Buildings and stuff #1

I’ve worked in construction or real estate in some way all of my working life and therefore have a real interest in the built environment. Even before I started work, I remember being fascinated by buildings. One exploration I remember to this day, must have been over 30 years ago now, was roaming around the “back lot” of Wembley stadium in London. The whole area, including the stadium itself (when built known as Empire Stadium), was developed as the setting for the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 / 1925. The exhibition was opened by King George V, it cost 12 million GBP and was the largest exhibition ever staged anywhere in the world. 27 million people visited the exhibition.

The buildings were intended to be demolished after the exhibition but some, including the “Palace of Industry” (the worlds largest reinforced concrete building) remained well into the 70’s, when I was wandering around their empty shells. The stadium was renamed Wembley Stadium and remained of course until 2002 when it was demolished to make way for the new one. The Empire Pool became Wembley Arena somewhere around 1980 and is presumably still there? This was not a pool (although it did host various “on ice” extravaganzas) but an entertainment venue. I have on my wall tickets from the concerts of – Pink Floyd, Deep Purple & The Eagles dated 1976/7 and with “Empire Pool, Wembley” at the top. I also have ones from – Dire Straits, Bowie, Elton John & Billy Joel from the 80’s with “Wembley Arena” at the top.

So it was from an early age that I found a fascination with the history of buildings, to look at a building today and from that get a sense of what it must have been like many years ago. Another example is to look at an old English country house and wonder why some of the windows are bricked up. This is a mystery until you read all about the window tax imposed in the 17th & 18th centuries.

Warsaw, having been almost completely demolished in the war, does not give up so many unexpected treasures but it does have its moments. One architectural feature of Warsaw that I find very exciting is the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral in Plac Pilsudskiego. Not because it is a great building, but because it is not there.

Saski with Nevsky

Nevsky Cathedral

If you know Warsaw at all, and have any interest in buildings, it is completely mind blowing to find out that such a building once stood in the middle of this square and that it was demolished. The building of such monuments is the kind of architectural warfare that the Russians seem to have particularly enjoyed. Many of them, like the Palace of Culture, remain intact, this one wasn’t so lucky.

I borrowed these pictures from this site which I’d recommend for more great pictures of old Warsaw. All the text is in Polish.

The whole Pilsudski Square (Saski Palace) area is very interesting. You’ll see in my gallery the excavation work going on right now to find the foundations of the original palace before rebuilding begins. The fountain, by the way, is now rebuilt, in the same place and looking much like it did before but newer. I’ll get some up to date photos soon.


8 thoughts on “Buildings and stuff #1

  1. Indeed. I’ve actually attended a wedding in that one in Praga. Very interesting experience and a very pretty ‘church’, inside as well as out.

  2. Pingback: Bruhl Palace in Młociny « 20 east

  3. There are some differences between the Nevsky Cathedral and the Palace of Culture. The palace is at least a bit likened to Polish architectural style. The attics (I mean the decoration, not a storey) are an imitation of our renaissance, and it was done as a nod to us.

    The palace is secular, so it doesn’t symbolise the dominance of one culture over another that much. Imagine that a main church in London, towering above all other buildings, would be Catholic. St. Paul’s for example.

    The palace was for us. Perhaps it wasn’t what we’d want, but it’s useful. There are 3 theatres, several museums, a swimming pool, a cinema, the entire kids area, a concert hall, a casino and offices. The Nevsky Cathedral was a place no one would have any business to go to, and it must have been pretty empty after Russians left.

    So if it were there today it’s likely we’d still demolish it, but keep the Palace of Culture. If we were luckier we’d get metro instead of the palace. We wouldn’t demolish that either. ;-)

    I was at a mass at the Praga cerkiew. It wasn’t crowded. So I’d say we don’t need more Greek-Orthodox churches in Warsaw. There were plans to rebuild the pre-war Great Synagogue, and the Jewish community didn’t agree. They said it’s too big. We might not have the window tax, but one still would have to heat and light the place.

    BTW I think that there were some buildings in England that didn’t have windows, only doors, weren’t there?

  4. The cathedral was political, but it was also very beautiful. If it had survived until today it would surely be very interesting to see and, like it or not, it would’ve been one of the main tourist sites. I think destroying something like this is sinking to the depths of your enemies. The Russians destroyed many things, like Tatar mosques in Crimea, but that doesn’t make it right. And destroying places of worship wouldn’t be allowed today. I think it’s a great shame that it doesn’t still stand today, considering how many ugly or boring buildings there are in the centre of Warsaw. But I guess it wouldn’t have survived WWII anyway. Still, I think to destroy something like this was vandalism of Europe’s shared heritage. In general, we should never let old buildings be destroyed-old is gold!

  5. Old? The building was only 15 years old.

    Cytadela is an interesting construction, the church was not. There are plenty of them all over Russia. The mosaics were kept and sent to another church. Otherwise Russians took with them whatever they could. One needs at least a tabernacle to call a building a place of worship. It was already quite destroyed anyway, because Germans took out the roof, and rain was pouring inside.

  6. I am doing some research on the Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Warszawa because a relative acquired a souvenir during the demolition. I want to see more images of the artwork, not just the central alter, but the side alters and frescos in particular. If anyone knows where I can get images/photos or find sketches of the interior, I would be very grateful. Would there be a central archive in Warsaw I could approach?

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