Poles try to downplay the significance of the Palace of Culture. Most are either indifferent towards it or hate it altogether. Few have feelings towards it that might mimic a member of their family. Whatever the case, there is no denying the sheer monstrousness of the building itself. Not in half a century since it was built has anything in the city come close to it. Even Liebeskind's effort going on next door, Zloty 44, soon to be the tallest residential block in Europe, will be something of an embarrassment compared to the PKiN. You've got to hand it to Stalin's architects (in this case Lev Rudnev) for mimicking the iron man's own monstrousness, and getting his thanks (and Rudnev the Stalin Prize in 1949) in the process.

However much disdain and gingerbread vocabulary the modernists throw at it there's still no denying fifty years on the Palace of Culture's structural integrity, and its ability to stand alone without cohorts. Where Liebeskind's building will require the help of nearby skyscrapers to form a range of peaks, the Palace of Culture is a Kilimanjaro and a shining mountain in its own right. Factors have conspired to give the Palace a stage that it deserves (700 square metres of space surrounding it) that is as much a part of the building as the very blocks of the building themselves. Like Rudnev's Moscow State University, the building upon which it was modelled, the Palace of Culture has plazas on all four sides allowing its full form and dimension to be appreciated from the necessary distances. One can only hope that this 25 hectare stage, already primed for construction, remains sufficiently low-built as to continue to allow the Palace its spell.

As a teacher whose classroom has an unmolested view of this beast I find myself drifting off at the most inconvenient of times. In a spellbound state I have often drawn the comparison between the Palace of Culture and the Mother of the Muses, Mnemosyne, for both their abilities to render one blissfully lost in thought. Like the Greek word 'mnemon' itself (to be 'mindful') the Palace has both held my attention in my physical wanders throughout the city, and bestowed upon the vagaries of my mind a phantastic daydream quality. Occasionally, in the misty months of January and February, the Palace herself will become 'lost in thought'. It's as if, in her own narcissistic way, she has waylaid herself with her own beauty, and her mind, that pinnacle of inspiration, for a moment, wanders off into the clouds.

Beauty should be painted with her head lost in the clouds wrote Cesare Ripa in Iconologia, for there is nothing more difficult to describe than beauty.

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