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The Story of Father Jerzy. Project of the Museum of Father Jerzy Popieluszko in Okopy

23 of June '21

Nizio Design International 's studio team has developed a concept for the body, permanent exhibition and interiors of the Museum of Blessed Father Jerzy Popieluszko in Okopy, the clergyman's home village. Filled with symbolism, the museum, dedicated to the chaplain of the Warsaw "Solidarity" movement who was assassinated in 1984, also called the Father Jerzy Memorial House by Miroslaw Nizo, though with a modern form, is inspired by the simplicity and sincerity of the architecture of Podlasie and eastern Mazovia. The project is scheduled for completion in 2024.

The sercem of the premise will be the Place of Sacrifice - a chapel covered with a gabled roofsercem of the premise will be the Place of Sacrifice - a chapel covered with a gabled roofsercem of the premise will be the Place of Sacrifice - a chapel covered with a gabled roof

The heart of the establishment will be the Place of Recollection - a chapel covered with a gabled roof

© Nizio Design International

Ola Kloc
: This is another of your projects with a heavy emotional load in terms of history and patriotism. You have to your credit, among other things, the Mausoleum of Martyrdom of Polish Villages in Michniów, awarded a few days ago in the Architectural Award of Polityka competition, there is also the Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews during World War II in Markowa, and the National Museum "Memorial to the Victims of the Great Famine " is being built in Kiev . What are the challenges of designing objects dedicated to an often difficult history?

Miroslaw Nizio: These projects are difficult because they involve different histories, sometimes tragic, traumatic ones. The responsibility of our studio and mine personally is that we have to convey the facts, team up to ensure the historical accuracy of a given narrative. Building anything in the dimension of identity, history, must be preceded by a thorough analysis of factual materials, preparation at the curatorial level, verification and confirmation of individual threads in close cooperation with historians. Of course, in the case of permanent exhibitions, curators and exhibition experts have a special role. As a designer, I would not be able to sign off on substantive and historical threads without having the basis, the relevant knowledge to do so. This is a difficult and responsible task - just as an architect is responsible for objects that have a function, must meet certain criteria and qualities.

: The object is to commemorate a tragically deceased clergyman, what's more it will be built in his native village in Podlaskie province. Your task was to prepare both the architectural concept of the object and the exhibition itself. I imagine that the design process involved many meetings, experiencing the place, sensing the atmosphere. How did the memory of the figure of Father Jerzy Popieluszko influence the shaping of the project, its narrative?

Miroslaw Nizio: I remember the reality and atmosphere of the times when Father Jerzy lived and what happened when he was assassinated. I think I am able to capture that atmosphere quite well. Father Jerzy served a good cause, freedom, truth, through his personality he united and united people. He fought for the good. This place will not only be a commemoration of the clergyman, but also a space for meetings, conversations and prayers of pilgrims. Also for the local community, this object means a lot in the dimension of memories of Father Jerzy.

The preparation of the conceptual design was entrusted to my studio by the Father Jerzy Popieluszko Foundation "Dobro". We were commissioned with this task, bearing in mind the experience of building narratives in the museums in Markowa or Michniów, as well as this sensitivity that we represent as artists moving in the specific field of architecture and exhibition. The concept was three years in the making. The design was preceded by discussions, thoughts, sketches. The project evolved, and I am very happy that it did, because it matured, not only in the imagination of the family and those involved, but also in mine.

The key to understanding what the place, the object and the exhibition itself should look like were factual materials, memories of the family, Mr. Joseph, Father Jerzy's brother, preserved photos, stories, conversations with friends of the clergyman, people who had the opportunity to meet him.

Given that the facility will be built in Father Jerzy's birthplace in Okopy, we looked at the surrounding modest buildings of stone, yellow bricks, wood. I noticed a peculiar thing in these areas, around Podlasie and Eastern Mazovia - modest wooden or stone chapels, which became my inspiration. The shape of the masses was also influenced by the churches - Gothic, with attics, with concave.

Muzeum księdza Jerzego Popiełuszki w Okopach

Museum of Father Jerzy Popieluszko in Okopy

© Nizio Design International

Since the building, in addition to a place of recollection, is also to house a permanent exhibition, an auditorium, an administrative section, and space for temporary exhibitions, it could not just be a shrine, a place of reflection, but also a house-museum that would tell the story of Father Jerzy and be open to accommodate a larger group of pilgrims. That's why I didn't want to overload the context with a large block, to upset the proportions. In my imagination, the chapel was created as a visible element in the landscape, with an additional display area immersed at forest level.

Approaching the shrine, with the forest as a backdrop, one encounters a distinct edge, symbolizing the dam in Wloclawek, which reminds one of the place where the priest's body was found. Then, already below ground level, we begin to enter this narrative of depicting the tragic death of the clergyman. It is also worth mentioning the material - the object will be made from aggregate of local stones, not from materials brought from other areas, but from this very place. These aggregates will be used to create blocks of 80 × 40 centimeters, the main building block for the entire establishment. Thanks to them, the block in the external part will be slightly moved, certain flaws, cuts and clearances will be noticeable, intended to symbolically reflect the tragic history of Father Jerzy. Thus, the building itself will begin to "speak", tell a little about this history.

