Once the super-modern edifice equipped with elevators, escalators and photocells was one of the most perfect examples of interwar modernism. In 2007 the Riegler Riewe Architekten bureau proposed that the exhibition spaces be hidden as far as 14 meters below the ground in order to expose the monuments that once were part of a mine and to create a public space surrounding the museum.
In January 1929, when the Silesian Congress was bringing into being the Silesian Museum, probably no one expected the turbulent fate wich awaited the seat of this institution. After the plebiscite of 1921 which resulted in a part of Silesia becoming part of Poland, the building of a museum in the capital of the region – Katowice – became a political issue. It was necessary to create an institution that would handle the collecting of memorabilia and spiritual culture which had been made in Silesia, the presenting of these memorabilia and the popularizing of knowledge about the history of Silesia. The preparations for the building of the edifice of the new institution went on for a long time – the first competition was announced in 1929 and was never resolved. In 1934, Karol Schayer, the most important architect active in Silesia in those times, was finally entrusted with the designing of the edifice of the museum, which was to symbolize the independence of the said region.
Right next to the monumental form of the Silesian Congress, the construction of a huge museum complex went under way in 1936. This museum complex was shaped like the letter H and had eight stories. Once this super-modern edifice equipped with elevators, escalators and photocells was one of the most perfect examples of interwar modernism. In the summer of 1939 the construction work was over and the edifice was soon to be put into commission. That of course didn’t happen – in 1941 the Germans deconstructed the building. Today in its place a socialist-modernistic edifice stands, which was designed in the 50s by Aleksander Franta and Henryk Buszko.
For the next 40 years, the role of the Silesian museum was played by the Upper Silesian Museum in Bytom. The institution named Silesian Museum was reinstated as late as after 1984. The authorities assigned a 19th century hotel in Korfanty Avenue as seat of this museum. Though conveniently located, the building was too small for the needs of the institution, therefore in 1986 a competition for a new building was announced. Back then a vision proposed by Jan Fiszer won. However the rights to the plot on which the museum was to be erected had not been secured and the project vanished. The makeshift Silesian Museum’s operations in a historical hotel – lasted until 2014, when the construction of the institution’s new building was finished.
The international competition for the architectural concept of the new edifice of the Silesian Museum was announced in 2006. The competition encompassed not only the design of the museum’s building but also the design of the development of the area surrounding this building – the museum was to be built on the site of the Coal Mine “Katowice”, which had been shut down in 1999. The competition was resolved in June 2007. The 18 submitted designs were evaluated. The first award went to the proposition of the Riegler Riewe Architekten bureau from Graz. The Austrians proposed that the exhibition spaces be hidden as far as 14 meters below the ground in order to expose the monuments that once were part of a mine and to create a public space surrounding the museum. Apart from new objects containing exhibition spaces, the designers also had to include historical objects in the design of the new complex: the machine room, the winding tower of the shaft “Warsaw” and the former clothing warehouse. The winding tower was turned into an observation tower, the warehouse was adapted for the needs of the Centre for Polish Scenography and a restaurant was opened in the machine house.
The main building of the museum has seven stories – four of which are above ground (offices are located there). Apart from this structure no new large objects were created on the premises of the museum – above ground one may only see glass boxes, through which the exhibition rooms are lit. These boxes are milky, semi-translucent, they resemble minimalistic lanterns sprouting from the post-industrial landscape. The whole architectural setting is dominated by the silhouette of the mining shaft's tower – a symbol most characteristic of Silesian landscapes.
"The heart” of the museum, the exhibitions, are located below ground level. This has an easily readable symbolic meaning – after all for centuries what was most precious in Silesia was extracted from below the ground. In the underground part of the complex one may find exhibition spaces lit from above, conference rooms and educational rooms, a library, museum workshops, technical, storage and auxiliary rooms as well as the main hall which is large enough to accommodate a concert or spectacle. The complex is to be officially opened in June 2015 – until then workers of the museum will be installing a permanent exhibition here.
The Silesian Museum was built near the famous Spodek, opposite the university campus and directly next to two other new and immensely important urban developments: the building of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra and the International Congress Centre. Together with these developments the museum will create a complex of public utility objects, which will probably attract thousands of people and will constitute an important spot on the cultural and educational map of the region.
The website of the museum: www.muzeumslaskie.pl
Author: Anna Cymer, August 2014
Translated by: Marek Kępa