Every building has its story
As gleaming towers emerge on Warsaw’s skyline, Agnieszka Krzekotowska, Director of Real Estate Management Services, Colliers International, advocates renovating and restoring pre-war structures to their former glory.
What do you enjoy about managing renovated buildings in contrast to managing new buildings?
Managing historic buildings is a fascinating adventure. Each building has its own history and unique character. While managing such a property often requires greater commitment, it is amply rewarded by the satisfaction of dealing with a unique building with a ‘soul’, by the unmatched class and prestige, and by the opportunity to create a special ambience in the office space.
What are the challenges of managing renovated buildings?
A historic building has a certain structure, which determines the spatial arrangement to some degree, and sometimes the architect’s vision must be adapted to the requirements of the property. This challenge must also be faced by the property manager. As far as maintenance is concerned, repair or renovation of a given element often requires the services of a qualified contractor, specialising in such work. We have to reconcile modern technology with the historical character of the building and look for solutions tailored to the character of this unique place, as well as to the needs of the tenants.
Are there any significant differences for tenants between renovated buildings and new buildings?
In most cases, historic buildings are in no way inferior to modern office buildings. Systems and new technologies – though they may not be immediately apparent – are equally advanced and provide the same amenities and convenience. However, there are some aspects unique to historic buildings. For example, any significant changes need to be consulted with the conservator. Local conditions or features of the construction may also impose special requirements, for example, fire protection measures. There are also restrictions on signage, so that tenants must agree to forego their original logo in favour of uniform monochrome signage approved by the conservator.
What are the distinguishing elements of some of the projects and their history?
Próżna Street, with the restored 19th century Le Palais tenement house (currently an office building), is one of the most attractive sites in Warsaw that have been restored to their pre-war splendour. The buildings along Próżna Street, which begins at Grzybowski Square and is 160 metres long, survived the war. Le Palais is a unique and exquisite investment, which delights with its classical style, beautiful architecture, attractive location and rich history. It is a great illustration of what revitalisation can do for two 19th-century neo- Renaissance tenement houses, adapted to modern market standards. Thanks to the efforts of the architects to ensure that Le Palais becomes a showcase of the historic part of Warsaw, the classical soul of the buildings has not been lost. The Le Palais office building consists of two reconstructed tenement houses, erected in 1895-1898 to Franciszek Brauman’s design. They belong to a very small group of buildings in the former Jewish quarter that have survived. They miraculously escaped demolition after the war but remained vacant for years. Though added to the list of historic monuments in the mid-1980s, they gradually fell into disrepair. Today they are used as a unique office building, attracting tenants who look for classy premises. Le Palais blends harmoniously with modern architecture of the 21st century and meets all the requirements of the tenants of modern office space while remaining one of the architectural jewels of Warsaw.
The luxurious interiors of Le Palais retain old brick walls; door handles have been ornamented with a mermaid motif, reconstructed on the basis of the discovered original. The offices look sumptuous with their decorative ceilings and frescoes, wooden windows, mosaic parquet and stone balconies. Wiring and other installations are hidden under the floors, so as not to spoil the unique interior decoration. The architects have managed to preserve the original bright, ornate facades, constructed to Franciszek Brauman’s 19th century design, and to recreate many details, such as stuccoes and bas-reliefs.
Another interesting example of a successful fusion of history with modernity is the property in 10 Miodowa Street. The street connects Krakowskie Przedmieście with Plac Krasińskich, circling the Old Town. Many important Warsaw palaces are located there. One of these is the Młodziejowski Palace, erected at the end of the 17th century. The damage it suffered during WWII is estimated at 85 percent. It was decided that its 18th century form would be reconstructed. After renovation, the Palace has housed many prestigious organisations.
Why do you think it is important for Warsaw to renovate buildings and not only build new ones?
The capital of Poland is a regional leader in the CEE , and one of the best locations for business. Old architecture and modernity are closely intertwined in this city. Massive destruction during WWII shaped its present appearance and layout. It is estimated that over 85% of the historic centre of Warsaw was destroyed. Some parts of the city were almost completely
razed to the ground. Clearly, recent years have seen dynamic growth, with many high-rise buildings going up in the centre as a symbol of the city’s aspirations. However, it is important that the capital grows in a sustainable manner, and that space for pre-war architecture is preserved because such places remind us of the city’s history and, above all, create its unforgettable atmosphere.
Agnieszka Krzekotowska, is the Director of Real Estate Management Services at Colliers International. Agnieszka joined Colliers International in 2009 and has over 12 years of experience in the commercial real estate market. She is also a member of RICS.