The na selected blocks of the main memorial wall will display the names of priests persecuted during the communist periodna selected blocks of the main memorial wall will display the names of priests persecuted during the communist periodna selected blocks of the main memorial wall will display the names of priests persecuted during the communist period

on selected blocks of the main wall of remembrance will be placed the names of priests persecuted in the period of the People's Republic of Poland}

© Nizio Design International

Returning to the thread of the wall on the forest side - here we can already see the stone blocks moved in a very dynamic way. Water will flow down them, accentuating the dramatic overtones of this place in the dimension of the history of the clergy. Stepping inside, into the Memorial House, we arrive at a place of recollection that is a bit of a crypt, a chapel, a bit of a place of reflection. Surrounding the memorial will be a permanent exhibition. Here the story of Father Jerzy, will be told chronologically - from his birth to his death, funeral and beatification, we will show the sources and inspirations of his life choices. All this will be supplemented with archival materials, memorabilia, photographs. Thanks to this, visitors will also get to know the story of Father Jerzy's birthplace, childhood, home, family, studies, times of youth. All this will be prepared on the basis of reliable data, materials and information, notes, statements of the priest himself, recordings of his masses, which tell a lot about his outlook on life and spiritual message. An interesting element of the permanent exhibition, which will allow us to look at the figure of Father Jerzy in a slightly different way, will be the reconstruction of his Warsaw apartment from Chlodna Street - we want to literally move this interior, recreate a thirty-foot space, which will contain books, paintings, notes, to which it will be possible to look, to feel Father Jerzy's presence in this place. The exhibition space will include items that were present in Father Jerzy's life, as well as videos with memories of the clergyman's friends and acquaintances. The facility will also include a temporary exhibition space. I call the entire premise the Father Jerzy Memorial Museum-Dom, because it is to perform a very important function - to connect and remember, to tell the story of the priest's life and tragic death.

dzięki the clearances in the wall of the utility rooms of the Memorial House will fill with daylightdzięki the clearances in the wall of the utility rooms of the Memorial House will fill with daylightdzięki the clearances in the wall of the utility rooms of the Memorial House will fill with daylight

thanks to the clearances in the wall the utility rooms of the Memorial House will fill with daylight

© Nizio Design International

This project was a big challenge. I am aware that we had to create a timeless object, which will be a space that connects and unites people. The thread of materials, shapes, connections matured slowly. The idea was not to create only a nice, aesthetic form, but to build in every detail, in every detail, something that will be understood in a symbolic sense. The development of the entire site is immersed in the rural landscape. We thought it would be natural for this environment if we left stones on the grounds, which will be cut and prepared so that one can sit on them, instead of benches. The stones will be reminiscent of those on which, while living in the Trenches, Father George sat while praying or talking with relatives. These elements have not only a design meaning, but also a very personal, substantive and intimate meaning.

: In the visualizations, both outside and inside, the block gives the impression of being extremely sensual - the raw texture of the materials used is perceptible, the atmosphere is created by the play of light obtained through narrow clearances, you can almost hear the sound of water, which is supposed to remind you of the place where the clergyman died. Did you first think about the symbols you wanted to include in the block or the architecture itself?

Miroslaw Nizio: The project went through various phases. Initially I planned to put up only a wooden house. However, over time, given the power of the message and the history, we decided that we needed to do something intellectual and philosophical, but at the same time simple and sensual, which would be felt by people at every level of perception. But also felt by looking for symbolic elements. I tried to find the key to the truth, to look for these threads. It seems to me, for example, that the search for the symbolism of the cross in the designed object may be a path that the visitor will have to find on his own. In fact, at first I did not think about water, this dam, "waterfall", it was born in the course of urban analysis, during the infusion into the object of this "second bottom", the second element, which is the exhibition.

The prześwity bring out the symbol of the cross from the solidprześwity bring out the symbol of the cross from the solidprześwity bring out the symbol of the cross from the solid

clearances bring out the symbol of the cross from the solid

© Nizio Design International

In design, not everything is known from the beginning. Analysis, gradual formulation of the solid, study of the context can sometimes bring surprising solutions. The same was true for the design of the Mausoleum in Michniów, which won the Internauts' Prize in the Architectural Award of Polityka a week ago. In the case of the segmented body of the Mausoleum, we don't see everything right away. We don't initially see the rifts in the structure of the building, the disintegration of the mass and the degradation of the architecture, and it dovetails with the degradation of the world we talk about in the permanent exhibition - viewers arrive at this thread with their own sensitivity, observation and imagination, and it is crucial in building the narrative. Both the creators and then the visitors have to get to know the object on their own intellectual level, through their own experiences. Here everyone can perceive something different.

wieczorem and night the upper part of the Focus Place will resemble a stone lanternwieczorem and night the upper part of the Focus Place will resemble a stone lanternwieczorem and night the upper part of the Focus Place will resemble a stone lantern

in the evening and at night, the upper part of the Focusing Place will resemble a stone lantern

© Nizio Design International

: However, with the tools at the architect's disposal, he can direct a specific feeling.

Miroslaw Nizio: It's not like I'm doing something randomly, rather I'm thinking about who will be looking at these projects and trying to understand how they might perceive them. The form, shape, material are so sensual that it seems that they will be understood by everyone. Of course, the architecture is one thing, it is extremely important and constitutive of the Memorial Museum-House, but the place for such a literal learning of Father Jerzy's story will be the permanent exhibition. Exploring his life, going through the exhibition, we can return to the solid and architecture, and perhaps more maturely understand why it is so. And that, it seems to me, is beautiful.

Ola: Thank you for the interview.

Ola Kloc

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