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Scandalous roof over the Arsenal. Old Market disfigured

15 of November '23

It was supposed to be discreet, foldable and barely visible. It is clumsy and permanently attached. The new canopy of the walkway in Poznań's Old Market is a disrespect for the architectural and cultural context. The historic surroundings and architecture of modernism have been disfigured. What are the reasons for this spatial and aesthetic illiteracy?

A bizarre canopy has been installed over the passageway between the 1962 modernist pavilions in the middle of the Old Market. The primitive bulky form of steel and polycarbonate had already appeared there in the spring, but it seemed to be a temporary solution or a failed fitting for the final shape. This was indicated, moreover, by the visualizations shown earlier by the City—very different from the real effect (variants of the concept are shown later in the text). However, it turns out that a massive, and asymmetrically installed roof with the beauty of a parking shed is the target form. This was publicized over a week ago by a Facebook profile Poznaniator, critical of the City (and, making it easier for decision-makers to discredit it, still anonymous).

Zadaszenie nad pasażem przy Galerii Arsenał na Starym Rynku w Poznaniu

The canopy over the walkway by the Arsenal Gallery in the Old Market in Poznań—disturbed view from the south of the Mielżyński Palace

photo: Jakub Głaz

average design, good scale

The arcade separates the pavilions that house the Arsenal City Gallery and the Wielkopolska Military Museum. The contemporary form of these buildings is still highly controversial today; there is still no shortage of calls for their demolition. This is because after the war the very tall tenement houses of the early 20th century were not reconstructed in this place, and the plans for the historic-style buildings were abandoned—due to the lack of serious sources on its former appearance.

Thus, a modern complex of buildings was created, consisting of two two-story pavilions separated by a walkway and a taller gallery block connected to one of them. It refers by its simple triangular gables to the shape of tenement houses (designed by Regina Pawula-Piwowarczyk, Jan Cieślński, Zygmunt Lutomski). The architecture of the whole is correct at best. To its detriment, moreover, were always poor workmanship and materials, and permanent neglect. A big plus, on the other hand, is the modest scale, which opened up views from the south and west to the City Hall, which was obscured before the war.

Zadaszenie nad pasażem przy Galerii Arsenał na Starym Rynku w Poznaniu

The canopy over the walkway at the Arsenal Gallery in the Old Market Square in Poznań,
view from the south, in the foreground a sculpture of St. John of Nepomuk, the roof cuts the viewing axis to the City Hall block

photo: Jakub Głaz

The installation of the canopy took place during the currently ending renovation and reconstruction of the interior of the Arsenal, which was taking place in parallel with the protracted general renovation of the Old Market (replacement of all underground installations and pavement, archaeological research, revaluation of lighting, introduction of previously non-existent green enclaves). Unfortunately, the pavilion housing the Museum is not being renovated. It belongs not to the City, but to the National Museum (MKiDN), which did not get its hands on the renovation.

under the roof more culturally

Where did the idea of covering the walkway come from in the first place? This solution was pointed out by residents and specialists during a series of consultation meetings in 2015. The memory of the attractive Passage of Culture arranged in the passage between modernist pavilions during several editions of the Malta Theater Festival (the last time in 2012) was alive then. Under a temporary canopy designed by Stefan Bajer, concerts, screenings and meetings were held, and the Passage was a lively festival center. The great cultural potential of the place, which had previously been dead and neglected, was then revealed. A decision was therefore made to give the Passage an attractive and flexible form during renovations.

Jedna z wstępnych koncepcji autorstwa pracowni DEMIURG

One of the preliminary concepts by the DEMIURG studio,
you can see the four elements from which the passage's lightweight canopy was to extend


According to the original intentions, the canopy was to be discreet, lightweight and collapsible or extendable—in such a way that it was almost invisible when folded. In this way, the scenic axis running through the passage along Wroclawska and Wroniecka Streets would remain undisturbed. However, what has been created disturbs this axis and, in addition, violates the symmetrical layout of both pavilions when viewed from the Market Square slab.

