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Poznan makes scenes

04 of August '20

Competition for the development of an architectural concept for the headquarters of the Musical Theater in Poznan

encore competition

This was not the first competition for a new Musical Theater headquarters, already forty-five years ago, the operetta house, which got its current name then, was to stand on the southern outskirts of the strict center - near Królowej Jadwigi Street (the Old Brewery [Studio ADS, 2003/2007] and the skyscrapers of the financial center [Ewa and Stanisław Sipińscy, PFC - 2001, and Andersia Tower - 2007]). The first prize then went to the Warsaw team consisting of: Ryszard Trzaska, Zdzislaw Jońca, Janusz Olszewski. Earlier, in 1965, the same team won the competition for the new wing of Poznan's National Museum, completed in 2001, and in a heavily modified form.

In the case of the Musical, however, the concept ended and the operetta tabernacle remained in its accidental location - the Soldier's House (Wladyslaw Czarnecki, 1939), where it has been housed since the 1950s. In 2012, the city institution began to be managed by the young and ambitious Przemyslaw Kieliszewski. The new director significantly refreshed the repertoire and character of the shabby stage, betting on musicals and new artists, while striving to build a modern theater.

theater over the track

The search for a suitable plot of land lasted quite a long time. In play were the buildings of the Old Gasworks on the Warta River, the former Olimpia cinema and a plot of land after the bus station near the train station and the Poznań fair. The Gasworks, although an ideal site for a cultural center, discouraged the city investor with its complicated ownership structure. Conservation restrictions and guidelines also proved to be a considerable challenge. Meanwhile, alternative theaters moved into the Olympia, which was strained by the teeth of time, from the barracks, and the PKS ended up in the hands of a developer, who is now putting up office buildings there.

The final choice was a plot of land next to the historic Academy of Music building, which had the advantages of a central, exposed location and no ownership problems: the land belongs to the city. However, there is a lot missing from the ideal - the downside is the location by the busy Kaponiera traffic circle and a wide trench with tracks leading to the Central Station. The canyon, like the river, cuts through the city, but unlike the Warta River, it lacks scenic value, especially after recent tree-cutting by PKP. Although the plot is located at a busy traffic junction, access to it is via a small side street, Skośna Street, at the back of the Academy of Music.

The complex context of the site is also a big challenge. The plot is located on the outskirts of the so-called "imperial district" built up at the beginning of the 20th century with representative edifices: among them, a neo-Romanesque castle (now the Zamek Cultural Center) and neo-Renaissance buildings occupied by Poznan universities. The site for the theater is thus strongly exposed and enters into a relationship with the silhouette of the imperial establishment visible above the open space of the railroad tracks and the Kaponiera traffic circle (the scaled-down and redundant form of the latter was fixed during the recent modernization).

Finally, vis-à-vis for two years stands the already iconic Baltic office building designed by the Dutch atelier MVRDV. The scale, high quality and shape of the Baltic redefined the incoherent space around the traffic circle, for which the city so far has no idea. Admittedly, the idea of covering the tracks with a built-up platform has been recurring for decades, but neither the construction of the so-called "new station" (2012) nor the modernization of Kaponiera (2010-2016) fit into such a scenario, on the contrary - they are in opposition to it.

showcase in plain sight

The theater building, which is to stand in such a place, must therefore not only be a modern, functional stage, but also a solid perfectly inscribed in the complex context and, as the organizers wished, "a contemporary architectural form of the highest quality, meeting high functional requirements, able to become a showpiece of Poznan." They also added that "special attention is required to build a proper relationship between the Music Theater building and the Music Academy building, which is under strict conservation protection."

The competition study also included an urban planning concept for the area along the PKP tracks between Kaponiera and Dworcowy Bridge, where the city plans to make a connection between Skośna Street and Składowa Street. Interestingly, the building envisages a maximum of sixty parking spaces. In line with the policy of eradicating excessive vehicular traffic from the city center, the organizers pointed to public transportation access or the use of a nearby multi-story parking lot next to the traffic circle as the optimal solution.

