A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. Greek Proverb

Out on an afternoon walk 'through the skwers' of Stary Mokotow one cannot help but notice the sheer abundance of foliage. The squat blocks and their courtyards are brimming with life, and colour. On a grass verge, a child chases two hooded crows while mother looks on. The crows, looking a little bit miffed, hop away nonchalantly until, having had enough, they low-fly across the street to another quieter, childless verge.

It's late afternoon, mid-October. We're entering the months of the long shadows. And casting them far and wide are the trees that occupy every courtyard, skwer and place. Through living in and wandering many cities the world over, I have come to see architecture not as the Japanese post-war Metabolist movement saw it as 'biomimicry' (which was heavily reliant on technological advancement), but firstly as simple 'block and brick architecture' whose 'bio' comes in the form of the plantlife invested in the spaces between buildings. This was the principle of that much maligned architect Le Corbusier whose five point plan of building 'materials' began with the tree, followed swiftly by sky and space, then lastly (and perhaps least) cement and steel.

What makes these Mokotovian squat blocks such fine examples of 'architecture' and of master building, are the interstitial spaces of back greens and how they have been 'built'. These 'skwers' are no inadvertent spandrels, unwittingly sprung forth as 'leftover space'; rather, they are the result of people, like former President Stefan Starzysnki, who invested the city with a vigorous tree planting program in the nineteen thirties. The street trees of Warsaw owe a great deal to Starzynski who inspired many who came after him to take up this mantle. Consequently, in Moktotow, an area of the city which Starzynski had a hand in, not least in the creation of Aleje Niepodleglosci, there are grand boulevards like Aleje Zwirki i Wigury and its 1200 linden; Woloska and Boboli with their centurion rows of chestnuts; even 'lesser' streets shine forth like Asfaltowa, Opoczynska, Kielecka, and Lowicka with their respective oaks, maples and elms, ash, wingnuts and sumachs. The list of Varsovian streets filled with trees is endless. Some have even garnered special status accordingly; next door in Nowe Wlochy, the luscious limes of new Italy in Ulica Rybnicka and Chroscickiego are streets designated as monuments to nature. Even in the very epicentre of the city, an area fraught with the repetitive chaos of building, demolition and re-building, there are trees which have been protected, and others which have recently been planted. Wherever I wander I see evidence of care and attention to trees; newly planted trees on grass verges, in parks, in squares; tree surgeons hard at work with their perennial tend of wandering trees.

Not only do these trees add fragrance, flower and fruit at various times of the year, but they bring colour, shadow and shape. They bring 'time' to the table of the city. Language, like the odd garden fence, is wound around them. Months of the year are named after them. They re-mind us of life outwith the human. And they brighten up what is perhaps a dull piece of concrete. There is nothing so tragic, and architecturally void, as a treeless housing estate, or worse still, a treeless city. But then, it has always been much easier to cut a tree down, than to build around it. What was it Khalil Gibran said? 'Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky, we fell them down and turn them into paper, that we may record our emptiness.'

Tree Sky Space (Cement & Steel) - A School in Ulica Wiktorska.

From an article entitled To Beautify Warsaw in the New York Times dated December 3rd 1922 mention is given to the scarcity of trees before the re-establishment of the Polish State, and the 'upward of 19000 trees' lining the streets and squares 'now'. It mentions a few of the species being planted as 'maple, chestnut, linden, ash and pine', and finishes by saying 'The Department of Parks is not only interested in adding to the attractiveness of Warsaw, a city of almost a million inhabtants[...] but also in providing open spaces for the rapidly growing population.'

The 2008 population (arboration?) of Warsaw in terms of its trees far exceeds the 19000 of 1922. When I think of cities I often place a greater importance on 'tree population' and 'bird population' than I do human. Indeed, if one were to concoct an equation that sought to find some kind of balance in terms of a sustainable city and urban biodiversity, one would probably see the bird and the tree outnumber the people by a significant factor. For myself, this scenario rings true with my experiences of Warsaw, but then, into that mix must be added how you yourself negotiate that city, what paths you choose, and how indeed you take them (by car, metro, bicycle or foot), and of course how much time you have to 'live the city' and not simply in it. The architecture of one's own life can have a marked effect on how one perceives the architecture of the city.

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