Europa Nostra sent me on an assignment to photograph the Szombierki Power Plant in Bytom, Poland, for their 7 Most Endangered programme. In the past years I’ve been privileged to have photographed for example the beautiful Castle of Sammezzano, Citadel of Alessandria and Casino in Constanta for Europa Nostra as well.
The Szombierki Power Plant in Bytom is constructed between 1917 and 1920. The huge size of the facility, the scale of electricity generation and historical value make it one of the most important historic monuments of coal power generation in Europe. The layout of the facility is composed of a mine providing fuel to the facility with a preserved railway system, a (nowadays closed) railway station for employees and a nearby coking plant.
History of the Szombierki Power Plant
Upper Silesia (located mostly in Poland and small parts in Czech Republic) was one of the major European hard coal mining centers dating back to the end of the 18th century. In the mid-19th century, development of the industry was at its peak. In 1917, Gräflich Schaffgotsch Werke GmbH started the construction of the Bobrek Power Plant (now Szombierki Power Plant). The power plant was constructed to supply electricity to the numerous facilities of the company located in the Silesia, based on coal from the nearby Bobrek mine.
The power plant was designed by Emil Zillman and Georg Zillman, both architects from Berlin. These architects have also designed two residential complexes in Katowice (now historical monuments) and had experience with designing hard coal mines in Upper Silesia.
In 1920, the power plant opened the doors. Five years later, a four-sided clock tower was installed. By 1945, the Bobrek Power Plant was one of the largest coal power plants in Europe, with 900 employees and generating 92MW. In the beginning of 1945, the power plant was taken over by troops of the Red Army. These troops dismantled some of the equipment and brought it to the Soviet Union. In May 1945, the Soviet authorities handed over the power plant to Polish authorities which formally nationalized the power plant.
In the following years, the power plant was modernized and overhauled, targeting a generation of 108MW (+16MW). In 1969, a major modernization took place and the power plant was transformed into a heat and power generating plant. Almost 20 years later the facility stopped generating electricity. The facility became a standby / peak facility in the heating system in the city of Bytom.
Somewhere between 2011 and 2015, industrial equipment was dismantled, and some buildings were broken down (e.g. wooden cooling tower). The facility was placed in a register of immovable historical monuments in the Silesian province in 2013. Three years later, the Szombierki Power Plant was sold to a private company. Due to major holes in the roof, lack of heating, moist and fungus, missing window elements, no functioning water supply and a broken sewage system the power plant is in a very poor state of conservation. Urgent intervention is required, thus it’s a good sign that the site is shortlisted for the 7 Most Endangered programme by Europe Nostra.
The Szombierki Power Plant was erected in brick in an early modernism style. Characterizing of the facility is the monumentalism, simplicity and cubic nature of the multiple buildings. The architects made the building look similar to sacral facilities with a layout that you might recognize from a basilica. The structure of the heat and power plant was composed in line with the additive principle. With creating an “industrial temple / industrial cathedral” the architects created an idea of “sanctifying labor”. Massive horizontal blocks were balanced with vertical accents in the form of two four-sided towers and slender chimneys.
The Szombierki Power Plant is one of the best-preserved post-industrial facilities in Upper Silesia. The characteristic façade of dark red brick and three chimneys are the architectonic landmarks of Bytom, being a permanent element of the region’s industrial landscape.
More photos of the Szombierki Power Plant in the gallery below: