As with all INURA conferences, Footloose Warsaw comprises open-air seminars, during which local experts, activists and researchers will walk us, both literally and figuratively, through key aspects of the city’s contemporary life.
The first two days of the conference will be devoted to the central city. During the third day, we will venture into Warsaw’s 20th-century suburbs; during the fourth day, we will visit new post-2004 spaces. Necessary background information for each trip will be provided during plenary lectures taking place the evening before.
SATURDAY, 23 JUNE
HISTORICAL LECTURE: What makes Warsaw Warsaw?, 18:00–20:00
SUNDAY, 24 JUNE
PARALLEL CITY TOURS: The central city, 9:30–12:00 and 13:00–16:00
ACTIVIST LECTURE: The conundrum of property restitution, 18:00–20:00
MONDAY, 25 JUNE
PARALLEL CITY TOURS: Landscapes of property restitution, 9:30–12:00
PARALLEL CITY TOURS: At the fringe of the center, 13:00–16:00
ARCHITECTURAL LECTURES: Architecture of the Seventh Day and Amplifying nature 18:00–20:00
TUESDAY, 26 JUNE
PARALLEL CITY TOURS: 20th century suburbs, 10:00–15:00
ACADEMIC LECTURES: The geography of Mordor and The new promised lands, 16:00–19:00
WEDNESDAY, 27 JUNE
PARALLEL CITY TOURS: 21st century suburbs, 10:00–15:00
CONCLUDING PLENARY DISCUSSION: Learning from Warsaw?, 18:00–20:00
Saturday, 23 June
PLENARY LECTURE followed by discussion, 18:00–20:00
What Makes Warsaw Warsaw?
Every city has stereotypes attached to it; each city tries to construct an image of itself. Using statistics and other data from the last two hundred years, Grzegorz Piątek will probe beneath both negative stereotypes and self-reassuring legends, and will try to discern Warsaw’s character, offering less-obvious answers to some obvious questions.
Grzegorz Piątek is an architecture critic and historian. He wrote a biography of Stefan Starzyński (1893–1939), Warsaw’s legendary mayor, and is currently researching a book on Warsaw’s post-war reconstruction. In 2008, the exhibition Hotel Polonia that he co-curated received the Golden Lion award at the Venice Biennale of Architecture.
Sunday, 24 June
PARALLEL CITY TOURS, 9:30–12:00 and 13:00–16:00
We will start by exploring the very center of Warsaw. But where exactly is it? What constitutes it? This is in fact among the most hotly contested issues. Why is the historic Old Town – a tourist magnet – actually entirely marginal in Warsaw’s quotidian life, conveniently both for the tourists (who get the space for themselves) and Warsaw residents (whose daily spaces are not invaded by the tourists). Our trips along Warsaw’s sprawling city center will include a psychoanalytic analysis of the Palace of Science and Culture skyscraper – a contested post-war “gift from Stalin” and Warsaw’s main landmark. Also, a visual-analysis expert will walk us through the reality of and the legal framework behind the chaos of Warsaw’s street advertising, and we will take a virtual trip following street monuments removed after 1989. We will learn how the expansion of the University of Warsaw became the bellwether of gentrification in the riverside Powiśle district. And will investigate how Mokotowska, Bracka and Zgoda Streets constitute, quite literally, the “Warsaw Smile”: a sequential arch of streets cutting a diagonal across the inner-city orthogonal grid (as Broadway does in Manhattan) and the relict of a road much older than Warsaw itself. For the more adventurous, we will offer a tour of inner-city food establishments from a freegan perspective (dumpster-diving included).
