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1999 Photographs from Warsaw | Panoramic Photographs 1 2 3 4 5 | 1997 Photographs and Text from Warsaw | Poland Site Index | Home
On Monday morning, I met Marek at his office to go over my travel plans and fill in any loose areas. He gave me several contacts in various cities and helped out with travel arrangements for Kazimierz Dolny and Zamosc. He also suggested a visit to Malbork while I was near Gdansk and Elblag.
Afterwards, I went out to the Stare Miasto and Nowe Miasto to make some photographs. I already had many still images from my visit in 1997, so I concentrated on the panoramic photographs. The central area of the Stare Miasto was blocked by scaffolding and I could not set-up precisely in the middle of the square. I found the best position available, providing and overview of the area with details of some buildings. The Nowe Miasto was much easier. I managed to fit some workers cleaning a sculpture into the image.
Upon returning to Pilsudskiego Square, I found that nothing significant has changed since 1997. The colonnade is still a lonely presence in a vast empty space. The Saxon Gardens behind the monument looked quite nice, filled with blooming trees and flowers. This day was sunny, unlike the early morning winter visit during my last trip. But in any weather the space occupied by the open square is absolutely huge. I have seen several proposals to rebuild the square but it will require a substantial investment and a talented collection of designers and engineers to complete the reconstruction of the area with any success, whatever form the building(s) may take. If all the property deeds are cleared, Sir Norman Foster will soon be building on a site nearby, adjacent to the Saski Palace. Perhaps it will generate momentum for Pilsudskiego Square and its future.
Located on the opposite side of the Opera House, I was also able to look at the City Hall reconstruction with a more critical eye. The entire main facade and form of the original building has been entirely reconstructed. Stone panels are used at the base of the building and on the tower with painted cast stone units cladding the upper areas of the building. The roof is standing seam metal and the aluminum windows of the main facade use divided light patterns. Several adjacent smaller structures have also been reconstructed using a similar but more simply detailed materials palette. The only original structure along this section of the square is to the far right of the reconstructed City Hall block, a small two story brick building.
An archway at the base of the main tower is publically accessible and contains a large sheet of glass set into the walking surface. Below is a concentric pattern of bricks with a small column base. Nearby, a sign is labeled "Orginal Fragment". Walking though and beyond the archway, the composition of the reconstruction changes considerably. Cast stone and historic forms evolve into a vertical glass curtain wall. The pitched red standing seam roof is retained. Continuing farther out, the landscaping is something akin to a suburban American office park complete with trimmed grass, a winding vehicular drive to the parking area, mechanical ventilation equipment and a private security guard box keeping watch over the area. At first, the landscape seems out of place so near to historic Warsaw. I realized the grass leads to a cluster of trees on a steep grade sloping down to a busy traffic artery. It's not quite a highway but the automobile has a definite priority in this lower area. In a sense, the building serves two purposes: one presented to the historic Warsaw of the past, one presented to contemporary Warsaw and the urban planning of the late 20th century.
About .5km away from the City Hall Reconstruction, another building was nearing completion, the Supreme Court Building on Krasinskich Square. The square is divided by Bonifraterska Street with the 17th century Krasi ski Palace on one side and the new Supreme Court building on the opposite side. The Supreme Court Building is all glass with large square patinized metal columns wrapping the exterior. The columns carry a large flat metal entablature which contains soil for the trees planted directly above each column. The column and entablature assembly acts a kind of screen or brise-soleil and extends across the road (there is a large opening for vehicular traffic) towards the Krasi ski Palace along the north side of the plaza. One of the architects collaborating on the Supreme Court Building, Marek Budzy ski, has also recently completed a library building for Warsaw University. At the university, metal panels with raised relief inscriptions in various languages encase the building.
Continuing on my walk, I began to realize a definite sense of loss in the city. Abnormal variations and holes exist in the urban fabric. In its present-day configuration, there is almost an over-emphasis on the medieval aspects of the city. These may be the most desirable memories when Poland was at the height of its powers over 400 years in the past. 18th and 19th century elements are visible while many pieces from the 20th century, such as the housing blocks and other mundane or unwelcome structures, are unremarkable.
I read an article in Architektura-murator about Wilcza Street describing it as "what Warsaw would have looked like, had it not been destroyed by war and subsequent reconstruction." Intrigued, I directed my walk towards this street. There is definitely more sense of evolution in this area. Buildings are more varied and better planned, as if the builders had more time to consider their actions and contributions. A building constructed in 1910 walked a line between Expressionism and Czech Cubism. Another flaunted figurative sculptures and decorations of the Beaux Arts; it's carved stone vines dripped down into the sidewalk.
Traveling to this area required a bus ride and walk through Powisle, away from the business and tourist center of central Warsaw. Here, the city seemed more habitable and enjoyable for its residents. A grand staircase extended up from the area, through a park and to the business district above. There, I found another modern infill building on the east side of Trzech Krzyzy Square. The overall massing and form of the building works well and a glass atrium is used to transition between the new building and an existing structure on the southeast corner of the square.
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