Tramwajowa

From the outside, gallery-access block of flats at 2 Tramwajowa Street seems to be a plain construction from the times of Socialism. It is one of the experimental buildings of the WUWA housing estate exhibition. Considering that its tenants do not want to sell their apartments, it has turned out to be a very successful experiment indeed.
We encountered a few tenants of Tramwajowa Street who told us about their community, their happy childhoods spent on the galleries where they had learnt to ride a bicycle and played football. The gallery, also known as the balcony, understandably appears in many of their stories. It is a place where everybody knows everybody: like in a small village these communities full of neighbourly interaction, have become such a rare sight these days.
The building operates under a shared ownership scheme where most of the shares belong to private individuals and the rest to the City of Wrocław. After long discussions, the community decided to join the Program Wsparcia Konserwatora Miejskiego , even though they had already partially renovated the houses themselves.
We learnt about the history and technical condition of the building from its Administrator, Mr Sylwester Szkudlarek. We also met Mrs Katarzyna Brycha and Mr Edward ‎‎Łyszczarz who are tenants living in the building to get their opinions. During my visit to Tramwajowa Street, Mr Krzysztof Lato, an architect preparing the renovation project dropped by.

Grażyna Hryncewicz-Lamber: Can you give some general information about the technical condition of this building?
Sylwester Szkudlarek: In the post-war period the house was intended for habitation even though it wasn’t prepared for that. Before the war the building was heated via a central boiler house, located in the nearby tram depot. Unfortunately, this installation was damaged during the war, so after the war every tenant installed their own heating system. This devastated the building to a great extent. During the war, a few apartments had been destroyed, shelled and then partially renovated. Right after the war, due to a general lack of accommodation, there were no safety regulations concerning construction. Therefore people would fit whatever solution was available. Gas was supplied even though this building had no flue: or any ventilation at all for that matter. In 1929, the designer assumed that it would be sufficient to air the rooms just by opening a window. Nowadays that’s unacceptable and the fact that there isn’t any exhaust ventilation is of huge discomfort for the tenants.

GHL: Let’s go back in history. In the 40s the apartments were occupied irrespective of their condition, right?
SS: Yes, they were occupied and everyone managed them as they saw fit. The apartments retained their intended character and up to this day there are original cork floors; but some of the tenants moved on and changed the doors, the windows and floors.

GHL: Tell me, please, what renovation works have been targeted at the building? You must have been administrating it for over a dozen years now?
SS: Prior to my involvement, the building was governed by another administrator and there were no major works carried out. It was painted in the 60s, but as the tenants say, the original colour had been grey. The roof was partially renovated too. As the chimney wasn’t being used any more, the installation for it that was created on the ground floor in the former laundry room was closed off on the roof. The roof was repaired and new tar was laid to protect it from water damage. Yes, so there were some renovation works completed: but some harm was done too.
Some things were modified, but from my point of view inappropriately, which destroyed the character of the roof. The roof is flat, but used to have beautiful eaves finished with a concealed concrete gutter. This special feature was lost after hideous drainpipes were mounted. Old drainpipes and gutters were mounted on the façade. The building comprises two parts connected in the middle over the entrance where a movement joint is located. The installations on both sides mirror each other and under the staircase on the left a shaft was created to hide the electrical elements. The electrical installation was entirely replaced three years ago.

GHL: Did you order a construction test, load capacity analysis or technical condition tests?
SS: That was necessary. The documentation we have shows that it is a reinforced concrete construction with a framework filled with concrete slag blocks. The walls were insulated with cork from the inside.

GHL: Has the cork insulation been preserved?
SS: Partially. It’s been preserved in those apartments where no heavy repairs were made. The building isn’t really warm though. As for current conditions: it requires extra insulation. In the 60s a communal boiler house for the surrounding buildings was built in the “Pancernik” hall of residence and this house was supplied by it. However in winter, due to bad pipe insulation there was no warm water and the pipe leached heat into the lawn: as a result there were eighty metres of heated path. There was never warm water immediately: sometimes it took even twenty minutes to let all the cold water run through! Our usage levels must have been sky high! Three years ago we negotiated with FORTUM to supply the building with a high pressure pipeline which goes through some rooms of the building. The boiler was placed in the old drying room on the ground floor. In the first year we made thirty percent savings.

