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Small building, big challenge. A competition for a headquarters for art historians from UAM

29 of May '23

For more than a century it housed medics, microbiologists and hygienists. Now the villa in the historic center of Poznań will be taken over by art historians. The Institute of Art History and the Faculty of Art Sciences at Adam Mickiewicz University are to move into the historic building at 3 Wieniawskiego Street in about three years. The diametrical change will be preceded by an architectural competition that has just been announced .

In an interview with Jakub Glaz, the competition is introduced by Adam Mickiewicz University professors Michał Mencfel, Ph.D., dean of the Faculty of Art Sciences, and Piotr Korduba, Ph.D., director of the Art History Institute

Jakub Glaz: This will be an interesting challenge for designers: an old historic villa, an exposed and important site, and a dramatic change in the profile of users.

Michal Mencfel: The primary task of the competition, however, is a matter of technical nature: the arrangement of multiple functions in the small space we will cover after moving out of the even smaller rooms of the modernist Collegium Novum, which we now occupy . The villa ostensibly looks monumental, but if we subtract the spectacular staircase and take into account only the building's partial basement, it turns out that there is not that much space at all. So we are counting above all on imaginative architects. Those who, first of all, will fit everything that is necessary in a not so large building and, secondly, will treat carefully the character of the villa—not only from the architectural side.

willa wieniawskiego 3 konkurs historia sztuki poznań witaszek uam tablica poznań

The villa on Wieniawskiego Street in Poznań, the future seat of art historians from the Adam Mickiewicz University—view from the street; memorial plaque on the first floor

Photo: Jakub Glaz

Piotr Korduba: One of the very interesting aspects here is the non-obvious history. In a noble villa costume, the Germans built the Hygienic Institute next to the Royal Academy building, which served to promote healthy behavior and microbiological research, but also to strengthen Germanness, promote eugenics, or—in a separate building at the back, the so-called animal house—to test on animals. After 1919, the villa fell into the hands of medics and microbiologists from our university, and later—the Medical Academy, which was separated from it. During the war, a famous doctor, Dr. Franciszek Witaszek, who was executed in 1943 by the Germans for his underground activities and for supplying poisons to the Polish underground, attributed to him, worked here.

Michal Mencfel: Finally, the location of the villa is important. It stands next to the most important edifice of the Adam Mickiewicz University: the Collegium Minus with the rectorate and the university auditorium, within the so-called Stübben ring, among others, in the vicinity of the Opera House, the Zamek Cultural Center, between the park and the courtyard, which today still serves as a parking lot, and which needs significant greening.

uam wieniawskiego klatka schodowa poznań uam piwnica wieniawskiego 3 poznań

Villa at 3 Wieniawskiego Street in Poznań—1. staircase; 2. former laboratory in the basement

Photo: Jakub Głaz

Jakub Glaz: The courtyard, including the former animal house, is in contact with an extensive railroad trench. The villa is therefore strongly exposed in the silhouette of the city visible from the tracks and Roosevelt Street.

Piotr Korduba: And because of this context and the registration, its exterior form cannot be touched. Nor is there the will and finances to expand the villa. Therefore, the competition will be open to designers with at least one realization in a building individually listed in the register of monuments. Only in the courtyard do we expect visible interventions aimed at greenery and functional integration with the Collegium Minus area. Internally, the essence of the task is to exploit everything that is original in the building, along with valuable layers that tell the unique biography of the place. At the same time, it is necessary to introduce into this house, rebuilt after the war without any upgrades, the facilities necessary today: elevator, efficient heating, mechanical ventilation, monitoring.

uam historia sztuki konkurs dziedziniec zwierzętarnia uam wieniawskiego dziedziniec

Villa on Wieniawskiego Street in Poznan—1. view of the courtyard with the „animal house,” with the railway tracks and Roosevelt Street in the background;
2. building of „animal house” at the back of the property

photo: Jakub Głaz

history and re-use in one

Jakub Glaz: You also intend to introduce equipment into the villa, which you have been systematically accumulating at your current location. These are mainly sturdy office furniture from the communist era being restored as part of an action initiated by the Art History Institute.

Michal Mencfel: These are presented in detail in the documentation that is attached to the competition materials. The furnishings are to give character to most of the rooms, except for the didactic ones. At the same time, elements preserved in the villa are to be used by the designers, not only characteristic medical furniture, but also inventory plates, laboratory glassware, beaker dryers, hangers.

