The Palace of Culture

An Exploration in Design, Humanities, and Social Sciences

An Intensive Course, Spring 2017
PGHT 5615 – CRN 7990

New York – Tuesday, Februrary 14 and 28, 7:00-8:50 pm
Warsaw, Poland – March 17 to 26 in the Palace of Culture and Science



Malgorzata Bakalarz-Duverger, sociologist, curator, “Far Away from Where?” Aronson Gallery, Parsons; symposium co-organizer, “Making Home in Wounded Places,” Parsons/NSSR

Mateusz Halawa, anthropologist, researcher at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Head of Social Sciences and Humanities at the School of Form

Susan Yelavich, Associate Professor of Design Studies, Director, Design Studies MA Parsons

A tall skyscraper towers over a sprawling complex of shorter, but still imposing outbuildings surrounded by a vast, empty space. This is the Palace of Culture and Science, Stalin’s “gift” to Warsaw emerging from post-World War II rubble. Completed in 1955, it continues to dominate Polish capital’s center and remains the tallest building in the country. Multiple modernities incarnate, it embodies Soviet imperial designs to dominate the region and revolutionize social relations by reclaiming the downtown for the proletariat, but it borrows from a form recognizable on the other side of the Iron Curtain, that of a Chicago or New York art deco high-rise. It has been an invader and a savior, a blessing and a curse, a silent witness and a violent genius. It was construed as a beacon of a bright future to come, then as a ruin of the fallen order, and recently as a site of struggle, innovation, and resignation for urban activists, city planners, private developers, and architects. Today the Palace continues to lead complex lives: symbolic, ideological, historical, practical, and infrastructural.

Participants include seniors and graduate students from Parsons School of Design and The New School for Social Research in New York, and seniors and graduate students from the School of Form, Poznań. Over five days, students meet in morning seminars to discuss readings on the nature of memory and complexity of spatial interventions as political gestures. In the afternoons, they work in teams to propose alternative visions for this site (or others like it elsewhere in the world, i.e., the Freedom Tower in NYC).