GHL: Were there issues with humidity, since the building was cold?
SS: The north wall is quite damp and a crack appeared which exposed it to the elements. The damp penetrates this wall from the inside and mildew appeared on the first floor. If a wall is compromised in this house, then the gap inevitably penetrates the whole wall.

GHL: How thick are the external walls?
SS: These walls aren’t thick: about thirty centimetres. That’s why the community believes the walls SHOULD be insulated. Considering the fact that this building is listed as a monument, we can’t apply external insulation, but we’re considering using an internal one made of modern materials to eliminate the damp. We’ve been thinking about using special two-centimetre boards in the building.
This house could be totally different if it were used for non-typical housing purposes such as a hotel or a dormitory. There wouldn’t be so much damp, intensive laundry activities or cooking, and these walls would work differently. But we’ve got what we’ve got and we have to improve these conditions for those who live here.

GHL: What are the neighbours like? I’ve heard that many of them have lived in the same apartments since after the war. Did some of them buy the apartments and knock them through?
SS: There are a few families that remember the post-war times as well as some younger folk too. Some of them sold their apartments and left the country. One of the neighbours bought his neighbour’s apartment and then another, so now he has three. When the City Conservation Support Programme started, we had a meeting with the City Historic Preservation Head Officer and there was a fuss that the renovation was going to be very expensive, but at the same time plans for bringing the surrounding area into order became feasible. Everybody knew that the surroundings would be more attractive. I then asked if anyone was ready to sell the apartment. There was not a single person eager to sell. Not a single person. Everyone acknowledged the fact that it might turn out positively, even though the restoration costs might be considerable. They still believe that the Administrator will manage the costs well. In recent years we’ve even managed to renovate the heating system in such way that nobody was financially burdened.

GHL: I’ve heard that you applied to the City Conservation Support Programme for a subsidy to renovate the façade and it all came to nothing.
SS: First, we designed the insulation for the building, but the Historic Preservation Officer rejected the proposal. Now we’ve formulated new documentation, but prepared it with the help of the Historic Preservation Officer. If we are to receive a subsidy, the renovation has to be carried out according to the Historic Preservation Officer’s requirements. I hope we are successful with the application.

Mrs Katarzyna Brycha from apartment 16

GHL: Were you born here?
KB: Yes, on Tramwajowa Street, at home.

GHL: What is it like to live here? What do you and the tenants of WUWA like and what don’t you like?
KB: There are many things we don’t like. It’s high time we took care of the housing estate once and for all.

GHL: Does your house have many flaws?
KB: There’s no ventilation. The staircase hasn’t been renovated. The main issue is that nothing is being done here: it’s all dirty.

GHL: Have you attended any of the meetings with the City Historic Preservation Officer concerning the renovation?
KB: I have attended the one with the Administrator and the Officer and I believe that this place will ultimately change. Now it looks terrible. The tenants don’t take care of this place at all. On the gallery all you can see it the constant laundry hanging out to dry. It looks like a place for single mothers..

GHL: There is certainly a wide variety of residents… Have you seen many renting students around?
KB: Up until recently there haven’t been any and now two apartments are rented by students, but we have no objections to them. Well, maybe at the time of Juwenalia they do disturb us a bit. The tenants themselves have changed and they’re different than in the past. The old ones are dying out; some young people inherit the apartments from their grandparents. Once there were so many of us, now many widowed people live here; like me after my husband’s death. My daughter has built a house and doesn’t want to even hear about moving here. She says that this building looks like a refugees’ house.

GHL: But the apartment is big enough for single occupancy, isn’t it?
KB: The size is OK, but there’s no ventilation. When I was a little girl, I was poisoned by carbon monoxide gas. Our neighbour-doctor from the end of the gallery almost didn’t save me in time: so the lack of air circulation is nothing to go crazy about. What is though is the fact that the bathroom and kitchen are tiny.. It’s so small that a dish washer won’t even fit in, even though the apartment has been modernised.

