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What to do with the Hatzfeld palace? Another debate among Wroclaw conservationists

03 of November '20

Discussions about the Hatzfeld Palace in Wroclaw have been going on for more than a dozen years, but this year the topic became especially loud after the City Hall announced a tender for the purchase of a plot of land located in the very center of the city and the pavilion standing on it, built in 1974 to a design by Professor Edmund Malachowicz.

The pavilion stands on the site of the former palace and includes its surviving parts. For the past several decades it has housed the headquarters of the "Avant-garde" Art Exhibition Bureau presenting contemporary art. Two years ago, due to the very poor technical condition of the building, the BWA was moved to exhibition rooms on the mezzanine floor of the Central Station building. The city soon found a new location for the gallery, also in the city center, although certainly not in such a prestigious spot. Meanwhile, the now-historic pavilion with part of the palace's front facade remained in place, with a stamped portal, columns reinforced with metal clamps, deserted and awaiting a final decision by city authorities.

stan current state of the former palacestan current state of the former palacestan current state of the former palace

The current state of the former palace, 2020.

photo: Dobrochna Stobiecka

It is not difficult to imagine how many contradictory voices, protests and controversies were aroused by the verdict on the desire to sell this very important place for Wroclaw to a developer. Artists, architects, residents of the district, members of various associations and even some officials protested. An avalanche of meetings and discussions, local radio and television broadcasts, and articles in the press set off.

Undeterred by the pandemic, conservationists also met to once again speak on the issue, presenting the most objective yet professional approach to the subject. The debate took place in the second half of September 2020, and was one of several at which proposals were made on what to do next with the site. Art historians and architects - members of the Silesian branch of the Association of Historic Preservationists - spoke, as well as officials - the Provincial Historic Preservation Officer and the City Architect. On one point all the discussants were unanimous - the object in its present form can no longer exist.

history of the plot and the palace

A concrete solution was proposed by Dr. Jerzy Kos of the Institute of Art History at the University of Wroclaw. He recalled the history of the palace and what significance both the object and the plot of land on which it was built had for the city. Already in the Middle Ages, a brewery of the Duke of Brzeg stood on this site, and in the 16th century the Dukes of Ziębice and Oleśnica built their residence there. The building was rebuilt over the centuries, it also changed owners, and was finally demolished, and in its place, in 1765-1774, the Hatzfeld palace was built. The author of the project was Isidor Canevale, a French architect living in Vienna.

{Image@url=,alt=pałac Hatzfelds palace, drawing by Carl Würbs (1807-1876); Ludwig Rohbock (1824-1893), 19th century,title= Hatzfelds palace, drawing by Carl Würbs (1807-1876); Ludwig Rohbock (1824-1893), 19th century}

Hatzfeld palace, drawing by Carl Würbs (1807-1876); Ludwig Rohbock (1824-1893), 19th century

© Digital Library of Silesian Voivodeship | Wikimedia Commons

As Jerzy Kos pointed out, the building was unique, not only because it was designed by a Frenchman, but also because of its classicist style, unprecedented in French architecture of the period, expressed in the Roman form of the facade. Admittedly, it was written about the palace in 1941 that it was an example of true Prussian classicism, but this was an obvious manifestation of NSDAP propaganda. Kos pointed out that Caneval's work therefore had great stylistic value in the context of bourgeois and Breslau architecture, as well as French architecture.

architectural competition

The interiors, as described by the speaker, complicated and less successful, were designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans, while their decorations were admirable. Unfortunately, the realization of the palace took a long time and was never completed, although the building functioned for almost 170 years. In 1802 the palace was sold to the city, which created there the headquarters of the public administration - the board of the Wroclaw District.

widok ulicy Wita
Stwosza, z lewej fragment pałacu Hatzfeldów, praca O. Günthera-Naumburga z początku XX wieku

View of Wita Stwosza Street, on the left a fragment of the Hatzfeld palace, a work by O. Günther-Naumburg from the early 20th century

© Archives of the Museum of Architecture in Wroclaw

Thus, it was one of the most important buildings in the city until 1945, not only for its location, format and architecture, but also for its function. Although a lot of German photographs showing the palace interiors have survived from this period, architectural documentation is scarce - only drawings of the front and side elevations exist. Kos said that it is therefore senseless to reconstruct the entire building, given the lack of financial possibilities for such an expensive undertaking. Alternatively, it would be feasible to reconstruct the facade, leaving the rest of the block and interiors, as well as the courtyard, to be freely arranged. According to Jerzy Kos, the best solution would therefore be to announce an international architectural competition to develop what remains of the palace, with the proviso that the BWA gallery should remain in the building.

ruiny pałacu, 1954

The ruins of the palace, 1954.

photo: Janina Mierzecka © archives of the Museum of Architecture in Wroclaw

reconstruction is a pic

A similar view was presented by Professor Rafał Eysymontt, also an art historian from the University of Wroclaw, showing, in a presentation illustrated with photos from around the world, where the limits of reconstruction lie. The professor cited examples of recreating and copying objects, stressing that this is creating a reprint, not history (for example, fragments of Venice in Las Vegas, or the ghetto in the Polin museum in Warsaw); he also mentioned the popular, though not always justified, retelling of entire fragments of city buildings (for example, tenements in the Old Town in Glogow). He also quoted the words of famous architect Helmut Jahn, author of, among other things, Warsaw's Cosmopolitan building, who said: "reconstruction is a pic."

In connection with the Hatzfeld Palace, Professor Eysymontt placed emphasis on the term urban reintegration. He noted that the existing building should be considered in the context of the street and its scale, and that both the historical scale and the current scale - after the construction of a new office building in the neighborhood - is large, greatly surpassing the dimensions of the pavilion standing in place of the palace.

pałac Hatzfeldów we
Wrocławiu przez wiele lat był siedzibą BWA

Hatzfeld Palace in Wroclaw for many years was the headquarters of the BWA

photo: Fred Romero | Wikimedia Commons © CC BY 2.0

Piotr Fokczynski, Architect of the City, and several subsequent discussants spoke in the same vein - for all of them it was important to create a new building while preserving the original historical elements, which would be as representative and prestigious as the Hatzfeld Palace once was.

A return to the historic form?

The only dissenting opinion was presented by Dr. Maciej Malachowicz, architect and son of the designer of the existing pavilion. He said that either the old form of the building could be restored, or freedom could be given to the architects, as a result of which another bad building would probably be created. The only proper solution, according to Malakhovich, in this situation would be a sound conservationist approach to this difficult subject.

Interestingly - it was not the art historians who were looking for a solution to the historic form, but the architect, and this in a situation where something quite different, at the time very modern, had already been proposed and realized in 1974, and which has survived until today.

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Apost shared by Mateusz Ruranski (@mateusz.ruranski)

© Matthew Ruranski

It's hard to imagine how the palace's fate will turn out next - perhaps it will wait to be rescued as it did for almost thirty years after the war, when Professor Malachowicz led the battle to preserve anything from the crumbling and brick-by-brick building. For now, Breslau is waiting for an official stance on the matter from the Association of Historic Preservationists, which will hopefully influence the city government's decision.

Beata Stobiecka

The vote has already been cast