Warsaw's new MoMA

I can’t remember a time when there was so much new and relatively exciting development going on in Warsaw. In mid-construction we have the national stadium, the Copernicus science centre, the Jewish museum and the new north bridge and shortly to join that list is the new Museum of Modern Art next to the Palace of Culture. There’s also threatened to be a Museum of Polish History built next to Ujazdowskie Palace, a competition has been held and won late in 2009 but I can’t find any dates for construction. I’ll try to cover all those that are underway sometime over the summer but for now lets look at MoMA.

The story of this museum started back in 2005 when the project was announced and guidelines set down. Late that year an architectural competition was organised but it ultimately failed to get anywhere thanks to some rather strange conditions that discriminated against both international firms as well as smaller Polish firms. This led to the entire jury resigning in mid 2006 and the whole thing starting again with new rules and the eventual selection of Christian Kerez as the winner. There were then further delays while everyone worried about how to remove the large enclosed bazaar that stood on the site of the new museum, know locally as the KDT (Kupieckie Domy Towarowe). They eventually bit the bullet and evicted the traders after some protests and you can see from the photos below that demolition works are now well underway with that well named demolition company “Kruszer”. [Edit – since I wrote this it has been completely flattened]

If you’re badly missing your fave rajstopy-trader from KDT, rumour has it that many of them have moved into the lower floors of what I call “Dubai tower” on Jerozolimskie – actually called Millennium Plaza.

There has been much complaint about the selected design for the new MoMA. Christian Kerez’s building is not the most exciting design from the outside and many people would have preferred something more immediately inspiring, more of an obvious landmark for the city rather than something that could be mistaken for a multi-story car park. There is, of course, an explanation. One that might persuade the more architecturally intellectual people that this was the right choice but I’m not sure it’s going to persuade many others:

Kerez has built relatively few buildings; yet those executed are characterized as strikingly beautiful in their stringent preciseness. The concern for precise investigation of clear architectural concepts has made Kerez one of the most influential recent architects from the Swiss architectural scene.

“My interest in reduction to essentials has nothing to do with modesty and restraint…The reduction that I aim for heightens the elements of architecture. It makes architectural relations more radical and more visible”

Kerez recent works radically exploit the concept of space. This clearly seems true with his latest project, the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. Here a stringent façade is hiding an unexpected and varied landscape of light within the building. Kerez denial of creating an expressive proposal for the museum can be seen as a move away from the trend of expressive iconic museum buildings. His seemingly modest approach hence hides a radical content, not being dictated by current trends of stylistic expression.

“It is not an extravagant icon, a visible beacon of form. It’s a building that only comes to life on the inside” Christian Kerez on The Warsaw museum project

This is actually a brilliant piece of mumbo-jumbo. “Okay, it might look like crap from the outside but when you actually get inside the finished building you’ll be amazed!”. Which of course is hard to disprove until you can walk inside the finished building a few years from now so the architect has plenty of time to work something out. Let’s hope it does not turn out to be the Emperor’s new clothes because this could become a regular venue for me when I”m in need of an inspirational lunch-break.

Here is the winning design, thought by some to be in desperate need of a Carrefour or Auchan sign on the roof:

And here are a few others that were considered:

Gareth Hoskins Architects – got nowhere

Szaroszyk & Rycerski Architekci – 2nd Prize

Tamizo Architects – got nowhere

Atelier WW Architekten – 3rd Prize

I quite like the Gareth Hoskins version although, depending on exactly what those materials are, it is potentially the most expensive to build. I wonder if there there will be an entrance fee to pay and if so, how much?

I think Poland has a great deal of artistic talent to offer so I hope they manage to fill this with plenty of good inspirational stuff. The exhibits in the Ujazdowskie palace tend to be a little too “deep and impenetrable” for my liking so I’m hoping a place this size will have room for the whacky as well as the slightly more mainstream.

Anybody want to enlighten us as to what is likely to be exhibited there? This perhaps – Włodzimierz Pawlak, Poles forming a national flag, 1989:

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21 thoughts on “Warsaw's new MoMA

  1. PMK says:

    What the world needs is another MoMA!

