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MDM Housing Estate

Warsaw, Poland
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Historical background

Marszalkowska Dzielnica Mieszkaniowa, also referred as MDM, is a monumental housing estate in Warsaw's downtown. The entire MDM masterplan is a child of Social Realism doctrine and its experimental field following same concept as Gorky Street in Moscow or Frankfurter Tor and Karl Marx Allee in Berlin. Nearly 5 years after the end of II World War the strict centre of Warsaw was still suffering for its lack of pre-war substance, severely destroyed it was a subject to international debate whether any reconstruction is still feasible. Finally, local bureau for city reconstruction, partly under political pressure, has chosen a southern plot of downtown that used to be an elegant XIX century high street. What was remaining from the last century had been cleared and made space for MDM that then was planned as a sample of ideal working-class housing estate.

Architectural concept

There is probably no other place in Warsaw, or even entire Central Europe that would be better representation of architecture that supposed to be social in its context and national in its form and failed to deliver Communist Party initial target at the same time. Planned as utopian working-class real estate for masses who were building a new reality of People's Republic of Poland, was instead densely inhabited by Communist Party members, clerks and other political elites.

The entire master plan designed in 1950 by Jozel Sigalin is monumental and based on widened Marszalkowska Street and Constitution Square. The inhuman scale was a base concept as it had to deliver a proper capacity for formal Party's rallies, mass meetings and other propaganda events. Constitution Square has also diametrically changed the pre-war streets layout and thus imposed structural changes to neighbourhood beyond MDM estate.

At the same time, MDM buildings are real architectural hybrids and hardly undergo any formal classification. Architects inspired by Polish XVIII - century classicism and late XIX - century academism created a real architectural melting pot of styles providing roofline balustrades, cornices, columns in giant order and enormous arcades. All has been cladded with sandstone and provided shiny effect nearly as much impressive as gothic cathedrals. Finally the entire social and architectural programme was enriched by monuments from working-class life and famous rescaled candelabras which are said to be designed by Boleslaw Bierut, then Secretary General of Communist Party.

With its nearly 70 buildings, MDM has been completed within less than 5 years what for 1950s technological standards was an enormous achievement. The MDM construction site was also a great chance for the Communist Party to organize a real show of propaganda with working foremen competing in number of bricks walled up within a day. What seems hilarious now, was then a serious social manipulation taken by many for granted.

MDM today

Even thought MDM is a monument of communism and infamous Stalinist regime, it has become a real architectural icon of Warsaw, whereas one of its squares has recently become a favour gattering places for local bohema and was blossomed with eccentric clubs, cafes and theatres. Between 2015- 2017 MDM has been listed and unlisted as monument for three times. Finally in March 2017 it has been listed again and now its all 66 buildings are legally protected. Next to Palace of Culture and Science, MDM is one of the most expressive places in the city, that shaped Warsaw's post-war urban structure and identity and will stay with it for better and for worse.

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ibex73, July 20th, 2017
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