If the reconstruction of the Saxon Palace were merely a dispute in the cycle of whether it's good or not it's good to rebuild monuments, I'll tell you frankly that I would only cross my arms and turn on my heel to circumvent the whole spoof of the noble arguments of both sides by a wide margin. At one time, I would probably even have thrown myself into this dogmatic dispute between two feuding sects of modernists and reconstructionists. Today, however, I already look at the issue somewhat differently. For me, the dispute over whether or not to reconstruct is not a dispute in defense of the substantive arguments of either side, but only in defense of a chosen social convention, which have no objective grounding in the world of units of weights and measures, so they can only be dealt with by theological methods, because they require one side's assumptions to be taken on faith. For some it is the belief that the spirit of ancient architecture can be resurrected, for others it is the belief that modern architecture is capable of creating realizations that surpass in every respect the works of past eras. Regardless of which ideology we believe in, we will always find a number of examples that will either strengthen or weaken our faith in the rightly chosen method, and so we can play around indefinitely.
Therefore, I believe that before we ask ourselves whether something should be rebuilt, we should first answer the question "Why?" What is our personal, or more broadly social, purpose that this reconstruction is supposed to fill us with?
That is, don't get me wrong. Answering the question "Why?" is by no means a game changer when it comes to investments from the state budget. When the authorities feel a sacred mission to show everyone "what they can afford with our money" then the answers to the question "Why?" very rarely get in the way. In fact, we have plenty of examples of this, starting with the power plant in Ostrołęka, which we started building only to then start dismantling it, the wonderful Polish electric cars that turned out to be so emission-free that no carbon footprint remained after the tens of millions spent on them, or, finally, the new airport inRadom for half a million passengers, which had to be demolished in order to build an even newer one for three million with the possibility of expanding to 9 million, because there was a risk that this airport would finally cave in under the weight of those few thousand passengers who had the honorable unusual opportunity to ever use it.
And while there was nothing to stop us from launching billions of zlotys into space for these investments, they did have one common shortcoming. However, they were supposed to serve something, to bring a tangible benefit, and yet they left behind a slight distaste.
This will not happen again, however, because the so-called "reconstruction" of the so-called "Saxon Palace" is an absolute manifestation of investor thinking 2.0.
After all, no one will accuse us of doing something wrong if no one knows what we are doing. This ingenious invention in the field of political science, contrary to popular opinion, is not by the immortal master Bareja, but its roots go back to the period of the Third Dynasty of the old state in Ancient Egypt and is attributed to Pharaoh Jerser, the builder of the first pyramids. The extent of the success of this groundbreaking political doctrine is evidenced, for example, by the fact that he built as many as three such tombs during his lifetime, the ruins of which we can still admire today, and no one, after all, resented the fact that he never rested in any of them.
The same is true of the reconstruction of the Saxon Palace. Here, too, we are not able to hold our pharaohs accountable for their arguments about the need to find new seats for the Senate or the provincial office, because the country's elaborate bureaucracy fortunately devours even Byzantine generous donations with ease and never lets on that it is tired of it. Nor will we ever be able to calculate whether it has generated the anticipated profits, because, as a rule, they are only supposed to be a mirage of such an eventuality and are not built into its assumptions.
Well, but Mr. One Hundred Years of Planning, be honest, it can't be that this investment doesn't give us anything at all. No worries. I hasten to reassure you. Let's now move on to the benefits. Let's take a look at what we're actually getting in the package for the two billion zlotys.
In a nutshell, the official version is that the reconstruction of this "palace" is the culmination of the process of rebuilding Warsaw and restoring national pride and splendor. If that's the case, then I'm happy, accept and acknowledge it. Let's finally look at what this would consist of? So I invite you to the next room of our cabinet of curiosities, where we will examine for ourselves what this would actually look like.