The designers were also given very specific tasks regarding the interiors: to design two stages: the main one for nine hundred and two hundred spectators, and an intimate one for two hundred and two hundred and fifty, meeting the exacting acoustic and technical parameters. The two halls, which also serve as recording studios, were also to be assigned by the architects independent foyers and spectator service areas, as well as a cafeteria also available outside performance times. The functional program of backstage facilities, especially elaborate in performance-oriented theaters, was also a challenge.

In the first stage, the jury chaired by Boleslaw Stelmach, among others the head of the National Institute of Architecture and Urban Planning, had to face the materials submitted by forty-four teams (including fourteen from outside the country). Six made it to the second stage: Atelier Loegler Architekci from Cracow, JEMS Architekci from Warsaw, Studio Architektoniczne Kwadrat, KD Kozikowski Design - both from the Tricity, and teams involving Poznan offices: ARPA by Jerzy Gurawski with SKI Studio by Blazej Szurkowski, and Atelier Starzak Strębicki working with London-based DRDH Architects.

Opera repeat

Ultimately, in the opinion of the jury, the competition requirements were most fully met by the work from the office of Romuald Loegler. An experienced and award-winning designer, with a track record of more or less successful realizations of musical stages (the Lodz Philharmonic and the controversial Cracow Opera), proposed a dynamic mass covered with an irregular broken roof, with glazed elevations enlivened by an irregular drawing of diagonal vertical divisions. On the side of Kaponiera and Swiety Marcin Street he envisaged a section for spectators, in the middle - the main hall for one thousand two hundred and three people, and on the south - rehearsal rooms, technical and office rooms and warehouses. He designed the chamber hall on the lower level.

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First prize - Atelier Loegler Architects; view from the space of musical dialogues

vision: © Atelier Loegler Architects

The jury laconically and quite generally justified its choice, appreciating "the originality and relevance of the design, especially in terms of its connection with the surroundings and the use of the natural terrain. The court gave the highest marks to the way it relates to the surrounding buildings and the shape of the volume that fits into the panorama of the downtown district, and draws attention to the openness of the expressive form, the inviting character of the foyer, the aesthetics of the entrance area."

Indeed, the corner, visible from Kaponiera, gives a friendly impression, although the entrance lacks more intimate solutions to protect against noise and drafts hounding the traffic circle area. Through the elevations, varied with risers of "whalebones" designed to reduce urban noise, one can see the spacious spaces of the foyer and the carmine-colored lump of the auditorium, inserted into this glass box, surrounded by an irregular composition of ramps and footbridges, which the author intends to be "an enclosure of internal communication and enable [...], in addition to its communicative function, visual contact with the city."

The amphitheater-like interior of the main hall, with a dynamically carved lower balcony that hangs semicircularly over the audience, is also drab red. Both the color and layout of the hall impose a direct association with the main body of the Krakow Opera House (Loegler's design was one of two whose authors were easy to identify). While red in the foyer is acceptable, a more subdued color scheme would have been useful in the interior, which should focus the viewer's eyes on the performance.

Loegler's dynamic proposal is certainly the most spectacular of the final six, and this determined the verdict in line with the demand for a new "showcase of Poznań." The question remains open whether this rather flamboyant object will not dominate the harmonious silhouette of the establishment of more than a century ago. Of course, if Loegler, who already has to his credit award-winning but unrealized Poznan projects, finally leaves his fingerprint here.

hall as from the Swiss

The competitors were not so decisive and operated with more modest means of expression, fitting better or worse in a not easy context. The second place winners, JEMS Architects, which needs no introduction, referred more to the railroad area than to the historic architecture of the center, hence the simple block with a gabled roof interspersed with a concrete dominant - a tall cuboid of a shoestring. Both the proportions and the shape are very strongly (who knows if not too strongly) reminiscent of the yet unrealized project of the Museum of the 20th Century in Berlin by the famous Swiss Herzog & de Meuron (2016).


Second prize - JEMS Architects; axonometric view

vision: © JEMS Architeksi

What's common with JEMS here is a multi-layered facade. Two shells of accordion-treated corten mesh form a cover for the glass facades and a roof treated the same as the walls. "The four facades, together with the roof, form a light openwork structure - a mantle, a lantern - covering the interior, hovering above the concrete plinth," the designers explain.

