In 1956 the then seven-year-old Dan Cruickshank moved to Warsaw with his family, as his father Gordon, a journalist with "The Daily Worker," took up a post as Polish correspondent.
At that time the city was still recovering from its virtual annihilation by the Nazis during World War Two. Reconstruction had only recently begun in earnest, and the Soviet rulers were reluctant to spend much time and energy on the historic old town, choosing instead to create large, anonymous concrete blocks including the Palace of Culture modeled on the Moscow example, which still represents Warsaw's tallest building today.
Revisiting the city after fifty-plus years, Cruickshank reflected on the architectural as well as the social changes. The restorers had done a remarkable job of recreating Warsaw's palaces; especially the seventeenth century royal palace that had been razed to the ground in 1939. Sometimes the job had been so professionally done that it was difficult, if not impossible to separate the original from the restored stonework and/or carvings.
There is an ethical issue involved here; whether "restoration" should aim to recreate the past as closely as possible, or to reinterpret the past in terms of the present. Cruickshank was markedly ambivalent about which kind of style he preferred; for him, the actual act of restoration in Warsaw was sufficient.
Combining autobiography with architectural criticism, this program offered a vivid illustration of how cityscapes are changing continually over time.
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