Przewirscy
Mr and Mrs Przemysław and Agnieszka Przewirscy are third generation engineers and since 1946, have lived at house no. 28 at 9 Dembowskiego Street. The property was designed for the WUWA exhibition by Emil Lange.

In brief, it is an experimental building with a bridge-like construction. After the war it was handed over to a bridge specialist, a Wrocław University of Technology professor and grandfather of the current owner. The house didn’t work well on a functional level, so it was rebuilt in 1930 during which the canopied terrace underneath part of the house was built over, the garage was added, as well as the terrace leading to the garden. During the siege of Wrocław the building was seriously damaged by an aerial bomb and later on, partly looted. After the war, when the Przewirski family as well as other residents arrived, the interiors were modified . Despite all the modifications, the main body of the building survived, as did some of the windows: which are particularly attractive if viewed from the garden-side.
This interview with the owners contains many technical details. Since both of them are knowledgeable architects, they completed most of the refurbishment of the house on their own.

AP: I once overheard a conversation between a young couple on their bikes who were passing through the area. One of them asked, “Why does the city subsidise this?” – on a neighbour’s house there happens to be an information plaque. “I think these are the old buildings that someone talked about some time ago.” The other replied, “Old houses!? They have flat roofs!” And they moved on. An average inhabitant of Wrocław or a tourist doesn’t know where WUWA starts and where it ends, why it is so important and what it’s all about. And why is a PRL house so important? It is commonly thought that we all here live in a PRL cube.

Grażyna Hryncewicz-Lamber: Has your family lived here since the end of the war?
AP: Since after the war. On the wall opposite the entrance door there is a portrait of my husband’s grandfather, professor Franciszek Przewirski. He is, as we call him, the founding grandfather.
PP: Instead of the founding fathers, we have a founding grandfather. Granddad came, moved in and stayed. That is our story in a nutshell. In more detail, grandpa came in 1946 as one of the last to settle here. All his neighbours were his colleagues.
AP: Professor colleagues…
PP: … who had been trying hard to keep this house for him. Times were hard and the house had already been partly demolished. Certain things were missing, e.g. the radiators, the windows and the interior doors because in those times people used whatever was to hand. One of the quoin stones had been destroyed by a bomb which hadn’t gone off. The building survived, since it’s the only WUWA object with a steel construction apart from the Rading’s building, so the bomb only crushed some mortar… The construction here is steel, screwed and hot-riveted. If you dig into the wall a bit, you can find elements that look like they have been taken from Grunwaldzki Bridge . Grandpa came, patched it up and moved in with his wife. Meanwhile, daddy was freed from a labour camp and travelled to the French Zone of Occupation. Having contacted home, he decided it wouldn’t have been a good idea to go back home after being in the AK for such a long time, so he drafted to the French Foreign Legion. He spent three years there and even became a lieutenant. He dealt with transport, not fighting. He came back and started to study at the Wrocław University of Technology where grandpa had already worked as a lecturer. He was handed his title as professor by Bolesław Bierut. There is a family story about that: When my father was starting his second or third year of studies, the student union demanded that he should be removed from the university for his improper class background, to put it bluntly, that he was from the rotten bourgeois intelligentsia. It was the same university the grandpa worked at as a professor. Grandpa was always a hot head in these situations, so without much consideration and not telling anyone about it, he sat at his desk and wrote a letter to the deans. To cut a long story short, the letter said, “If my professor’s post is to be a hindrance to my son’s graduation from higher school, then Mr Bierut may shove this degree up his you know where.” We still have a copy of this letter somewhere. We never received a reply. Grandma had already packed their possessions and was about to leave it all behind, when two weeks later the union head apologised sincerely to dad and the faculty council gave him a social scholarship till the end of his studies. And that’s how it all ended.
AP: Professor Przewirski was a wonderful figure. He was born in Austria as Franz v. Putschegl. He came to Lvov to study at the University of Technology and while there he decided that Lvov and Polishness were the best things that had ever happened to him and he decided to stay. He wanted it so much that he even accepted Polish citizenship and changed his surname. Long before his studies, during his military service, he met his future wife, a Serbian named Zdenka Groo. So, as a Serbian and an Austrian they got married in Lvov and then moved to Poland. Franciszek Przewirski was a road and bridge construction engineer and already a very successful and acknowledged professor in Lvov. He was one of the founding lecturers of the University of Technology. As a bridge specialist he was highly acclaimed: we still have photographs from the works on Grunwaldzki Bridge which he oversaw after the war. The new authorities couldn’t afford to insult such a prominent individual as Przewirski.
PP: In particular as grandpa stayed away from politics. He couldn’t care less about it.

