Urban Planning/Institutional: Museum of Polish History
Warsaw, Poland

Competition Date: 2009
Area: 2.8 million square feet

The new Museum of Polish History is an important architectural and cultural development for the city of Warsaw. Located on the Skarpa Warszawska, a linear park on the west bank of the River Wisla in the heart of the city, the new museum will take it’s place among some of the most historically and culturally important buildings in Warsaw. The site for the new building holds a special significance as it’s location is above the freeway, creating a welcoming gateway to the center of Warsaw for people entering the city from the East.

The trench created for the freeway violently interrupted the continuity of the scarp and affected its environment by separating the two sides of the park. This created a break in the connectivity, ecology, and significance of the area. The new museum grounds heal the tear in the landscape created by the freeway by “stitching” together the two sides of the scarp, linking them with pathways and filled-in areas, as well as the museum building itself, which re-establishes the continuity of walking and recreational features within the park. The re-creation of the axial walk as a grand boulevard that connects the historic castle on the site to the plaza brings back the classical significance of axial circulation.

Protection of the landscape and preservation of the site environment are goals that are central to our design, and we are very concerned with keeping as much of the existing greenery intact as possible. With this in mind, we located a large portion of the museum over the freeway and created a variety of new green spaces to enhance and repair the ecological damage caused by the freeway and the insertion of the museum. The placement of the building over the freeway is not only environmentally sensitive, but it is also conducive to all the other goals desired for the environmental protection of the site, such as the reduction of air pollution, noise, and storm water.

The successful implementation of a transportation and circulation plan is a crucially important factor of encouraging visitors to the park. We have created a transportation hub at the park entry plaza which links freeway and surface street bus routes and creates a convenient transportation alternative. The transit hub transforms the entire site area into a focal point. Bicycle routes and parking have also been provided throughout the site, evolving the area into not only a cultural center, but also an area of outdoor recreation and exploration.

The museum is designed as a route of adventure, with its vibrant curving and sloping walls and roofs. Covering the building is a green roof that arches upward, allowing visitors to walk around, enjoy the gardens, and observe phenomenal views. From the sky, the building is a stylized letter “P” for Polska. This representation pays tribute to the wealth of Polish history. The museum is clad in red and white sound-absorbing panels that represent the colors of the flag of Poland.

The Museum of Polish History’s layout is open to its surroundings through functional and visual connections with its interior space. The interior courtyard is surrounded by a glass wall, creating a space that feels both indoor and outdoor at the same time. The circulation through the galleries mimics and continues that of the circulation throughout the site. It is an open and living space that is a dynamic representation of Poland’s history.

The prominent location within the site has become a symbol of Warsaw, making a very strong, memorable statement about the past, present, and future of Poland and the significance of the treasures the museum contains. The new Museum of Polish History makes a strong example of the beauty and profound value of modern architecture, all the while paying homage to its magnificent historic surroundings.