GHL: They’ve always been quite modest apartments, isn’t that right?
KB: I don’t know who lived here before the war. However, I remember a newsreel in which I saw our house from pre-war times and on the third floor or maybe on all of the floors hung German swastikas banners. I don’t remember the occasion, some sort of convention or something. Once upon a time I used to go to the cinema only to see the newsreels: I absolutely loved them. And this image lodged in my memory.
I also remember that at the beginning there was a gas cooker at home and the flue went out through the window. The radiators were installed much later.

GHL: Do you have a social life as a community of neighbours?
KB: No, only the elderly have it. Tomorrow we’re all going to Milicz for a carp fishing holiday. In the past, when my husband replaced cars, we would celebrate the fact on the balcony with some home-made wine. My husband made delicious wine. When we were children, nobody would lock their doors here, we wouldn’t eat in our own homes but we would go from one apartment to another and eat in all of them; here noodles, there dumplings… And when we went to play football, there were so many of us. We would run around the park: and the caretaker chasing us! All sorts of strange things happened.
SS: People integrated then.
KB: Those were different times. Nobody would lock their doors. Window grates or door phones were unthinkable then. Now, in our old age, a lack of a lift has become a problem.

Mr Edward ‎Łyszczarz moved into Tramwajowa Street in the 1950s and with his family he lives in a ground-floor apartment. His son, Zbigniew ‎Łyszczarz, also took part in the interview.

GHL: Do you remember when the building became listed? Was there anything exciting going on?
ZŁ: No, not really, I didn’t see anything in particular.

GHL: So people simply didn’t know anything about it?
ZŁ: Maybe they didn’t know… the flats were being sold and none of the documents stated they were considered of national interest. People alter the flats, change doors, and nobody actually cares.
SS: Well, it’s obvious that it all will have to be replaced. What do you think the idea behind that is?
ZŁ: But they’re mounting new doors.
SS: What for? It all has to be changed.
ZŁ: Nobody informed us.
SS: : I’m informing you now: hold on with the windows, don’t change them yet; the idea is to unify them all. The windows will have profiles so that they look like the original ones that were here before the war.

GHL:Are there any windows from before the war still around?
SS: Yes.

GHL: What kind? Double, casement?
SS: Yes, but few remain. The windows in the basement are the original ones. Of course, they’re painted over and I’ve already thought about cleaning them up. They can be reglazed as they aren’t warped and they’re located in a warm place: in perfect conditions really. Their most characteristic elements are the tin frames which are kind of unique and all in all they have to be cleaned up. The wooden elements are in quite good condition: all of them need to be cleaned and repainted of course and then they will be good for further use for many, many more years.
The new windows are going to have aluminium casements with double glazing and will be framed with wood outside.

GHL: What other original elements are still here because as we know, many of them have disappeared?
SS: Those small windows on the second and third floors are original. In apartment 15 the original floor has survived.
SS: Could you say more about the house? Do you remember the post-war era?
EŁ: And pre-war too!
SS: You came here not long after the war. Can you tell us anything about what was here, which elements are original and what it was like right after the war?
EŁ: I’ll tell you everything in detail. I’ve been here since 1954. On the ground floor used to live some architect-engineer who moved to Łódź. There were many more of such pioneers; the elderly passed away, the younger and their children stayed here.

GHL: When you moved in here in the 50s was the building fully occupied, did each family get a whole apartment?
EŁ: Each family had their own apartment. The house was surrounded with a low fence, a nearby building had a barrier as well and no one unauthorised could enter the gate. So cars couldn’t drive in here, there weren’t any of them around at the time anyway.
SS: There was more greenery and it was all well-kept…
EŁ: There were trees around like birch and other large trees, but our former caretaker didn’t like them, so she had them removed. We didn’t do any major changes. We brought some soil to level off the ground level a bit. There were some holes and unevenness.

GHL: When you were allocated an apartment here, did you know anything about the building? In the 50s it was pretty much different from the norm.
EŁ: No, we only knew that Germans lived here before the war. And there, where the construction site is, was a kindergarten. It wasn’t a German kindergarten, but a venue for the Hitler Youth.

