Berlin has Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg; London the West End; New York has Soho. What about Warsaw? Praga, a former working-class district that has become artistic and trendy. In a few years, thanks to a significant investment programme, the centre of Warsaw will have moved, crossed the Vistula River and landed on the right bank, right here in this district.
Like other survivors of the war, Warsaw, the Polish capital, has a contrasting architecture that reflects a turbulent past. The Praga district, on the right bank of the Vistula River, did not suffer the same fate as the rest of the “martyred City” 85% of which was destroyed by the Germans between 1939 and 1945. The old walls resisted – in spite of some bullet holes here and there – the streetlights remained standing, the little chapels of Virgin Mary survived in the courtyards. And it was this period environment that led Roman Polanski to make his film The Pianist (2002), to reconstitute the (defunct) Jewish ghetto.
With its worn-out buildings and small backyards, its old red brick factories and its alternative addresses, Praga has the reputation of being a creative pole in full effervescence. Its old buildings are now being renovated into chic lofts, chic restaurants and art galleries, as in London or Berlin. And this is but the beginning.
Living in a museum
This is what the real estate developers of Soho Factory are proposing with a programme aimed at renovating an industrial wasteland. It now houses a cultural hub, an incubator for start-ups, co-working spaces, housing, shops and an excellent restaurant with a chic industrial decor. “ When we launched the Soho Factory concept, we were guided by the motto ‘Live, Work, be’“, says Marcin Mostafa, an architect with WWAA. “The challenge was to inject a new atmosphere into this place, combining post-industrial space, modern design, urban lifestyle and comfort in an environment once considered a no-go area“, explains the architect. And he adds: “A bit like SoHo, in New York, where artists have transformed post-industrial buildings into art galleries and lofts, and where the spirit of Warhol is still present today.”
The city council has also injected 350 million euros to accelerate the revitalisation of the district. By 2022, thousands of new homes should be built; historic sites should be restored; the city promises an effort to fight social exclusion. For the moment, gentrification is in full swing. The ultimate proof of its trendiness: a museum dedicated to Polish vodka has just opened its doors in the neighbourhood. Located in the buildings of the former large distillery “Koneser” (dating from the 19th century and in disuse for thirty years), the museum offers five spaces in the old workshops whose floors are covered with old vodka barrels. But also a dozen residential lofts, who found owners in the space of a week.