Formerly Known As The Bermuda Triangle, The Neighbourhood Faces A Complete Paint Job
The New Municipality Of Wroclaw Imposed Recently That Some Of The Initiatives Must Remain Detained In The Process Of Being Reassessed.
Following the wave of changes that are occurring in the city of Wroclaw, we will cross the river Odra, left from Rynek Square, where the stop of Wróblewskiego meets with Generała Romualda Traugutta street, to the start of the area named Przedmieście Oławskie, also known as the “Bermuda Triangle” in a colloquial manner. This zone has been severely marked by empty premises and big blocks of 19th century buildings, left to lack of investment during years, gaining a bad idea result of the neighbourhood’s carelessness and the growth of important social issues, such as delinquency and unemployment, which left its inhabitants to be seen as outsiders from the rest of Wroclaw’s population.
Nevertheless, once, this district enjoyed of popularity and represented very well the urban layout of Wroclaw. So, how a place considered as having a great splendour has turned its positive image into a frightened area?
As we used to point out within Nadodrze’s article, we will focus on the history of this area and where is the starting point of the renovations that are apparently ongoing in this neighbourhood with the goal of giving it a complete paint job. An article that will cover facts and the current revitalization process in Przedmieście Oławskie.
The neighbourhood of Przedmieście Oławskie covers a vast area of 220 ha, in the central part of Wroclaw. It is in the district of Krzyki, with a total number of inhabitants of 24.000 (according to the last statistics of January 2019). The area goes all over the eastern part of the city, from the main Railway Station, Dworcowa and Podwale streets, north till the Oder river; then it goes all along the edge of Oława river, parallel to Traugutta street until meeting the railroad tracks again. The characteristic buildings are multi-storey tenement houses and post-industrial buildings from the turn of 19th and 20th century.
The historical value of urban complexes and individual architectural objects can be found in Przedmieście Oławskie. Particularly, a noteworthy street, Miernicza, is preserved in its historical form practically in its entirety. It is a flagship example of a group of buildings built mostly in the Art Nouveau style. Overall, the geometry of the quarter’s results from the urban development along the former trade routers and subsequent arrangements of the system in the second half of the XIX century.
On the other hand, the area was popularly known as “The Bermuda Triangle” – Trójkąt Bermudzki. This conception was born in the 1960s and 1970s. The first reason is due to its shape as a triangle, as one can see on a map. The second reason is inspired by a local urban folklore, which states that people would “disappear” after entering the neighbourhood. That bias comment extended the prejudices against the neighbourhood along the years.
What can we be found in the area nowadays?
Przedmieście Oławskie is a downtown area with a dominant residential and service function. Between 40 and 50 per cent of the space has a commercial usefulness; most of them located in the streets of Traugutta, Kosciuszki and Komuna Paryska. In addition, there are educational facilities at various levels, for instance, two elementary schools, two high schools and schools of higher education, such as the Academy of Fine Arts and the School of Jazz and Popular Music; libraries (Lower Silesian Pedagogical Library, Municipal Public Library) and numerous facilities related to health protection (among others, the Lower Silesian Specialist Hospital of T. Marciniak), cultural centres, like the Ethnographic Museum and the Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts; a police station, a fire brigade headquarters, as well as the building of Poczta Polska.
Religious churches located here are Roman Catholic churches (the church of Saint Maurice and the church of St. Lazarus), the Second Church and the Baptist Church, the Protestant-Methodist congregation and the Seventh-day Adventist congregation.
On the other hand, we can also find the Na Grobli water tower and preserved buildings of the liqueurs and vodka factory by Carl Schirdewan, operating under such a company before 1945.
As “Przedmieście Oławskie we Wrocławiu” book states, the name of this quarter derives from an important trade route running towards Oława and further towards Krakow, the route to which the way-out of travellers was leading the now-defunct Oławska Gate on medieval origins. Its relics can hardly be found in the architecture of the underground passage under Dominikański Square. Like the rest of the city’s fortifications, it was damaged during the siege of Wrocław by the Napoleonic army, and then demolished.
