This photograph shows the carcass of a modernist building from 1948, draped in the developer’s visualisation of its new incarnation.
Visual artist Nicolas Grospierre has been photographing architecture for several decades. He is the author of two books: Modern Forms and Modern Interiors. His picture of the functionalist CeDeT building, overlaid on the foundations of the 1949–52 original, was featured in the Late Polishness exhibition at Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw. Varsovians nicknamed the Central Department Store (Centralny Dom Towarowy, or CDT, designed by Zbigniew Ihnatowicz and Jerzy Romański) ‘Smyk’, after the children’s goods shop it housed.
In the photo, a wrap shrouds the reinforced concrete skeleton of the former structure. Although the building had been placed on the list of historical monuments in 2006, the city conservator finally allowed the new owner to demolish it almost entirely. The alleged reason being damage caused by a fire in the 1970s.
Many tales surround this central Warsaw building. When first completed, socialist realists criticised the modern block for its ‘blatant cosmopolitism and pure formalism’. ‘Smyk’ later became embedded in the cityscape – it appeared in films (The Eighth Day of the Week by Aleksander Ford) and books (Bad by Leopold Tyrmand), and fashion shows were organised on its roof. But, as Anna Cymer wrote for Culture.pl, once communism collapsed in Poland, the building ‘fell victim to developers’.
In recent years, Polish socialist modernist buildings have become the focus of discussions and analyses. A recurring issue is whether to preserve them or allow their demolition. Grospierre’s photograph demonstrates changes in the Polish landscape, and two powerful forces that shape it – memories of Poland under communism, and capitalist profit-making rationale.
Originally written in Polish, translated by AG, edited by MB, Dec 2018
This text is part of the project Metaphors of Independence: Poland In 100 Photos.
To coincide with the centenary of Poland regaining its independence, we have created a selection of photographs that allow us to understand both yesterday and today. A hundred photographs but so much more. Find out more.