THE BASE OF SIEKIERKI
Jerzy Rogala - Lewicki exhibition of photographs from the years 1982 to 1985.

At the beginning of the housing estate at Siekierki there was a dream. A dream of affordable housing, a dream of innovative ideas put into action and a perfect home. It was a stormy time for activists- the time of the Solidarity Movement in its peak in the years 1980-1981. Twelve founding members began building their place on earth and other passionate enthusiasts joined them, ready to overcome challenges and get involved. Dreams began to turn into action.
The Exhibition THE BASE OF SIEKIERKI is a story of the beginnings of the construction of the estate. It is composed of photographs by Jerzy Rogala-Lewicki and documents from that pioneering period. The exhibition was prepared by the Art Group “¦więto Kobiet”, i.e. the inhabitants of the estate, Iwona Maj i Iga Sturlis.









THE STORY OF THE „ELSAM” COOPERATIVE?
In the late seventies I worked at the institution of Praxeology in the Polish Academy of Sciences. My job was teaching the application of information technology in control tests at the Supreme Chamber of Control of the Republic of Poland. The English lector was Krzysztof Przybylski.
e and Krzysztof were developing a program that would utilize audiovisual laboratories in order to teach fragments of memory-intensive knowledge. We would meet regularly, with a few other people interested in the project, in Szczepan Kamiński's apartment by Grażyny road in Warsaw.
One afternoon Mr Szczepan came home in a very cheerful mood. He was carrying his paycheck in the form of a linen sack filled with coins. He proudly explained that it was given to him by the Parson of the church that was currently being built in Zielonka Bankowa near Rembertów (the construction was under the supervision of Michał Sandowicz). The bag contained about 2 kilograms of aluminum coins. Apart for the sack he was also carrying a plastic bag containing some beers. While drinking beer we listened to a tirade by Mr Szczepan about how Poland's arbitrary regulations are preventing any sort of innovation in the construction industry.
Up until that point I had never heard of Michał Sandowicz’s technological breakthrough in constructing houses. Apparently he was using ferrocement as a universal element. His ELSA** system was of no interest to the construction companies, though, because it was too cheap! Back in those days, the fee charged by these businesses (all the way from the drawing board to receiving the building) was a percentage of the building material costs. Therefore, the more expensive resources used, the more profitable it would be to those involved in the process.
I was troubled by this absurdity, although it was only one of many at the time. Even more so, because the previous day I had my son sign the 20-year waiting list for an apartment. I did not hesitate to ask Szczepan for Michał Sandowicz's phone number.
I had arranged to meet Michał in a club inside the main building of the Warsaw University of Technology, there I found out about the many uses of ferrocement and the ELSA system in general. He was skeptical towards the idea of organizing a full scale test, because after all, an experiment is always more expensive than using traditional methods. I decided, however, to find out how my colleagues would react to the idea of building houses with ferrocement.
The first person who seemed genuinely interested was Henryk Smętkowski, who worked at the faculty of Electronics of the Warsaw University of Technology, whom I had the pleasure of meeting a few years earlier. A rather small apartment by Graniczna road was hardly enough to satisfy this creatively active engineer, who did not feel comfortable without a fully-equipped laboratory to his disposal. At the time he had been working on a metal detector prototype, which turned out a great success and is now used by more than just treasure hunters.
The second person was Andrzej Olearski, a graduate from the same university, who worked in international trade, with whom I had the chance to work with in the “Komenda Chor±gwi Mazowieckiej ZHP” in the early sixties.
I informed Michał about the first few positive reactions to his proposition. He also named a few people who were interested and we decided to take action as soon I return from Bulgaria, where in 1979 I was required to go on a 3-month business trip.
Upon returning, I was shocked to find out that Michał had become an active member of a new cooperative called „Idealne Mieszkanie”. It had been recently founded at the Warsaw University of Technology and was meant exclusively for people working at the university. Thankfully I was able to persuade Michał to return to our original plan.