Here is our marvel, which stood there until the war, and this is how it is ultimately supposed to look again. I'll say quite frankly that while I'm not a wild enthusiast of pompous-monumental architecture, as a setting for a high-profile square it's perfectly understandable in such a context, although it's not, in my opinion, the absolute only and best option for an urban composition asking to be closed. However, this is not what is most interesting about this architecture. After all, the authors of the reconstruction are not concerned with some urbanist dilemmas, but with pride, with dignity, with the restoration, at last, of our enduring glory, and this is what is put at the forefront of this whole project every time. Well, then, if that's how we want to play, I absolutely this gauntlet I will gladly take up.
Van de Poll photo collection Reportage / Series : Journey to Poland Description : Warsaw
I have one simple but very important question for you. Since this is a rebuilding of the Saxon Palace, please answer me so quickly, listening to your intuition, where also in this palace did our King Ruler of Poland reside? On the right side? On the left side? Hm. Something is not right here, is it? I know that for a good part of you what I'm getting at is obvious historical knowledge, but let's not spoil the pleasure of a collision with cognitive dissonance for those who have not had the opportunity to delve into these rather important nuances of history, which believe me, in the form of a fascinating adventure this architecture tells us. Well. Then where did the king live? Reason tells us that in ten out of ten cases it should be somewhere in the middle, after all, since our civilization has existed, all rulers without exception have had the same deviation, to always be in the center of attention. But here, after all, there is nothing in the center of attention, there is only this colonnade, this monumental bridge connecting the two wings? You're not going to tell us that the king was supposed to live under the bridge, are you?
I'm already explaining. Here we have an example, as rare as it is, of very emphatic symbolic architecture, completely subordinated to only one content, which it tries to convey to us, and you don't really have to be an architectural polyglot to read this content. If you also had doubts about where our ruler's place is in this palace, that is, you grasp the language quite naturally. Our king and with him our power and sovereignty was to live under the bridge. It was to be homeless, demolished, run down or in exile, while Poland was to be without independence and this is what the architecture of this so-called "Palace" tells us.
There is to be an architectural competition for the project of rebuilding this "palace," but it will naturally not be about its external form, as this one is the result of another long-sought architectural competition that took place after the November Uprising, after which the Saski Palace was acquired by a Russian merchant with close ties to the tsarist government.
The original appearance of the real Saxon Palace
Johann Friedrich Knöbel—catalog of the exhibition "Under One Crown. Culture and art at the time of the Polish-Saxon union". Royal Castle in Warsaw 1997
The Saski Palace was indeed an important symbol of our statehood for the Poles, so important that the Russians decided in emphatic terms to see to it that it ceased to exist. In the competition held for the demolition of the Saski Palace, as it must be called directly, the most important requirement for the competition entry, which was the basis for its qualification, was the replacement of our national symbol with a void. This is evidenced by the other surviving works implementing the same idea, of which, by the way, the winning one by Henryk Marconi even made fairly successful use of typical Polish architectural elements and motifs, modeled on the architecture of our aristocratic castles and palaces. One can assume that this, however, did not please the tsarist governor Ivan Pashkevich, who overruled this verdict of the competition court and himself hand-picked then the winning design in the style of the typically St. Petersburg Classicism, alien to Warsaw, by Adam Idzhkovsky.
The winning project for the reconstruction of the Saski Palace by Henryk Marconi
One of the unrealized proposals for the reconstruction of the Saski Palace by Adam Idzkowski
So, as you can see, the idea was not even to demolish this palace, but to build in its place a parody of it, its maximum cultural inversion, illustrating contempt for our nation. A void of power between two merchant tenements symbolizing our ultimate loss of the remnants of sovereignty under partition. If one could somehow compare it to something more figurative, it would be the equivalent of pigs grazing on the ground after the destruction of the mosque. Classically, they killed us off, patched us up and it was over. It was past. The edifice, or rather two independent edifices later existed there, because they existed and served different functions, but the charm of the place faded and that was it. All that remained of the palace was the name of the place. Of course, after independence, when an unimaginably difficult mission fell on our country to merge three different partitions, where everything was in short supply and the entire economy had to be virtually created anew, it probably didn't even cross anyone's mind to waste resources on demolishing quite nonetheless good public edifices in the name of fighting the windmills of the past. After all, there were a million other needs around, as well as the specter of the next inevitable wars to prepare for, so we quickly tried to somehow tame this unpleasant place, but it's hard to suppose that what was done here with the real Saxon Palace pleased anyone.