The design is different from last year's visualizations, but also from conceptual try-outs from a few years ago by the DEMIURG studio (the City did not hold a competition for the passage space). These designs were consulted by the multi-discipline Team for the Old Market, which for almost a decade has been working at the City Hall giving its opinion on all intentions related to the renovation of the city's most important square (the author of this text is its member).

Subsequent concepts, however, were no longer the subject of consultation, and the task—taken over by the company Poznańskie Inwestycje Miejskie—was handed over to the Warsaw design firm Graph'it (it is by Graph'it that last year's visualizations are made).

Nowsza i ostatecznie zmieniona koncepcja zadaszenia z zeszłego roku, proj. Graph

A newer and finally revised concept of the roofing from last year, designed by Graph'it
there is no longer an option to extend the roof, it can only be dismantled

© Graph'it

snow on a non-flat

So why the changes? Why is the roof sloped? For what reason is it higher than in the visualizations and interferes with views of the townhouses and City Hall? How did the appearance of the structure's sheathing change? A fascinating answer was provided by regional WTK television channel Maja Chłopocka of Poznań Municipal Investments, which is leading the activities at the Market :

It was assumed that the sheathing would be made as a cushion of double-layer blown film, while a single-layer she athing was used. After the changes, the roof is cheaper to operate, as it only needs to be cleaned once, at most twice a year. Otherwise, cleaning would be more expensive due to the non-flat shape of the roof. [The completed roof can withstand the snow load so it can be left for the winter without being removed [...].

The last sentence shows that Maja Khlopocka does not know what the original idea of the folding roof of the arcade was. It also shows that the city company responsible for major investments seems to lack people with basic aesthetic sensitivity.

Zadaszenie nad pasażem przy Galerii Arsenał na Starym Rynku w Poznaniu

The canopy over the walkway at the Arsenal Gallery on the Old Market Square in Poznań
View from the north, on the left—Military Museum, on the right—Arsenal City Gallery

photo: Jakub Głaz

And what about the approval of the office of the Municipal Conservator of Monuments? Here the matter is more complicated. The MKZ office constantly has to intervene during the renovation at the Old Market, and—prioritizing matters concerning historic substance—has „let go” somewhat of the subject of the pavilions, which are not even in the register of monuments. It is also possible that the proposals for changes submitted to the MKZ did not accurately show their scale and impact on the neighborhood. It was also impossible to abandon the canopy, as advocated by the MKZ, because of EU funding for the transformation of the Arsenal.

Zadaszenie nad pasażem przy Galerii Arsenał na Starym Rynku w Poznaniu

The canopy over the walkway at the Arsenal Gallery in the Old Market in Poznań—view from the south from Wrocławska Street

photo: Jakub Głaz

will no one convene?

Has the opinion on the matter been expressed by the Team for the Old Market? In February the City stopped convening its bi-weekly meetings, so nothing is consulted. It is therefore difficult for its members to intervene. Incidentally, Wojciech Krawczuk, president of the Poznań branch of SARP, spoke on the matter, commenting on reports about the roof on the Poznaniator profile:

Wrong, there was already once a physical roofing according to the design of arch. Stefan Bajer (Passage of Culture—Arsenal Gallery, 2009), [...] there was a concept and a functional-utility program (by Demiurg Sp. z o. o., 2017). And now there is „this,” and all in all, it's unclear why „this” is there, who is responsible for „this,” and why, despite previous agreements, „this” was allowed, and yet with public money „this” was financed. [...] I'm counting on the Team to speak on this issue, because apart from individual statements for myself, one or two members of the Team, it is difficult to consider this an official position. I don't think it's why we're committing huge public funds, time and experience of so many competent people to now allow some kind of "aesthetic" optimization during the final stage of implementation.

Will a meeting of the Team be convened? So far, there is no indication of that. Regardless, the roof over Poznań's Passage of Culture is only suitable for removal and replacement with a solution on a high technical and aesthetic level. The City authorities' pretense that the problem does not exist can be considered another manifestation (we have written about similar cases) of extremely poor organization of spatial activities by the magistrate and its PIM company.

Jakub Głaz

The vote has already been cast