Industrial architecture in the structure of contemporary Bia造stok

Shown on street plans dated back to 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Adam Turecki, Ph.D.

Faculty of Architecture, Bia造stok Technical University, Forum Bia造stok Jutra

The foundations of industrialization of Bia造stok (Belastok) were laid through the building of new farm precincts of J.K. Branicki's residence. However, most enterprises which existed that time were small workshops manufacturing goods chiefly to the Bia造stok palace owners and the town residents orders. The proprietors of the 18th century aristocratic complexes strove to create a symbolic spectrum of harmony interweaving to form the communion of man and nature, a peculiar idyllic microcosmos. The basis for the residence economy was large-scale commodity farming. Handicrafts were carried on in about one hundred workshops1.  For the reason that the orders placed by the main employer was elite in character, the financial possibilities of the burghers were limited, and the nearby villages were relatively self-sufficient, the Bia造stok crafts, in general, were nothing more than small family workshops. Usually they were situated in rooms and buildings that made up the proprietors households. Their architectural form did not differ from the nearby housing developments, becoming a harmonious part of the precincts. This period can be described as pre-industrial.

II.1 The Plan of the Palace, the town of Bia造stok and its surroundings", mid-18th century.

In the years 1772-1807, after the death of J.K. Branicki, the town remained in Prussian hands. Notwithstanding the appearance of strong competition in Prussian goods, the number of craftsmen rose to about 3802. The competitors were still small workshops. The only bigger workshop, shown on the Becker's plan of 1799 was a brewery located in Warszawska street in the vicinity of the present St. Adalbert Church.

Il. 2 Beckers Plan of 1799

The later plan of 1810 proves that some small architectural changes took place in the town. In the archive material there is a gap in cartographic records right up until 1880. There is no plan of Bia造stok of the years following 1831 the year in which the customs union of the Kingdom of Poland and the Russian Empire was abolished, which resulted in higher customs duties on the border and in a ban on the transport of some wool products to the Empire. This decision caused a decline in production of goods in the Kingdom, and initiated a process of moving and opening of workshop branches in the surroundings of Bia造stok. New centres were built, and the existing ones strengthened. Textile production was carried out in Knyszy, Supral, Choroszcza, Gr鏚ek, Micha這wo, Zab逝d闚, Dobrzyniew, Wasilkowo, Krynki, Ciechanowiec and Siemiatycze. There is no plan of the years following 1862 either - this was the year, in which the Warsaw-Petersburg railway line through Bia造stok was opened. This line and other rail links from Odessa to Kaliningrad and from Bia造stok to Baranovichi, opened in the next years, eased communications, transport of materials and product as well as delivery of coal for boilers of the factory steam engines. The latter made the factories independent from locations by rivers that supplied them with water necessary to power the traditional water wheels. The result was acceleration of the concentration of workshop in the Bia造stok centre. The oldest plan of this period, of 1880, worked out in Russian, is rather an urban plan than an honest representation of the state of Bia造stok. It is characterised by arbitrariness and great simplification. It seems the author was not very familiar with the city. Only bigger buildings were shown on the plan, in a very schematic way, too. Even no outlines of the boundaries of the factory plots were sketched. The factory in wi皻oja雟ka Street, established by the Eugeniusz Chrystian Becker and Alfred Frisch3, was described in the plan legend as Gert Komichaus (Kommichaus) property. Only eight of the biggest factories were marked on the plan but we know that as many as 47 textile plants operated in 1979.

II.3 Industrial lands on the Bia造stok City Map of 1880

This is another plan of Bia造stok of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries that presents the city after the change in the boundaries that took place in 1895. The city has as many as ca. 70,000 inhabitants. This map is more realistic as it includes the actual routes of the existing streets. Only the newly incorporated areas retain the conceptual outline of the urban plan of 1880. The number of factories shown on the plan has risen up to 28. These are still merely the biggest production plants of Bia造stok. In 1898 there were as many as about 300 such plants4. Differently from the great centres of the Kingdom of Poland, characterised by a considerable concentration of factories, most firms of Bia造stok are still small and medium-sized workshops.

II.4 Industrial lands on the Bia造stok City Map of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries

The 20th century began with a three-year economic crisis that caused severe unemployment, a wage reduction and mass strikes. Another wave of unrest and disturbances came in the years 1905-1907. The population structure of diverse nations and religions caused additional tension. In 1914 the World War I began.

