Manufaktura today is the result of Poland’s largest renovation project since the reconstruction of Warsaw’s Old Town in the 1950s (something you can read about in Warsaw In Your Pocket). The history of the site is one of fortunes made and lost, of war, nationalisation and destitution. What you see before you was once a series of factories – all producing various textiles – that were constructed in the latter part of the 19th century.
Designed by Hilary Majewski, a graduate of St Petersburg University, the mills were built in a red-brick industrial style, incorporating the occasional Art Nouveau flourish. They were the property of Izrael Poznański, a Jewish merchant who saw the need for high quality textiles on the eastern markets of Russia, Japan and China. As Łódź was at the time the most westerly city in the Russian Empire, Poznański was able to match western textile expertise and industrial practises with limitless access to eastern markets. It was a winning combination - one that made him a fortune and put Łódź on the map.
The Past"Łódź was waking up, the first yelling factory whistle pierced the quiet of the early morning, then in all parts of the city others began to spring up ever more raucously and bawled in hoarse voices like a choir of monstrous roosters crowing their metal throats the call to work. The huge factories, whose long black bulks and slender chimney necks loomed in the darkness, in the fog and rain they were slowly waking up, belching flames of fire, exhaling clouds of smoke."
- Władysław Reymont, The Promised Land
The first Manufaktura loom began spinning in 1852. Real growth however came about during the period 1872-1892, by which time more than 80,000 spindles spread over 12 separate factories were churning out high-quality textiles at a rate unmatched anywhere in Europe at the time. Poznański adored luxury – when asked what style he wished one of his residences to be built in he allegedly declared ‘All of them, I can afford them all!’ The palaces he built for himself all over the city are testament to his fondness for extravagance, but he was also considered a visionary employer.
Łódź’s rise to industrial prominence in the second half of the 19th century saw the city transform from a sleepy backwater into a gritty metropolis bursting with red brick factories and a horizon crowned with smoking chimney stacks. As the population exploded suburbs sprang up, including poverty stricken rat mazes like Bałuty and Chojny. The more conscientious factory owners took it on themselves to build tenements to house their workers; Izrael Poznański provided 1,086 apartments for 4,043 people. Designed by Hilary Majewski, one of the architects behind Poznański’s award winning textile factory (it snatched the Bronze Medal at the 1878 World Exhibition in Paris), many of these shadowy housing projects still exist, and exploring their dark courtyards and flaking corridors is like a step back in time. Take a look at how the proletariat used to live by peering into the buildings that stand on ul. Ogrodowa 24 and 26, a couple of which are being renovated.