In Andrzej Olearski's tiny apartment by Orla road we held a long meeting with Michał, who told us in great detail about his system. For instance: we found out that ELSA elements could be created on the spot, that the framing and ferrocement elements was possible to assemble without heavy machinery and so on. Everything was looking good. We had decided to form the Construction of Ferrocement Houses Cooperative. Our plan was to build an experimental settlement with 12-20 houses.
At the end of 1980 I had decided to formalize our actions. Alongside Smętkowski and Olearski we came forward with a written proposition to the Faculty of Experimental Ferrocement at the university. Our terms were that the author of the system and a few of his colleagues were to join the cooperative. They were to ensure the safety and the reliability of this new technology. In March 1981, Michał Sandowicz officially accepted these terms and recommended we recruit Zygmunt Michnowski, Stanisław Kamiński and Zdzisław WoĽniaka. From then on we would officially operate from the Faculty of Ferrocement by Warskiego road.
On the 28th of April 1981 we had our first meeting of the founders, which had been recently joined by Mieczysław Pryszanow and Henryk Kubiak.
We began intensively preparing the required documentation (the program, statute, applications, relevant resolutions of the Capital and the Central Association of Housing Cooperatives on the advisability of creating cooperative, etc.). It also took a while to supply necessary „details”, such as the statistical GUS number, bank account, inside regulations as well as the logo, stamps, company-themed paper etc. These things are no problem today, but at the time they required filling out a million forms and being accepted by the censorship office.
We began officially searching for a suitable area by conversing with the many District Offices of Warsaw. We also used the announcements section in the newspaper, and finally, personally visited suburban locations (the „Otwock line”, Milanówek, Le¶na Podkowa and Nadarzyn).
After many inconclusive visits and conversations, Stanisław Kamiński had organized a meeting with Jerzy Majewski, the President of Warsaw at the time, on the 7th of May 1981, who accepted our proposal. He saw it as a chance to improve many neglected parts of the city (through our experimental methods), and swore patronage over our project. According to the President the best location would be near the construction exposition BUDEXPO by Bartycka road. Our housing settlement, an experimental build, was to be an extension of the exposition.
On the 16th of June 1981 we held a founder meeting at the ELSAM Construction of Ferrocement Houses Cooperative. The participants were, in alphabetical order: Stanisław Kamiński, Ryszard Kowalski, Henryk Kubiak, Henryk Lewandowski, Zygmunt Michnowski, Andrzej Olearski, Leon Podlasiński, Mieczysław Pryszanow, Michał Sandowicz, Henryk Smętkowski and Zdzisław WoĽniak.
We chose the management: Henryk Lewandowski (Chairman), Ryszard Kowalski and Zygmunt Michnowski (Assistants). The audit committee: Michał Sandowicz (Leader), Andrzej Olearski (Assistant), Mieczystław Pryszanow (Secretary) and Leon Podlański.
We adopted rather unique statutory tasks, the most significant of which were:
-The implementation of new, energy-and material-saving technologies to build homes, with particular emphasis on light prefabrication ferrocement;
-Wide dissemination of the best technical solutions, materials and organization which proved effective in our project;
-Conducting the support production of selected structural elements;
-Completing the construction in a so-called economic system, that is, without the involvement of construction companies (with the exception of the work that requires certain privileges such as gas or electrical installations).
Once the founders have signed the Statue, all the legal requirements had been fulfilled and it was now possible submit the registration documents to the Court. Finally, the cooperative was registered on the 15th of June 1981 (Section A-„RS” XIV 1510 page 25).
Apart from ELSA, our cooperative also enabled Zygmunt Michnikowski to implement his MURSA-ZM system (which he worked on in the boundaries of the National PR-5 Program), Stefania Radzikowska to utilize INWESTPROJEKT technology as well as Teodor Zep and Stanisław Kamiński being able to „resurrect” the superb, yet forgotten TZ-K technology, used a few dozen years earlier to create housing for workers of the Military University of Technology in Bemowo.
The Management of the Cooperative worked under my supervision until mid 1983. During this period we supplied (alongside the more active founders of the Cooperative and candidate members) not only the registration, but also a bank loan to finance the construction facilities. Most notably, we purchased the perpetual lease of the land from the Centre for Technical Progress NOT, therefore fulfilling all the requirements needed for investment.