Here I am gently and kindly winking at our rulers, because maybe in the context of the current situation in the world it will somehow stimulate associations in them and inspire them to make more rational decisions? Maybe it would be worthwhile to be inspired precisely by the approach of the pre-war authorities of Poland and think that in the situation of the unravelling crisis and war with Russia at the gates, as they say, maybe, I repeat, maybe this is not the best time to build palaces that have been sussed out. What's also funny in all this is that the same people who see reason for pride in rebuilding the tsarist symbol of our nation's humiliation are the same people who are just as eager to articulate more than once that they would tear down the Palace of Culture and Science, probably loading even more billions into it. While it, even in its vestigial form, has never been such a symbolic object of humiliation as what they themselves now want to reconstruct.
However, let's finally put aside the whole historical morass of the place. If I could, I would frankly prefer not to have to invoke such arguments, but in the end I didn't choose them as the tool of this fencing. It was the authors who came up with this enlightened plan, and I only showed how shallowly you need to stick a shovel in to reach the bottom of the idea behind it, and what monsters of history are hiding there. I did this in accordance with the sapper's art of disarming such topics, so that we could already take a cold and chilly look at how it presents itself from this practical side. For we would be far from exploring the subject if this festival of depressing absurdities were to end there.
Among other things, the whole project has dragged on for so long because of the many years of archaeological research. There is nothing surprising about this, after all. Since we are talking about the restoration of monuments, it would probably be advisable to at least get to know beforehand what is the state of preservation of these structures underground. And here's where it gets interesting, because, as it happens in such situations, everything that stood on that ground, and that history has seen, is still there in that ground, including the original fragments of this, this time the real Saxon Palace and the other later parts of those Tsarist tenements, along with a number of various other historically valuable artifacts. What interests us in this case, however, and is important in the context of this reconstruction, and what was officially stated and became the direct reason for the abandonment of this reconstruction once already, is the poor physical condition of these foundations. Bad enough to not allow direct reconstruction on them, as was the case with the lion's share of Warsaw's Old Town or the Royal Castle. You'll admit that this somewhat dashes our hopes regarding the fact that this will be some amazing reconstruction on the scale of the Acropolis in Athens. And so, unfortunately, this brings us to where the astronomical amount of the two billion comes from, which I consider to be a far understated sum for such a generous program anyway, because, as is well known, reconstructions of monuments that fit within the assumed budget are, by definition, most often an oxymoron. After all, relatively simple and flat classicist facades combined with contemporary reinforced concrete meat should probably not be that expensive. It's hard for me to imagine that under similar conditions someone would want to spend that much on a similarly sized office complex or shopping mall. I know, I know. It's a weak analogy. Here we are talking about a super heirloom, after all.
A view of the archaeological work carried out by the PPKZ between 2006 and 2008
But be that as it may, let's forget for a moment for the convenience of our deliberations that all this is just the result of some unconscious delusions. Let's assume that we don't mind the whole controversial idea of the Russian palace humiliating the Poles, and we really want to enjoy the properly carried out reconstruction, and not just a one-time trumpet-cutting ribbon at the end of the construction of a work of monumental theatrical decoration. Well, you admit it yourself, it would be pretty stupid now to go in there with bulldozers to plow up all those, after all, original and historically valuable undergrounds, because we fancied putting some concrete dummy on it. One could say that we would unwittingly complete this Russian cannon of destruction. They would be content to finally clash the real Saxon Palace with the surface of the earth, and we would, as they say, go after the blow and drive the last nail in its coffin. You have to admit that from an image point of view this would be such a bit of an unfortunate play in all this. So the tsar's palace will have to levitate, and these are not cheap things my dears. Stuffing it with some micro piles like a needle cushion is, of course, technically feasible, although I dare to doubt if it's as non-invasive as it might seem. Of course, there is a tip for this, which I doubt the originators intend to use. It would be enough to at least take some distance from this ideologically dubious utopia. If, for example, the new headquarters of the institutions placed there did not have to adhere so strictly to the dimensions of what existed there before, but could, for example, move the key elevations a few meters beyond the outline of the historic underground, thenone, that we would get a much cheaper building, and two, that the underground itself could probably be put to much better use, bringing out at least some historical value from the project, rather than slicing it with brazenly reinforcing structures. Just thinking out loud.