  2. guest says:

    Scatts, Kerez changed the design of the museum…

    It will look like this



    the most exiting construction will begin in the next week. And especially You will/should be positively surprised… :)

  3. bob says:

    Good blog on this subject Pan Scatts. Looks like they left plenty of room at the front for the new bazaar chock full of tables and people handing out leaflets for English schools or selling shoelaces.

    Think that this museum is the highest and best use of the land?

  4. Monika says:

    Giant linoleum floor exhibit in the hardware store…..

  5. island1 says:

    It’s funny, I have the same feeling about Krakow at the moment—new museums bridges and squares popping up or in the works all over the place.

    I remember them building the KDT—didn’t last very long did it?

    I welcome a Polish MoMa. I have no idea what contemporary Polish art looks like: it’s not allowed within 20 km of Krakow in case it scares the tourists.

  6. guest says:

    island, there is a Magdalena Abakanowicz exhibition in Krakow. This is how it looks like ;)

  7. island1 says:

    Good video on this link. The building looks good to me: highly functional and not trying to be wacky. Plus the architect has a massive bald head, so he must know what he’s doing.

  8. scatts says:

    Don’t tell me they’re resurrecting Złota 44 ??!!

    Good link, thanks! The new design is an improvement and hopefully it will keep getting better as time goes by. Until the budget gets cut, of course.

  9. guest says:

    Scatts, something much more important. :) You will be surprised :D

  10. bob says:

    They need to get the infrastructure completed so one can get to these museums. The progress on roads/railroads etc is like watching oil based paint dry in a moist environment like the UK

  11. Ewa says:

    Bob – there’s a whopping great big train station that connects to pretty much everywhere in the country next door! And I don’t think it’s an either-or decision. Having a Polish MoMa doesn’t mean fewer roads…

  12. Dawid says:

    As far as I remember, the runner up in the competition was a stunningly un-angular silvery shape that, according to its supporters, would be a perfect antithesis for the Palace of Culture and Science right next to it and could rival the likes of Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao in its tourist value. I tended to agree with them. Sadly, we ended up with this modest design. Shame. Still, it’s going to be much better that what used to be located there…

  13. Dawid says:

    I found it! It was a Polish-Finnish collaboration and would look like this:


    Stunning, isn’t it?

  14. guest says:

    No it isn’t. Kerez architecture is timeless and this “guggenheim” thing will be totally boring in 20yrs….

  15. Pawel says:


    Kerez design is boring now already!

    So who wins?:>

  16. scatts says:

    Hmmm. I know they’re doing Emilii Plater soon, thank God, so hopefully that’s it. Or maybe a giant chip shop cum Chinese take-away in Młociny? ;)

  17. scatts says:

    Dawid, it looks like a giant advert for Play mobile!

    Seriously though, that really is an architect’s wet dream. Would cost a fortune to execute and even then it wouldn’t look much like that rendering. Cleaning it would be a lot of fun too!

    Are you sure it came second? I thought the Szaroszyk & Rycerski Architekci effort got the 2nd Prize, as pictured in the post.

  18. scatts says:

    From their website:

    Temporary Activities

    Starting from January 2008, the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw runs its programme activities in a temporary space on Panska 3 street in central Warsaw, in close proximity to the future construction site of the Museum’s building. The exhibitions, events, educational programmes and publications provided by the Museum today help to develop the full range of activities the Museum will run in the future, after the proper building is opened. The Museum constantly expands its offer to the public, focusing on modern and contemporary art, graphic and industrial design and architecture. The Museum’s main mission today is the creation of a proper art collection, relevant for the Museum’s institutional outlook and its new building.

  19. guest says:

    100 points for Emilii Plater ! ;)

  20. I liked that original design much more. Minimal, somewhat beton-brutish lump; way ahead of any Bilbao fiddly-piddly pretensions. The current design is still OK, but I feel that Kerez made some concessions to the frothing, teeming, angry plebs, which desperately needed something a bit more fancy than he at first proposed.

  21. Dawid says:

    It might have been something like “honourable mention” or whatever. I’m not sure, it’s been some time since I read about it in Polityka.

    The problem is, Poland is full of stunningly ugly leftovers from communism. You can’t offset that with dubious “modest elegance” by Kerez.

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