Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
Ryszard M. Kowalczyk - Reflection

Ryszard M. Kowalczyk - Advisory Group Member (current), CTBUH Fellow (2009)
. Ryszard M. Kowalczyk, Warsaw, Poland
Advisory Group Member (current), CTBUH Fellow (2009)

Since I have been involved in Council on Tall Building activity from the very beginning, it is extremely difficult to select some particular events of this long, already lasting 40 years story. Let’s start from the very beginning.

When I joined the “Joint Committee on Tall Buildings” I previously had little to do with tall buildings. The only prior involvement I had was my work at a special unit established by the Polish Academy of Science to study the achievements in the building of the “Palace of Culture and Science” in Warsaw. Poland at this time belonged to the communist part of the world, and the tallest building in Warsaw, “Palace of Culture and Science,” was a gift of the Soviet Union and was designed and built by the Russians.  Its form and architecture was kept in the specific Russian style of this time, known from similar buildings built in Moscow. It was built in 1955 and has 42 stories and a height with spire reaching 237 meters.

The first tall urban developments after WWII were just beginning and were designed by Polish architects in a completely different style related to Warsaw and West-European tradition. The so called “East Side of Marszalkowska Street” complex, designed by Prof. Zbigniew Karpinski, having three tall buildings above 80 meters in height, was considered as the first step in the planning and development of the modern city center of Warsaw (1962 -69), which was completely  destroyed during WWII.

Poland has some tradition in tall buildings. Before WWII, the highest building was the Prudential building in Warsaw (rebuilt after WWII and serving now as Hotel Warszawa) which is 66 meters high with 16 stories, completed in 1933.  The building was a landmark of pre-WWII Warsaw, not only as Poland’s first skyscraper but also due to its interesting design. The structural design was provided by Prof. Stefan Bryla, who utilized a welded steel frame for the structure of the building.  This was one of the pioneering, successful applications of welding for such a building. It is worthwhile to say that Prof. Stefan Bryla also designed the 27.0 meter long, first in the world welded bridge (1928/29) over the river Sludwia near Lowicz, Poland, which is still today a landmark of technical achievements.1

After the success of “Eastern Side,” other interesting projects were under study for redevelopment and rebuilding of other parts of the city center of Warsaw, as well as plans of new tall buildings for other big cities in Poland such as Katowice, Wroclaw and so on.

In these circumstances professionals in Poland, particularly architects and structural engineers, were very much interested in all developments in the world about city planning and the role of tall buildings. Information from IABSE about the establishment of the new working group for studying the problems of tall buildings resulted in our Committee of Civil Engineering deciding to join this group. As a member of IABSE, I was designated to represent Polish professionals.  From today’s perspective it seems rather strange to designate somebody to any organization, but in communist time this was often a normal procedure.  However, I never regretted this decision as it allowed me to learn a lot, to meet very interesting people, and to be involved in projects and works which I found extremely interesting and inspiring.

In the first meetings of the Joint Committee I met Prof. Lynn Beedle. His enthusiasm and his way of gaining followers impressed me very much. He was starting the preparation for a big project which was the production  of the MONOGRAPH on Tall Buildings.  It was a very ambitious plan and demanded broad co-operation of all kinds of specialists worldwide. This was successfully carried out and resulted in the editing of five volumes of the MONOGRAPH in 1978–81. At the beginning, the work seemed so enormous that one could hardly believe that it would be possible to organize such an expert international team to exchange, co-ordinate and compromise many various approaches and experiences, and to build a concise source of knowledge and elaborate it in a book.  It turned out however possible, due to Lynn’s ability to gain excellent cooperation worldwide and his skill to build an efficient team at Council Headquarters at Lehigh University.  I had to mention it, as it concerns also me.  I started the project as a simple member of the Joint Committee, but with time I became more and more involved in the Council activity, first in my native Poland and then in the Council Headquarters.

For me, the initial involvement in the real work for the Council was my designation by the Polish Committee of Civil Engineering to be responsible for the organization of the Regional Conference in Warsaw, which was scheduled in October 1972. To be better acquainted with this task, I participated in the First International Congress of the Council at Lehigh University in August 1972 with a group of twelve Polish professionals invited by the organizers. This was my first stay in the USA and also the first time for my colleagues of this group. I was impressed by many things: first, the skyscrapers of Manhattan; then, the excellent organization of the Congress; and lastly, the opportunity to meet big authorities, big names in the area of tall buildings listed in the program of the Congress.  Above all of these, I was aware that only a few months later I would have to pass my exam in organization of the Regional Conference in Warsaw, in which Lynn announced that more then 40 top specialists from abroad will take part, and I had to live up to the requested Council standard for such a conference.  Confrontation of the Lehigh Congress with my future job and responsibility for the Warsaw conference made me pay careful attention.  Lynn was very helpful and, in several meetings with me and some of my Polish colleagues, instructed us on his experiences and procedures, which could be used for a proper organization of the conference in Poland. (See figure 1)

