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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

There is nothing quite like Stalinist-Gothic architecture.


If anyone (or thing) is looking for a heaquarters from which to run the centuries old war between Vampires and Lycan, I do think the building is perfect, however.

(For people who are wondering, the building is the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, built in 1953-5 as a gift from the people of the Soviet Union to the people of Poland).

39 comments to There is nothing quite like Stalinist-Gothic architecture.

  • Moriarty

    Looks to me like Big Ben on steriods.

  • mike

    “There is nothing quite like Stalinist-Gothic architecture.”

    Except the Gotham City backdrops of the Batman films and one or two towers here in Taiwan (sorry my camera is broken).

  • That is a ciommunist nuspeak use of the word “gift”.

    Whilst the rest of Warsaw was in utter ruins, the Soviets forced the Polish people to waste their own money and resources on this hated symbolic building.

    As it is too massively built to demolish economically, the current Warsaw city plan seems to be to surround it with other skyscrapers to block the looming “Eye of Sauron” shadow which it inflicts on the city.

  • ray

    Reminds me of Dana’s apartment building in Ghostbusters. In fact I think I can see the remains of the Sta-Puft marshmallow man.

  • Watching: I put quotes around “gift” in the first draft of this post but concluded that there was no need.

    As for the other skyscrapers, I was struck by that myself. I was last here in 1992, and the building seems to overwhelm less than it did then. Put it amongst a cluster of 100 skyscrapers and it might even add something, but we are not there yet. I have written before about some of the most interesting modern architecture involves thin and apparently flimsy modern materials doing things on the shells of monolithic structures of the past. This building seems an ideal candidate to have something along these lines done with it, although exactly what I am not quite sure.

    As for the Poles and their resources and efforts, the nicest thing about Warsaw is the sections of the pre-war city that were reconstructed so beatifully and with such obvious pride (and often with the help of money from Poles in other parts of the world) after the war. The Old Town, the New Town, and the Royal Palace are beautiful. Such an obvious assertion of Polish pride was clearly amongst other things a form of opposition to the Soviets, and they are a very nice contrast to the communist monstrosity at the other end of the city.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Michael, glad you are having a good time in Warsaw. It strikes me that a movie director – Ridley Scott, say, might want to use that building as a backdrop for one of his films. Nice photo.

  • Verity

    Actually, I thought it looks slightly reminscent of The Plaza.

  • There’s another 7 (or is it 8?) of these in Moscow. Frightful things.

  • Julian Taylor

    Reminds me of Dana’s apartment building in Ghostbusters. In fact I think I can see the remains of the Sta-Puft marshmallow man.

    How dare you imply that the gorgeous, pouting Miss Beckinsale looks like Mr Stay Puft 🙂

  • Ted Schuerzinger


    I think it’s six similar buildings in Moscow. I recall when I was there as a student in 1992 one of our excursions stopped at the Moscow State University campus, which is away from the center of the city and is one of those buildings, and from where you can look out on the rest of Moscow. Our tour guide told us there were five (IIRC) more such buildings in Moscow, and one in Warsaw.

    The similar buildings in Moscow stuck out like the proverbial sore thumbs, although other than that the view of Moscow was nice.

    And the university isn’t far from Novodevichye Cemetery, where lots of famous Russians (including Khrushchev) are buried. Khrushchev’s grave is far more interesting than those Stalinist edifices.

  • Ian

    Nicely observed juxtaposition in the photo – I’d be proud of that shot.

  • michael farris

    In the communist period people made jokes about the ‘gift’, the most common was: “Why is the view from the top of the Palace of Culture so beautiful? Because that’s the only place you can’t see the Palace of Culture.”

    After the fall of communism there was briefly talk of wrecking the thing and to everybody’s surprise no one wanted to demolish it, it had someho, against all odds, earned a place in people’s affections.

    For all that it’s no thing of beauty, it does have one of better concert halls in Poland (the Sala Kongresowa). And some good museums. And lots of strange nooks and crannies. I once attended a Vietnamese wedding party in a basement restaurant there.

    It does make getting lost in big parts of Warsaw difficult as all you have to do is look around for the Palace and you have some idea of where you are. The newer plainer more boring skyscrapers have no character and aren’t so good for calculating position.

    There’s a very similar building in northern Prague (obviously the same general plan but much smaller and plainer) that was a Holiday Inn the last I knew.

