Municipal Palace in Kalisz, around 1900. Photo from an old calendar.
Three years ago I started my historical research on City Hall, other words, Municipal Palace, built between 1888-1890 in Kalisz. At the time it was frontier, regional capital city in Polish Kingdom, or the western provinces of Russian Empire. Today Kalisz, considered to be the oldest town in Poland (mentioned in Ptolemy’s ancient works) is a noble, medium city in the central part of the country – Wielkopolska Voivodeship (around 100 000 citizens live here, according to 2010 census). In modern life of Kalisz its nineteen century public architecture is now almost absent, due to the tragedy of 1914, when Prussian troops looted and burned down historical core of the city. Belle Époque signs and local landmarks of modern, industrial age architecture – City Hall, Theatre – were destroyed and then (in postwar era of 1918-1939) replaced by some new structures, erected according to paradigms of classical architecture, devoted to be visual protocols of new, nation-based, reborn Polish State.
Thanks to postwar historical research and cultural practices, public architecture of 19th century Kalisz is lost but not forgotten. Nowadays it serves as vivid sign of city’s Lost Momentum, a short Gilded Age for local industry, merchants, consumption and cultural exchanges, which erupted after Kalisz-Warsaw railway had linked the city with mayor industrial cities in Polish Kingdom and Russian Empire (1902) and then with German Empire (1906 international connector to Skalmierzyce). This promising time for business and many interesting activities lasted to the summer of 1914, when the Fall came with german soldiers and global war beginnings.
As an architecture history student, I decided to write my Master’s Thesis precisely on Kalisz nineteenth century Municipal Palace. After some research, I was well aware of historical data shortage: the building itself did not exist, its plans and drawings were gone (probably lost in 1914), detailed description published in local newspaper in 1891 – inaccessible in Polish libraries. Also, only two photos of the main ballroom were known – we have no imagery of the building ornate interiors. During my study and search in archives, I found some fragmentary documentation, estimate, construction data, some sample study drawings. With postcards photos, newspaper’s notes and some existing bibliography – it was all, and very fast I knew it by heart, fascinated by ornate, elaborated architecture of structure I chose to describe in terms of architecture history.
There are many fascinating threads in this structure, in its political and cultural background. But today I want to show something else, to illustrate words: If we cannot do as we would, we must do as we can. Design of Municipal Palace in Kalisz was symptomatic to 19th. century public architecture and I guess you can compare it to many buildings you have already seen in cities around the globe. Architects in Kalisz must have been well aware of the value of Ecole des Beaux-Arts practices as a means of construction public image of the state. For example, their design was kinship with the 1879-1880 “Ateneum ” project, created for arts palace in Warsaw. It has never been executed, but published in 1880 in “Inżynierja i Budownictwo”, one of the leading architecture periodicals at the time in Warsaw.
“Ateneum” for Warsaw, preliminary design by Franciszek Brauman and Józef Pius Dziekoński, architects, main facade, 1879.
What can you do, when your object of study does not exist and your historical data is fragile? I decided to “replace” not-existing design with present day reconstruction I based on the “Ateneum” rendering. After many rectifications I decided to publish it to show how its architecture was rooted in “academic” design practices, based on Ecole des Beaux-Arts workshop. During my work on this design I realised how strong this architecture was standardized and additional in composition.
I hope you will enjoy this reconstruction. It shows how Municipal Palace from 1890s. was presentable for its complicated function of “social palace” for the society and also, as an office block for city authorities. But its complicated political background is just a different kettle of fish.
City Hall in Kalisz, 1888-1890, design by Józef Chrzanowski & Eugeniusz Oraczewski, state architects. Main facade reconstruction by Makary Górzyński, 2013, based on Józef Pius Dziekoński & Franciszek Brauman, architects, design for “Ateneum”, 1879.
Kalisz City Hall in 2012. Photo by Author.