I resigned from managing the cooperative as soon as the authors of the innovative methods of building were able to enter the construction site. The chairman at the time was Michał Sandowicz, who managed ELSAM until June 1994, when the single-family homes of that neighbourhood formed the “Ku Wi¶le” cooperative.
Amongst our greatest achievements I can list the fact, that the we managed to actually build the houses – meaning that anything is possible if one works with a group of motivated people. All you have to do, is unite everyone's efforts and act in an organised fashion, skillfully combining the main goal with the personal interests of each member.
Unfortunately I must also note the failures. Most importantly – we did not manage to spread our positive experiences. The people living in the settlement we created - after building their own houses – weren't interested in passing on the ideals developed by us... There haven't been formed any small housing committees in the immediate surroundings, that could change Siekierki into the “Saska Kępa” of left-bank Warsaw.
(Czerwiec 2013) Henryk Lewandowski (June 2013)
*) Praxeology is the study of efficient action. Its’ creator is the outstanding Professor Taduesz Kotarbiński.
**) The name is derived from Element SAndowicza, meaning “Sandowicz's Element”.

* * * On 13th December 1981 Polish authorities introduced “the martial law”. Strategic institutions such as the Polish Radio and the Polish Television sent their employees on holiday, only to call them a few months later before a commission and test their loyalty to the authorities and the current politics.
A group of announcers from the Polish Radio came out of such a meeting in gloomy moods. Their future in the Radio depended on the secret agents and the enthusiasts of the oppressive system. Hania, one of the radio presenters who had a beautiful and soothing voice, invited everybody for tea. She promised to show them a new picture by Henryk Waniek. *
They were joined by Hania’s husband who had just come back from the founder’s meeting of the Housing Cooperative of the employees of the Warsaw University of Technology. He asked Hania jokingly if she would fancy having some friends among her neighbours.
Hania treated the proposal seriously and turned to my husband: “You don’t have a flat, do you?” Indeed, we were homeless and lived in various rented rooms, changing them frequently. My husband clung to the idea, and clung to professor K, one of the founding members of the Cooperative, the name of which from very the beginning was ELSAM.
After years of work and sacrifices we finally settled down in our own place in a friendly housing estate. Hania and her husband will remain in the memory of our family. We will also remember the metaphorical picture of Henryk Waniek which was part of this episode.
Iga Sturlis Warsaw, January 2013
*) Henryk Waniek uses mainly oil painting and drawing as techniques of creative expression. His symmetrical and concentric pictures are composed of traditional symbols of magic: windows, goblets, ladders, demons, rainbows and shooting stars. His art is rich in symbolism, allegories and metaphors. The receiver is invited to explore a surrealist world, guided by the artist through the paths of history, philosophy and alchemy.

MAGIC TREE I think that almost every kid has his magical place. It can be a secret place that children know by themselves, or one they share with their friends. It’s a place where they feel comfortable, safe, happy and free to do what they really want to. It's always a good memory that stays in our minds till we get old and get sclerosis.
When I was younger, I used to believe that a tree near my house, in my neighbor’s garden was magical. After school, my friends and I always went there to climb on it. We could sit on that tree for hours… We talked, played games, and when those games had “agents” or “detectives”, that tree was our “base”. We were growing, and so was the tree, but later it got sick, and our neighbors had to cut it down.
We could say that the tree was uniting us, so when they cut it down, our friendships broke. We don’t see each other anymore, we don’t talk. We don’t meet, we don’t play, everything finished….
They magic that was in the tree united us, so now, when the tree is gone, then the magic is gone too.
Nela Kręglicka

MICHAŁ SANDOWICZ
I was introduced to the ELSAM - the Construction of Ferrocement Houses Cooperative, by my friend Małgosia, who also happened to be an architect.
Having met the criteria, I became the 108th member.
I was required to work a specific amount of hours, during which I composed documentation regarding architecture and construction for two of the three "clusters" (each 7-8 houses in a series of which there were nine in total). The concepts put forth were suggested by Michał Sandowicz - the chairman and founder. He would often weave stories, at the same time building up our perception of his active and wealthy life.
