“The city must completely disappear from the surface of the earth and serve only as a transport station for the Wehrmacht. No stone can remain standing. Every building must be razed to its foundation.” Those were the chilling words of SS chief Heinrich Himmler in October, 1944 as Nazi forces in Germany organized the “Planned Destruction of Warsaw.” Specialist engineers were deployed to demolish house after house—paying particular attention to historical monuments. An estimated 10,455 buildings, of which 923 were historical buildings were destroyed amounting to nearly 90 percent of Warsaw’s architecture.
Since the dark days of the second world war, the Polish capital has been on a long road to recovery, both socially and culturally. To save their city, residents after the war embarked on a five year project which UNESCO says saw a “near-total reconstruction of a span of history covering the 13th to the 20th century.”
Thomas Phifer+Partners’ project is special. Warsaw has, of course, been developing, and rapidly so. but the majority of these projects are not architecturally unique to the city. Instead they have been the product of financial inflows and corporate demand, which does little to aid Warsaw’s architectural diversity. Connecting the buildings to Defilad Square and Świętokrzyskie Park, the new Museum of Modern Art and TR Warsaw Theater by Phifer’s practice are radically different from the context of their surroundings.
A marked shift in typology and style, the designs look to both culturally and architecturally enliven the square in the city center, engaging the public with the art and performances inside. This is achieved via the use of an open auditorium and educational spaces of which can be accessed by visitors on all sides.
The museum makes use of tactile materiality the firm described as “simple and honest.” This is said to be inspired by abstract works of art. Wrapped in white scrim, the facade is intended to capture the light and shadows of the passing day. Meanwhile the theater emphasizes its permanence with a cast-metal facade.
Such a contextual change in materiality offers a distinct abstraction in color tone and texture and perhaps indicates that Warsaw has entered a new era of development, design, and architectural identity.