On October 1st, 2014 (International Music Day) the new headquarters of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (Narodowa Orkiestra Symfoniczna Polskiego Radia) in Katowice was opened.
The new building’s inauguration was celebrated with a concert, with performances of works by composers who have collaborated with the orchestra in the past: Witold Lutosławski, Krzysztof Penderecki, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, and Wojciech Kilar. The second part of the concert featured one of the most prominent Polish musicians, Krystian Zimerman
The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra is the best-known and respected Polish ensembles. It is hard to believe that up until recently it didn't have its own proper headquarters – the rooms the musicians used to occupy in the Katowice Cultural Centre did not meet the necessary conditions for performing or recording. The need for a suitable building had been under discussion for years. Finally, an international architecture competition for the building’s design was announced in 2008. The winning concept was conceived by a Silesian architect, Tomasz Konior, in collaboration with the Kozłowski Acoustic Studio from Wrocław.
Konior is experienced in music-related architectural projects. In 2007, the construction of the new wing of the Katowice-based Academy of Music, namely the Symfonia Centre of Musical Science and Education, designed by him, was completed – the brick building later received many awards. Four years earlier, his studio developed new interior design for the same academy’s old building. Tomasz Konior’s most recognized projects include the building of a school and cultural centre in Warsaw’s Białołęka district (2003-2005), restoration and expansion of the Brewing and the Regional Museums in Tychy (2004), and the District Court in Rzeszów (designed in 2002, constructed in 2010).
Although the competition for the PNRSO headquarters concerned only a single building, its participants were obliged to take a very specific context into account: the edifice was to be located on a vast plot of land, near the famous Spodek (“saucer”) hall and spread along the busy, multilane Roździeński Avenue. This post-industrial area (formerly the Katowice Coal Mine) has been repurposed as the so-called Culture Zone. This area now hosts the new building of the Silesian Museum (on the former mine grounds), an international conference centre, and the PNRSO's headquarters.
Tomasz Konior describes his project:
Most important in this project were music and the context: on the one hand, of the place, i.e. the former Katowice mine area, which is now emerging as a new cultural centre, and on the other, the more general one – of regional identity. The new PNRSO headquarters was meant to be musical and Silesian, we wanted these qualities to transpire even in its shape.
While the Silesian Museum has been concealed underground inside the historical mine, and the dark, fractured walls of the Conference Centre are topped by a green roof open to the public, the form of the Orchestra headquarters was designed to be in a direct dialogue with the region’s history.
"The building is monumental, but nevertheless simple, in a way that reflects its significance as the most important concert hall in the region," emphasises the architect. The music-related functions are contained behind a brick elevation. Its form echoes the local landmark settlement Nikiszowiec and other Silesian familoks – specialized multi-family residences built for the workers of the heavy industry in the early 20th century. These brick settlements are commonly associated with Silesian architecture, which the PNRSO design returns to. The elevations of this cuboid structure have been covered with hand-burnt brick and divided by vertical fissures with carmine side walls, inside of which are hidden windows and arcades. "This motif derives from the traditional architecture of Silesia, where the workers’ houses – the familoks – usually had their window frames painted in red," the architect explains.
The external shell of the building is an example of architecture that is modest, elegant and accessible to anyone. It contains an exceptionally designed interior, whose acoustic and technological facilities are of top international quality. Inside the building are over one hundred rooms of various kinds. The chief one – the heart of the edifice – is the Grand Concert Hall. It acts as a building within a building, as it is constructed as a separate and independent form, inserted in the middle of the brick object. Thanks to this, as well as to the thick black concrete walls, no sounds from the outside can reach it. The black box of the concert hall (which could be compared to a lump of coal) has some of the best designed acoustics in the world, which were co-devised by the architect, the Kozłowski Acoustic Studio and a group of world-renowned experts from the Nagata Acoustics Company. The Japanese engineers have previously worked on such projects as the Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles (designed by Frank Gehry), Phoenix Hall (designed by Kenzo Tange), Calderwood Performance Hall in Boston (designed by Renzo Piano) and Danish Radio Concert Hall in Copenhagen (designed by Jean Nouvel). They are also taking care of the acoustic design of the forthcoming Prague Philharmonic designed by Jean Nouvel. Their involvement in the PNRSO design is to be largely credited to Krystian Zimerman and his personal engagement in the process.
The interior design of the main concert space is a combination of the classical arrangement, whereby the stage is in front of the audience seats, and the so called vineyard format, according to which the audience encircles the orchestra.
– Gazeta Wyborcza described the structure.
Its 1800 seats are spread over five floors. Thanks to its careful design, which also included the seat arrangement and the material they were made out of, the hall will provide perfect conditions for experiencing, recording, and performing symphonic, chamber, recital, and organ music. It can easily hold up to a 120-piece orchestra and a 100-piece choir.
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
henryk mikołaj górecki
Separated from the external world, the Grand Concert Hall has been surrounded by the four levels of the building’s outer belt. That is the location of the Chamber Hall (for three hundred listeners, twenty musicians and twenty choir members), a professional recording studio, rehearsal and practice rooms, dressing rooms, office rooms, and the remaining additional and technical spaces. Between the outer belt and the black block of the Grand Hall, the architect placed an atrium for the audience members. As he says: “this is the music lovers’ zone, a kind of a public square or a string of streets with a glass ceiling.” In here, people will be able to discuss a concert or use a network of footbridges, steps, and lifts to reach other parts of the building and the cafés, restaurants, or a music bookstore located there.
The modest, but nevertheless elegant and smart, form of the orchestra's headquarters is uncontroversial, corresponds with its surrounding, and contributes to the Culture Zone. The only shame, however, is that part of the building has been hidden behind concrete acoustic screens placed between the building and the multilane Roździeński Avenue. This is unfortunately what happens when a freeway runs through a city’s centre. The road, running inside of an trench, separates the newly created Culture Zone from the neighbouring university campus. If it wasn’t for the busy road, these two areas could be combined into one big cultural and academic quarter.
I know a lot of concert halls across the world that are effective, or even spectacular, visually, but don’t attract the audience. I hope that won’t be the case in Katowice, as one can feel the project’s embeddedness in its surrounding.
– Alexander Liebreich, one of the world's most celebrated conductors, said in an interview with the local edition of Gazeta Wyborcza .
Now, music lovers from around the world will have the opportunity to verify whether Tomasz Konior and his collaborators have managed to create an architecturally and technologically remarkable building.
Author: Anna Cymer, October 2014, transl. AM, February 2015