Are you the traveller travelling through me?

To begin with take heed for I am surely far different from what you suppose;

Do you suppose you will find in me the downtrodden city?

Do you think perhaps you will begin to hate me?

Do you think our meeting will shed blood before its end?

Do you think me grey and ugly?

Do you see no further than this façade, this awkward misshapen structure of me?

Do you suppose yourself spacing on hallowed ground toward a murdered city?

Have you no thought O wanderer that it may all be Maya, iluzjon?


We will say of pure immanence that it is A LIFE and nothing else... A life is the immanence of immanence, absolute immanence: it is complete power, complete bliss.

Gilles Deleuze

They deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold, and I deem them mad for thinking my days have a price.

Khalil Gibran

After three years wandering (and wondering) through Warsaw, and 15 months of periodic blogging, it's time to move on and indulge what Deleuze referred to as our 'sacred right of migration'. Warsaw has opened my eyes perhaps more than any of the other dozen or so cities I have lived (and wandered) in. This is no doubt due to the sheer incongruity of Warsaw's spaces, its buildings, the abundance of wildlife living in the city or just passing through, the primordial on the periphery, the great forests out of which Warsaw springs. Warsaw is, in spite of the new economic model it labours under, a peaceful city which is completely at odds with the Paris', Londons, and New Yorks of this world. Warsaw has thus refreshed and revitalised, and re-established lost connections. Granted, in the spirit of Ghibran, I have forsaken the conventions of 'making a living' in the hope that I might actually do it, and thus freed up time (or, perhaps more accurately, not clotted it up in a state of manic busy-ness) to explore the territory, get out and about. Perhaps emphatically, my great stravaiging companion of the past 3 years, Berenika (the bringer of victory), who for the past 18 months has studied the correlations of play behaviour in infant rats with exploratory behaviour in adults, has intimated that at heart I am in fact a rat. This comparison, like Warsaw itself, has pleased me no end!

'Exploring the overgrowth' in Pole Mokotowskie.


Every city has its own particular, even peculiar, brand of space.

Warsaw is no exception, and is particularly endowed with peculiarity, and a variety of species.

Take Plac Pilsudskiego for example with its eulogy to emptiness framed on all sides by low rise techtonics in a variety of styles. Space has never been so unanimous. The whole square (and it is a square) is in some ways a grand epitaph to the destruction that was levelled here. The square is its own building so to speak… 2 dimensions not three, more space than stone. It is an epitah with no name.

Another great example of the peculiarly spacious city of Warsaw is its underground system. When I first used the metro (though this will come as no surprise with those of you familiar with Glasgow’s ‘clockwork orange’) I was aghast at the volume of space within these cavernous subterrene halls. Ok, so it’s only one line, but look at that space. It’s all the more amplified, especially as you get further out from Centrum, by Warsaw’s uncongested feel. You’d never get this in any other European capital.

Another unmissable Varsovian landmark, and perhaps Warsaw's piece de resistance, it took me a while to realise the beauty of the Palace of Culture was not the building per se but the space (the 77 hectares) that surrounded it. Like a volcano abruptly rising out of an ocean, the Palace of Culture erupts space like no other.

The Centrum district of Warsaw, of which the above picture represents one half, is divided into two by the punishingly long decumanus maximus of Aleje Jerozolimskie. Bisected into north centre (Srodmiescie Polnoc, above picture) where Centrum proper is located, and south centre (Srodmiescie Poludnie), where the vast basin square of Plac Konstitucji lies, the centre of Warsaw is an eye-opening event for anyone with even the most partial of sight.

Within these two halves Centrum in fact embodies most vigorously an ethos of architecture and town planning that defines the whole city. This ethos of course is the absolute incongruity of juxtapositional elements. While Srodmiescie Poludnie points to the past with its various Secessionist and Socrealist stone relics and varying degrees of spaces, its northern counterpoint, with the dominating Palace of Culture and Science and the awkward Modernist shapes of cuboids, bubbles and pillars, points emphatically to the future.

Where Srodmiescie Poludnie (with perhaps the exception of the oversized Plac Konstitucji) retains the human element in its survivor tenements and manageable streets, Srodmiescie Polnoc (annihilated during WWII) goes exorbitant, and waylays the human in the most terrifying fashion.

Srodmiescie Polnoc (between Marszalkowska and Nowy Swiat) following WWII. In the centre of the picture you can make out the tall skeletal frame of the Prudential building which was painstakingly restored to its former glory.

The problem with Srodmiescie Polnoc, specifically the area between Marszalkowska and Nowy Swiat and Jerozolimskie and Swietokrzyska, is that it is, with its ignominious high rise tower blocks overseeing everything, as much residential as it is anything else. As such, there exists a neglected suburban scheme-feel about the area. In some of the passages behind the cuboid Galeria Centrum on Marszalkowska there is a complete absence of any spatial fluency, (imagine a labyrinth with fifty metre high walls). This might have been all well and good for the sixties when most of these things were thrown up, but now they are out of place and out of time.