Figure 1. Discussion at Lehigh on preparation to the Polish Regional Conference
From left: Jozef Sieczkowski, Ryszard Kowalczyk, Lynn Beedle,  Marek Kwiecinski

After returning to Poland, our organizational team worked hard on our final preparations for the conference.  The main load of organization of the conference was relying on me and Andrzej Nowak (now Professor of Civil Engineering in the University of Nebraska), but we had a good support of Prof. Mieczyslaw Lubinski the Rector of Warsaw University of Technology. The conference found a broad interest among Polish professionals, the topic was appropriately adjusted to expectations in the modernization and development of Polish cities, and the conference had a very good participation. An additional feature was the generous participation of top specialists from abroad and particularly from the USA, which gave the opportunity to get acquainted with achievements and experiences of the Western world, still at this time only partially opened to such countries as Poland, leaving still behind the countries of the Iron Curtain. The program included many interesting papers from Poland and abroad and contributed to the final project, which was the Monograph. The Conference gathered together many eminent guests and contributors, such as Lynn Beedle, Fazlur Khan,  Les Robertson, Elmer Timby,  John Moore,  Richard Baum,  Henry J. Cowan,  Le Wu Lu, and Gerald Schulz, to mention just few. With some of them, I later developed many professional and personal contacts, and some of them developed into friendships. Evaluation by the Council and the authorities of the Polish Academy of Sciences deemed that the conference was successful and contributed significantly to the exchange of knowledge and information in the field of urban planning and tall buildings.

After the conference, the Polish Group of Tall Buildings was established under Chairmanship of Professor Mieczyslaw Lubinski, at this time the Rector of Warsaw University of Technology.  I was elected as a vice-chairman.   For many years this Group was quite active, keeping close contacts with The Council, distributing information on tall buildings in Poland, contributing to the Monograph.

Figure 2. Gerald Schulz and Ryszard Kowalczyk in Egypt in 1974.

In 1974, due to my involvement in the organization of the Polish Regional Conference and my activity in the Group, I received an unexpected invitation from Lynn Beedle to come to Cairo to participate in the Regional Conference there.  After this conference, Lynn invited me for a meeting with him and Gerald Schulz, who during many years was serving as Secretary of the Council and a close co-worker of Lynn in the Council Headquarters at Lehigh University. (See figure 2)  Gerald was very much involved in Council work from the very beginning and a great part of the Council’s success can be contributed to him.  However, he resigned and wanted to return to his native Austria.  During our meeting, Lynn suggested to me to take over Gerald’s responsibilities and become Secretary of the Council. 

I came to Lehigh University in the spring of 1975 and suddenly found myself in the centre of Council activity at the Headquarters, just in the hot time of preparation of the first Monograph on Tall Buildings.  From this time onward began my adventure with CTBUH and its various facets, and the big challenge to live up to my new responsibilities. I must repeat here once again, what I have already written in the book “Catalyst for Skyscraper Revolution”[1], that  I feel very fortunate to have met Lynn Beedle on my life path, to work under his leadership, and to have the opportunity to assist him in the everyday Council work.  I learned so much from my work with him, from his approach to various tasks, from his warm relation with people, and I am very proud to have belonged to a close group of his friends.

Now many years later, when I am walking along the streets in the Center of Warsaw, when I am observing the changes in the Warsaw skyline, when I am looking at the new skyscrapers growing, I have always in mind that somewhere behind this new architectural expression of Warsaw, there is, directly or indirectly, a little of the Council contribution.  Looking on the new skyscrapers growing in Warsaw and elsewhere I am always dreaming that most of them will conform to Pelli’s criteria of “noble” tall buildings, “worthy of respect and affection,”  as he expressed it in his paper “Cosmic Pillars” [2] at the Fifth Congress of CTBUH.

The initiative and vision of Lynn Beedle to create the international organization of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, to exchange knowledge and expertise worldwide, to help each other in gaining the newest know how, has proved to be very useful and appreciated.  I am glad that for many years I was involved and a part of this activity.  Looking at the Council now, I am happy it is in good condition, stronger and well organized, and I am sure it is going in the right direction, developing and expanding Lynn Beedle’s initiatives, tasks and ideas.

1In 1995, the American Welding Society presented an Historic Welded Structure Award for the bridge to Poland.


1.    Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat,  Mir Ali Editor:  Catalyst for Skyscraper Revolution – Lynn S. Beedle A Legend in his Lifetime
2.    Cesar Pelli: Cosmic Pillars - Collected Papers of Habitat and the High-Rise,  Tradition and Innovation,  Fifth World Congress, Amsterdam Netherlands,  May 14 – 19,  1995;  Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat 
3.    Internet:
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