After the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, the residents of the capital city of Poland found themselves surrounded by ruins. Around 85% of the buildings were destroyed and it took 50 million unpaid hours of work, 91 billion zlotys, and 600 million bricks taken from demolishing houses in other cities to bring back the serviceable condition of the city. The returning citizens had to deal not only with the destruction that happened due to armed struggles but a conscious burnout of the city ordered by Hitler, who wanted to sweep the city off the face of the earth. 

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The Resurrection of Warsaw after the II World War ©Archive “Dziennika Zachodniego”
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The Resurrection of Warsaw after the II World War © wikipedia.org

Lech Niemojewski, an architect who was part of the team sent to inspect the damages, added to the report an appeal in which he stated “To Polish Architects! Friends, Warsaw is calling you! We need to start work at once… The whole country is looking at you. The whole country is counting that you will immediately come to serve a great cause. The martyr’s Warsaw is also looking at you. Tortured, but alive…”1

1400 architects, urbanists, engineers, and other administrative and technical workers took part in the first works that started in the first months of 1945. The main works included: the inventory of the state of damage, demolition program, methods of debris removal (about 20 million m3), urban reconstruction plan for 1946-1947, planning of green areas, list of works needed for reconstruction, counting the number of building materials and machinery, list of historic buildings and works needed for their reconstruction and a detailed plan of the first stage of reconstruction.

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The Resurrection of Warsaw after the II World War ©wikipedia.org

To this day there is a heated discussion about the decisions made by the Warsaw Reconstruction Organization Office (WRO) about the scopes of reconstruction, demolition and reorganization of the urban tissue within the city. Marian Spychalski, who was the first president of post-war Warsaw stated: “Capitalism created courtyards, side and rear outbuildings in cities, and extremely overcrowded apartments without access to fresh air and sunlight. […] In professional matters, urban planners easily found a common language, uniting against landowners who were seeking the highest possible density of buildings. […] Not everyone understood that in a capitalist environment functional buildings and good housing conditions are available only to people with a high level of income.”2 The reasoning behind focusing on rebuilding the medieval old town and not reconstructing 19th-century housing units lies in the terrible living conditions and density that characterized those structures. Many Varsavians, however, long for the city depicted on the old postcards showing beautiful Art Nouveau tenement houses and vibrant city life. They blame the WRO for depriving the capital city of its character. Bogdan Wyporek, however, who was one of the urbanists that took part in later stages of the reconstruction of Warsaw, points out that “All Polish and European experiences show that the reconstruction of buildings in which only external walls have survived is the most expensive, the most difficult and the most dangerous undertaking. In such a case, even today, with the use of the latest construction techniques, the remaining walls are usually disassembled and recreated in the process of reconstruction”.3  After the war, and with the dire need for reconstruction, there was no possibility to recreate and salvage everything. Decisions had to be made, or there would have been no city at all. 

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Image 4 – The Resurrection of Warsaw after the II World War ©warszawa.wyborcza.pl/ 

The reconstruction of Warsaw has its roots in CIAM’s development of the Functionalist City as well as the need to protect the historical center of a city which is like a social living organism that defines the identity of the city. The urban planners wanted to rebuild Warsaw that retains its character, which was important to reform an individual attachment to the city which is a strong factor in the creation of social unity. They needed, however, to resolve many issues noted in the twenties of the twentieth century that made the city unhealthy and over densified. Warsaw was without regulations in place that made sure that the apartments had to provide at least basic living conditions, such as access to heat, water, and natural light. The density of the city center kept getting worse, also within the spaces that should be protected from any built environment. There were little green spaces in the city center. The reconstruction of the city focused on the well-being of the people, who were devastated after war, but tried to live to the best of their possibilities. 

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The Resurrection of Warsaw after the II World War © Google Earth

The nationalization of Warsaw had many negative effects, however, many historians believe that it made the reconstruction of the city feasible. There was no possibility at that time to reconstruct the city while dealing with private disputes. The transformation of the land use pattern led to improved urban ecology as well as better living conditions. The introduction of green belts piercing the city led to a healthier city and the modernization of the street networks made transportation much more efficient. 

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The Resurrection of Warsaw after the II World War © www.tvn24.pl

It is really important to note, that in projects of such scope, compromises had to be made. The new political situation led to the necessity of gentle navigation between a variety of interests and agendas. One of the examples of political influences into the reconstruction of the city was the erection of the Palace of Culture and Science and the Parade Square in the city center of Warsaw. A traditional social realist tower was built as a gift from the Soviets to the Polish people at the space that was previously occupied by dense urban tissue. To this day many citizens like to demolish what they see as the monument of Soviets and communist power over Poland. 

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The Resurrection of Warsaw after the II World War ©commons.wikimedia.org

The reconstruction of Warsaw was a great accomplishment that couldn’t have happened without the sacrifices, relentlessness, and social spirit of the Polish people as well as hundreds of architects and urbanists, who despite terrible and at times freezing living conditions continued in their efforts to restore the city. 

Quotes:

  1. Warszawa 1945 i BOS; Bogdan Wyporek; 2015
  2. Spór o Odbudowę Warszawy; Muzeum Sztuki Nowoczesnej w Warszawie; Warszawa 2016
  3. Spór o Odbudowę Warszawy; Muzeum Sztuki Nowoczesnej w Warszawie; Warszawa 2016
Author

A graduate from the Architectural Association with an interest in urban studies and public spaces that actively change and influence the neighbourhood. Her area of research focuses on the development of European metropolises and the way the architectural theory impacts their design.

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