Pole position: Libeskind creates an architectural icon for a city on the rise
Daniel Libeskind is feeling on top of the world, or at least Poland anyway. We are sitting on the 50th floor of his newly built residential tower in the centre of Warsaw with the city stretched out to the horizon below us. 'My mother grew up very close to here,' he says looking out of the show apartment's floor-to-ceiling window, 'so how fantastic to come back and be able to do something forward-looking, something optimistic that is for the future of Poland.'
For Libeskind this is a particularly poignant project. Born in 1946 in Łódź, Poland, to Dora and Nachman Libeskind, both Polish Jews and Holocaust survivors, his family moved to New York via Tel Aviv in the 50s when he was just 11 years old. Despite having lived in the US for the majority of his life, Libeskind can still speak, read and write Polish.
Located on Ulica Zlota (Gold Street) and simply known as Zlota 44, Libeskind conceived the swooping fin that wraps the new tower as an eagles' wing, soaring upwards from the ground to its peak - a symbol of Warsaw's resurgence of freedom and its bright future. 'It's a different Poland. This country has been through so much but the spirit of Poland is indomitable; the Polish people don't give up. And it inspired me to build this building here.' Referred to by the locals as 'żagiel' meaning 'sail' in Polish, Zlota had become, as Libeskind tells us, 'an icon, before it was even completed.'
In its shadow is Warsaw's old icon, the austere Palace of Culture and Science, an imposing building that was originally known as the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science but had the dedication revoked during de-Stalinization in the late 50s. While it's still viewed with nostalgia-tinged fondness by some of Warsaw's older residents, many including Libeskind see the Palace as a symbol of the past. 'I know it from childhood as something oppressive, everybody knew it. You didn't have to go to school to know it was built to glorify dictatorship, it was obvious even to kids. So it's good that it's receding. It's a historical artifact now. It'll be there but it's no longer the visiting card to Warsaw.'
At 192 metres-high and with 52 storeys, Zlota is the tallest residential building in Europe and, when complete, the 52nd floor penthouse will offer its buyer the loftiest bed in Europe.
From the outside, the swooping wing-shaped fin that wraps the building's southern and eastern facades is lined with a patchwork of horizontal triple glazing and self-cleaning aluminium panelling designed to follow the arc of the sun path, allowing for maximum daylight to reach neighboring buildings. In contrast, the panels on the western and northern aspects are fitted vertically. 'It's not an office building, it's conceived from the inside out. It's conceived for people to live here. So we didn't want it to be all glass, it's sensitive to the variety of living conditions,' says Libeskind. 'Some apartments are large, some are small. You have to be able to have balance.'
Each unit has its own unique plan and comes in a choice of nine material palettes developed by global design and architecture firm Woods Bagot. 'We wanted to create a compelling story,' says Woods Bagot Principal Jonathan Clarke of the three furnished show apartments in the marketing suite, which are finished with opulent marble bathrooms, walnut-lined walk in wardrobes and walnut floors alongside flashes of exposed concrete. 'The palettes are visually very similar but differ in price, from expensive to the more affordable.' Libeskind adds, 'It's flexible. The interiors will appeal to different people in different ways. It's tailored to you, it's custom made for each apartment and I think that's what people will feel.'
On the street, the ground floor will be lined with retail units that will invite the public to experience the building while encouraging pedestrian circulation in the town centre. However, Zlota's impressive list of amenities - including a pool, spa, cinema and gym on the 8th floor and a wine tasting room on the ground floor - are reserved for the residents use only.
After a stop-start construction process that began in 2008 but was stalled in 2009 after its original developers ran into financial difficulties during the economic crisis, Zlota was sold to American investors Amstar and Polish developers BBI in August 2014. Slated to be completed by mid-2016, sales have begun in earnest with the completion of the three show apartments open for viewing on the tower's 50th floor.
'We have quite a few clients who will buy apartments in six or ten cities. They've been buying in Berlin but I think they're going to switch to Warsaw because of the increased yield and the growth background,' says Charles Weston Baker, Director at Savills International, the agents who will be spearheading the international sales drive. Buyers are expected to be 75% Polish and 25% international with a particular focus on the some 20 million Poles living abroad, who Weston Baker says will take 'enormous pride' in investing in their home country.
With units on sale for between €240,000 and €1.9 million, the prices set a staggering new standard for luxury real estate in the city, but, with Poland now the sixth largest economy in Europe and with its impressive portfolio of recently completed architectural projects – not to mention a plethora of trendy bars and restaurants – the allure for investors is undeniable. As Weston Baker puts it, 'we've just got to get the story out there.'