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Building a city on a blank slate

What would you do if you could use a blank slate to develop a capital city?

While it’s not quite a ‘blank slate’ in Warsaw as it was described to me by one local, the atrocities it suffered in war mean that even now, generations later, the Polish capital is still imaginging what it could become.

When I visited Warsaw in the summer, it felt like a city on the verge of reinventing itself with opportunities to reimagine the city and almost start afresh.

I was a guest of HB Reavis where I saw the group’s planned Varso development, which when complete will be Poland’s tallest building at 310m (including spire, 230m without).

The new architecture there has a heavy British influence. Foster + Partners is the designer on Varso, working in collaboration with local firms for the trilogy of buildings at the 140,000 sq m development.

It also designed a nearby building where we learn that Warsaw is battling Krakow for blue-chip company investment.

At Varso, a site flattened by Nazi bombs in World War II, the plans will completely reinvigorate a part of Warsaw away from the central business district.

But what I found fascinating was how development is now being looked at as something the local population can shape and mould, and how Polish people are taking back control over public buildings like ‘Stalin’s syringe’, the imposing and cold Palace of Culture and Science.

This symbol of communist oppression is now being used for theatre, dance and music, and the surrounding area which laid vacant for so long can now be developed to create a more imaginative, welcoming city centre.

Plenty of blue chips are already coming to Warsaw, and places like Bratislava. I asked locals about Brexit, whether workers were returning from the UK and at the time, there didn’t appear to be a material difference on the ground at the time (July).

However, I was told that construction workers returning home from the UK is a trend many expect to see increase in the next two years.

The opportunities are certainly there, with the likes of Poland and Slovakia already spending more on infrastructure as a percentage of GDP than in the UK and expected to increase this next year.

Warsaw has a shot at developing a truly 21st century city, a mix of existing architecture that survived the war and new, green offices and residential space. Developers must play their part and ensure the opportunity doesn’t go to waste.

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