Unlike Loegler, the architects locate the first floor of the building below street level, leading to it, among other things, through a diagonal square cutout in the floor of the plaza in front of the theater. They also design the main hall differently. It's a more intimate solution, calculated for nine hundred and fifty spectators. The fan-shaped, rather shallow auditorium provides a better, more intimate contact with the show or interaction between the audience and the artists. Also, the finish of the walls and their colors give this space a calm expression, far from the pomp present in the winning work.

JEMS' work remained one of the two favorites until the end of the jury's deliberations. Second place was decided, in part, by the excessive similarity to the Berlin project, the not best thought-out interiors, the entrance area and - the warehouse inspiration. The latter would have been more apt a kilometer away, in the area of the so-called Free Tracks, where warehousing facilities stood until the end of the first decade of this century, more - to this day there is a ruined complex of former Railway Rolling Stock Repair Plant with halls whose shapes perfectly rhyme with the JEMS proposal. The authors of the work were probably aware of this dissonance and tried to justify it with the industrial mood of the visualizations. You can see tankers and coal cars on them, but such sights are a thing of the past, freight trains have been bypassing the city center for four decades.

a quarter century too late

The only Poznań resident on the podium was Jerzy Gurawski (in cooperation with the studio of Błażej Szurkowski), equally distinguished and of a similar age to the first prize winner. The author of many Poznan realizations referred to himself in the design - it was the second work whose designer could be guessed before the list of award winners was revealed. The symmetrical glass facade, rounded at the corners, and the sand-colored side elevations, with vertical window slits, correspond stylistically to the new wing and concert hall of the Academy of Music, which Gurawski has designed since 1989 (realization: 1997, 2006). A plus is due for consistency, as there is no denying that the aesthetics of the experienced architect's latest proposal clings to his own patents from a quarter of a century ago.

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Third prize - ARPA Architektoniczna Pracownia Autorska Jerzy Gurawskiego | SKI Studio Błażej Szurkowski;
view from the exit of Bukowska Street

vision: © ARPA Architektoniczna Pracownia Autorska Jerzy Gurawskiego | SKI Studio Błażej Szurkowski

Thus, the jury was left with no choice but to conclude that "doubts are raised about the object's structure being too classical in relation to the very broad and diverse mission of the Musical Theater. Such proposals for the object in the city landscape are unconvincing."

While the massing didn't particularly appeal to the judges, they noted the very well treated function and entrance area. This confirms the class of the designer, who was a stage designer at the Grotowski Theater for many years, and in recent decades has been involved in designing stages and auditoriums for musical institutions and modernizing theater spaces (including the aforementioned adaptation of part of the Polish Theater and a project for the Opera House - Grand Theater).

honorable mention instead of honorable

The three equivalent awards, which went to the hands of the remaining designers, were in fact not an honor of merit, rather an honorarium for the design work done, in accordance with the idea of the Flemish formula. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the organizers decided on this form of reimbursement (also included in the amounts of the main prizes). Nevertheless, among the non-awarded works, the work of the team Atelier Starzak Strębicki and DRDH Architects deserves mention. The massive block is significantly different from the other proposals, the authors themselves call it a zikkurat. And while the project, on the one hand, makes a successful nod to the silhouette of the city by limiting the height, the rather clunky massing derails these efforts. However, the urban aspect is worth appreciating - the designers proposed a plaza in front of the entrance shielded by a wing projecting in front of the front, isolating it from the busy Kaponiera and the winds blowing from the west.

wyróznienie Starzak

honorable mention - DRDH Architects Atelier Starzak Strebicki - Architecture Studio; axonometry

vision: © DRDH Architects Atelier Starzak Strebicki - Pracownia Architektury


  • Bolesław Stelmach, SARP, NIAiU - chairman of the Competition Jury

  • Joanna Bielawska-Pałczyńska, Municipal Conservator of Monuments

  • Krzysztof Frąckowiak, WOIA - referee

  • Wojciech Grabianowski, architect

  • Przemysław Kieliszewski, Director of the Musical Theater in Poznan

  • Janusz Lichocki, co-owner of EPSTEIN design company

  • Mariusz Napierała, stage designer

  • Katarzyna Podlewska, Department of Urban Planning and Architecture of the UMP

  • Katarzyna Andrzejewska - secretary (without voting rights)

  • Dorota Wróbel - secretary (without voting rights)

The vote has already been cast