There are architectural firms, which prefer to build housing estates and single-family homes. There are those that specialise in large public and commercial projects. And there are also those like WXCA that try to find the best design for buildings erected in difficult, specific historical contexts.
When the results of the architectural competition for the design of the new headquarters of the Polish Army Museum in the Warsaw Citadel were announced in September 2009, the winners were viewed with scepticism. First prize was awarded to a young studio, which had not worked on any significant projects and had officially existed for only two years. At the same time, the idea to transfer the Polish Army Museum from the backrooms of the National Museum to the Citadel was widely discussed, and the competition was a prestigious one.
A team of architects from WXCA designed 22 acres of roofed space for an outdoor exhibition, but the complex is dominated by a vast square, which is to fulfil representative functions. The new building in the shape of a long rectangle clad in Corten steel will provide a setting, a frontage for that square. What is important – the architects of the new building tried to respect the existing urban context, so as not to alter the historical layout of the fortress, and they included elements of the Citadel in their project.
As the architects described, the neighbouring park has also been woven into the story about the army, which begins in the museum. The adaptation of existing heritage structures and the multifunctional use of the site in the form of outdoor exhibitions, an amphitheatre and a playground for children constitute an attempt to create a cultural park around the theme of the history and present state of the Polish Army.
As Szczepan Wroński, co-founder of the firm, explained, an important point of reference for the project was the Old Żoliborz surrounding the Citadel – a unique pre-war district with characteristic urban planning and architecture. The new headquarters of the Polish Army Museum in the Warsaw Citadel is expected to be ready in 2015.
The architectural firm located in Warsaw was founded in 2007 by two graduates of the Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning of the Warsaw University of Technology, Szczepan Wroński and Wojciech Conder. Since 2011, the studio has been led by Szczepan Wroński and Marta Sękulska (from 2012 Sękulska-Wrońska, also a graduate of the Warsaw University of Technology), and together with them the team comprises twenty architects.
WXCA’s biggest project so far has been the Palmiry National Memorial Museum near Warsaw completed in 2012. Next to the graves of Polish and Jewish residents of the capital murdered here during the Second World War, an exhibition pavilion was created (selected in a competition; WXCA received first prize).
The structure of the museum had to fit in the specific context of the memorial place and the exceptionally rich natural environment of the Kampinoski National Park. The task was difficult and required considerable sensitivity. The architects chose simplicity and austerity: they designed a rectangular pavilion with large windows facing the rows of cemetery crosses, not allowing the visitor to forget where he is. The remaining walls of the pavilion were built in concrete and Corten steel whose ascetic austerity matches the white trunks of birch trees growing nearby, as well as the concrete crosses. The holes in the steel plates on the walls of the pavilion (equalling the number of murdered Polish citizens by the Germans) may be associated with the bullets, which were used to shoot people in the forest.
In 2012, SzczepanWroński’s team took part in the competition for the building of the European Centre for Geological Education, which is to be built in a quarry in Chęciny on the request of the University of Warsaw, the Marshal’s Office of the Świętokrzyskie voivodeship, the Kielce powiat and the Municipality and City of Chęciny. WXCA received second prize, but in accordance with the rules the first two winners had the right to negotiate with the investor. The Warsaw firm took part in them, together with the first place winner, Marek Budzyński. Ultimately, it was the design proposed by WXCA that was chosen for realisation.
A complex of five buildings, including representative and didactic buildings, hotels for staff and professional laboratories will strike with simplicity: the arrangement of minimalist structures made of stone and glass is meant to – as the architects described – ‘create a regular wall, closing even further the defined interior space of the quarry’. The buildings will rise from the bottom of the quarry like stone blocks, creating an environment, which is as natural as possible to the geologists working and studying there. The five buildings in Chęciny are to be ready in five years.
In 2012, the WXCA studio won one more competition: for the adaptation of the historic building of the old power station in Białystok to the needs of an art gallery. The post-industrial site located on a river is to become a cultural institution (the investor is the Arsenał Gallery), which is open to its surroundings. The architects developed a system of platforms, which will connect the gallery building with the park alley over the riverbed. At the level of the water surface there will be a terrace, which could be used as an outdoor exhibition space.
Further proof of the architects’ success in projects related to history, and their positive attitude towards seemingly less prestigious competitions, is their design for the revitalisation of historic railway stations in Puszczykowo near Poznań and in Koło. The first dates from 1911 and is a typical example of German architecture, while the second one was built in the 20s in the then fashionable ‘national style’. Not only were the buildings restored to their former glory, but they also acquired new functions (for example, a hotel and a library were built in Koło). All these projects required close cooperation with the heritage conservator, which is considered as an inconvenience by many designers.
The WXCA architecture office has received numerous awards (the Palmiry pavilion was nominated for the most prestigious award in Europe – the Mies van der Rohe Award, and also won the European Property Award), and has received at least an honourable mention in most competitions. The architects pride themselves on choosing team members from different backgrounds, so that projects for difficult and complex locations (such as citadels, quarries, but also shipyards or historic parks) are not only visionary but also feasible.
Author: Anna Cymer, transl. Bozhana Nikolova, March 2015