Wrocław’s downtown districts, built in the early twentieth century as suburbs, looked like tall and dark tenement houses, full of drunken brawls. In the 1960s and 1970s, areas filled with quarters of multi-storey tenement houses that survived the war did not give rise to positive associations in the inhabitants. Before the war, these were districts of greater splendour, some were even considered representative (especially those located in the south and southeast of the Old Town). That is the case of Przedmieście Oławskie.
The Oława river has been one of the main points of Przedmieście Oławskie since its beginnings. One of the first times the district is mentioned, in 1234, time of the Church of Sant Maurycego construction, is in the Medieval Era, when the river worked as an important source of energy for the population. That could be one of the reasons why the current revitalization program focuses on the river as the major point of cohesion and renovation.
During that time and along the following centuries, some spaces that feature the atmosphere of the neighbourhood were gardens, which were made to fill out the church’s surroundings, taverns and pubs, carpenters, weavers’ communities and specially communication routes connected to trade routes.
At Traugutta street, the main route to Oława and Malopolska had numerous ditches and ponds on both sides, still visible on the set from 1818. As it is said in the Przedmieście Oławskie Masterplan Analizy, by the Wroclawska Rewitalizacja – “at the beginning of the 19th century, the Przedmieście Oławskie functioned as a recreational space of the city of Wrocław. There were numerous walking routes, above all at Wróblewskiego square, while the southern areas of Przedmieście Oławskie were still wild”.
At the end of the 19th century, the Oławskie Przedmieście underwent a significant change. The construction of the Upper Silesian Railroad Line together with the building of the main freight station and the development of industry located along the Oława River caused that this area began to be perceived as rich. During its rapid development, there were urban changes related to spatial development and the increase in the number of inhabitants. Between ul. Traugutta, Kościuszki, Pułaskiego and Podwale began the construction of blocks to rent. One main sight was the construction of a water tower at ul. Na Grobli 1864-1896, the establishment of new hospital wings and the production of liqueurs and vodka in the Carl Schirdewan’s factory in 1871, located in Traugutta street, which survived to this day. The products of this brand were then highly appreciated and made Wrocław famous all over Europe.
The ever-increasing number of inhabitants led to the creation of the largest number of schools in Wroclaw, and together with the schools of numerous dormitories and shelters as well as hospices. Due to religious diversity, numerous chapels of small religious communities were also located here. An important element created in the second half of the nineteenth century was also a complex of buildings of the Evangelical Protestant “Bethanien”, which included: a monastery, hospital, kindergarten, seminary, high school (today’s Marciniak Hospital) and erected later the church whose ruin is located at today’s Żabia Ścieżka. At the beginning of the 20th century, no major housing assumptions were created except for single supplements in the coastal development of this area.
It’s is important to point out a characteristic feature of the urban layout of Przedmieście Oławskie. It’s called, the “quarterly” development of tenement houses. This system was fully formed at the end of the 19th century and has been preserved with minor changes to this day, according to the Przedmieście Oławskie Masterplan Analizy, by the Wroclawska Rewitalizacja organization.
In the 19th century, the Oławskie suburb was developed through the expansion of medieval trade routes. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the layout of streets and buildings was given a geometrical form, and in 1890 the suburb was completely built-up. The predominant type of building was tenement houses with 5-6 floors, and the typical width of the street was 15 m. Miernicza street construction represents the typical urban layout of Przedmieście Oławski.
With the Second World War, the area of Przedmieście Oławski was 60% destroyed, especially during Festung Breslau in 1945. The biggest damage was suffered in Wróblewskiego square. These heavy damages crashed with the general layout in some streets. The differences between the nineteenth century system built-up quarters at the intersection of Pulaski Street and Kosciuszko are a clear example of what was there before and after.
After World War II, people from Lviv, mainly from Łyczaków and Zamarstynów, settled in this area, which was supposed to affect the character of this district; at the same time, the urban layout of the district partially underwent some transformations, for instance, the demolition of buildings due to hygienic reasons.
