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Showing posts from July 1, 2012

The Heroic Bricklayer

Under the principles of Social Realism, the bricklayer was glorified as an ideal worker. Bricklayers were organized into teams and the productivity of each team was measured in percent compared to a norm. Teams competed against each other and the most productive teams were acclaimed at public ceremonies. The 1953 movie Przygoda na Mariensztacie, filmed in Warsaw during the reconstruction, revolves around a romance between two bricklayers. Themes of socialist work and gender equality are examined. I can't understand Polish, but it seemed like the romance was shaken when Janka's women's bricklaying team outperformed her lover Hanka's. Look at minute 4:20 of this video for an idea of the atmosphere. (Also, at minute 8:30 of this video you can see the productivities of the teams being displayed- up to 300%!)

On Marszałkowska street, a statue of a bricklayer is built into a niche in one of the buildings. 

"The statue of the Bricklayer depicts an authentic bricklayer, Wła…

Mapping 6: Reflection

There was necessarily a lot of simplification and abstraction required to make the map. I thought I would just enumerate some of its faults:

1. Trying to calculate how many times a certain district has been built and rebuilt is a tricky process. Do I count from the first recorded settlement? The first permanent settlement? The first recorded brick buildings? As well, reconstruction, especially of brick, is an ongoing event- it could also be called maintenance. Below is a picture of maintenance work at Fort Legionów near the old town.

2. The 'dominant spatio-material experience' is by no means the only experience of the district. Midtown, with its glass towers, also has the remains of many 18th and 19th-century buildings, such as the one where I left the pieces. 

3. The division of districts, in some places, is arbitrary. Some districts had clear boundaries according to infrastructure, but where there were multiple major roads or railways close together, I had to pick one, in orde…

Mapping 5: Remains

The question of the final destination of the pieces was a challenging one. Dumpster was out of the question, and it seemed like since the fragments came from the city, they should return to it.
I had passed by 14 Waliców street quite a few times. It was one of the first brick sites I noticed, because of the large mural with the phrase 'kamien i co'. The words are a pun- in Polish, 'kamienico' (pronounced ka-meen-EET-zo) means 'apartment house' and 'kamien i co' means 'stone and what'. The artists wanted to raise awareness about the fate of old tenements in Warsaw's centre. 
Besides the glass office towers and hotels that surround this site, it also lies in the shadow of the Za Żelazną Bramą housing estate (left side of photo). Built between 1965 and 1972, this complex of 19 apartment towers was the first project in Warsaw to use monolithic poured-concrete structures. The blocks have been nicknamed 'mammoth wardrobes' and have been heav…

Mapping 4: Hanging

Above: section through the Vistula, view of west-bank Warsaw
Below: final hung map

Mapping 3: Legend

Mapping 2: Assembly

I assembled the fragments from each district into a 1:20000 map of the city. I started by pouring plaster into each mold, laying the bricks, then filling in the cracks with mortar.

Mapping 1: Fragments

In the movie Everything is Illuminated, the main character Jonathan Safran Foer collects fragments as a way of remembering events, people, and places. Each piece is linked in his memory to a greater whole. I wanted to use a similar technique to map the city of Warsaw, using the fragments of each district as mnemonic links between the substance of the city, its history, and the experience of being there. 

The first step was to assemble the material. I divided the city into districts based on known neighbourhoods and large dividing infrastructures.

I then went to each district, recorded my dominant impressions, and collected fragments.

Gasometer, Wola

June 11
During the process of fragment collecting, I happened to find two abandoned brick gasometers in the Wola district of Warsaw. I hopped the fence to look inside one of them and the scale and majesty of the space, as well as the pathos of its abandonment, really touched me. It is an industrial cathedral, with a choir of pigeons... There is a project to turn them into apartments- although this would increase their economic value and make them accessible to more people, it would definitely result in the loss of their aura, in Walter Benjamin's sense of the word. For me, half the magic of this place lies in the fact that I had to sneak in- it was a stolen glimpse of a foreign world.

En Route

June 28-30, 2012.

My marathon land journey from Poland to the UK had three stops- in Berlin, Cologne, and Brussels.

Last time I was in Berlin I had avoided Daniel Liebeskind's Jewish Museum, thinking that his idiosyncratic style, which is easily recognizable no matter what the site, was an example of the gratuitous, textureless form-finding I am fighting against. This time, I went in, and I surprised myself by liking it. The muted expression of concrete feels very appropriate and respectful, a calm acknowledgement of a turbulent history.

Also in my wanderings around Berlin I visited the Chapel of Reconciliation by architects Reitermann and Sassenroth. The rammed-earth chapel is a wonderful space, bright and cool.

There were pieces of pottery and brick embedded in the layers. I had just visited the Berlin Wall memorial, right next to the chapel, and it made me wonder how much rubble from the site was used in its construction.

At 6:30am the following morning, after having slept fitfully …


These are the virtual footprints of a physical investigation, an investigation into the processes through which raw substances are transformed into materials with cultural, economical, personal, and aesthetic worth.

"Ladies and gentleman, do you know what a brick is? It is a small, worthless, ordinary thing that costs 11 cents but has a wonderful quality. Give me a brick and it becomes worth its weight in gold."
-Frank Lloyd Wright