A black rectangular building, divided in two by a green passage, stands next to the famous Spodek (‘Saucer’) in Katowice. This is the International Conference Centre (ICC) designed by JEMS Architects, which provides a modern space for culture along with the New Silesian Museum and the headquarters of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra.
On 23rd March, 2015, the building of the ICC was handed over to the site manager, or the city authorities. This marked the official end of all the finishing work, as well the completion of the so-called Cultural Zone begun in 2006 – a post-industrial area extending along Roździeński Avenue, recently occupied by three flagship investments of the Silesian local government. The aim of these projects is to help build the image of Katowice (still very much associated with industry) as a city of culture, business, and education. According to a 2005 decision by the local authorities, the Katowice Coal Holding gave up the land of the former Katowice mine located in the city centre in exchange for other land, in order to allow for the creation of the Silesian Museum. The architectural competition was conducted in 2006. Subsequent competitions were held two years later for the design of the new sites of culture, which were to appear in the former industrial area – the headquarters of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra and the International Conference Centre. The three buildings form the above-mentioned Cultural Zone, which houses institutions in the heart of the city and allows access to cultural events, fairs, conferences, and congresses.
The 2008 competition for the design of the ICC was won by the Warsaw-based studio JEMS Architects. This was their first project in Silesia, and it was not an easy one: the architects remember the challenge of designing the structure which was to stand next to one of the most iconic works of Polish architecture – the Saucer, which Jerzy Szczepanik-Dzikowski from JEMS discussed in the pages of the portal Katowice24.info:
It served as a reference and competing with it would have been improper. Powerful architectural forms reject each other when they stand side by side.
The competition required the new facility to both respect the modernist character of the neighborhood, and to take into account the historical route linking the site with the Bogucice district situated to the north-east.
The general idea of the project was to create a complex which would not only provide functional and utilitarian solutions, but would also respect the social fabric of the city. The edifice, with its simple, distinctive and explicit form, is integrated into the public space by providing links along the functionally important axis connecting Honour Square in front of the Saucer hall (also the most important transport hub in Katowice) with the oldest historical part of the city named Bogucice.
– says the centre's website
JEMS Architects proposed the construction of a simple cube-shaped building, divided in two by an irregular gap. Its layout recreates the course of the old road to Bogucice, and its interior serves as a public space. The sloping walls, roof and ground of the passage have been covered with grass, turning its undulating surface and steps into a comfortable seating place, perfect for meetings, leisure, and recreation. Such a solution, whereby a building loses part of its cubic capacity in favour of a recreational area, is not typical of Polish architecture. The authors have called it a ‘green valley’.
While JEMS Architects are known for creating buildings of stone and concrete, the ICC in Katowice was designed in a different way. The walls are covered with an expanded black metal mesh, made by cutting and stretching metal sheets. This elaborate cladding contains glass elements, which open the view to the remainder of the Cultural Zone and the Saucer, and at the same time protect the interior from excessive sunlight. The black metal mesh of the ICC could be associated with the industrial past of the area, but the grass growing over the ‘green valley’ softens the expressive character of this material so rarely used on the walls of buildings.
The International Conference Centre in Katowice was established to host congresses, conferences, exhibitions, fairs, and performances. The largest room in the ICC has 9,000 seats and 12,000 standing places. In addition, there are a number of smaller meeting rooms, a banquet hall, an auditorium and a foyer, wide enough to easily transform into exhibition or fair space. The ICC has also been connected with the Saucer through a corridor, allowing for the organisation of large-scale events in both places simultaneously. Representatives of the local authorities and the Silesian voivodeship are convinced that the modern conference centre will put Katowice on the map of cities hosting major international congresses, important summits and prestigious meetings. The attractive architectural design by JEMS Architects will certainly contribute to the fame of the place.
international conference centre in katowice
international conference centre
New Silesian Museum
The Cultural Zone in Katowice (composed of a museum, a modern concert hall and a conference centre) has significantly broadened the cultural, educational and conference offerings of Katowice, and each of the three buildings stands out with its unique architecture appreciated both in Poland and abroad. The urban planning of the complex has nevertheless faced some criticism. Each building is in fact a separate ‘island’, enclosed by undeveloped terrain with parking spaces and access roads. Moreover, the area is cut off from the rest of the city by Roździeński Avenue, an expressway hidden behind noise barriers. The lack of additional infrastructure does not encourage residents and guests to visit the Cultural Zone for a purpose other than reaching one of the buildings. Each of them has been surrounded by greenery or squares for visitors, but the site does not form a coherent whole and the carefully designed public spaces are disconnected by a concrete carpark, discouraging people from walking around the Zone. For now, the three buildings play as ‘soloist’, while it would have been much better if they played together, creating a new cultural district.
Author: Anna Cymer, transl. Bozhana Nikolova, April 2015