In the 1980s and 1990s, there were numerous projects to cover building gaps, which in some cases, respected the 19th-century urban layout, but in other cases, that numerous post-war buildings did not always adapt to the character of the housing estate. After 1945, freestanding and block buildings were built, which did not respect historical building lines. And there are still many gaps, for example, on the quarters adjacent to the railway grounds and to the Oława waterfront.
In 1997, the “flood of the millennium” wiped out the general appearance of the area which it has remained till now. The water entered up to the first floor, and many buildings were irreparably damaged. Some of them were demolished and successively replaced with new ones.
In 2009, the area of the ‘triangle’ was still one of the most neglected areas of the city, however, unlike Nadodrze, it was not covered by a revitalization program yet.
Currently, the neighbourhood is fully engaged in a revitalization process under which the tenement houses are being renovated and spaces filled with contemporary buildings.
Why the conception of ‘Bermudzki Triangle’?
As we have read, throughout Przedmieście Oławski’s history there are no major points related to danger or risk to its inhabitants. Actually the district enjoyed centuries of popularity and its buildings shaped most of Wroclaw’s history. However, the suburbs built in the early twentieth century looked slightly different from what was built before. In the 1960s and 1970s, the multi-storey tenement houses that survived the War did not give rise to positive associations. Before the war, these were districts of greater splendour, some even considered representative areas. The Oder suburb survived in a relatively good condition; about 60% of buildings survived. But the “Bermudzki Triangle” clung already to the district.
The area was step by step getting narrowed to a pretty shapely triangle marked down by Traugutta, Kosciuszki and Pulaskiego Streets. It’s a place where many urban legends inspired by inscriptions on the walls of the type “God forgives the Triangle never!” or “Who comes here will not come out alive” or stories about cutters lurking on lost strangers in the Mierncza or Pradzynski.
The reason for this state, as it is written on the website TuWroclaw.com, were seen in “various stereotypes”, such as people from pathological families used to live there and children deprived of care because their parents are often drunk. It was taken for granted that most of the children from the ‘Triangle’ wander around and their life is taught by street and violence.
All those stereotypes, based on legends, misconceptions and anecdotes, built a particular atmosphere which caught the attention of movie directors. The “Bermuda Triangle” in Wroclaw was often a background for films, such as “Avalon”, a Japanese science-fiction film from 2001 directed by Mamoru Oshii and “The Bridge of Spies” (2005), shot by Steven Spielberg. Actually, such districts are like open-air museums.
Over the last years, Przedmieście Oławskie has grown under the idea of being an “alcoholic meeting place”, with the noise of the drunken staring at the stairwells, broken bottles on the pavement, sounds of drunken brawls coming from the open windows. The neighbourhood’s appearance has led it to a terrible conception, an unsafe place for every citizen, with the so-called Bermuda Triangle. Now, the Przedmieście Oławskie faces a complete renovation, which started in 2012 and took its major moment few months ago. Nevertheless, the elected government set up by Jacek Sutryk imposed that some of the initiatives must remain detained in the process of being re-reviewed.
The idea is that in the next few years, some vitally important projects will be carried out here, such as developing the banks of the Oława river, renovating yards and tenements and adapting houses’ annexes to the needs of the local community. A place that has a particularly big potential, despite being very neglected.
Wrocławska Rewitalizacja was, until a short time ago, the organisation supervising the revitalisation of Przedmieście Oławskie, and who tried to involve representatives of different milieus in the discussion about the development of this area. As it is stated on the website of the DoFA ’17 exhibition, among the invited guests have been the participants in the conservatory design and revitalisation course at the Academy of Architecture in Mendrisio, Switzerland. The students under the supervision of Professor Ruggero Tropeano spent an entire semester devising concepts for the old Carl Schirdewan vodka factory, the ruins of the Christian Church and the nearby public spaces.
Following a similar procedure to what we did with Nadodrze and in order to find out what specific changes are undergoing in the area, we interviewed the Urban Regeneration Specialist of Wrocławska Rewitalizacja, Paweł Wojdylak.
