“Architecture is the biggest unwritten document of history.” Daniel Libeskind, nothing explains the statement better than the reconstruction of Warsaw; the capital of Poland was turned into a pile of rubbles during the end of the Second World War. Nevertheless, the city housed significant historical monuments and was known for its architectural style that represented the metropolitan architecture of the 20th century. 

Under Hitler’s command, the city was destroyed through a strategic road mapping of bringing down all these significant buildings. It attempted to break citizens’ pride and erase the city’s identity that lies within these architectural monuments. Thus the destruction and reconstruction of the city was a process entangled with the political agendas.

The city’s reconstruction was an unprecedented incident in history when the city was raised from ruins to an architectural icon. It is ironic to see how the reconstruction timeline was narrated as a part of the urban planning process to “heal the city”, but one can argue about the hidden political ideology attached to it. 

The process of reconstruction was imposed by communists but I would like to refer to it as how the concept of reconstruction was romanticized creating this narrative that the city is undergoing a period of trauma and in order to ri,se from it a new culpe in. Therefore, under the communist igy, the old town was erased from the cityscape, which in turn led to commercialism and victimized the tenement of the buildings.  

Prior to the war, the city was known for its massive collection of Renaissance heritage buildings, although when the city was destroyed in 1944 the reconstruction showed a paradoxical relationship between restoration of heritage buildings and erecting modern architecture. It was in the mid 20th century when modernist architecture was being practiced worldwide and Warsaw after the destruction was in urgent need of amending its identity which became a convoluted tangle of the past and the future. 

Professor Jan Zachwatowicz even believed that the scale of the destruction and Polish nations called for a justified action, something that can make them remember the past yet give hopes to move in the future. The Pawlowicz House located in Plac zbawiciela square was a renaissance office building designed in the 19th century was a significant public space that was damaged during the war the renovation led to the erection of a steel glass from a top of the ornate neo-renaissance building depicting how the future stands on the ruins of the past. 

The process of reconstruction and renovation was so strong within the city that even some buildings that were designed after the war were redesigned, the rotunda building designed by Jerzy Jakubowicz in 1966 would be one of them. The structure was a part of the modernist identity of the city thus acting as a navigating spot for the citizen and tourist, it was in 2018 when the building was redesigned it became a fusion old modernist architecture and the new minimal structure many argue that in attempt to renovate the structure the architect had taken away the unique modernist aspects and consider it as an act of heritage destruction.

Rebuilding the City: Warsaw - Sheet1
Past vs Present_©httpsculture.pl
Rebuilding the City: Warsaw - Sheet2
Change in Warsaw_©httpsculture.pl

After the destruction of 85% of Warsaw, people were moved out of the capital, although they shortly returned after the war ended but during this period of migration and the process of commercialism and privatization by the communist brought drastic changes in the lifestyle and culture of the city. The change in culture meant the alteration in how people used the space thus it left many of the heritage buildings dysfunctional. Thus the renovation was most of the time restricted to the front façade whereas from inside the building has taken a new shape and identity. People may argue that it left the renovation to be a mere façade treatment but it is fascinating to observe how the past and the present are layered together. Thus the building contributed to the historical identity of the city through the exterior and was appropriated according to the user from the interior space. The renovation of the Jablonowski Palace would be one of the examples where the exterior was preserved as a historical identity whereas the bank space of the interior was reshaped to design offices that are more functional and fit in with the modern world.

Rebuilding the City: Warsaw - Sheet3
Jabłonowskich Palace, Warsaw, Poland_©httpsculture.pl

When most of the historical monuments were destroyed during the Second World war and then renovated after that, this process of destruction and reconstruction made these monuments a more significant part of the history now they were more than just a heritage building but were rather seen as spaces that narrate the story of the city and its people, further the culture of commercialism that was introduced by the communist during reconstruction together these two factors demanded a bigger meaning for these historical monuments thus a lot of these monuments were converted into cafes restaurants and other public spaces, such renovation resulted in developing a new culture and lifestyle within the city. 

Rebuilding the City: Warsaw - Sheet4
Hala Koszyki_©httpsculture.pl
Rebuilding the City: Warsaw - Sheet5
Revitalization of industrial building into shopping mall_©httpsculture.pl


  1. https://www.ft.com/content/5a5325d6-a872-11e4-bd17-00144feab7dehttps://www.sah.org/publications-and-research/sah-newsletter/sah-newsletter-ind/2013/05/09/documenting-modern-warsawhttps://apnews.com/article/bb3a9c998d624da6bf81241dee010b46
  2. https://trafo.hypotheses.org/19668
  3. https://issuu.com/margaretszarnecka/docs/dissertation_malgorzata__2018_01_21_fe862134822d64
  4. https://culture.pl/en/article/new-old-buildings-warsaws-controversial-contemporary-reconstructions

Aqsa is an architecture student and a self-taught writer. With keen interest in urban planning and cartography. She believes that words are the fourth or the unseen dimension of a space that can enable people to connect to spaces more than ever thus aiming to empower the architecture community through her voice.