GHL: Well, it was built as a kindergarten, and later on, in Hitler’s times, it was assigned to the Hitler Youth.
EŁ: And those buildings next to ours, this one and the small one laid crosswise, were built simultaneously and had some sort of social function. (pointing)
EŁ: Yes. And small chimneys were everywhere…

GHL: Even after the war? What were those?
EŁ: No, they were everywhere before the war. Later on, when people were fixing the roof, they built them on and there’s no sign of them now. These were small chimneys going out of the wall, some kind of vents. There was central heating here.

GHL: Some sort of flue?
EŁ: Yes, there’s still one in my apartment.

GHL: Can you still find a similar hole in your basement?
EŁ: In the wall, it was used by former tenants during the war to heat the apartments since the central heating was off. And in the basements were piles of fuse powder. Guns were laid out on the sills in the basement. Later on we threw this powder out into the refuse behind the house. There was enough that if someone had thrown a lit cigarette on it… we didn’t realise what a danger it was.

GHL: The building wasn’t subject to any major damage during the siege of Wrocław. When you were moving in, were there any signs of war damage inside?
EŁ: No, there weren’t any, somewhere a bullet penetrated an apartment, that’s all.

GHL: You’ve lived here since the 50s. In the 70s the building became listed. Did you know at the time that it had been registered as a monument?
EŁ: No, we didn’t know a thing, the apartments were allotted by the City and everybody just moved in.

Jagoda Lotz, a student, is renting an apartment at 2 Tramwajowa Street.

GHL: Ms Jagoda, you are a student of the Faculty of Architecture and have lived here for three years. What is it like to live here?
JL: What is it like… well, it all started when I was renting a small room in apartment 18 with my sister: four students lived there. We didn’t know one another when we were moving in, we had separate rooms, but it was really nice because we would always meet the landlady or each other on the balcony to talk or to party. We’ve become very close to our neighbours. There are a lot of elderly people and you can chat to them. They took us into their community.

GHL: Yes, they all know each other because they moved in here a long time ago.
JL: They’ve lived here for a longer while. There are younger people as well, but it’s rather hard to connect with them: but those elderly people are the best. When our family got bigger, we were offered the option to move into apartment 2. It’s much prettier laid out enfilade, so it fits our family situation better. We aren’t students any more. So we moved in, my husband and I, my sister and her room-mate. We also occupy the balcony. It’s even better than before, since the apartment is at the very end of the balcony and nobody really comes as far as this end. It acts just like a small garden just for us. Our neighbours envy us slightly, but we also have a good relationship with them. It is a large family and we hang out together sometimes. We always say “good morning” to one another. This gallery really enhances the community.

GHL: Are tourists becoming a problem, are there a lot of them?
JL: No, they just walk about and take pictures. I often see some groups that stand with the guide who tells them stories; but to us it’s not a problem at all.

GHL: As a tenant you can’t really make a decision about anything in the building, but are you interested in what is going on with the WUWA revitalisation project?
JL: Yes, mainly due to our education, we’re both students of architecture, our room-mate too. We’re really concerned about what is going to happen to it, concerning its historic preservation.

GHL: Have you seen the project for the public space?
JL: Yes, I have. I know that the square on Tramwajowa Street is to be developed, which is really exciting because there’s not much going on around there. I’m a rather concerned that they want to build a car park instead of a lay lawn. In autumn when the acorns fall, it’s like heavy hail. The cars would be battered.

GHL: There are too few parking places.
JL: Unfortunately yes. The area hasn’t been too over-developed on that front, but I love the view on those huge oaks and they have to stay: they’re monuments too.

GHL: From your point of view, what is great about the interiors?
JL: The Xylolith floors are the best, we have them in the bedrooms, without any other carpets, and it’s really pleasant to walk barefoot on it because it essentially is a warm-under-foot material.

GHL: Are there more details preserved in the first apartment you used to live in?
JL: No, there were floor panels already. There, the layout of the rooms is also different, as there is a tiny room which was created to replace where the living room connects with kitchen and vestibule.

GHL: Each apartment is different here, isn’t it?
JL: Yes, I’ve been to many of them when I was making inventory drawings of the building and yes, as you say, each of them is different, they even differ within one floor. I don’t know to what extent it might be due to the changes introduced by the tenants.