Spodek – Bureau of Studies and Projects of Typical Industrial Buildings
small, Spodek – Bureau of Studies and Projects of Typical Industrial Buildings, Spodek in Katowice, photo: Michał Łuczak / Forum, full_spodek_forum_770.jpg
Spodek is a sports and entertainment hall which, due to its untypical look, incredible construction, and place on the city map, deserves to be called an icon of Polish architecture.
The history of Spodek goes back to 1959, when the Provincial Physical Culture Committee appealed to the Silesian department of SARP, asking them to organise an architectural design competition for design for a big sports and entertainment hall. We have to remember that at the time, Katowice was one of the fastest growing cities in Poland – chosen by the authorities to become the ‘industrial capital of the country’. Katowice was enriched then with modern structures that were meant to represent social development, technical progress, and economic success. At the same time as was built, numerous modern constructions were created in the city centre, including the Zenit department store, the Ślizgowiec residential skyscraper, the Separator office building, and the famous Superjednostka inspired by Le Corbusier.
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The Spodek stadium during its construction, 1967, Katowice, photo: Aleksander Jarosiński / Forum
The competition opened by SARP was closed – only a select few design teams were asked to participate in it. The most appreciated design was created by a group headed by Maciej Gintowt and Maciej Krasiński. Their advantage over other projects was hidden in the person of Wacław Zalewski, one of the greatest Polish constructors. He was the one who proposed creating a flattened, upside down cone filled with hanging stands. This extravagant, simultaneously technically and constructionally advanced form was appreciated by the jury as it perfectly fit into the image of a modern metropolis.
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Construction on the building was initiated in 1964. The preparations took a while, because the local authorities decided to build Spodek in a different place than was originally planned: closer to the city centre and the modern buildings along the avenue that connects the market with the roundabout. The new location upgraded the prestige of the planned structure, but complicated its completion – the area was burdened with damages from coal mining and the ground needed to be strengthened before proper construction began. The constructors, Wacław Zalewski, Andrzej Żórawski, and Aleksander Włodarz, together with the architects, Maciej Gintowt and Maciej Krasiński, matched the form created earlier to the demanding terrain. The hall was placed on huge, reinforced-concrete foundations, supported by forty additional flexible poles (which defended the foundations from soil movement, caused by coal mining damages). The foundations support 120 steel ribs that hold the roof, which is 126 metres long. The designers described the roof in a following manner:
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A steel parabolic dome relies on a steel stiffened hoop, from which 120 steel lines radially depart. Each line is splintered twice.
The uncommon construction of the massive dome relies on steel lines for support. In defiance of what we see from afar, Spodek is actually a round building – its cover is in the shape of a circle entered into an ellipse. Despite the fact that buildings of this kind are usually circular, Spodek was from its beginning planned as a multi-functional hall – thus the layout of the stage and the seats had to be elastic. Not only sport events, concerts and exhibitions (including the first display of Fiat 126p) have taken place there but also party gatherings (in 1972 Fidel Castro, dressed in coal mining uniform, gave an address that lasted over six hours). The untypical plan of the hall helped arrange the space into a desired shape. The hall may accommodate up to 50,000 spectators. Today, the place still is often used to host sport (such as the FIVB Volleyball World Championship), music (such as Metallica, Jean Michael Jarre, and Lady Pank), market, shows, and congress events. In the 1970s Spodek was equipped with one of the biggest cinema screens in Poland – film showings gathered crowds of people, e.g. 60,000 people watched The Godfather here in 1973. But spodek is not merely the main hall in the shape of a flying saucer. It also contains a complex of accompanying buildings, including an ice rink, a sports pitch, a hotel, a club, a restaurant, and a medical unit. The whole complex occupies 7 ha.
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Handball World Championships 2016 at the Spodek in Katowice, photo: Mateusz Jagielski / East News
It was constructed from reinforced concrete and steel; in many places concrete appears as a finishing material, and inside the buildings we can also find natural stone as ornamentation. One of the most characteristic elements is the elevation siding. More than 30,000 lightly shimmering bright scales were used. Originally, the scales were made of cement, but they were changed during the renovation in 2011, when the scales were exchanged for aluminium sheeting.
The hall was finally put into use in 1971. Despite the fact that the complex was built next to some other, significant buildings, it quickly came to be the most important of them and a symbol of the city, the region, and even the country as a whole. Spodek has all the characteristics needed to be an icon of architecture. It has a characteristic, spectacular shape and an innovative construction; it is distinct among the surrounding buildings but inspires – it is impossible to copy its form, hence it is one of a kind. Most importantly: since the moment of its creation, the building has gathered lots of positive attention. The 45-year-old Spodek (despite not being a classic relic) is alongside St. Mary’s Basilica, the wooden Gdańsk crane, and the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw as one of the most important Polish buildings.
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Author: Anna Cymer, October 2016, transl. AW, October 2016