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Warsaw with a superiority complex

15 of September '20

Few things have been changing faster lately than the skyline of Warsaw. In fact, every few months the skyline of the capital is enriched by a new tower. Taller than a hundred meters, there are already more than thirty buildings in the city, and more are growing.

There is one real and noteworthy skyscraper in Warsaw: it is, of course, the Palace of Culture and Science, reaching 237 meters with its spire. Despite being the tallest building in the city for more than half a century, it is not a typical skyscraper. Because, after all, glass cuboid buildings, not stone palaces, appear before everyone's eyes at this slogan. Well, but neither do stadiums or churches appear. Meanwhile, the 53rd tallest building in Warsaw is the Temple of Providence [info], and the 28th is the National Stadium.

Pałac Kultury
i Nauki, widok z jednego z apartamentów w wieżowcu Złota 44

The Palace of Culture and Science, view from one of the apartments in the Zlota 44 skyscraper.

photo: Anna Cymer

Nor can it be said that Stalin's Socialist Realist "gift of Stalin" started the fashion for building high in Warsaw, after all, for many years the skyline was rather - to use a recently fashionable word - "flattened." The pre-war Prudential of 1933 with its 66 meters or Prague Cathedral (built in 1903) with its neo-Gothic towers reaching 75 meters were not impressive and did not tower over the city. In the second half of the 1960s the skyline was diversified by the more than eighty-meter-high residential towers of the Eastern Wall, and in the next decade the Forum Hotel and the Intraco office building were built - the high-rise buildings were to be an expected and government-given sign that in our country, too, it could be "like in the West." The effect of metropolitanity was also to be given to the capital by the towers created by Jerzy Skrzypczak's team (unfortunately not fully realized) of the so-called Western District of the Warsaw Center, or the Blue Sk yscraper at Bankowy Square, designed in the 1970s but completed only in 1991.

od lewej: Widok
Towers, Hotel Forum

from left: Widok Towers, Forum Hotel

photo: Anna Cymer

However, Warsaw moved full speed ahead only after we became a capitalist state. It was then that it became clear that the city needed tall, glass office buildings in the Western fashion, that skyscrapers would certainly help attract investors - "Western capital." In the decade of the 1990s, several were built, including the then shockingly tall, 208-meter-high Warsaw Trade Tower, for a time the headquarters of the Daewoo company (designed by Wyszynski, Majewski, Hermanowicz and RTKL). Today somewhat forgotten, as if abandoned, it remains one of Warsaw's more interesting skyscrapers. It has a somewhat postmodern body, as if pieced together from pieces of various buildings, which thus looks different from each side.

Then came the avalanche: the shiny and stylish Rondo I (designed by SOM), the crystal-inspired Q22 (designed by Kurylowicz&Associates) and Warsaw Spire (designed by Jaspers & Eyers Partners, PROJEKT Polish-Belgian Architecture Studio) sprouted up in the city center. The latter may not be stunning in terms of architecture, but it is important for the city: at its feet, the developer has created a very successful, truly open-access, attractive public space for various user groups. We also lived to see super-luxury residential skyscrapers - the relatively subtle Cosmpolitan tower (designed by Helmut Jahn) and the squat "sail" Zlota 44 (designed by Daniel Libeskind).

od lewej: Q22,
Spektrum Tower, Cosmopolitan

From left: Q22, Spektrum Tower, Cosmopolitan

photo: Anna Cymer

More than a dozen more skyscrapers are currently under construction in Warsaw. According to calculations by Gazeta Stołeczna, nine skyscrapers will be put into use this year alone. One of the new buildings under construction, Varso (designed by Foster and Partners, HRA Architects), will finally knock the leader of Warsaw's heights, the Palace of Culture and Science, off the podium. The office building under construction opposite the Socialist Realist edifice will reach 310 meters (although it is to be "only" 230 meters to the roof), making it the tallest building in the European Union.

po lewej: Varso,
wkrótce najwyższy budynek w Polsce i Unii Europejskiej

Left: Varso, soon to be the tallest building in Poland and the European Union

photo: Anna Cymer

The largest number of new edifices is growing in Wola - a district that in the 21st century turned from a worker's district into a business district (which means, in fact, it is still populated by workers, only not those from factories, but from corporations...). Here there are already places from which it is increasingly difficult to see the sky, the streets have become so densely cluttered with high-rise buildings. Although their investors try to distinguish their "works" with something (one of the new buildings in Wola will have a fragment of its facade waving in the wind, another has just gained a designer underground passage, leading directly to the underpass station), for nearly two decades the capital's towers have become increasingly difficult to distinguish. And, after all, it's not that each one should be an "icon" (that would be ruinous to the city's space!). If you stand in the middle of Daszyńskiego Roundabout, the center of business district Wola, and look around, it's easy to lose your bearings: you will be surrounded and towered over by identical, flat, monotonous walls. It is impossible not to feel the power of large corporations here, in the face of which each of us is just a cog, a trifle of no importance.

warszawska Wola

Warsaw's Wola

photo: Anna Cymer

It's easy to write about skyscrapers: a table from Wikipedia helps gather data for a dynamic enumeration, and flipping through hundreds of meters of height at a time impresses everyone. Just what purpose is all this supposed to serve? Have the skyscrapers somehow enriched the space of Warsaw? Seen from the Praga bank of the Vistula River, in the rays of the setting sun, they certainly look impressive, and some have also given a unique chance to look at the Palace of Culture and Science from above. Skyscrapers cure complexes - it is believed that a truly modern metropolis cannot be "flat," above all they are an emanation of egos - of companies locating their headquarters here, of investors, and finally of the architects themselves. The 195-meter-high Q22, although built after Stefan Kurylowicz's death, was supposed to be his dream project, as the architect had always wanted to design a high-rise (by the way, it's a very successful block, positively standing out in the Warsaw skyline). Warsaw has always dreamed of having something built here by a real starchitect - and Daniel Libeskind left us with the twisted Zlota 44 (we also still remember Lilium Tower, an "efflorescence" of Zaha Hadid's studio, luckily the tower became a victim of the global crisis in 2008).

od lewej: Q22, Rondo
I, Warsaw Financial Center, hotel InterContinental

from left: Q22, Rondo I, Warsaw Financial Center, InterContinental hotel

photo: Anna Cymer

Skyscrapers can be impressive, but they are hardly "city-creating." They absorb people into their interior, offering little in return. Usually their first floors are inaccessible and their surroundings are devoid of expression, reduced to the role of an access street, ventilation outlet and possibly a place to have a cigarette (the already mentioned European Square next to Warsaw Spire is a notable exception). They do not accommodate public functions, the vast majority of the city's residents therefore do not use them, and it is impossible for someone who would simply want to visit the building to get inside, stopped by security and electronic gates (how different from this is the Palace of Culture and Science!). After experiencing the pandemic, one can't help but also ask the question about the future of skyscrapers: with the whole world talking about the fact that almost certainly some work will start to be done remotely already permanently, what will we do with those millions of square meters of office space in glass towers?

Anna Cymer

The vote has already been cast