NArchitekTURA completes memorial park and exhibition centre in Oświęcim, Poland

The memorial park 'Paths of Life' and the education and exhibition centre Oshpitzin by NArchitekTURA for the Auschwitz Jewish Center honours the city’s Jewish history.

by STIRworldPublished on : Dec 17, 2020

In the Poland’s Oświęcim town, where the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II was located, a Jewish education and exhibition centre and memorial park stand as a symbol of a new kind of historic architecture. The Krakow-based architecture firm, NArchitekTURA, has completed the duo project this year, honouring the city’s Jewish heritage.

The exhibition and education centre Oshpitzin has been designed keeping in mind the original historic fabric of the location. The interiors have been the main space of intervention by the architects, with an overall shaping of the exhibition kept in mind. The idea is to extend a sense of uncovering the past as one walks through the exhibition, experiencing history in its many layers. Starting from 2014, the project was completed in stages, with its final finish taking place in 2020.

The Jewish Centre - an education and exhibition facility that honours and tells the story of the region’s Jewish population| Oshpitzin | NArchitekTURA | STIRworld
The Jewish Centre - an education and exhibition facility that honours and tells the story of the region’s Jewish population Image: Jakub Certowicz

A necessary factor while working on the exhibition was to keep in mind the theme of ‘unveiling and exploring layers of the history’. The interior walls lend themselves to different methods of exposure (of photographs, documents, historic objects, films etc.) and the walls have been traversed by bands with niches to create this effect of a multi-functional web surrounding the viewer. A line of light ‘cuts’ through the vaulted ceiling of the main hall and highlights the axis which connects the entrance, separate exhibition rooms, and the open terrace overlooking the castle in Oświęcim.

An exhibit within the Oshpitzin centre | Oshpitzin | NArchitekTURA | STIRworld
An exhibit within the Oshpitzin centre Image: Jakub Certowicz

The main exhibition features copper panels and a sanded streak in copper, which shows the various phases of aging - from frosted aquamarine, through bronze, gold, and a reflective mirror-like plane. The vision behind this treatment of the material is inspired by historical exhibits from the collection of the Centre. Through the perforated surface of the copper block, viewers can see a movie which depicts the daily life of ancient Oświęcim inhabitants.

The view from the outside of the Oshpitzin Centre | Oshpitzin | NArchitekTURA | STIRworld
The view from the outside of the Oshpitzin Centre Image: Bartosz Haduch

The interiors boast of interesting lighting effects that change according to different times of the day. The rays fall inside onto the digitally cut letters that make up the name of the city. In the other exhibition rooms, a band image appears on a rusted sheet which exposes handwritten letters of local families through the perforations of the surface.

For viewers to be directed inside the exhibition for sightseeing, triangular prisms made of copper and rusty metal are put in place as direction markers. For the south side of the exhibition, old walls have been stripped of any paintings to expose the original form of the interior decorations, including leaving the irregular stains on the walls and prints of the old framework. The south side has tall windows and multimedia projections that enhance the older frameworks, creating an enveloping effect of history and modern life.

The Paths of Life Memorial Park | Oshpitzin | NArchitekTURA | STIRworld
The Paths of Life Memorial Park Image: Piotr Strycharski

For the Memorial Park, architect Bartosz Haduch took inspiration from the grey sandstone slabs which he encountered a decade ago. The memorial is on the same grounds of a temple which was taken down 80 years ago. The choice of slabs is not visually striking with its irregular cuts on the surface but indicate the history of the material’s industrial origins. And while the slabs look like they have been placed, they are meant to symbolise the ruins of the Great Synagogue (1863-1939).

Top view of the sandstone slabs of the Memorial | Oshpitzin | NArchitekTURA | STIRworld
Top view of the sandstone slabs of the Memorial Image: Piotr Strycharski

The Memorial Park’s entrances have been adapted to the already existing communication paths, while also framing two other local landmarks - the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Helper of Christians. With 40 of these slabs, the new square of this park opens up to the surrounding embankments of the Sola river. The individual slabs also form pathways to other aspects of the park: the exhibition centre, a “well” with a historical floor, a shallow water pond, Corten benches and a chandelier (which is a copy of artifact discovered during the archeological scope of the place).

Architect Haduch says, “Dimensions, shapes and colours of these new forms are all associated not only with Jewish tradition, but also with universal symbolism, legible for different confessions and cultures. This new space has an open character allowing for different ways of using, commemorating and interpreting”.

Pathways in the memorial, marked by the sandstone slabs | Oshpitzin | NArchitekTURA | STIRworld
Pathways in the memorial, marked by the sandstone slabs Image: Bartosz Haduch

The memorial has been aptly titled “Paths of Life” and the name manifests itself in the arrangement style and material choice for it. The slabs have been decorated with “frieze”, which is made of many grooves of varying depths and the cut in stone lines create something like a singular relief which plays off the atmospheric and lighting conditions of the day. However, the material’s unique patterns were never planned by the architect. They were a product of their time’s treatment in the quarry and were reused for the purpose of this memorial.

The criss-cross patterns of the sandstone slabs | Oshpitzin | NArchitekTURA | STIRworld
The criss-cross patterns of the sandstone slabs Image: Bartosz Haduch

Talking about the geometric patterns of the sandstone slabs, Haduch mentions, “The criss-crossing cut-in-stone lines also take on a symbolic dimension. Without any clear beginning or end, they seem to be heading towards infinity. This dense network of lines evokes the paths of human life, that sometimes just intersect, and at other times connect to go on together. A seemingly abstract mosaic may also resemble the now defunct urban layout of a pre-war city – its streets, pavements and buildings”. The memorial stands as a place for future generations to observe and view the history of Oświęcim.

Both these projects were led by Bartosz Haduch and Łukasz Marjański of NArchitekTURA in collaboration with Magdalena Poprawska of Imaginga Studio.

(Text by Shreeparna Chatterjee, editorial trainee at stirworld.com)

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