  • michael farris

    A co w ogóle robisz w Warszawie?

    (And whatever are you doing in Warsaw?)

  • I know the building well. It’s said in Warsaw that the best view of the city can be seen from the top of the Palace of Culture and Science… because you can’t see the building from there.

  • Michael, when you come again to New York, I promise to make amends with a good Port, as I got hooked on it too past September.

    Alas, no white (dry) variety here, in Brooklyn, but I can get Quinto Do Noval

  • Dale Amon

    Ah, but you do have a Samizdatista presently in your humble city. Well, perhaps humble is not the right word for NYC, but I’m in the upper west until next week.

  • Am I the only person who thinks the building is nice for having character? I cannot speak for its location etc, but its better than the Soviet apartment blocks…

  • Tatyana

    Gavin, I’m with you. Stalin-era skyscrapers were not exactly invention of the Soviet architects (as not much of anything made-in -Soviet Russia, actually), but they look much better than what was built in the 70’s and 80’s.

    The origin of “Soviet Baroque” becomes clear when you walk around downtown New York, with its skyscrapers built in the optimistic industrialism era of 1910’s. (very annoying flash-presentation site, but with some patience you eventually can get to the City Hall area ) I’ve had an online discussion about it with visitor from Moscow who thought Central Park and surrounding skyscrapers were modelled after Lenin’s Hills (former Vorobiov Hills) in her city, more than a year ago…

    Dale, if you’re not scared of travelling from UWS to Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, I’d love to share a bottle wth you; but I still owe one to Michael (my cheeks are still blushed)

    As to restoration of Warsaw, I heard a different opinion: the rebuilt “old” city looks Disney-ish and fake, and it would be better to use the opportunity to create something totally new, as it was done after the Fire of London and other big European disasters. Have nothing to say myself, never been in Warsaw.

  • michael farris

    My understanding of the rebuilt old town in Warsaw is that they didn’t rebuild it as it had been before WWII but rather dug up old plans and hobbled together a compromise of several older versions.
    It does have a kind of not-quite-real air about it but it wears well when you know it better and is used.
    My two favorite parts are the ice cream store ‘lody’ store on Swietojanksa street, the best ice cream in the world and the ‘second’ larger, less picturesque market square past the tiny oldmarket square full of tourists.
    In the summer it’s the kind of place that local people come to sit in the shade and socialize (and the everpresent drunks try to cadge change for beer).

  • xavras

    As I undersand, the knowhow to build skyskrapers was transferred from US to the soviets during the war. Immediately after the war the soviets tried to build at least one of these things in every conquered contry (i think there are similar buildings in Baltic states’ capitals…) as a symbol of soviet dominance. In Poland the Palace of culture (PKiN, pronounced Pekin – Beijing in Polish) is frequently called the Syringue, due to its silhouette.

    Michael Farris, happy to see another Polish speeker at Samizdata.

    Xavras (from Poland)

  • Overbearing and frightful the Stalin skyscrapers in Moscow might be, I can’t imagine Moscow without them. I’m not sure what the Muscovites think, but I think they are as much a part of Moscow as the “temporary” (and initially disliked) Eiffel tower is a part of Paris.

    In fact, I quite like them. If nothing else, they’re easy to navigate by.

  • There are 7 of them in Moscow (the “Seven Sisters”) and I think they are rather sad, as they merely reflect Stalin’s desire to prove “anything the Americans can do, we can do better” (or at least bigger). There’s nothing intrinsically ugly about the design, but they are over-ornamented (i.e. “better” in the crude aesthetic of an ignorant peasant like Stalin) and the massing is wrong. Not nice to work or live in because such large floor plates prevent natural light from getting to most of the interior.

    My old office in Warsaw overlooked the PKiN (Palace of Culture and Science) and I may therefore be the only person in the world who experience nostalgia while reading your post!

  • Nick M

    I saw the Warsaw Palace of culture in 1991. Communism had collapsed. The entire population of Poland seemed to be trying out a turbocharged form of capitalism on the streets of Warsaw and the Palace of culture had an up-scale clothing store in the basement and a casino at the top. Uncle Joe must’ve benn developing high angular momentum under the Kremlin wall.

  • Gee, there is so much to comment on further in this thread. Briefly:

    Certainly the Palace of Culture and Science is Warsaw’s most striking landmark. I have certainly taken more photos of it than anything else in this city.

