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.
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.