The first central heating systems in Poland appeared in Warsaw. In 1841 in the palace of Jan Mitkiewicz at Chmielna Street a one-building steam heating plant was put into service. With time this luxury was transferred to other landmark buildings of the capital city, such as Hotel Europejski, the seat of the Fine Arts Society and the Grand Theatre.
In 1901 the construction of the new building of the Baby Jesus' Hospital in Lindley Street was completed. The modern complex of pavilions, designed by Józef Pius Dziekoński, had its own power plant and a system of central heating and ventilation. The largest company in the heating industry in Warsaw was the machine and sanitary equipment building society, Towarzystwo Budowy Maszyn i Urządzeń Sanitarnych Drzewiecki i Jeziorański SA, founded in 1893. It built, among other things, a high pressure steam heating system for the asylum in Kobierzyn near Kraków and the heating system for the school in Zagrody near Puławy.
In 1897 on the occasion of a visit of Tsar Nicholas II in Warsaw one million roubles were collected from social contributions and the “highest permission” was granted by the monarch to use this money for the purposes of setting up a technical university. This idea was initiated by Kazimierz Obrębowicz, born in Poznań, a graduate of the Building Academy in Berlin and Chairman of the Technical and Industrial Unit of the Warsaw Branch of the Society for the Support of Industry. Obrębowicz, deemed a precursor of Polish district heating, among other things designed the system of heating and ventilation for the Royal Castle and the National Museum of the Wawel, the building of the Parliament in Lvov, and the buildings of the evangelical commune in Warsaw.
As a head of the Committee for Construction of the “School of Technology” he was also the author of the concept of “heating and ventilating” all buildings of the school in a completely centralised system and the building design was prepared by Stefan Szyller and Bronisław Rogóyski. The whole system was made of two autonomous parts – steam and air-driven. Steam at a pressure of 5 atm supplied two electricity generating machines of 120 hp each. In addition, steam at the same pressure was supplied via small-diameter pipes to heated premises where its pressure was reduced to 0.2 atm and was further supplied to internal heating installations. Condensed steam was carried off back to the boiler plant via an autonomous system of pipes. The second centralised system was ventilation.
In the boiler plant building air was heated up to 20 °C and then pumped through large-diameter pipes (1.6-3.6 m) to respective school buildings. Steam for ventilation heaters was collected at the outlet of the pumping machinery, thus recovering the heat. At that time the maximum capacity of the system was set at 6,400,000 heat units (calories), which now corresponds to 7.4 MWt, and the installed capacity of the boiler plant was approx. 8 MWt, of which 4.2 MWt were used for central heating, 2 MWt for warming air for ventilation at the minimum external temperature of -5 °C and 1.2 MWt for humidifying air. At that time the annual production volume of heat was estimated at 45,000 GJ, that is, about 20,000 sheffels of coal (one sheffel = 128 litres).
This then modern system cogenerating heat and electricity made the Technical University of Warsaw completely independent in terms of energy supplies. The electricity produced supplied the motors of fans and the lighting system in school buildings. The construction of a group of edifices commenced in summer 1899 and as early as the beginning of the academic year of 1900/1901 the first buildings were put into service. All facilities in the area at the junction of Polna and Nowowiejska Streets were opened in autumn 1901.
From the beginning of the 20th century progressing industrialization was accompanied by changes in housing designs. People were migrating to cities so the requirement of inexpensive and comfortable housing suddenly increased. In the architecture and urban planning modernism, originating in the 19th century, became predominant. Its forms were designed thanks to the use of new building materials: glass, iron and reinforced concrete. One of the leaders of international style played a significant role in this matter. Namely, the founder of the Bauhaus school, Walter Gropius. He was the first to put into effect a concept of a housing estate we are familiar with today. The Siemensstadt abode in Berlin became a model for postwar housing. The architecture of the complex broke off from the concept of single-family housing and individual gardens, instead offering multi-storey blocks of flats with multiple staircases. In terms of municipal infrastructure the flats were connected to shared water supply and sewage disposal systems and heat was supplied from a local boiler plant.
In Warsaw these modernist assumptions were implemented in the housing estate of the Warsaw Housing Cooperative (WSM) in Żoliborz, established in December 1921 with the mission of solving the problems of housing for workers and craftspeople with little income. The activity of the cooperative was based on social rules – its members could lease the flats thanks to collective self-help schemes and support from the state and local government offering a system of loans. The basic unit of a housing estate was the so-called 'colony' composed of several buildings around a common yard, provided with general facilities (laundry, canteen, library, nursery school, reading room, and a community centre). The 6th colony of the Warsaw Housing Cooperative, designed by Brunon Zborowski, was a utility unit with a central heating boiler plant as one of its elements.
The construction commenced on 21 October 1928. The installation was designed by engineer Ludwik Merkel. The walls of the building covered with a cylindrical roof were split by structural pillars between which tall narrow windows were mounted. In the original design all structural elements were marked by darker plaster of a different colour. A tall chimney was fitted with spiral iron stairs running around it to a covered viewing platform situated on the top. The viewing platform was a recommendation from the Building Inspectors who approved the height of the chimney provided that such a platform was built. The capacity of the heating system was approx. 8 kcal/h, and the heating medium was water with a temperaturę of 120/170 °C.
Before the outbreak of World War II central heating worked only in 10 % of buildings in Warsaw. The following types of equipment were used in the interwar period:
• in small and medium-size buildings – gravity water heating systems supplied from integrated boiler plants equipped with cast iron boilers;
• in large residential and office buildings and in hospitals – water heating systems with pumps supplied from integrated boiler plants often supplying more than one building;
• in industrial plants – high- or low-pressure steam heating systems and steam and air heating systems using fuser units; heat was sourced from company process boiler plants.
Heating equipment and installations were made and designed by private fitting companies. Apart from the previously mentioned Towarzystwo Budowy Maszyn i Urządzeń Sanitarnych Drzewiecki i Jeziorański SA, the largest of tchem were: J. Kamler, T. Godlewski, Biuro Instalacyjno-Techniczne Radłowski i Sztos, Jan Wróblewski and Wisła. These works were in addition the forges of workers for the industry since no organised technical education existed in the field of heating. Admittedly, Professor Paschke and engineer Bąkowski of the Warsaw University of Technology delivered theoretical lectures but their scope was insufficient to ensure proper specialist education.