The Reconstruction of Warsaw

6_6_AfterWarsawOwen Hatherley at n+1:

SEVERAL CITIES reconstructed immediately after the war present themselves as if nothing much had happened—unless you knew it, or ventured round the corners where the ornament on the gabled tenements is conspicuously flimsy, you wouldn’t know that the red-brick Gothic and Baroque of Gdańsk was largely a product of the 1950s; similarly, it’s only by comparing images of St. Petersburg today with photographs of the city pockmarked with bombsites from the appalling siege of Leningrad that you could realize how extensive and thorough its reconstruction was. These are less famous examples, but one city presents itself both as a reconstruction and as something entirely authentic—Warsaw. The thing about Warsaw that almost everyone knows is that 85 percent of it was destroyed in 1944 as collective punishment for the Warsaw Rising, and that it was then reconstructed to the letter after 1945. Strangely, this coexists with another idea of Warsaw as a center of wide streets, towers and general Warsaw Pact monolithism, with the peculiar consequence that the city is alternately hailed and excoriated by architectural traditionalists. Accordingly, for a certain type of architectural critic or historian, Warsaw is irresistible. It is the road not travelled (at least in the West)—a city where, instead of Modernism, we got a dignified reconstruction of the old world.

In fact, neither of the famous statements—total destruction, total rebuilding—is exactly true. Recent research makes clear that the 85 percent figure includes a great deal that was severely damaged but not irretrievably destroyed, and reconstructors were selective. Astonishingly, late-nineteenth-century buildings that had survived were actually being demolished in the early 1950s.

more here.