Built by 3,500 Soviet workers after Poland’s capital was flattened by Nazi bombs, the building now stands as a contested symbol of the country’s complex past.
There has been no more pivotal a building constructed in Poland after 1945 than the Palace of Culture and Science – or to give it its full title: “the Palace of Culture and Science in the name of Joseph Stalin”. And none more divisive and controversial, either.
It’s a skyscraper 231 metres tall, the highest building in Poland, built in a mixture of then-compulsory Socialist realism with elements of Polish historicism. It stands for everything Poland tried to reject after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the swift crumbling of the Soviet Union, and better than any other building it epitomises the 44 years of the People’s Polish Republic.
The palace turns 60 this year: it was finished 10 years after the end of the second world war, which both destroyed and transformed Poland. What came after was the greatest challenge in the country’s history – to this day, people can’t decide whether it was a failure, or a success.