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What about Poznań's modernist icon? Another year without modernization. Again voices about demolition

29 of January '24

The Arena - one of Poznań's most interesting facilities from the communist era - is clearly out of luck. According to the original plans, its renovation should be coming to an end. Now it's clear that - despite further announcements - the renovation still won't begin. Worse, voices are again being heard to demolish the Arena.

The renovation and transformation of the Arena sports and entertainment hall is becoming a similarly phantom phenomenon to the construction of a decent Poznań train station, which has been announced for years. Once a year there are declarations that modernization is imminent, and then nothing happens. There is one big difference, however. For the Arena, a project for a far-reaching renovation and reconstruction by the Poznan studio CDF Architects is ready. However, after a bidding process that lasted almost a year, it was not possible to select a contractor for the construction work. The Poznan International Fair (MTP Group), under whose management the Arena has been since 2018, does not have the money demanded by the bidders participating in the tender announced last January. At the time, there was unofficial talk of around PLN 300 million. The amounts in play today are between 460 and 600 million. After unsuccessfully seeking additional funds, the tender was cancelled more than two weeks ago

no renewal for anniversary

The arena is celebrating its 50th birthday this year. It was built in 1974 to a design by Poznań-based architect Jerzy Turzeniecki and his team. The distinctive structure stands in Kasprowicz Park and refers in form to Rome's 1958 Palazzetto dello Sport (designed by Pier Luigi Nervi and Annibale Vitelozzi). It has stood empty for six years due to its poor technical condition, which has not been helped by ad hoc renovations. Previously, it operated occasionally, and there was no question of holding larger events. Larger ones for the capacity of the Arena, which in its heyday could hold no more than four thousand spectators.

Announcements of a comprehensive renovation of the Arena date back to as early as 2019, when the first version of CDF Architects' design was created. Construction, then estimated to cost one hundred million zlotys, was to begin a year later and - according to those plans - the Arena was to be ready after three years. However, the tenders that had been floated were canceled, and the MTP Group explained the subsequent delay with pandemonium and an increase in the cost of labor and construction materials. In 2021, there was also a successful battle by Poznań social activists to increase the number of new trees near the Arena and to irrigate the park with rainwater running off the arena 's roof.

Hala widowiskowo-sportowa Arena po przebudowie, wizualizacja, proj. CDF Architekci

Arena sports and entertainment hall after reconstruction, visualization, design by CDF Architects - view from Wyspiańskiego Street, on the left a planned new office building

© CDF Architekci

At the end of 2021, designers from CDF Architekci presented a modified design for the modernization, but the tender for the contractor started after more than a year. The reason for the delay? The MTP Group expanded the scope of work to include, among other things, an underground parking garage and an office building with a restaurant connected to the Arena by an underground corridor. For such a program, it got a positive decision in October 2022 on determining the location for a public purpose investment. Who knows whether these additional elements didn't have a significant impact on the increased cost of the entire investment, and thus prevented what is most important: the modernization of a valuable facility.

Hala widowiskowo-sportowa Arena po przebudowie, wizualizacja, proj. CDF Architekci

Arena arena after reconstruction, visualization, proj. CDF Architekci - diagram showing the planned reconstruction

© CDF Architects

demolitionists in action again

How was the Arena to look after the modernization, scheduled to end in 2026? From the outside, the intention was to preserve its unique form, while upgrading the quality of technical solutions and restoring the original appearance (including the golden tiles on the roof). Inside, revolutionary changes were planned: increasing the capacity of the hall enlarged by the existing underground. The stands are planned to accommodate more spectators - from about 6,000 (matches) to 9,500 (concerts). Loudspeakers, spotlights and screens were to be mounted on a steel independent structure inserted into the hall.

Hala widowiskowo-sportowa Arena po przebudowie, wizualizacja, proj. CDF Architekci

Arena arena arena after reconstruction, visualization, design by CDF Architects - new support structure inserted into the existing structure

© CDF Architects

The plaza in front of the Arena from Wyspiańskiego Street (the so-called Olympic plaza) was also redesigned. A recessed amphitheater forum on an ellipse plan was to lead to new entrances on level -1. Finally, two underground parking lots were planned: for spectators and a technical one. The former was controversial, because the Arena is located in close proximity to two streetcar lines, and it would be appropriate to promote access to it by public transport, while preventing wild parking in the immediate vicinity.

Hala widowiskowo-sportowa Arena po przebudowie, wizualizacja, proj. CDF Architekci

Arena arena after reconstruction, visualization, design by CDF Architects - view through the planned amphitheater square leading to the new entrances on level -1

© CDF Architects

The news of the cancelled tender has additional, very bad consequences. In social networks and comments under texts in the media, there were again voices to demolish the landmark hall. Again, because before the decision to modernize there was also no shortage of supporters of such a solution. Not only the poor condition of the building, but also its small capacity served as an argument. In the media there were even bizarre concepts in the previous decade of building a new larger hall that was a caricature of the work of half a century ago. The demolition drive was only quelled by a project showing how the hall's capacity could be increased while preserving its precious form.

Hala widowiskowo-sportowa Arena po przebudowie, wizualizacja, proj. CDF Architekci

Arena arena after reconstruction, visualization, proj. CDF Architects - interior of the enlarged hall

© CDF Architects

The rotunda is a warning

Today, when the project still can't be realized, demolition is even called for by City Council Chairman Grzegorz Ganowicz. On his public Facebook profile he wrote, among other things:

I am coming to the conclusion that a decision needs to be made to demolish the hall and erect a new one in this place, with an increased number of seats (similar to the reconstruction plans). Conservation requirements should be to restore the architectural shape of the hall, in accordance with the original design. Functional solutions should be in accordance with the modernization project. Demolition and construction of a new structure will be cheaper and feasibly simpler than the costly renovation of the existing shell and the addition of an internal additional support structure [...].

This, at first glance, constructive proposal could be a worthwhile option to consider, if it were not for the unsuccessful reconstructions carried out using such a method, led by the Warsaw Rotunda. Besides, the old structure, which is a testimony to the technical capabilities of the 1970s, should probably be placed under the supervision of a conservator (the Arena is neither in the records nor in the register of monuments). And if expansion in the shape and scope proposed by CDF Architects is impossible, then, perhaps, the project should be slimmed down to include an office building and underground parking. There is also no shortage of voices in the discussion under Ganovich's post that the Arena should be modernized in its original shape and capacity to serve smaller events and local communities. On the other hand, a large arena, which Poznań has lacked for years, could be built completely from scratch elsewhere in the city - for example, on the so-called Free Lanes.

Jakub Głaz

The vote has already been cast