Urban Environment House
Winner of the Finlandia Prize for Architecture 2014
The Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw opened its doors to the public in spring 2013 and the core exhibition illustrating the thousand-year history of Polish Jews opened in autumn 2014. The museum is located in the very heart of Jewish Warsaw, which the Nazis turned into the Warsaw ghetto during the Second World War. The controversial location required special discretion from the architects.
The building is based on Lahdelma & Mahlamäki’s winning entry in an international architectural competition in 2005. The local partner in the implementation period was Kurylowicz & Associates.
Extracts from the Finlandia Prize for Architecture pre-selection jury statement:
In the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, symbolism is embodied in the architecture without unnecessary rhetoric. The restrained exterior of the building respects the history of the site in the heart of the wartime Warsaw ghetto, providing a reverential frame for the exhibition on the history of the Polish Jews.
The free-form main hall is a contrast to the restrained exterior, symbolically leading the visitor towards the future. The free geometry of the main hall was inspired by the Hebrew expression “yum suf”, which refers to the gorge of the Red Sea during Exodus. The organic formal language of the load-bearing walls of the main hall was an extreme challenge for both design and construction, successfully tackled without compromise. The stone in the polished concrete surfaces of the interior is local limestone sand, which tones the atmosphere of the single-material cavernous interior from concrete grey into warm light.
Based on a winning entry in the international architectural competition in 2005, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews continues the series of buildings designed by Finns outside Finland, and manages to update the tradition in an impressive way. The building is a Song of Songs of Finnish excellence, carried out as a result of international cooperation. The high standards and the extensive scope of the project have required exceptional management skills and an uncompromising respect for the original vision. The outcome conveys a universal experience, regardless of ethnicity or creed.
Extract from the Finnish Architecture Biennial Review 2014 jury report:
“The museum is a bold, simple box clad with silkscreen-printed glass panels and perforated copper panels. In the interior, the boxiness gives way to a cave-like feeling, the double curved bearing walls creating a dramatic valley in the lobby. The room represents immaculate complexity in design, calculation and execution. The architects have exported an important sample of the Finnish architectural mindset, which is already making its strong voice heard in the urban life of Warsaw.”