Though we were only able to see the project for a few minutes, the reconstruction of the Warsaw City Hall is another very interesting project. The building was intentionally destroyed during the Nazi occupation of WWII, leaving only the building's foundations intact. Citibank purchased the site and is reconstructing the entire building to act the bank's main offices in Poland. The building, as best is possible, is a faithful reconstruction of the original.

The project's "reconstructed shell" in being done by PKZ. Another design firm is handling the interior work. Like the Szczecin reconstruction seen, all structural work is done with contemporary methods, primarily concrete posts and slabs. The traditional crafts and methods are used only on the exterior. As mentioned for the theme of the three projects, the original foundations of the building have been removed in the reconstruction. This was apparently done for programmatic reasons to gain additional underground space for parking. Even though this fabric was removed, it still serves to inform the reconstructed new.

Is this reconstruction a hollow shell since no evidence of the original remains? I do not know. Never less, the project is fascinating for the sheer breadth of its scope. The city hall building itself is large, but also included is a re-working of the plaza between the City Hall and a reconstructed 19th century performance hall. Currently, the area is used for parking. The area will be excavated and traffic moving through the area will be diverted to tunnels below the plaza. When completed, the plaza will become a pedestrian only area (I do not know what amenities/features will be installed here; landscaping, fountains, vendor stalls, etc). It may not have quite the same quantity of traffic as Grand Central Station but the concept may be comparable. Grand Central borrows from the architecture of a Roman bath house and modifies it for a 20th century use in traffic control. In Warsaw, the form was not imported, it already existed on-site.

In the US, it is rare to see a major banking institute (or other institution) with such commitment and contribution to the development and re-establishment of a community or city. Many large organizations in the United States follow a few common options (I haven't fully researched this fully yet, so don't take this at full value, comments welcome) One option is to lease space within existing office shell. True, leases of 10, 15 or more years do indicate commitment to a market and its people but a lease is still a temporary term. If a better option presents itself, the operation can easily move without much loss. The second route is creation of the office park, existing beyond the boundaries of the existing city. There is a long history of this American tradition, ranging from Eero Saarinen's General Motors Headquarters in 1956 to recent Nike and Microsoft campuses. The opportunity to rebuild the city and its infrastructure is overlooked in favor of planting stakes in virgin soil.

However, the trend may be changing. From my own experience, the project at the Brooklyn Historical Society is one example of evidence for change. Additionally, a recent article in Architecture or Architectural Record noted a changing trend of institutions terms of commitment and devotion of resources to the communities they serve. This is what would make this project interesting to a US audience.

 

After leaving the site of the City Hall Reconstruction, we drove by another important Polish plaza in Wasaw. Standing in the middle of a large open plaza is a passageway composed of three vaults supported by an open colonnade. Its brick construction can be seen at either end of the parage where the passage has been abruptly cut off. The bases and lower portion of column shafts can be seen above the colonnade. This structure stands as a ruin.

What is currently seen was once part of a much larger building complex. The existing vaults served as the base of an upper and longer colonnade. This was located perpendicular to the axis created by two large symmetrically positioned and designed buildings. One end of the created axis opens into a large public plaza, enclosed on two sides by the wings of the symmetrical buildings. The axis passed through the colonnade and continued through a very large public garden space.

As mentioned, all that is left of this grand plan are three lower bays of the central colonnade (nicely centered on the axis, of course). This space now serves a memorial to Poland's Unknown Soldier. Dark, carved stone markers cover are placed under each of the vaults. A cauldron at the central vault holds an eternal flame and the markers are under constant miliary guard. On our last day in Poland, Kent and I woke early and went to visit this site before daybreak. When we arrived, a grounds cleaning crew of 4-5 men dressed in orange coveralls were sweeping the area around the plaza but did not enter the guarded area under the vaults eith the markers. This area was being cleaned and swept by one other man. He did not wear coveralls or any other kind of uniform or insignia, only his civilian "street" clothes. For cleaning supplies, he constantly returned to his private car, parked nearby. Though we are not sure, Kent suggested that the man was only a citizen, cleaning the memorials as a matter of national pride and honor.

The open plaza surrounding these vaults has recently been the subject of an architectural design competition to rebuild the buildings on the plaza. The competition was entered by several firms (though our group did not see the other entries or learn the names of the other entrants); PKZ was the selected winning entry. We were able to see a booklet, formatted approximately to an 11x17 size, which documented the site's history and PKZ's winning proposal.

The scheme uses a reconstruction philosophy we had not seen previously in Poland. At first glance, the floor plans for the new buildings have footprints which are very similar to the previous buildings. This was not unexpected. However, the aesthetic of the buildings is contemporary. This was evident only in the last few pages of the booklet where bird's-eye massing studies had been produced for the site and ground-level perspective views of the new buildings could be seen. All of these 3-dimensional views were computer generated, the only computer produced drawings seen during our trip. Though the buildings were not highly detailed in the presentation, their final aesthetic was clearly not replicated from historic elements. The sheet I remember most clearly illustrated a gridded framework, probably a steel frame clad in enameled panels, with large glazing panels extending out from this frame. The locations for the vertical elements of the framework appeared located by column positions of the previous building.

I am very curious to learn more about how this project evolved and why it was selected as the winner in this competition. It is the most unique reconstruction plan seen during our visit to Poland. It does not attempt to be a direct reconstruction or representation of Warsaw's past architecture. Instead, it is a contemporary building whose final form is directed by the site's previous structures. The old and new have the chance to meld together in a way which is not often possible With the site's previous nationalistic history and its present status as a national shrine, it has the possibility to be a very significant project.

 

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