Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Stalinist downtown, dusk

Not yet six in the evening, this, the last week before the clocks go forward. They day had been bright, top temperature +15C, spring in the air. But by the evening, dark clouds gathered. The Palace of Culture takes on an oppressive character. Newer skyscrapers to its right and neons on buildings opposite remind us who won the Cold War.


jan said...

It's incorrect to say that skyscrapers in the Central Business District indicate a winner in the Cold War. The plans to build them on that very spot (although in a different form) existed long before 1989. Take a look at a 1971(?) diagram here: http://www.forumrozwoju.waw.pl/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=392&Itemid=116 (Polish only).

Out of five 40-storey buildings planned in this area, only the twin towers - Marriot and Intraco II were actually build, but we should blame capitalism for that, not lack thereof. It was erection of Złote Tarasy that ultimately destroyed the concept.

Michael Dembinski said...

The communists planned five towers for this part of town but only one - Intraco II (now Oxford Tower) was completed without assistance from international private sector capital.

Oxford Tower now belongs to the company looking after British professors' pension funds!

jan said...

Sure, building anything requires funding whih is mostly international. What I mean is that your post creates a false impression that highrise buildings appeared in Warsaw only after 1989. Which is not true.

And I don't think that "communists" planned any towers. Architects did.

Michael Dembinski said...

Warsaw did have high rise buildings before 1989 - the Palace of Culture, for one!

Intraco I and II and the Forum (now Novotel Centrum) were the only 100m+ buildings built in Warsaw pre-1989.

As to communists, consider this. All the high-rise buildings (except for PKiN) in Poland were built after 1970. Gierek era. The majority were built in... Katowice. Making any connections? :-)

In communist Poland, architects could plan what they bloody well wanted, but the Party decided what would go up - and where. Rather than the logic of the market.

jan said...

The political decision to build this and that doesn't necessarily translate into views of actual builders. Given outlooks of the populace, it's a safe bet to say that the attitudes of most of the designers and builders of pre-1989s skyscrapers were anticommunist or at least indifferent. Take Mr Zbigniew Karpiński, who designed Ściana Wschodnia and was father of Mr Jakub Karpiński, one of most famous anti-communist activists - long before KOR (and a political prisoner). I'd even say more: my deep impression is that most of decent post-1956 architecture (not commieblocks, of course, and not socrealism) was symbolically anticommunist. Just compare Polish fine modernism of Warszawa or Katowice and mega-brutalist buildings erected at the same time in the Soviet Union. These people (architects that is) played subtle games with communist politicians to gain some creative freedom - they smuggled western ideas as something else or else persuaded decisionmakers to accept them (take DH Smyk). Just like many other artists. Polish communist architects would not design Intraco or Spodek, period.

Michael Dembinski said...

Good point Jan - the comparison between architecture in the USSR and in Poland between the end of social realism and the end of the communist period is indeed noticeable. I have a number of photo albums about Warsaw and Poland from the communist era, full of photos and plans of the latest architecture. The architects may have had their creative freedom, but the Party certainly took the kudos!