At Viewport you should know we are a bit fond of some of the architecture from the era of the former Warsaw Pact countries. From Tbilisi (the amazing Ministry of Highways) to Sofia (the Gare Centrale), imagination and ambition were allowed to run freely and some astonishing and experimental buildings were created. And anyway who has been to Moscow, knows they can design a very grand Metro station.
Warsaw’s most famous symbol is the Stalinist Palace of Science and Culture, gifted by Stalin to the Polish people, and built and designed by the Soviets in the early 1950s, and still the tallest building in town. Away from this, the Poles themselves were rapidly rebuilding their city, entirely destroyed by the Nazis (“The city must completely disappear from the surface of the earth” said sweet old Heinrich Himmler) during WWII. One of them had a remarkable talent, Arseniusz Romanowicz, who from 1951 worked in the sufficiently socialist sounding Central Bureau of Studies and Projects Railway Construction. During the next twenty plus years he added some very distinct and wonderful station buildings, and all designed and built without the advantage of CAD software.
Viewport was in town to give a presentation at the GIS Warsaw International Architecture Conference (as you do) but managed to slip out in the dying light of a cold and misty February afternoon to check out Romanowicz’ legacy to the city. They are in a bit of a mixed state of repair – much like the city itself.
The earliest one and now in tip top condition is Warszawa Stadion, built in 1958 fully refurbished for the Uefa Euro 2012 which Poland co-hosted. It’s best feature is the curved concrete canopy that is the entrance to the underpass.
Next up from 1963 and one of the most dramatic is the Ochota Station with its saddle-shaped hyperbolic paraboloid roof (covered in snow when I was there) with its striped black and white mosaic pattern. More exciting to the citizens of Warsaw when it first opened, were the escalators to take passengers down to the platforms from street level. You had to get in quick because they soon stopped working and remained unrepaired for decades.
Down the line is the Powisle Station with its amazing and expressionistic concrete shelters on the platforms. At one end is a circular ticket office pavilion (now a cool and trendy bar) and at the other end raised above the tunnel exit is another glass and steel ticket office and waiting room pavilion.
In between them all is the Central Station built as a no-expense-spared project, as Warsaw geared itself up to greet Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet leader, in 1975, who wanted to arrive in town by train. It is completely different in scale with its vast ticket hall and huge winged roof. The Polish president said to Romanowicz:”If you need funds for the construction, don’t worry, they will be found.” Automatic doors were imported from Switzerland, suspended ceilings from Holland, clocks from Italy and marble was liberally used for the walls and stairs. It was intended as a beautiful landmark for the socialist fatherland. The transparency of the ticket hall with its slim concrete columns and huge glazed façade to allow views over the city, has a large staircase leading down to a series of crowded underground shopping tunnels, the overall effect is in some contrast to the futuristic and optimistic style of the earlier stations.
Arseniusz Romanowicz’s philosophy was that buildings should be “functional, aesthetic and economic” and together these stations are a symbol of his (and his colleagues’ of course) determination to rebuild the city with some verve and integrity, almost as an affront to the grandiosity and pretension of the city’s main symbol with its backward looking architecture, imposed on the Poles by the Soviets.