Willa przy ul. Wieniawskiego 3 w Poznaniu

Villa at 3 Wieniawskiego Street in Poznań—preserved furnishings after the activities of microbiologists

Photo: Marcin Sokalski

Piotr Korduba: Our profession obliges us to be sensitive to everything we should preserve from the equipment of the present and new premises. However, we are not creating a museum or open-air museum. All this furniture is meant to serve students and employees every day. We also don't want new furniture in the staff offices, because we know that such equipment, bought today in a tender, is good for nothing. They live a short life and age badly. On the other hand, restoring solid wooden furniture from four or five decades ago is a very sensible investment. Some, by the way, only need upholstery replacement. So by the way, we are acting in the spirit of re-use.

uam historia sztuki konkurs poznań laboratorium uam konkurs architektura instytut historii sztuki

Villa at 3 Wieniawskiego Street in Poznań—former laboratory equipment and distinctive furniture

photo: Jakub Głaz

resignation and freedom

Jakub Glaz: In the regulations you write: „The building and its development should realize the expectations of users with a highly developed sense of aesthetics, where clichéd and derivative solutions are avoided in functional and spatial solutions.” How do you understand this general provision more precisely?

Piotr Korduba: This is a laboratory building, whose current interiors have continued without major changes since its construction in 1913. Some places look like they could have been used by a historical figure such as Marie Skłodowska-Curie. We expect architects to answer how to reconcile this with our functional needs and aesthetic preferences. What to leave and what to remove? How to approach this historic structure in a modern and creative way?

Willa przy ul. Wieniawskiego w Poznaniu, przyszła siedziba historyków sztuki z UAM

The villa on Wieniawskiego Street in Poznań, the future headquarters of art historians from UAM
- Interior on the first floor serving microbiologists for decades

Photo: Jakub Głaz

Jakub Glaz: How is your institute to function in its new premises?

Piotr Korduba: The architect is supposed to think carefully about what a modern science and teaching building is. He needs to pay attention to how our students spend their time between classes, to see that they need not only a coat rack, but they need somewhere to sit, socialize, find a free socket for a charger, work remotely between classes. It will also be important to think deeply about the functions performed by the reading room, somewhat in the spirit of what we have already done, renovating the reading room at the current site. We abandoned the traditional layout there. There are places to work and rest. The reading room is decorated with Baroque sculptures and other historical objects.

Michal Mencfel: While working on the regulations, we shied away from creating overly precise ideas about the building and decided to give much more freedom to architects in the arrangement of functions. At first, we wrote into the functional-utility program ideas about where we thought this or that office should be located. However, we crossed out quite a lot.

Willa przy ul. Wieniawskiego 3 w Poznaniu

Villa at 3 Wieniawskiego Street in Poznań—one of the teaching rooms

photo: Marcin Sokalski

in the city and for the city

Jakub Glaz: Have you conducted an analysis of the needs and habits of students and employees?

Piotr Korduba: No. Observing the young people studying with us, we see that it is increasingly difficult today to define a clear and lasting student profile. Every few years we are faced with different habits and approaches to studying. These changes are occurring at an accelerating pace.

Michal Mencfel: This building, by the way, serves not only them and the university staff, but also the city community. Because that's what a university is today—it must be open and cooperate with the community. It should be much more than a research and teaching facility. It must also be, among other things, a model institution, for example, regarding the implementation of sustainable development goals and cooperation with urban institutions. Autonomous, but wide open has the city.

uam panorama kaponiera wieniawskiego collegium minus uam park mickiewicza opera poznań

1. view of the villa above the tracks from Roosevelt Street, on the left—NOT, on the right—Collegium Minus;
2. Mickiewicz Park, on the left—the villa, on the right—the opera house (Grand Theater).

photo: Jakub Głaz

Piotr Korduba: So we intend to invite people to the villa for debates, lectures and presentations, which we are now organizing by necessity in a dispersed manner—outside our premises: at the Zamek Cultural Center or the Pod Czarnym Kotem winery, among others. A place that can serve such events in the courtyard is the space by the impressive sandstone-lined wall of the neighboring office building of the Supreme Technical Organization. We see it as an ideal place for a summer cinema serving, for example, screenings of art films. In addition, there is a wicket in the provisions of the competition, which—in addition to scoring the work—allows, as an option, to propose an expansion within the courtyard for an exhibition or multipurpose space. All in case the university someday finds the money for a richer utility program.

uam taras historia sztuki collegium minus zamek poznań uam not poznań wieniawskiego konkurs

The immediate vicinity of the villa. 1. view from the terrace accessible from the staircase; on the right—UAM's Collegium Minus,
on the left—the park and Mickiewicz Square and the tower of the Castle Cultural Center; 2. characteristic wall of the NOT auditorium on the border of the property

photo by Jakub Glaz

Jakub Glaz: There is a chance that you will thus enliven a beautiful, but somewhat secluded and bypassed place.

Piotr Korduba: Animating city life was one of our goals when we fought strenuously to stay in the center as an Institute and not to move with the entire History Department to a campus in outlying Morasko. The place of certain majors, especially in the humanities, is downtown. After all, the laboratory of our work is not only this edifice, but the entire urban space, to which one must have good access. In this case, the location is ideal: in a place symbolic of the university, in the historical fabric and in the transportation heart of the city, which will certainly make it easier for students to commute and participate in other cultural and professional activities they undertake outside of their studies.

interviewed Jakub Głaz

The vote has already been cast