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Poland Ready for Its Close-Up

August 22, 2007

by Dianna Dilworth

Urban revitalization is emerging in Poland in tandem with world-class design, drawing the likes of architect Robert Krier and filmmaker David Lynch to the scene for movie-related building projects. In Lodz, a town outside of Warsaw where Lynch shot scenes for Inland Empire in 2006, the pair is in development talks for an urban renewal project whose cornerstone will be a film studio and arts center. In conjunction with locals Marek Zydowicz, director of the Camerimage Film Festival, and Andrzej Walczak, a businessman and architect, Lynch established The Arts of the World Foundation to lead the project. It plans to convert a 108,000-square-foot power station, built in 1906, into an art gallery, a postproduction editing studio, and a large hall for symphony recording sessions.

Digital Water Pavilion
Image: Courtesy Arts of the World Foundation
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The foundation invited Krier to propose designs. The Luxembourg-based architect is also currently developing plans nearby for a 220-acre area surrounding the Lódz Fabryczna railway station, which has been designated a new city center. “The main focus will be put on cultural facilities,” says Kazimierz Suwala, who chairs the foundation’s board. “The intention is to create a new urban quarter in the center of Lodz that will become the city core, which was lacking until now.”

The preliminary scheme calls for relocating railroad tracks underground and converting the historic train station for a new use. Hotels, residential buildings, and shops are also planned, as well as a 1,000-seat theater for the Polish Film Festival. Future phases could include a museum and technology park. Construction is set to begin in 2008.

Film is inspiring development elsewhere in Poland, too. In Krakow, the Schindler Factory, a World War II–vintage structure where Steven Spielberg filmed Schindler’s List, will soon house Poland’s Museum of the Righteous Among the Nations. This institution pays tribute to those who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Krakow created a $1.2 million grant for the factory’s adaptive reuse, designed by Aleksander Janicki, and the museum is slated to open in 2008.

A similar project is under way in Warsaw, also due to open next year. Finnish architect Rainer Mahlamaeki, of the Helsinki firm Lahdelma and Mahlamaeki Architects, is working on the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. (See sidebar below.) It is just one outgrowth of the mayor of Warsaw’s Urban and Architectonic Council, created in 2003 to oversee downtown rejuvenation over a 10-year period. The initiative has also produced the new Warsaw Museum of Modern Art. Designed by Swiss architect Christian Kerez, the $91 million museum will open in 2010. 

 

 

Museum Will Reawaken Warsaw’s Past

By David Sokol

Walk 10 minutes west from the center of Warsaw, Poland, and you’ll find that the city’s history has been erased: formerly its Jewish quarter, the area was destroyed by fire in 1943 when the Nazis quelled the month-long Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Today, a sculpture dedicated to the Uprising’s resistance fighters, by artist Nathan Rappaport, is among the few windows onto the past of this area, now marked by five- and six-story apartment buildings. City and state officials drew attention to the Jewish community’s untold experiences in June when they broke ground on the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

 

Image: Courtesy Jussi Tianen

 
 

The 140,000-square-foot museum is designed by the Finnish firm Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects. Just as the exhibitions will explore the Jewish experience in Poland from the Middle Ages, the architecture reaches far back for inspiration. The five-story cuboid volume features an organically-shaped incision through its entire depth that ranges in width from 23 feet to 39 feet. Architect Rainer Mahlamäki says that it references Moses’s parting of the Red Sea. The curved surfaces of this negative space will comprise prefabricated modules of sandstone-mixed concrete, providing contrast to the rigid geometry of the tempered-glass building shell. 

Mahlamäki adds that the symbolism of the museum’s void “is very abstract, and you can see very universal forms in this design, too.” It also is strikingly analogous to Rappaport’s monument, in which a monolithic block of stone frames a central panel of bronze bas-relief figures. In a similar memorializing spirit, the museum’s 16,000-square-foot entry hall has been conceived as a pure architectural space—no visible exhibition content, ventilation, or technical devices—for contemplation. 

The 2005 competition to design the Museum of the History Polish Jews was the first international architectural contest in Polish history and elicited 117 entries. Lahdelma & Mahlamäki’s concept trumped a shortlist that included Studio Daniel Libeskind, Peter Eisenman Architects, Kengo Kuma, and Zvi Hecker. The building broke ground in June and is scheduled to open in 2009.

 

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