MICHAŁ SANDOWICZ was the most important person in our cooperative. He seemed to conquer the world with his enthusiasm and contagious fervour. He could observe and listen at the same time. Nothing was impossible. He wasn't posing either, and played no games. He was an authentic human being, who transferred dreams to reality and helped those in need. He had an equal amount of friends and enemies, though.
MICHAŁ SANDOWICZ created the Institute of Ferrocement within the Warsaw University of Technology, located in Mokotów. Ferrocement is a material, from which Sandowicz, and his partners, created exquisite three-dimensional structures, in any shape or form, and of all sizes. Concert shells, spiral-pyramid chapels, ships... He even created the ELSA system (ELement; SAndowicz's), used to build our housing settlement. This is where the name of the cooperative - ELSAM - came from.
MICHAŁ SANDOWICZ had a chapel with St. John Nepomucen built into the settlement (the whole area resides on floodplains). The saint has many times protected us from the Vistula River.
MICHAŁ SANDOWICZ - the caroller. It was not uncommon to find Sandowicz on your doorstep during Christmas Eve. He even brought his DIY Star of Bethlehem.br/> MICHAŁ SANDOWICZ undertook many sacral projects. So far I've assisted him in two construction deals from the church. He knew how to implement good designs. He would collect opinions and criticism, seek inspiration and visit other existing landmarks, which later became his conceptual solutions.
MICHAŁ SANDOWICZ is the grandson of the Eastern Orthodoxy martyr - Maxim Sandowicz, and also a Łemko activist. Thanks to him, the Łemko language is taught in the Łemko region of Poland.
MICHAŁ SANDOWICZ was a Polish presidential candidate in 1993.
At one time I had abandoned the settlement for a duration of 6 years. Upon returning, in 2001, I met Sandowicz at night by the gate to Ponikowskiego street. He was with his old dog Bertha. Since you're back - he said upon seeing me - you ought to know that nowadays one takes his dog for "poopwalks", and shops at "Scrooge's".
Bertha outlived her master. Michał died in 2003. December 29th 2013 will be the 10th anniversary of his death. I typed his name and surname into a search engine. The only things that popped up were subtle hints of Łemko and Eastern Orthodoxy websites.
Iwona Maj Warsaw, September 2013

REGINA SYNORADZKA
I am the 108th member of the ELSAM Construction of Ferrocement Houses Cooperative. Since 1986 I have been to dozens of meetings, but it took me 5 years to find out that Regina Synoradzka was, in fact, my neighbour.
REGINA SYNORADZKA, a multiple time national champion in diving who represented Poland in the Monachium Olympics of 1972 and worked in the Department of Physical Education and Sport in the Warsaw University of Technology. She used to give lessons at the later demolished WKS Legia swimming pool. I had been under her guidance as an architecture student. This resulted in me becoming a very good swimmer. I'm still in possession of a few of her entries. The most valuable ones are two from the first semester of the academic year 1982-1983.
On the 13th of December 1981, martial law had been established in Poland, after which I was immediately arrested for opposition activity. I was the only student of the WUT at the internment camp (in Olszynka Grochowska, and from mid-January 1982 in an internment camp for women in Gołdap). My sentence was 6 months. This cost me one year of studying, but luckily I was granted a leave of absence.
I returned to university in October 1982. I caught up with the program by September 1983. The only thing overdue was Physical Education from the previous semester, meaning I had to pass two instances of this subject in the next semester. The head of the PE department, however, refused. This meant it would be impossible to graduate.
Thankfully Regina stepped in. Had it not been for that, I would have failed the entire year.
That is not all. I've been a part of the "Ku Wi¶le" community ever since 2001. Our paths crossed once again when I found out that Regina was the leader of a local jogging group.
I jog to this very day. It's a way of relieving stress and improving health. I think faster when I'm running. It's as though the problems solve themselves.
I owe all of this to Regina Synoradzka, our neighbour from Ponikowskiego street.
Iwona Maj Warsaw, September 2013