and Tuwima Street and Nawrot Street southbound. The plan did not show the line from Koluszki: was it supposed to be closed down completely? This very project included an idea of a new huge station and the square in front of it surrounded with representative buildings. Between the square and Kilińskiego Street, it was proposed to place a huge town hall topped with a tower overlooking the city, with the facade directed towards Kolejowy Park (Moniuszki Park).

Taking into account not only the situation of the city ruined by many years of war and wasteful policy, but also the position of the country only recently reborn after years of bondage, Łódź architects and urban planners turned out to be brave visionaries. They were aware of the fact that there were no chances of putting such daring proposals into effect – they were utopian in those conditions, but by creating fantastic, idealistic, ‘futuristic’ projects they asked about the sense of architecture, its shape and quality, and finally about the sense of being an architect.

After ninety years, in a completely different historical and economic situation this kind of visionariness is alive again. The plan of the New Centre of Łódź, whose realization is going to be started soon, is unexpectedly becoming a return to the ideas from 1919, with the exception that the station building and the railway line leading to it are hidden underground. On the released huge area, there will be new representative buildings, an art museum, office blocks and hotels, linked directly with Dąbrowskiego Square, Narutowicza Street and Uniwersytecka Street. Astonishingly, daring visions survived. The present situation gives hope that Łódź will finally gain a new image; utopia has a chance to become a vision, and the vision –reality.

The abovementioned architect and visionary Filarete said that huge costs which will be incurred in the name of great redevelopment of cities are never wasted or squandered as ‘generous and powerful princes as well as republics should not refrain from erecting huge and beautiful buildings because of costs. No country has ever become poorer or died as a result of erecting buildings (...). Finally when a great building is finished, there is neither less not more money in the country as a result; however the building stays in the country or city together with fame and honours’.


I would like to thank
Prof. Krzysztof Stefański,
director of the Department of Art History, University of Lodz
for his help in preparing the article.


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