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Warsaw

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reviews

By David Crowley. Reaktion, 2003. 208pp.

£16.95 This book is timely given Poland's imminent EEC membership and the need for mutual understanding, writes Adam Kawecki. It is neither a guide to architecture nor to the social economy of Warsaw. However, with an admirable grasp of Polish history, essen - tial to understanding this not immediately appealing city, David Crowley explains the complex background to the grey pre-1989 environment and changes since.

He explores three topics - commemoration of the past, shopping patterns, and housing - to demonstrate how public space has been represented and used by those claiming authority over the city since 1944, and by those living and working there.

The chapter on monuments in ruins is crucial. This explains the significance of Warsaw's monuments - whether permanent or temporary, original or reconstructed, imposed from above or created by public will - and how the selective nature of col - lective memory, together with dominant attitudes and ideologies, have affected their interpretation. The author reveals also the ghostly presence of what is no longer there; buildings and their inhabitants forev - er gone yet remembered or selectively for - gotten.

Crowley's review of shopping is incom - plete. The conflict between officially approved 'civilised' forms of shopping and irrepressible anarchic street markets is inter - esting but lacks consideration of the fact that people's shopping habits are governed largely by polarising economic circum - stances.

On housing, Warsaw tackles the legacy of gigantic, appallingly built, dormitory suburbs and related issues of public and private space. How to renew them with limited resources is posing growing demands on housing authorities; similar to problems in the UK but infinitely greater, as some estates house over 100,000 inhabitants.

Overall, Crowley takes a somewhat pessimistic view of the future of Warsaw's public spaces, given the crass edifices built recently for and by multi-nationals and the moral and financial bankruptcy of city authorities disinterested in the value of the public domain.

Adam Kawecki is an architect in London

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