BBGK Architects know the recipe for timeless and fitting forms of building. The Katyń Museum designed by them got to the finals of the 2017 Mies van der Rohe Award competition. In 2019, it was recognised as Europe’s best public building at the Architecture Triennial in Bucharest.
BBGK Architects was founded in 2014, when Jan Belina-Brzozowski and Konrad Grabowiecki, who had previously been working as a duo, were joined by Wojciech Kotecki, the third partner. Today, these three graduates of the Faculty of Architecture of the Warsaw University of Technology employ 40 architects and manage a studio that creates projects of a very diverse character and scale – from urban visions through the modernisation of historic buildings to innovative technical ideas.
In the spring of 2010, the international architectural competition for the design of the Katyń Museum in Warsaw was concluded. The task prepared for the participants was not easy: the new museum building had to be integrated into the Warsaw Citadel, a former Russian fortress erected after the 1830 November Uprising and under strict conservation protection. The first prize in the competition went to the concept developed jointly by Jan Belin-Brzozowski and Konrad Grabowiecki (at that time they operated under the name Brzozowski/Grabowiecki Architects), Krzysztof Lang, the team of Maksa Sp. z o.o., and the artist-performer Jerzy Kalina. The creators of the winning project emphasised that they wanted to create a ‘space of memory’, not a building filled with exhibits, but an area that honoured the murdered and encouraging focus and reflection. Thanks to this idea, Katyń Museum, which opened in 2015, resembles a landscape and encourages visitors to take a meditative walk. It includes underground museum rooms, arranged with light and specially selected materials (the clay niches for exhibits are very impressive), but no less important are the green meadow or the avenue leading along the citadel’s wall. They introduce the viewer to the world of wartime tragedy and the memories of the victims of crime in a less literal manner.
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The Katyń Museum was built into the citadel without any damage to its historic form. In order to refer to the character of the brick fortress, but at the same time to separate the contemporary part of the complex from it, the architects used red-coloured concrete. Its warm, colourful austerity captured the idea of creating a place meant for reflection well. Attentive visitors will notice small images embossed in the concrete walls, such as the eagle and the Virgin Mary imprinted on a gutter. Such imprints in concrete also appear in BBGK studio’s other projects.
The Warsaw Katyń Museum has gained international fame. It was in the final five buildings nominated for the Mies van der Rohe Award 2017, Europe’s most important architectural award, and in October 2019 it was awarded the title of the best public building on our continent at the Architecture Triennial in Bucharest. Although made of concrete, the Katyń Museum also received the Grand Prix in the Polish edition of the Brick Award 2017 competition, in which brick buildings are awarded. The jury appreciated the idea of integrating the new building with the brick monument.
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In 2017, the construction of another famous BBGK project – a residential building at 4 Sprzeczna Street in Warsaw’s Praga district – was completed. The multi-family house was commissioned by the owner of a prefabricate factory who decided to convince the public to use industrially produced building elements (after years of using prefabricates, the reputation of this method in Poland is not very good). BBGK Architects used prefabricated elements to erect a unique residential building in which comfort and functionality were combined with a modern and sophisticated body with a rusty colour and raw concrete facades. The entrance to the building is decorated with an image of the Warsaw Mermaid embossed in concrete, and the hall with a graphic reflection of Warsaw’s panorama (the first image was designed by Dawid Ryski, the second by Edgar Bąk). Apartments also dominate in the majestic Mennica Residence complex, built in the post-industrial areas of Warsaw’s Wola district. Located at the junction of two streets, the complex, connected by a public passage of high apartment buildings, is inspired by the architecture of New York skyscrapers from the 1930s with their timeless simplicity and elegance.
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BBGK Architects, 4 Sprzeczna Street in Warsaw, photo: Juliusz Sokołowski/BBGK
Stone, concrete, prefabricated elements – BBGK studio carefully selects the materials for its projects. The architects used brick when building a town hall in the suburban town of Konstancin-Jeziorna. They decided that this building best reflected the character of the former spa resort, which, nowadays, is a residential town (most of the important buildings in the town are built of bricks). As the architects stress, what was important for the form of the building was the fact that it was the seat of local authorities – those who were supposed to be close to the citizens. Hence the huge windows of the city council’s meeting room, located on the first floor of the town hall. Thanks to it, the sessions are symbolically and literally visible to the residents. The building itself was built in an intimate scale and has a simple structure with a representative facade decorated with the city’s coat of arms visible from the street, with green courtyards and an entrance for visitors. An oak, which can be found in the coat of arms of Konstancin-Jeziorna, was planted at the premises when the building was erected.
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The building’s minimalist silhouette is enriched by a characteristic diamond relief, created by bricks laid in a special pattern and strips of windows enclosed in dark frames. Although in the history of architecture the seat of the authorities was usually located in monumental buildings, BBGK Architects succeeded in achieving the impression of appropriate seriousness and respect in a shape that does not overwhelm or dominate.
BBGK Architects’ new projects demonstrate that the studio feels confident in different scales and styles. At the end of 2016, the modernist pavilion of the Emilia Furniture House disappeared from Warsaw’s city centre. However, the dismantled building from the late 1960s did not find its way to the landfill: cut into pieces, it is now being stored in a car park in Warsaw. In 2016, at the request of Warsaw’s conservator, BBGK Architects prepared a plan to transfer the modernist block to a new site and give it – after some modifications – the function of a winter garden and exhibition and cultural space. Emilia is going to stand at the foot of the Palace of Culture and Science in its new incarnation – enthusiasts of modernist architecture carefully follow this project, and the BBGK team is responsible for maintaining the pavilion’s character. In 2018, BBGK Architects, together with Danish Henning Larsen and A2P2 architecture & planning from Gdańsk, won a competition for the development (the so-called ‘master plan’) of the Imperial Shipyard area, a fragment of the historically valuable area of Gdańsk Shipyard. This huge project aims to transform the post-industrial area into a new district of the city with apartments, services and offices. The challenge is to combine new buildings and functions with historic buildings and respect for the site’s history.
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The same studio is currently working on an innovative project that has the potential to become a model for other cities. Warsaw Social District – a public investment – is to emerge on the border of Wola and Bemowo. It is supposed to be a model area to live in, where all the problems troubling Polish cities will be solved – from fenced houses and housing estates to the excess of cars, lack of greenery and low quality common areas. Last but not least, the estate will be inhabited by representatives of various social groups, as the district will include both developer apartments, as well as municipal, social and rentable flats. This social mix is designed to help residents open up to others and prevent ghettos, closed communities that lose their sensitivity and respect for other groups. BBGK Architects are involved in the development of housing solutions in various ways – in 2018 they won a competition for new prefabrication technology in a competition organised by the governmental unit of BGK Nieruchomości. Not only architects but also the public institution recognised that the industrial production of modern and flexible building materials has a chance to solve at least some of the problems with the housing shortage.
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In all of BBGK Architects’ projects – whether they are intended for implementation, competition or are conceptual – clarity of form, simplicity and order dominate. Although the word ‘timelessness’ is often misused in relation to contemporary architecture, in the case of these projects it probably reflects their spirit in the best way. The Warsaw-based architects do not follow fashions and trends, and their projects try to respond to both the expectations of investors and the important problems of modern cities in a balanced way.
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