GHL: Your neighbour, Mr P. Haśko showed me the Census of their house from 1946. Initially, so many people had passed through this house: until the 60s there were already about eight names.
PP: Many people lived here as well. After grandpa had moved in with his family, other people were relocated. Later on, when grandpa and dad wanted the house to be a single-family one, they had to make those people move out and find alternative lodging. There were a few people that our neighbours still remember.
AP: We have drawings showing how the house was divided. It’s really great to see its ups and downs of life it experienced and stages it went through.
The nearby houses were taken by friends: Professor Opolski (house no. 29); who celebrated his hundredth birthday this year and still going strong as an astronomer. Next to him lived his two sisters: farther on, Professor Rompoldt and Professor Orzechowski. Professor Opolski is an extraordinary figure: his history should be published or filmed. When the professors were taken away from Lvov, some of them were placed in Oflags. They were lucky to end up in a prisoner-of-war camp for officers somewhere in the later East Germany. The first groups of student of physics and astronomy at the University of Wrocław and the University of Technology studied scripts written by Professor Opolski whilst in an Oflag. When the camp was freed and everyone was going back home, as soon as they possibly could, Professor Opolski disappeared for three months. It turned out that one of the Oflag warders had some connections with the nearby astronomical observatory. After the enfranchisement of the Oflag everyone got on trains going to Poland. Professor Opolski however, got on a bike and rode to this observatory where he spent the next three months. He celebrated his hundredth birthday three days after our new-born son came home from hospital. We have a lovely picture in which the professor is standing by the pram with Michał and is saying with his beautiful, slightly eastern accent: “Well, I knew Franciszek, I knew Leszek, I have the pleasure to know Przemysław, and now Michał – he’s the fourth Przezwirski in my life”. He was still publishing his works until a few years ago. Marvellous person! Professor Piskodzium, a mathematician, lived in the house designed by Moshamer. In his old age, he kept away from everyone… But they all knew one another from Lvov, they came here together and worked at the university from the very beginning.
What did the house look like when Franciszek Przewirski came to Wrocław? The plans we have show that the internal divisions were the same as the original ones [according to surviving documents, 60% of the damage affected the quoin struck by a bomb and dislodged various elements and carpentry]. In 1946 it all looked pretty much the same as in 1929. Only the servant’s room on the ground floor was joined with an adjacent toilet. Earlier before the war, the terrace and exit to the garden from the ground floor was built, and the portico was built up. Why was the canopied terrace built up? I don’t know. However, the exit to the garden was quite an obvious change, a must even. This house had been designed with huge windows facing the garden which could not be used. The only exit was through a tiny basement door below stairs and up the garden steps.
Here is the first architect’s drawing, made right after the war. You can see that the ground floor, unlike the first floor, hasn’t been subject to any major changes. The ground floor had been divided in such way that the house could be divided into two apartments. A wall was built through the middle of the house and the door recess between the rooms was filled in. The entrance to the new apartment was via the garden. There were two rooms: a kitchen and a bathroom. The second apartment used the existing entrance. That’s how it was officially divided, so that two families could move in and the authorities wouldn’t complain about it. Whereas on the first floor… Upstairs a kitchen and a bathroom were created by moving a wall in one of the rooms. The corridor was closed off by the staircase with a sliding door. I don’t know if these changes were made before or after the war. Anyway, a living room, a bedroom, a bathroom and toilet were created. A small window on the external wall was filled in order to install plumbing.
Sometime later in the bathroom, a stove was added and for many, many years this room functioned as a kitchen and a bathroom simultaneously. Later on this long room was split into two parts: one being the kitchen, the other the bathroom. Probably after the war, one of the WCs was added to create two independent apartments and one of the exits to the terrace was filled in. We have a picture of Granny from the end of the 40s, where you can see the house. It was taken before those changes on the ground floor because there are still two doors to the terrace. The front façade in grandpa Przewirski’s pictures looks exactly the same as before the war.
PP: Apart from the windows, some of the windows had vents. There is a very interesting change visible when compared to 1929. A chimney was built here to ground level. In the pictures of WUWA, not all chimneys which had been added right before the war started are visible. Everything points to the idea that the building had been designed to be heated using stoves and later on, the central heating was added. For example, in the corner of the living room there was a plumbing built over with plastered and painted desks. Renovating the central heating, I discovered that there was also plaster and paint under the pipes, so the pipes must have been laid subsequently. This heating looks like it was installed by force. Every engineer, even then, would have wrung their hands in despair and run for the hills having seen such solutions.
AP: Either they didn’t have time or forgot, but the house wasn’t finished well inside. But this is what we also know about other buildings. They weren’t done well at all.

