Warsaw’s love affair with skyscrapers can be traced back to the 1930s and the erection of the Prudential Insurance Building. Completed in 1933 at a height of 61 metres, the New York-style structure became the city’s first skyscraper. With the advent of WWII its height lent it immense strategic importance. When the 1944 Warsaw Uprising broke out it became a primary target for Poland’s Home Army, and was captured on the first day of battle – for the first time in five years the Polish flag flew over the city. The Germans launched a series of fierce strikes to win it back, and although shells gutted the building, its steel skeleton refused to topple. Patched up after the war the Prudential building became the communist era Hotel Warszawa. The building still stands today although it is currently being redeveloped by the Likus Group into a luxury hotel which is supposed to boast the highest restaurant in Warsaw.
Following the war Warsaw’s rush to rebuild saw the construction of what has become the defining icon of the city. Dominating the city skyline, the fearsome Palace of Culture (PKiN) towers at just over 231 metres in height - making it the tallest and largest structure in Poland. Commissioned by Stalin as a 'gift from the Soviet people,' it was originally interpreted as a reminder from Moscow that Big Brother really was watching. To this day it still stirs mixed feelings from locals and architecture buffs, and the collapse of communism even saw calls to demolish it. On April 5, 1952 Soviet representative Nikolaj Sobolev and Polish Prime Minister Józef Cyrankiewicz stamped the deal to build the monstrosity over a meeting in what is now the Belvedere restaurant. Within weeks construction had begun. Over 3,500 workers were ferried in from the Soviet states and housed in a purpose-built village in Jelonki, west Warsaw, where they were effectively cut off from the outside world. Working around the clock, it took them just three years to complete the Palace. In all 16 workers died as a result of typical communist disregard for safety practices.