The Two-Headed Dragon

This film presents a short episode of a joint Polish-German history, which began in 1921 with the division of Upper Silesia into two hostile States and ended with the outbreak of the World War II. As a result, Upper Silesia, in just a few years, transformed from the provincial border into the most progressive urban experiment in Europe early 1930s.

fot. Charles C. Ebbets

From New York to Katowice

One of the world's most famous photos presents 11 man having lunch on a steel beam hundreds of meters over the streets of New York City. These are the workers building a colossus – the GE Building skyscraper at the Rockefeller Center in 1932. The photo has been taken on the 29th September by Charles C. Ebbets who certainly didn't know that at the same time a similar photo has been made in a far Eastern European country – Poland. The famous scene from New York overshadowed the shooting from the construction of the skyscraper in Katowice which became the capital of the newborn Silesian voivodship. Here, in the place called „the Siberia of Europe”, the first successful attempt of implementing the American skyscrapers has been conducted in a time when Europe looked with reserve at the skyrockets, as they were called.
When Ebbets released the shutter in New York, the construction of the Silesian giant advanced since three years. In contradiction to the American skyscrapers it didn't shoot up into the sky but still got something equally interesting. It was the modern design rooted in cubism and the avantgarde of Bauhaus. The American skyscrapers were still simmered in a sauce of historical styles. Sparsely there have been some exceptions which were modern like the Chrysler Building. There could be no question of gothic skyscrapers in Katowice where the two-headed dragon of progress reigned.

fot. Architektura i budownictwo 1932r.

It all began a few years earlier with the building boom influenced by preferential loans to private entrepreneurs and enormous expenditure given by the Silesian Voivodeship Office. Soon, the only problem was ... no free land. The city which was surrounded by a molehill of mines had little space for expansion. The prices of land soared up rapidly in an American-like style.
The first experimental construction of a modern skyscraper in Poland was set in Katowice in 1929-1931. It was the House of the Professors of the Silesian Technical Research Facilities located at the Wojewodzka Street 23. The work of an excellent architect Eustachy Chemielewski and the constructor Lucjan Timofiejewicz impressed not with its height but with its form. Since it was the first such high building in Poland based on a steel construction. Nine storeys overlooked the surrounding buildings and its corner had a dynamic structure of rounded balconies which levitated over the street like hanging bridges. This functionalistic building was a testing ground of new technology. It worked as the skyscraper was built in record time mainly thanks to the steel construction which could be set even in low temperatures.

Katowice 2007

It is no wonder that the upper-silesian dragon was hungry for another giant. Its construction started even before the Proffesor's House has been finished. An exposed plot in the corner has been chosen again. This time it was the intersection of Zielona and Wanda Streets (nowadays: Curie-Sklodowskiej and Zwirki-Wigury Streets). The structure has been designed by the most brilliant Polish constructor of that time, the forerunner of welding, Prof. Stefan Bryla. This construction genius had a great influence on the American success in the race to the clouds. He developed his innovative welding technology overseas. Earlier the steel construction has been riveted which caused troubles. Prof. Bryła tested his technology at the Woolworth Building construction which was finished right before the Great War and was the highest building in the States till 1930. In Katowice the same constructor created a building which carried off the palm in the Second Republic of Poland. The edifice, which has been completed in 1934, got an impressive height of 62 meters. The building has been designed by Henryk Griffel and Tadeusz Kozlowski. These architects shaped a functionalist skyscraper, rejecting any ornaments. They dissegmented the corner upon which the balconies overlook. Their horizontal lines harmonize with the strong verticals like pilasters which strengthen the height of the building. The interpenetration of horizontals and verticals creates a dynamic effect with a culmination of expression at the corner. The steel construction allowed an unprecedented thing in multistorey brick buildings: an enormous glazing in the corner as if it would mock at the weight of this 14 floor building! This skyscraper got a stately framework. There were lower, six- or sevenstorey wings flanking on the sides, which were dedicated for revenue offices. The skyscraper itself was a residential tower for the workers of both the Silesian Voivodeship Office and the Tax Chamber. After WWII the artists working in the Silesian Theatre (like Gustaw Holubek or Kazimierz Kutz), as well as famous writers (Kalman Segal, Boleslaw Lubosz) were accomodated in large, luxurious apartments.

On the 9th July 1931 the premiere of the movie "Iron frame construction, its principles and applications", which showed how the Silesian giant was built, took place in the Rialto cinema in Katowice. It proves that the Silesian skyscraper was equally photogenic at construction as the GE Building tower seen on the photo taken by Charles C. Ebbets. In the film the workers were going on steel I-beams over the streets of the capital of the Silesian Voivodeship. This documentary was displayed before films in cinemas all over Poland. The citizens of Katowice grew fond of their skyscraper so that a series of postcards with both its steel frame and its completed impressive shape has been released.