In 1915, in view of the risk that the city might be captured by the German army, the Russians started to disassemble the factory machines in order to carry them away. The remaining equipment and the plant buildings were blown up or burnt. The urban infrastructure was destroyed as well.5

In 1919 the destroyed industry began to be rebuilt. In spite of the armed conflict with the Soviet Union in 1920, the reconstruction proceeded rapidly and in 1922 the production was resumed in 113 plants of Bia造stok. In 1928 there were as many as 440 plants with 6,000 employees. The loss of the Russian outlet and the recession period were the reasons, for which the number of plants decreased to 212 in 1938. The difficult conditions forced concentration of production, which is proved by the increase in employment to 9,000 people. Mostly small and medium-sized firms were wound up. There were 54 of the biggest factories marked on the Bia造stok city centre map of 1937.

II.5 Industrial lands on the Bia造stok City Centre Map of 1937

The World War II brought another wave of damage to the city. Only two textile plants operated in the end of 19446. The number of inhabitants decreased from 100,000 to 50,000 in 1945. Eighty per cent of the city centre and the majority of factories lay in ruins. 

The post-war rebuilding, preceded by nationalization of private assets, enabled to start up 30 plants in 1948. . Other plans were opened in the next years. The development of the Bia造stok industry continued up until the 1990s. In the beginning, the rebuilding of the pre-war plants was the main focus of the industrialists, and the next step was to build new factories in the areas newly incorporated into the city. The Bia造stok City Map of 1985 depicts the apogee of the development of the Bia造stok industry. We can see above 50 areas with production plants on the map.

II.6 Industrial lands on Bia造stok City Map of 1985

In 1989 the socialist forms of economy began to be transformed. The liberation of the free market mechanisms revealed the failings of the former management method. Numerous mistakes made by the administrators of the states property and the strong competition in cheap goods from the Far East resulted in a slump in the traditional trades of Bia造stok. The map of 2006 proves that many plants have collapsed. 

II.7 Industrial lands on Bia造stok City Map of 2006

For over a century the Bia造stok industry has been made up of dozens, and during the best times even of hundreds plants of various forms and sizes. The smallest ones, situated in the owners' houses and blended in with the urban landscape, remained unknown or went missing in numerous historical cataclysms. The biggest ones became known through the maps and photographs. Descriptions of these can be found in many sources.

II.8 Kommichaus Factory

II.9 Beckers Factory

II.10 Marejn's and Zilberblatt's Factories

II.11 Hall in Poleska Street

Several of the biggest factories have survived up until now. The process of building, development and, in the end, of transformation of big plants in Bia造stok is subject to rules that we can try to describe. New plants were always built in the vicinity of the city limits. In consideration of the future development, the building plots bought for future plants were areas of large excess surface. In the process of expanding, the city absorbed the plants, and their primary activities were then stopped. If the building were in good condition and had an interesting form, they were adapted for other functions. Both the processes are continually proceeding in normal conditions of the urban development.

Changes of the industrial lands of the maps of 1880, of the turn of the 9th and the 20th centuries, of 1937, 1985 and 2006 plotted on the contemporary layout of street in the Bia造stok city centre

We have several examples of well done transformations in Bia造stok. The oldest one is the transformation of the former I. Flakier's (Flakier's) factory in the corner of Warszawska and Kocielna streets into a Poczta Polska (Polish Post) office in 1930. The other examples are: Polaks factory in Branickiego street transformed into a bank; adaptation of Knyszy雟kis factory for educational purposes of the Bia造stok Technical University; or adaptation of Beckers factory in wi皻oja雟ka street, established in the 19th century and operating to this day. This plant is to be moved to the suburbs, and the historical buildings are to be adapted and enlarged for a shopping centre. The Tytoni闚ka buildings in Modli雟ka street will transform into a residential complex. The fate of the factory in W堯kiennicza street is being decided. One of its buildings is being adapted to flats. The other buildings which provisionally serve as warehouses and shops await a "good" investor. The same refers to the hall in Poleska street and Aronson's factory in Warszawska street. Of the post-war plants, the future of the Bison Bial factory (former Uchwyty) in Poleska street will be decided soon. Transformations take place even in the far suburbs: the Fasty textile conglomerate plant is being transformed into a shopping centre.