What there is in terms of space in this area might be termed as ‘the bleeding effect’ where space drips from one area to the next, where it coagulates and clots due to the contiguity of structures, causing bottlenecks of people and cars, and where perma-dark passages only ever see the light of day during the sun’s more zenithal summery moments. What few fin de siecle buildings exist have their aesthetics levelled in one fell swoop by their propinquity to devastatingly horrid modernist bloks.

This discontinuity and fragmentation of architectural style and of space, of light and gravity and of urban geography, invests Warsaw’s centre with a certain peculiar quality that confers a subliminal sense of panic on the quotidian citizen. In terms of architecture and town planning, Centrum is, in other words, cosmetic surgery gone wrong. It is a precinct of horror, a tragedy on the city stage for all to see. It is perhaps for this reason that the whole area is a shopping centre, advertising openly welcomed. Indeed, the panic invested in the pedestrian means that he or she will at some point wish to conceal themselves from it, most probably in one of the many retail outlets here.

The Marszalkowska Monoliths - Virtual Tombstones for the Annihilated Area.

Maybe by turning the centre into a shopping mall and by accessorizing the faded facades of sixties modernism with multi-coloured ads, Centrum will take on a newer feel, more ‘twenty-first century’, more approachable than ever before, offering people the opportunity to come inside, explore this new world, and avoid such spatial angst.

'Sciana Wschodnia' (the Eastern Wall) at the beginning of the 1970s. In the 1960s, a complex of residential and office buildings went up on the eastern side of Marszalkowska Street between Jerozolimskie and Swietokrzyska. The 'Pasaz Srodmiejskie' with their Central Department stores and the Relax Cinema became one of the most popular places in Warsaw. The above picture reveals a certain idyllic quality with few cars and even a parasol-ed mezzanine in CDT (then one of Poland's largest department stores) on the left. Today, however, the city has not evolved, yet traffic is tenfold, detroying any sense of 'city life' that might once have been. Now, on the contrary, this area is a seething, writhing mess of pollution and chaos.

Looking at the newly built Centrum area in 1965. Again, notice the lack of traffic.

2009, almost half a century later. The same facade, except this time every surface screams.

The above are only a few of Warsaw's many species. Many others exist: the miniaturised Nowy Swiat, Plac Trzech Krzyzy, Stare Miasto (the old town), the great suburban dormitory of Ursynow. To document them is a thesis in itself. Better to wander perhaps, see them first, feel them in all their pervasive (in some cases 'perverse') sense of space.


The essence of life is not a feeling of being, of existence, but a feeling of participation in a flowing onward, necessarily expressed in terms of time, and secondarily expressed in terms of space.

E. Minkowski (Vers Une Cosmologie)

1. Decay is the flowering of time: it extends into us a sense of width, a wide sense of duration; it is life and death all rolled into one; it is culture, not clutter.

Within a 'simultaneous society' where time has effectively been 'flattened' by speed (projected onto the flat screen of modernity) and denied its duration, man loses his sense of self as a historical being. Decay allows us not just to see and feel time, to touch it even and smell it, but since we ourselves are depleted by similar processes, we contend a solidarity with it.

Decay is not the despair of Ozymandias. On the contrary, decay is a thing of reassuring beauty - it recognises us within the unstoppable flow of the kosmos.

It allows us to participate in time, to move through it; it accords us what the psychiatrist Eugene Minkowski (a man who began his medical studies in Warsaw no less) referred to as 'lived time'.

Decay, in its embrace of death, gives us life.

2. It is somewhat ironic that here, on the Sluzew Wall, decay is symbolic as nature's way of keeping the human species in check, reminding us not only of change and movement and the ephemeral nature of all things (one day a piece is there the next it's gone) but of our powerlessness to resist its force. In the lexicon of graffiti writers these 'pieces' we see on the walls are variously known as 'tags' or 'bombs' or 'burners'. They are a sort of primal marking of territory, a 'territorial signal' to others. When another writer decides to muscle in on this territory it is a matter of course to over-write (in street argot, to 'cap') the extant pieces with his own tag. In this way, he promotes his own super-iority and assumes ownership of the original piece.

Decay then, (as the act of de-composing), is nature's way of capping (and owning) man.

Graffiti is not just about scrawling on walls, though I am sure there are many who think no more of it than just that. Graffiti goes much deeper. It tackles the very bones of existence: creation, destruction, ebb and flow - the endless rhythms of renewal. We would do well to give graffiti a little more credit for involving us so overtly and freely (when was the last time you saw a painting in a gallery 'decompose'?) in this great process. It is no surprise that every metropolis has some. I have yet to visit a city that doesn't. That in itself must tell us something.

Details of a piece. (taken over the period of two years)