PLENARY LECTURE followed by discussion, 18:00–20:00
Activist Research: The conundrum of property restitution
In the English-language world, the word “property” is self-explanatory. In Eastern Europe, however, property-as-ownership and property-as-real-estate is, to borrow Katherine Verdery’s term, fuzzy. In Warsaw alone, there are over 10,000 lots that have unclear ownership status. This uncertainty is not a given, but the product of very specific political and economic circumstances. Properties – in most cases substantially destroyed during the Second World War then rebuilt and maintained for decades by residents – have found their new owners, often on the basis of questionable legal documents. Despite brutal evictions and violence accompanying this (including the murder of Warsaw Tenants’ Association founder Jola Brzeska in 2011), tenants’ activists have been able to put the brakes on, and in some cases even reverse, the process of property “restitution”. And they were the first group to speak up about this issue, before it became the topic of nationwide debate and academic research. Beata Siemieniako, Antek Wiesztort and Maria Burza will share their insights, garnered over the course of struggling for affordable public housing, and will describe how property restitution lies at the very heart of Warsaw’s idiosyncratic pattern of gentrification.
Antek Wiesztort and Maria Burza are activists for the Warsaw Tenants’ Association and co-founders of the Syrena Collective.
Beata Siemieniako is a lawyer providing legal service to those impacted by property restitution in Warsaw and the author of a book on the topic.
Monday, June 25
PARALLEL CITY TOURS, 9:30–12:00
We will have parallel city tours, lead by urban activists and researchers, investigating the landscape – both human and urban – of property restitution, gentrification and eviction.
PARALLEL CITY TOURS, 13:00–16:00
We will conclude explorations of the center of Warsaw by moving to its fringes: Praga Północ on the east bank of the Vistula River, the poorest part of Warsaw (life expectancy among males there is the same as life expectancy among males in Bangladesh) that, despite many efforts, has not yet been gentrified. We will explore how the existence of what had been the largest open-air market in Europe (now defunct) changed the face of the surrounding Praga Południe district, and how Vietnamese, Ukrainian and other ethnic communities made that surrounding area their own. We will visit Muranów on the capital’s west side and learn how the entire district was designed as living monument to the Warsaw Ghetto, and will learn about inner-city wildlife (Warsaw is Europe’s largest urban center with an unregulated river flowing right through it). More experimental tours will include a walk across Warsaw rooftops.
PLENARY LECTURES followed by discussion, 18:00–20:00
Architectural Research I: Architecture of the Seventh Day
More churches were built in Poland during state socialism than during the entire millennium preceding it. The research team of Kuba Snopek, Izabela Cichońska and Karolina Popera have documented nearly all of them and tell the story of this “crowd-sourced” architecture through photography, maps, archival sources and interviews. Neither legal nor prohibited, church building engaged the most talented architects and craftsmen, who in turn enabled local urban communities to engender their own spaces – which served many needs, not only religious ones. Often idiosyncratic and even outlandish in style, often erected during night-time crash-constructions, these churches constitute the first portents of postmodernism in Poland and the most intriguing element of Poland’s vernacular landscape. They also represent community-led endeavours, relying on local building materials, funding and input, long before such practices became buzzwords in 21st-century architecture circles.
Kuba Snopek – urban planner and researcher. He has worked on architectural, urban planning and research projects in Poland, Russia and Denmark. He taught at the Strelka Institute in Moscow. His book “Belyayevo Forever,” on the preservation of intangible heritage, was published in English, Polish and Russian.
Izabela Cichońska – architect and researcher. She led research projects and taught at the Strelka Institute in Moscow, before which she worked at Pentagram in London.
Karolina Popera – architect and researcher. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree and was shortlisted in international REA Competition 2015 for her vision on the “future city”.
Architectural Research II: Amplifying nature
Amplifying nature postulates architecture that is not a shelter from nature, or a tool enabling easy access to it, or a medium for its conquest and exploitation. It embarks on a reconstruction of the planetary imagination inherent in post-war Polish modernism, cognizant of the co-dependence of social routines and the workings of the planet. Most notably, it shows how Warszawianka – a sports complex built between 1954 and 1972 – was an architectural dialogue with the geological and hydrological build-up of Warsaw. Instead of ignoring or combating nature, the architects used such forces such as gravity and water flow to their advantage. Utilizing their research exhibition for the 2018 Venice Biennale, Simone de Iacobis, Małgorzata Kuciewicz and Anna Ptak guide us through Warsaw’s architectural landmarks and tell a broader story alongside it – a planetary one, in fact – showing how some answers to challenges that architecture faces in the age of climate change can be found in some of the little-known Polish modernist projects.