II.13 Flakiers Factory, currently TPSA (Polish national telecommunications provider)

II.14 FASTY conglomerate plant, currently a commercial and service complex

Unfortunately, we have also negative examples. Notwithstanding the protest sent to the Minister of Culture by teachers and students of the Faculty of Architecture, Bia造stok Technical University, several valuable buildings of the 19th century in the premises of Nowiks factory, delightfully situated in Augustowska street, as well as a shell construction hall of the 1960s were knocked down last year. This testifies to the municipal authorities' ineptitude, the conservation service's bad work and the TK Development investor's barbarity.

II.15 Nowiks Factory as of 2004

II.16 Premises of Nowik's Factory as of 2005

It has happened because, in the consciousness of the decision-makers and the inhabitants of Bia造stok, the 18th century legacy of the Branicki era is still worth preserving, while of the 19th century legacy, only palaces, temples, schools and residential buildings are worth preserving. The value of the factories is totally passed over. And yet it is just the industry that has transformed the settlement of several thousand inhabitants into a city with the population of 300,000. If it were not for the industrialization, Bia造stok would remain as a sleepy town resembling other residential towns like ζ鎍ut or Rydzyna. These are the factories, not the quarters of small houses to be easily found in any of the nearby villages, which made the specificity of the 19th century urban life of Bia造stok. The descriptions of the factory workers' life found in the literature are almost solely gloomy pictures. Was the life solely gloomy? The factories offered the inhabitants hard but so desirable jobs. There were no jobs on overpopulated farms. The jobs were what attracted the people to the city which was their Promised Land. That was the chance to start a new way of life. To break away from the almost slavish fidelity to the farmed land, the uncertainty about weather and to the work that was quite an effort. The chance gave hope for freedom that was risky and not easy but yet possible. The only alternative was emigration. Does it remind us of anything today?

This aspect of the past should not be passed over. The history of Bia造stok is unique on the scale of Poland: none of the Polish aristocratic, residential towns developed the way Bia造stok did. What more, the old factories testify to the over-century participation of the city in the important process of the European transformations. We were able not only to cultivate grains and sell wood but also to create state-of-the-art branches of the economy of that time. We effectively competed with the British, French and German industries. The factory buildings can testify to that. The best ones are to be protected. Especially now that we enter the European Union, their presence will help us overcome our fears and anxiety and remind us that it was not long ago that we managed in Europe quite well.


Dobro雟ki A., Bia造stok historia miasta, Bia造stok, 2001

Dolistowska M., Rozw鎩 zabudowy ul. wi皻oja雟kiej w 2 po. XIX i 1 po. XX w.,

[in:] Ochrona relikt闚 urbanistycznych Bia貫gostoku, Bia造stok, 1996

Kusi雟ki W., Przemiany funkcji Bia貫gostoku w przesz這ci, [in:] Rocznik bia這stocki vol. IV, 1965

W零icki J., Pruskie opisy miast polskich z ko鎍a XVIII w., Departament bia這stocki, Pozna 1964

Werwicki A., Bia這stocki okr璕 przemys逝 w堯kienniczego do 1945 r., Warszawa 1957

1Kusi雟ki W., Przemiany funkcji Bia貫gostoku w przesz這ci, [in:] Rocznik bia這stocki, vol. IV, 1965, p. 271

2W零icki J., Pruskie opisy miast polskich z ko鎍a XVIII w. Departament bia這stocki, Pozna 1964, pp.51-53

3Dolistowska M., Rozw鎩 zabudowy ul. wi皻oja雟kiej w 2 po. XIX i 1 po. XX w., [in:] Ochrona relikt闚 urbanistycznych Bia貫gostoku, Bia造stok, 1996, p. 76

4Werwicki A., Bia這stocki okr璕 przemys逝 w堯kienniczego do 1945 r., Warszawa 1957, p.51

5Dobro雟ki A., Bia造stok historia miasta, Bia造stok, 2001, p. 111

6Kusi雟ki W., Przemiany funkcji Bia貫gostoku w przesz這ci, [in:] Rocznik bia這stocki, vol. IV, 1965, p. 2

Adam Turecki