    I wouldn’t like to see the building pulled down. It is overpowering but at least it is interesting. (And it must have been scarily overpowering in 1955 when much of the rest of Warsaw was yet to be rebuilt after the war). I think I would like to see some other structures near it that interact with it: some other building that in some way gently mocks it. At the moment the area around it contains a lot of public space. I wouldn’t actually mind seeing some (but not all) of this built on. (Yes, I remember that expensive clothes store and casino from 1992 myself).

    As for the rebuilt section of Warsaw, it doesn’t strike me as Disneyland like, at least no more than do the preserved centres of many European cities. I wouldn’t have initially guessed that it had been destroyed and rebuilt unless you told me. Bits of it are a little dirty and crumbling. I like it.

    And there is something gloriously cinematic about Warsaw. It isn’t a beautiful city, but it is a striking one, and there are a few things and places that would just look amazing in a film. (An enormous outdoor market in a disused football stadium in which the centre of the stadium as an enormous white snow-covered saucer. What would Ridley Scott do with that?

  • michael farris

    The stadium market is one of my favorite things in Warsaw, though it’s long past its glory days in the mid 90’s when you could walk for hours amid the multinational stalls. Rusian, Soviet Turkic and Vietnamese vendors predominated but Polish, Chinese and African vendors were around as well.

  • One of the problems with photographs is the difficulty in accurately conveying perspective.

    Just how big is this building? Judging by the number of floors, it doesn’t look that tall…no more than 30-ish floors, surely.

    If this kind of architecture was the result of some dick measuring exercise with the West on the part of the Soviets, it seems to have failed embarrassingly. This building must be dwarfed by the Chrysler and Empire state skyscrapers (both completed in the early 30s) in height and girth?

  • rob

    There’s a really, REALLY bad pizza restaurant under that tower. My insides have only just recovered and I was in Warsaw 7 years ago…

  • Michael Perz

    Greetings, all. Just wandered over from the Bureaucrash site as I sometimes do, and I must say this post struck a bitterly nostalgic chord.

    I’d like to add another wisecrack often heard throughout Warsaw which went a lil’ something like this:

    Q. What do you see when you turn your ass toward the Palace of Culture?

    A. You see the New World.

    This was in referrence to the name of the boulevard which the Palace faces.

  • The only part of Warsaw I’ve really seen is the main railway station, where I had to wait for a few hours on my way to Yalta. Other than to watch the girls, it is not a building I’d wish to return to.

  • Paul Marks

    The Commie-Borg government housing blocks look much like ones in Britain or in the United States (for example the infamous projects of Chicago).

    As normal it is not Marxism or “lack of democracy” that is the problem – it is statism that is the problem.

    The whole set theory point: Marxists are statists (for all the denials from some of them), but not all statists are Marxists.

  • michael farris

    There’s plenty of that kind of housing projects in Poland too. They’re not fun to look at but they are generally well kept-up, liveable, safe and often enough have a kind of old-neighborhood feeling to them.

  • Joshua

    The Hyundai pre-fab blocks were also the residences of choice in Seoul – illustrating Paul Marks’ point. South Korea is statist, but decidedly not communist. The Hyundai monstrosities are the direct result of “economic co-management” under the Park regime.

  • As normal it is not Marxism or “lack of democracy” that is the problem – it is statism that is the problem.

    Dallas City Hall

    Same building, Jawa sandcrawler angle

    Well, the architect did come from Red China…

  • fernando

    I think this freaky febrile anticommunist polish people would be more pleased with a kind of capitalist mostrosity like London’s Swiss-Re kitschy cucumber building or any sample of New York’s Ronald Trump boxy-like building epidemics. It is neither a problem of capitalism nor statism; this is a problem of media brain-washing effect. What a pity when we saw crowds of eastern europeans in crazy hysteria adoring a paedophillic freak like Michael Jackson, lining for hours to eat crap at Mac Donald’s. The problem in Eastern europe is neither architecture, nor communism . Is people’s naiveté to deal with the voracity of worldwide capitalism and the all mighty mistifying power of western media. A building like that in my latin american country would be an objet of cult, really.

  • paul

    amazing building, love all of the stalinist gothic architechture its fascinating, not to mention sturdy and lasting. If only the past governments of south american countries had built flats and public buildings with there wealth as opposed to leaving the masses in distinctly neo-liberal created shanty’s.

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