Wrocławska Rewitalizacja worked as the municipal company of Wroclaw whose responsibility is to develop revitalization projects for the city and, for example, they also play an important role as an intermediate agent, between the neighbourhood and the European Council. They were the ones applying for the EU funds over the whole region of Lower Silesia. Until a short time ago, they played a key role in the revitalization process of Przedmieście Oławskie, until the new major of Wroclaw, Jacek Sutryk – from the Koalicja Obywatelska or Civic Coalition party, decided that these processes should be taken inside the structures of the city hall, and took away Wrocławska Rewitalizacja’s organization, according to the same source.
In any case and even though the process might not be restarted until next year, we had the chance to speak with Paweł Wojdylak, who told us a little bit more about the changes, differences and features of Przedmieście Oławskie’s revitalization.
“The approach is different”
The tendency to compare Nadodrze and Przedmieście Oławskie is quite known, but even though both districts faced revitalizations processes, the approach is different. While in Nadodrze, the art and culture were the main factors which influenced the paint job, in Przedmieście Oławskie the goal was to use the Oława river to add more nature to public spaces.
“Statistics showed that something was wrong here”
The district is just 15 minutes’ walk to the main square, very closed to the city centre, but apparently is focusing main social issues of the city as well. When in 2012 the city council and some other organizations started to think about how to make a paint job to this area, they also thought about how to revert the conception of an ‘unsafe and dirty place’.
“We analysed the whole neighbourhood looking at 4 fears: infrastructure, social issues, environment and economic sphere”
Wrocławska Rewitalizacja was in charge of looking at the blocks, courtyards and the connection between them, empty premises on the ground floor and the river front to develop a master plan to cover the paint job of this area, without forgetting those four fears. In 2016, the well-known “Local revitalization program” (LPR) was created; a document designed for a period of time 2016-2018 that showed the problems, positive sides and projects lead by the city council, which enabled the organization to run for the European Union funds. Before applying, of course, those documents were discussed and consulted. Wrocławska Rewitalizacja organized meetings with the community, where they showed a resample, drawing of a design. A specific consultation was done in Oława river, for example, in order to involve the school next to it with the whole process.
The Local Revitalization Program is a document related to the acquisition of EU funds for the renovation of cities. It indicates areas to be covered by support and projects located in them that can apply for co-financing from the European Union. Its adoption by the City Council of Wrocław will mean a new stage of revitalization for the city – activities will focus in the near future in Przedmieście Oławskie and Nadodrze.
“Everyone was calling the office ‘when will be those projects realised’?”
The application to the EU funds was long and complicated. The process took around a year. Finally, at the beginning of 2018, the results were published. Since then, some projects in the neighbourhood have been completed and others must be finished by September 2019. Step by step its changing the image of the city, but it should be pointed out that it’s a complete renovation, including installations, ventilations, new window, etc.
“There was less money than in the case of Nadodrze”
Nadodrze’s revitalization was also supplied by EU funds; but the case of Przedmieście Oławskie has been different. At the time of applying for funding, Wroclaw was competing with other municipalities of the region; therefore, there was less money to cover all projects that were planned for this district.
“We put an emphasis to renovate that beautiful space along the river”
One of the results of the analysis made in the area, says Wojdylak, was the shortage of public space of greenery. People did not have space to walk out their dogs and children did not have a safe place to play. Thus, one of the biggest projects was to renovate all the open space along Oława river, as well as the renovation of tenements, courtyards next to the river.
“The main goal is to improve the quality of life”
The case of Przedmieście Oławskie goes beyond the conception of ‘brand’, used for Nadodrze. In this area, the benefits for the community are seen as crucial, so it’s not only about renovating spaces, but also public initiatives which can be useful for the inhabitants there. The courtyards, for example, have a different approach than in Nadodrze. “We wanted to be more sustainable”, says Wojdylak. “More green spaces and spaces that can be individually developed by the inhabitants; those tiny lands that are adjacent to the tenements; car parking that can have their own garden; even those where you can grow tomatoes”.