GHL: All of them were built very quickly. All in all, WUWA was built in three months.
AP: Yes. When we were renovating a small awkward shaped bathroom we pulled down one wall between the WC and adjacent vestibule… We discovered that between the bathroom and the bedroom was a separate WC, a tiny bathroom and a vestibule.
PP: … we thought we would have found treasure or a walled-in German or at least a pot of gold. It turned out that there was just one extra wall added in this awkward shaped bathroom. As a piece of trivia, the floors were originally covered with linoleum; this additional wall was built directly on the linoleum. After pulling the wall down a thirty-centimetre gap revealed itself. We thought we would have found some treasure, weapons, maps, directions to the underground tunnels of Wrocław, but there was nothing: not even a spider. During the construction, the builders must have made a mistake, so they added this extra wall. The pipes were elsewhere, so it couldn’t have been a chimney. Perhaps the shape of the door frames was not as it should have been? Anyway, that was peculiar.
The partition walls weren’t well-attached to the rest of the construction either. The house has a steel frame, similar to timber framework but made of steel and filled up with breeze blocks- a kind of “siporex” made of recycled refuse.

GHL: Foamed concrete? It was invented in the States, in the 20s…
PP: Here, it was used as an innovative solution. As I said before, the walls, from top to bottom, were made of bricks and mortar. The ceilings were made of reinforced concrete, but not all; some of them were made of bricks. The window apertures and all external lintels were made of identical profiles; the latter are slightly smaller l-sections, 120-centimetres long and joined into a rectangular frame. This was then bricked into the wall and filled with boards, mineral flax mixed with clay and into that, the windows were mounted. Hence, the workmen who were mounting the UPVC windows were in big trouble because the drills for steel are inappropriate for concrete and vice versa; so they had to be careful and change the drill bits quickly. And here is a part of the insulation, this particular one is from the next house, but here it was the same, cork and cinder mixed with asphalt…

GHL: Was the mineral flax used here?
PP: Flax? Yes, mineral flax was used in all of the apertures. I removed what I could, but the rest of it is still there, but hermetically sealed in. The original insulation is pressed cork, used partially inside, partially outside.

GHL: Did the external cork insulation erode?
PP: No. And it’s still there, it is a thick ground cork mixed with tar. The quoin destroyed by the bomb was later rebuilt using Heraklith board instead of cork; which is why the walls there are much ticker. They consist of a layer of bricks and two five-centimetre layers of Heraklith inside. The roofs are insulated with mineral turf, ordinary, non-impregnated, pressed mineral turf, sometimes even two-centimetres thick…
AP: The ground floor is so so, whereas the upstairs seems to be built from whatever was to hand at that time.
PP: For example, in the bathroom the external wall is one quarter brick thick and this is the north-west gable.
AP: So we can hear exactly what the sparrows sitting on the nearby gutter are talking about.

GHL: So we can hear exactly what the sparrows sitting on the nearby gutter are talking about.
PP: Ground floor: great; first floor: great if you heat it; the basement: sometimes, especially in spring, the damp comes out because the insulation is so so. Apart from that, there is one more nasty thing that happens. Usually in summer, after a storm and if the windows are tilted, the concrete floor of the basement which was laid almost directly on the ground, floods. And it’s not coming up from below. I thought maybe it was something soaking through from the ground, so I put a large industrial fan in the basement to dry the air. Three hours later it was even worse! However, the biggest problem is the lack of any insulation.

GHL: This is a tough situation. Each WUWA house has its own technical problems because each of them is different. For an owner who is trying to renovate a house this experimental character might be a huge problem.
PP: That’s why the standard methods and technologies aren’t always the right solution. That’s the case with ventilation too. We have created some additional ventilation openings while renovating the place where the old pipe lines used to run. Some of our neighbours at 25-27 Zielonego Dębu Street, where the apartments are quite similar to one another, have damp problems on the walls because they cook a lot and there’s no ventilation because they simply clogged it up: yet other neighbours have no problems at all.
AP: I envy those who had renovated the façades before anyone became interested in WUWA., Those are the ones who didn’t care that these are monuments and nobody told them a word about it or gave a single penny of fee. Now, they have new windows, insulated houses and the plaster is not chipping off. I don’t have the strength to condemn them, even though I am – I should be against it, but I simply envy them.