Well, but nothing. We are Poland, and we have our brightest ideas, from which nothing will dissuade us, so we take on all problems with dignity and dedication to taxpayers and heritage. It is stipulated in the reconstruction law that from the outside these edifices are to be identical to the original, so nothing will change that anymore. Just as ridiculous may also be the solutions to the interiors, where, after all, in two, seemingly only three-story edifices, with the volume of a handsome Pentagon, we will suddenly begin to discover how many floors can be rationally set aside, and where they will then fall out to us in terms of the inviolable location of windows. But these are already the worries of whoever will design it and the people who will have to use it, not ours fortunately.
It looks like, in fact, the only thing we can get out of this, therefore, is a historically faithful framework for public spaces, and while we're at it, let's consider what guarantee we have, then, that for this 2 billion we'll actually get at least a decent St. Petersburg Classic, and not something like the gleeful historicizing of the Kaliningrad blocks of flats. Well, let me reassure you, historical fidelity will be guarded by the "Reconstruction Council". Eleven wise heads of the country's top experts on reconstruction and architectural history, identified by a surprisingly pluralistic group from across the political spectrum. Ufff. How good to hear that, because I was already afraid it would fail. This is how we would like to see all restorations and reconstructions carried out. A super thing. Then maybe let's look at the powers of this council and its entrenchment in the process. As it reads in Article 6 in Section 7 of the law, "Members of the Council shall perform their function socially." Taraaa. You see... Eeee... Meaning what? Wait a minute, wait a minute. I mean, we're spending two billion on reconstruction, the sole purpose of which is to crown the reconstruction of the capital, so the architectural effect of this reconstruction, with all the questionable other circumstances, must be the very apogee of investment rapture and joyful puissance, whilemeanwhile, the experts who are supposed to guard this effect, in addition, presumably professors and renowned professionals who have worked all their lives for their position, are supposed to do this responsible work for the proverbial order from a potato and an entry in the resume?Oh no. That's not all. They will be reimbursed for their tickets there probably once or twice, and they can also go buy themselves something at a restaurant to eat. Of course, this is in contrast to the generous emoluments in the state-established company, which will be staffed by employees who, knowing life, will not feel the effects of the crisis until the third generation ahead. But no worries, as we will read further in the law this council will not have any binding powers anyway. There is no risk that its valuable time, at zero zlotys per hour, will therefore be abused, since no provision has been made for them to participate in the design process itself anyway. Just show her the finished project, the council will have its say on whether it likes it or not, the minutes of the meeting will be taken, maybe even the secretary of the council will do some kind of report in a social act, and the investor can then throw it in the shredder if he doesn't like it. And that's it. The bill covers the costs of travel and catering to the gov't, not the study work or the creation of conservation guidelines, which we would expect from a serious restoration and reconstruction process. But then again, what did we expect altogether if you create facade institutions to evaluate a facade investment. Don't you think this is even a charming unity of form and content of the investment process?
And so, I thank you for going through this depressing road of the cross with me, during which I hope I have dismantled for you, layer by layer, this entire investment stripping it of myths and you of illusions and hopes. Believe me, it was as much of a torture for me as it was for you. The picture that emerges to us from this is a world where reason has never been seriously engaged in this endeavor, and the subordinate role of logic in the process is accentuated at every turn. We can only hope that the illusion built around this investment will as such hold and result in buildings that we, at least, will not be ashamed of. What more can I say. One should rejoice.
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