“The biggest program was the Oława river front”
Great places were found along the river during the creation of the Master Plan. The idea, as Wojdylak affirms, was to maintain the wilderness character of the river while improving infrastructures and renovate some spaces dedicated to different groups of people such as kids and the elderly. “Wooden platforms and permeable materials were used”, in order to keep the ecosystem as it is. In that sense, species were protected, the wild nature was maintained, and people were enthusiastic with it.
“We are also thinking about other different spots in Przedmieście Oławskie”
The LPR, the local revitalization program, allowed the district to start a complete paint job. But apart from that, says Wojdylak, they wanted also to focus on small areas that needed a stronger brainstorming to see what could be done there. It is the case of the Vodka Distillery, very close to the water, in the backyard of one of the tenements of Traugutta Street. It gathered a large vodka production, but now the building is ruined. In order to change that, Wrocławska Rewitalizacja organized an architectural competition; with the cooperation of polish architects’ association, they changed the local development plan into something that enable them to change the neighbourhood, with special attention to the former ‘vodka’ building. This was a “small” step that pursues changing the image of the surroundings”, claims Wojdylak, “the same with other little projects, such as having more greenery and helped inhabitants with more plants provisions and plant them in the backyards”.
“We believe that revitalization is not always about big projects, but also small steps you can have with community”
Wrocławska Rewitalizacja main work in Przedmieście Oławskie has been to encourage the community to be part of their own neighbourhood and to take care of it. The vodka distillery proposition is one of them, but there are plenty of initiatives that have helped people to be proud of their origins and to reject the idea of being in a poor and neglected area. For example, on the crossing of Piłsudskiego and Kościuszki streets, there was an illegal parking lot. The idea of the inhabitants, jointly with Wrocławska Rewitalizacja, was to plant grass and flowers; a small visual change, but that had the same impact than those big projects funded by the EU. Or, the workshop about “beautification” of the balcony, which consisted on decorate each private space and put a little greener into those 19th century old buildings.
“There are quite huge number of private investors in Przedmieście Oławskie”
The new attractiveness of the area will not be focused only on social houses, renovation of facades and the maintenance of the river front, but on new office spaces, commercial housing and private properties that will bring cafes, services and another image to the neighbourhood.
Second chance: Thanks to the Local Revitalization Program for 2016-2018, the Oławskie Przedmiescie and the Oława River regain their former splendour. The investor, Angel Poland Group, has been actively involved in the revitalization process, implementing the Angel River housing estate that is being built on the river. Two buildings at Walońska street (nine and seventeen floors) will be coherent with the Local Revitalization Program. The secluded river Oława and the green patio, promenade and a wide range of apartments are the advantages that will open new opportunities for the residents of Wroclaw.
Revitalization, in numbers
The whole process in Przedmieście Oławskie, starting in 2012, but a real action in 2016, took 28 million PLN.
- 15 tenements
- 2,5 million PLN for the Oława river front – planned to be finished in September 2019 or even earlier. (now pending)
- 7,5 million PLN for local centre activities, 1 located in Krasińskiego and another one in Traugutta Streets.
- Renovation of 4 courtyards, around 6 million PLN.
- There will be an empty premises program, still in construction. (now pending)
“Przedmieście Oławskie was a desert, so what we are doing here is basically improving the quality of life”, claims Wojdylak, who notices that step by step people are feeling better in this area, with much more NGOs and social organizations than before and with the essence of revitalization behind. The process is ongoing and each stage takes time, and remembers that the area started to be at the core of the conversations in 2012, but it was not until 2018 that the first stone was placed. Now, as Wrocławska Rewitalizacja is shut down and the Municipality is carrying out the whole projects, more loopholes than signs of hope are foreseen in this area. As discussed, several changes are currently on their way, but others are postponed till next year. The question is if all the efforts made will have a happy ending and eventually Przedmieście Oławskie will have a complete paint job or all will get stuck in a bureaucratic cycle.
In any case, Wroclaw and Wroclavians needs to understand that this is part of its history and that those times of the ‘Bermuda’s Triangle’ are over. We all hope that the Przedmieście Oławskie is going to be changed.