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Warsaw / 2 Palace of Culture and Science

September 6, 2011

It is said that after World War II Joseph Stalin asked representatives of the city of Warsaw what would they like to receive as a gift from the Soviet Union: a new Underground transport system or a Palace of Culture with Museums, Conference hall, Theaters etc. The  pragmatic polish people answered they wished to build the Underground. Stalin took note and gave way to the project of the  Palace of Culture and Science.

Confirming the fact that highrise buildings are powerful symbols of political authority under most political regimes and ideologies the tower at the center of this complex was the tallest building in Europe untill 1957 and remains still for a few months the tallest in the country, but the Palace of Culture and Science has far more interesting features than that. Works began in 1952 according to the plans of Russian architect Lev Rudnev who designed the plans for the Moscow State University and other relevant buildings of this period. 3500 workers were transferred from Russia, housed in a suburb of Warsaw and accomplished the complex in only three years in 1955.

Arriving in Warsaw the Palace of Culture and Science is still an impressive landmark and walking around it I was thinking about the strong appeal of  such buildings on western travellers and particularly on architects. The big dimension, the building at urban scale, allowing multiple perspectives within a rigid symmetry; the peculiarity of the historical, economical and social context that brought to an artifact which is not replicable; the coherence of design; the use of labour intensive materials and technologies providing the pleasure of handicraft and materials that get better as they get old; the strange beauty of vernacular decoration, mixing up old and new decorative motifs without bitter postmodern reflections.

Nowadays the building complex is home to public and private offices, Museums, a multiplex Cinema, several Theaters, a convention center etc. A great resource for the city, despite the criminal mind of its initiator and the tragic rationale of its  conception.

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