Fac­to­ries turned into cul­ture cen­ter in War­saw

The China Post - - LIFE - BY VANESSA GERA

The space once housed weapons and mo­tor­bike fac­to­ries. To­day, it is War­saw’s Soho Fac­tory, a hip new space of ex­hi­bi­tions, of­fices and restau­rants.

Tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from SoHo and the Meat­pack­ing Dis­trict in New York City, en­tre­pre­neur Rafal Bauer saw “soul” in a pile of di­lap­i­dated brick build­ings sink­ing into the ground in War­saw’s gritty Praga neigh­bor­hood and trans­formed them into a cre­ative space whose spa­cious build­ings and lower rents have at­tracted artists, ar­chi­tects, web de­sign­ers and oth­ers. It is now one of sev­eral for­mer industrial spa­ces that have been trans­formed in re­cent years into en­tic­ing spa­ces across War­saw as the Pol­ish cap­i­tal blooms af­ter 25 years of eco­nomic growth.

“No­body be­lieved that you can start up your project with an old fac­tory which lies in a very bad part of War­saw, with a bad rep­u­ta­tion— his­tor­i­cally rather con­sid­ered as a place not to go,” Bauer said. “And we man­aged to bring life here.”

“This is a very spe­cial space in War­saw where ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble,” Bauer said.

To­day, the re­vamped build­ings in the area at 25 Min­ska St. house mu­se­ums, art gal­leries, a trendy cloth­ing shop, restau­rants and ar­chi­tects’ of­fices, flanked by apart­ment build­ings. Fash­ion shows, con­fer­ences and a photo ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tur­ing the work of a Chi­nese dis­si­dent have also been held there.

Orig­i­nally, the space housed am­mu­ni­tions fac­to­ries that be­gan pro­duc­tion in 1925 and were sig­nif­i­cantly dam­aged in the Ger­man bomb­ing of the city dur­ing World War II. Af­ter the war, the fac­to­ries pro­duced mo­tor­bikes and op­ti­cal sys­tems for tanks used by the com­mu­nist-era Pol­ish army. They were then aban­doned and fell into dis­re­pair.

Bauer said he first saw po­ten­tial in the area in 1997, but that the time wasn’t yet ripe to con­vince oth­ers of what could be done there, with Poland still in the early years of in­tro­duc­ing a mar­ket econ­omy. In the mean­time, ur­ban Poles have trav­eled widely and have be­gun trans­form­ing industrial spa­ces into chic lofts and taken other in­spi­ra­tion from what Lon­don and New York have done with industrial spa­ces.

When ren­o­va­tion of the area fi­nally be­gan in 2010, it was still a dump­ing ground for stolen cars in a crime- rid­den dis­trict.

At the time the place was still “to­tal rub­bish, so no­body be­lieved that an at­mos­phere like (this) could be achieved,” Bauer said, sit­ting in a mod­ern arm­chair on a cen­tral lawn sur­rounded by the re­fur­bished build­ings. Nearby some vis­i­tors to the area re­laxed in ham­mocks, while oth­ers filed in and out of an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence.

The cre­ation of the Soho Fac­tory area comes amid a larger gen­tri­fi­ca­tion of many other for­mer run­down ar­eas in War­saw, in­clud­ing in the Praga dis­trict where it is lo­cated, an area across the Vis­tula River from War­saw’s his­toric cen­ter and busi­ness dis­tricts.

One quirky fea­ture, and a draw for chil­dren, is a re­fur­bished freight track which Bauer took pains to un­earth with the help of his­toric maps. He said his in­spi­ra­tion was the High Line in Man­hat­tan, an aban­doned freight line on the city’s West side that’s been turned into an el­e­vated park and is now a popular at­trac­tion.

AP

This April 23 photo shows the head­quar­ters of the Soho Fac­tory with a res­i­den­tial apart­ment be­hind it in War­saw, Poland.

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