Małgorzata Kuciewicz and Simone de Iacobis are the core of CENTRALA, an architecture studio and a research task force. They have curated numerous research projects and exhibitions over the past decade in Poland and abroad.
Anna Ptak is an art curator, co-editor of The Making Yourself at Home Guide to Warsaw (with Monnik and Rani Al Raji) and curator of the Polish Pavilion at the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture.
Tuesday, 26 June
PARALLEL CITY TOURS, 10:00–15:00
We will venture into several older Warsaw suburbs, some of which were actual sites of architectural experimentation that set paths for Polish 20th-century architecture (some taken up, others abandoned). These will include Przyczółek Grochowski an architectural manifestation of Oskar Hansen’s concept of “open form”, and Rakowiec, an experimental housing estate built in the 1930s by Helena and Szymon Syrkus. We will also visit Ursynów, a large housing estate where planners experimented with bringing the street back into the design of the modernist housing project. In Bródno, on the other hand, we will learn about community and art projects by Paweł Althamer.
PLENARY LECTURES followed by discussion, 16:00–19:00
Academic Research I: The geography of Mordor
Mordor usually denotes the inaccessible, hostile land in Tolkien’s fictional universe. In Warsaw, however, the term has become imbued with another meaning: it defines a suburban office district and a nightmare for over 100,000 commuters. Compared with other secondary business districts, Mordor comprises an exceptionally large share (26%) of the city’s entire present-day office space, making it the most important secondary business district in Europe (relative to the respective central business districts). Even more exceptional is the “spontaneous” genesis of the area, which arose with no master plan. Why has the center of gravity for Warsaw’s economy leaned towards Mordor, and what can we be discern from its “chaotic” nature?
Maciej Smętkowski, Dorota Celińska-Janowicz and Katarzyna Wojnar are geographers and lecturers at the University of Warsaw’s Centre for European Regional and Local Studies (EUROREG).
Academic Research II: The new promised lands
The post-2004 boom engendered not only new office spaces but also entirely novel residential areas. The suburbs of Białołęka and Miasteczko Wilanów are excellent cases in point. The latter has been dubbed “Lemmingrad”: home to the conformist middle classes who have allegedly blindly followed the latest fads and fashions set by international corporations, as lemmings mindlessly stampede into an abyss. Białołęka is said to comprise countless “Frank Swiss Streets” because its rapid growth was triggered by the rise of foreign exchange mortgages denominated in Swiss franks. Mikołaj Lewicki follows the money and analyses how global flows of capital boosted rapid (sub)urbanisation of Warsaw’s peripheries and engendered new class-formation processes.
Mikołaj Lewicki is an economic and urban sociologist working at the Department of Sociology, University of Warsaw.
Wednesday, 27 June
PARALLEL CITY TOURS, 10:00–15:00
The final day of the City Part will be devoted to the newest urban spaces that mushroomed at the city’s periphery: the business districts of Służewiec (aka Mordor) and Wola (the newest office-building frontier), the housing estates of Miasteczko Wilanów and the Białołęka district. These represent classic examples of spaces engendered by international capital. But the city’s periphery has also been shaped by small, local capital, as we will see in places such Wawer that may be less spectacular at first glance, but are equally fascinating.
CONCLUDING PLENARY DISCUSSION, 18:00–20:00
Learning from Warsaw?
We will conclude the City Part with a panel discussion, including INURA members and local researchers. It will be open to the public and we hope it will be both a wrap-up of the four days of excursions and lectures and a platform for dialogue between INURA members and local researchers, activists and residents. Are we now able to say what constitutes Warsaw’s spatial coherence? What can the Warsaw urban-studies community learn from the perspective and insights brought in by INURA members?