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The Warsaw Voice » Society » March 18, 2009
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Tall Order
March 18, 2009   
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Warsaw's Palace of Culture and Science, a communist-era monolith and the city's most distinctive downtown landmark, is gearing up for a massive revamp aiming to bring it into the 21st century. Krzysztof Markowski, vice-president of the company managing the Palace of Culture and Science and the technical director of the building, talks to Magdalena Błaszczyk about the details of the planned renovation project.

There has been talk about renovating the Palace of Culture and Science for a long time. What does the latest modernization plan involve?
Our main priority is to improve fire, safety, and technical and comfort standards in the Kongresowa Hall. We are already at the design stage and plan to start improvement works next year with the aim of completion before 2012. The next important job will be to ensure that the whole building meets modern fire and safety standards. This applies to the building's upper stories, which are dedicated to offices and used by other tenants such as the Youth Palace, and include a swimming pool. Modernization of the whole building also includes the restoration of all external apertures and the replacement of windows, doors and all other carpentry. Air conditioning will be installed area by area to improve user comfort.

A significant number of cultural events in the capital are held in the Kongresowa Hall. Will the auditorium be out of use during its renovation?
It is not possible to use the auditorium while it is being renovated since its whole area will be affected. If all goes to plan and we finalize a design, get all the necessary permits and have the required renovation funds, we plan to close the Kongresowa Hall for some six months next year.

You plan to replace all the chairs. Will the number of seats in the auditorium change after the renovation?
Most probably there will be fewer seats since we must comply with fire regulations, which mandate clear evacuation lanes and wider spacing between seat rows. The Kongresowa Hall now seats almost 3,000 people and we will try to lose as few seats as possible. Renovation, however, is essential because after 50 years of use the interior is the worse for wear and requires redesigning.

Some time ago there were plans to clean the facades of the building. Are these plans still in place?
The plans are still in place, but we lack the funds to implement them. To clean the exterior of the building would cost some zl.10-15 million. Other needs prevailed; this task was postponed and it is unlikely that the situation will change in the near future. Most certainly the building could do with a clean-up since during the course of it we could check how well the exterior ceramic tiles adhere to the walls. We have not had any accidents, but this work would not only improve the look of the building but check how safe it is too.

Will tourists find the building as accessible after renovation?
I think that after renovation the building will be even more accessible to tourists and we will want every tourist to visit it, ride up to the viewing platform and see exhibitions. We will strive to ensure that the building is, as much as possible, even more tourist friendly.

Is it possible that the building's major users could change in the near future?
To be honest I don't know anything about that. This is a good location so we do not suffer from lack of interest. We know that the palace is not a Class-A office building because it was built in a different era to different standards. Despite this, not only are all the offices let but also there are potential tenants waiting in line to gladly rent space as and when it becomes vacant. Our location is our asset. Besides office workers, the other users of the building are public institutions. These include three theaters managed by the city as well as the Youth Palace, which is a major and stable tenant.

The Palace of Culture and Science was listed as a historic building in 2007. What are your relations with the city conservation authorities like? Will the involvement of the chief conservation officer affect renovation time and costs?
The first year of working together was, I think, a difficult time for both sides-for both the palace's management and the Warsaw conservation officer. We were learning together and I think we achieved constructive results from the lesson. Currently our cooperation is significantly better. Of course, the conservation officer's involvement has resulted in higher renovation costs because not only do we have to do the work but take care not to do anything to displease the conservation officer. Materials and finishing details must be of a high quality and this automatically increases costs.

Has the fact that the building is listed as a historical monument opened up new sources of funding from, for example, the European Union?
Theoretically yes but in practice we have not yet been able to tap into EU funding. This isn't easy. We will of course try to get funding for this project from European funds. Moreover, the Warsaw City Council has passed a bill to set up a fund to help restore listed buildings. We want to apply for funds from this source too.

Do you know what the estimated cost of the planned renovation is going to be?
It is difficult to give concrete figures since these will be multimillion projects. The restoration cost of just the Kongresowa Hall is estimated at tens of millions of zlotys. The whole project is yet to get the go-ahead but once it does, we will be able to talk about more concrete costs.

Are there any plans for the area around the building?
The palace's management board is responsible for the whole of Defilad Square as of Jan. 1 this year. But the Warsaw City Council has the ultimate say as to what is to be done with it.

Will the palace management have any influence on a plan for the square?
We will certainly participate in discussions and who knows if to some degree we may be implementing the new plan. Plans for the square continue to change. Currently we are at the stage of demolishing the shopping halls. The supermarket, Marcpol, has already moved out. Kupieckie Domy Towarowe shopkeepers are still protesting but it seems they will have to move out of the premises and then we can start to demolish the shopping hall. Defilad Square will be prepared for future projects. Meanwhile, the city, the owner of the site, has to cope with legalities and deal with claims from former owners and plan site usage. The previous city council accepted a plan, which the current council wants to change. This is a process, this is about agreements, and this takes time.

Most probably the new plan for the area will get passed in the near future, by which I mean either this year or next, and will include site design and goals-whether there will be high-rises or not; whether there will be a square for rallies, about which there is much talk; or a public meeting place, event arena and so on. I hope the ¦więtokrzyski Park remains, but how the rest of the site, along Jerozolimskie Avenue and Marszałkowska Street, will be used will depend on the Warsaw City Council's decisions. As managers of the site, we will have to go along with its decisions.
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