Today, on the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Lahdelma & Mahlamaki Architects-designed Museum of the History of Polish Jews will open. Located within the boundaries of the former Warsaw Ghetto, where over 300,000 Polish Jews lost their lives during World War II, the 12,800 sq m facility will partially open to the public today with the remaining core exhibition spaces due to open at the beginning of 2014.
The building was designed by Finnish firm Lahdelma & Mahlamaki Architects in collaboration with local architects Kurylowicz & Associates as part of an invited competition in 2005. The partnership beat out submissions from Kengo Kuma, Studio Daniel Libeskind and David Chipperfield to secure the significant project. The museum remembers the hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews who lived in the Warsaw Ghetto in the early 1940s, many of whom died within its boundaries.
With its square footprint, the museum is simple in its plan and from a distance appears as a simple glass form but on closer inspection one can see that its façade is split by a sprayed concrete crack. This glazed gash forms the main entrance space and is inspired by the parting of the seas or ‘Yam Suf’. Lahdelma & Mahlamaki Architects explain that this divide is ‘a rite of passage or transcendence between the long trajectory of Polish Jewish history and a symbolically generous opening to a pacific and fertile culture’.
The façade blends vertical silk-printed glass louvers with copper panelling and enables large volumes of bright sunlight to flood the interior spaces. One third of the building will be taken up by the core exhibition space which will be open from early 2014. The rest of the museum comprises temporary exhibition space, a multi-purpose conference room and concert hall, an education centre with associated film projection and workshop space, and a restaurant and café for visitor use.