Past & Present Perfect Past & Present Perfect

All too often Warsaw developers get it wrong, building corporate castles lacking grace and maturity. But what happens when they get it right?

Warsaw’s skyline is becoming quite something – namely, a macho competition of masculine might: my skyscraper is bigger than yours, that sort of thing. For every tasteful tower (Cosmopolitan, InterConti), along comes an awkward, clumsy project maladjusted to the city (Złota 44: take a bow). But these are obvious examples. Closer to sea level, the same battle between the tasteful and the tasteless is also being fought.

In Mokotów, the TVP HQ is an outstanding example of Disney-meets-doom. In the center, Norman Foster’s Metropolitan isn’t much better. “For ugliness,” write The New York Times, “the Metropolitan is amorphous in shape, gray, with bunker-like windows.” But what of the good guys?

Winning universal acclaim is the Senator development (ul. Bielańska 10/12). Marrying history to the modern, this gleaming office compound is an exceptional example of thoughtful construction. It’s also got a bit of a story. The site originally functioned as the 18th century Royal Mint, before being leveled by the Russians in 1907. Over the next four years, under the watchful eye of architect Leon Benois, a new building took shape – the Warsaw branch of the Imperial Bank of Russia. The art nouveau leviathan continued to serve financial functions after the last Russians left: first as the Polish National Bank, then under ze Germans as the Issuing Bank.

It became a leading insurgent target during the Uprising days, and a number of plaques pay testament to the bitter battles that took place outside. Shelled to smithereens, its disintegrating hulk cast a shadow over Warsaw until 1965. Then, the wrecking crews moved in, demolishing pretty much everything aside from the west wing. Over the next few decades the skeletal remains stood fenced off while the city pondered the next step. At one stage, the plot was mooted as a possible location for the Uprising Museum, though plans for that soon died a death.

Eventually purchased by Ghelamco, a new office compound was constructed, with the final results unveiled last year. Surprisingly, what’s sprung up hasn’t been an anonymous glass block, rather a development that has kept in mind the rich history of the place. Sensitively restored, the west wing has kept the bullet wounds on the façade, while other exterior features include a safe door poking out of an upper floor, and a shattered window frame hanging at an angle. Inside, too, features of old have been respected – the main lobby has been designed to mimic what stood here before as accurately as possible, while sections of glass flooring have been incorporated to reveal part of the foundations from the original mint. The sterling work hasn’t gone unnoticed, and September 2012 saw it voted Europe’s Best Office Development in the European Property Awards.

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