Theatrical designs by NArchitekTURA: where exhibition spaces become art

In a bid to decrypt the multi-layered experiential drama that exhibition spaces are capable of hosting, we travel through a handful of projects by NArchitekTURA.

by Divya MenonPublished on : Nov 02, 2022

In the new age catalysed by the pandemic, uncertainty and impermanence are prominent hues that colour the world of man, more than ever. One of the earliest realisations that dawned upon the world of art, architecture and design during this time was the limitation of existing space at several levels, coercing the creative world to revisit spatial concepts and definitions. The exodus of art into the virtual world opened up possibilities and challenges alike, instigating a phenomenal process of metamorphosis of space into newer dimensions. At this juncture, some questions and dialogues are imperative — is space merely an inanimate entity trapped within its own physicality or is it akin to a sensitive living body capable of forming liaisons and interactions?

Vaulted arched 'chapel like' interior of the Wawel Royal Castle designed especially for the exhibition titled Masterpieces from the Lanckoroński Collection, the intimate exhibition Oshpitzin at the Jewish Centre and The Great Synagogue Memorial Park in Oświęcim that also made use of industrial waste material, the colossal monographic exhibition of Stanisław Wyspiański in the main building of the National Museum in Krakow, and a rather mysterious and lyrical presentation of Katsushika Hokusai's works in the same building, proved to be equally evocative exponents of the resilience of space.

  • Masterpieces from the Lanckoroński Collection |NArchitekTURA|Bartosz Haduch|STIRworld
    Masterpieces from the Lanckoroński Collection Image: Anna Stankiewicz; Courtesy of NArchitekTURA
  • Oshpitzin exhibits at the Jewish Centre | NArchitekTURA|Bartosz Haduch |STIRworld
    Oshpitzin exhibits at the Jewish Centre Image: Bartosz Haduch; Courtesy of NArchitekTURA
  • Monographic exhibition of Stanisław Wyspiański at the National Museum in Krakow | NArchitekTURA|Bartosz Haduch|STIRworld
    Monographic exhibition of Stanisław Wyspiański at the National Museum in Krakow Image: Jakub Certowicz; Courtesy of NArchitekTURA
  • Stanisław Wyspiański exhibition| NArchitekTURA|Bartosz Haduch|STIRworld
    Stanisław Wyspiański exhibition Image: Bartosz Cygan; Courtesy of NArchitekTURA

The changing façade of space, the unique synergy between content and space are the protagonists of this narrative that explores both—the pliability of exhibition interiors and the fortitude and inventiveness of the creators of such designs. In a bid to decrypt the multi-layered, multi-dimensional, experiential drama that exhibition spaces are capable of hosting, we travel through a handful of projects by NArchitekTURA.

In a beautiful instance of the coming together of an old town’s spectacular landscape, history, and majestic artistic influences from the past, Poland’s Krakow marked by its cobblestone paths, pinnacles and domes of churches became the venue of the Masterpieces from the Lanckoronski Collection exhibition that concluded on October 2, 2022. Renaissance and Baroque chapels located around the main nave and ambulatory of the Wawel Cathedral, art authored by the masters of the Renaissance age and the quaint landscape around, deeply influenced the design of the exhibition space. 

  • Hokusai.Passages…are a poetic expression of Katsushika Hokusai’s works| NArchitekTURA|Bartosz Haduch||STIRworld
    Hokusai.Passages… are a poetic expression of Katsushika Hokusai’s works Image: Jakub Certowicz; Courtesy of: NArchitekTURA
  • The Great Synagogue Memorial Park where the exhibition Oshpitzin took place| NArchitekTURA|Bartosz Haduch|STIRworld
    The Great Synagogue Memorial Park where the exhibition Oshpitzin took place Image: Piotr Strycharski; Courtesy of NArchitekTURA

The exhibition space, the exhibits, and the world beyond the windows of the Royal Apartments room in the Royal Castle on the Wawel Hill converged to manifest an experience, partly ethereal, partly real, contemporary and archaic, all at once. As STIR speaks to NArchitekTURA’s Bartosz Haduch, the designer of this space, he shares his project diaries in an attempt to explain how technology, art and architectural histories, geographical influences, culture and tradition have often been interwoven into the fabric of space to produce a multi-dimensional tapestry.

Speaking about the exhibition at Krakow, he says, “We believe that the future is best shaped by learning from the past. Historical architecture is an endless source of inspiration for us. In the case of the exhibition at Wawel, we analysed the works of Renaissance and Baroque artists like Michelangelo Buonarroti, Leonardo da Vinci, Rafael Santi, Francesco Borromini, Giovani Lorenzo Bernini and others. The aim was to create a largely surreal space where contemporary forms, technology, and materials would congregate with historic interiors and historical references in the field of art and architecture history, to complement the works of artists like Paolo Uccello, Bartholomaeus Bruyn the Elder or Barend Graat.

One of the striking features of the design was fluid geometry represented by a vaulted arch that was brought in to impart volume to the character of the exhibition hall and so also a bent plywood ribbon at the bottom that functioned as a balustrade bearing descriptions of each painting. Interestingly, an illusory disturbance of correct perspective was achieved through an uneven inclination of its upper surface dropping subtle hints of the work of Uccello.  Similarly, a large copper wall was shaped borrowing inspiration from the line visible in the upper part of Bartholomaeus Bruyn the Elder’s— Portrait of a Girl. The sunken parts were also made to resemble the mysterious interior of the grotto illustrated by Paolo Uccelo on the centrally suspended canvas Saint George and the Dragon. Copper was an obvious choice of material drawing inspiration from the copper sheet roof tops of churches that define the landscape of the host town. The production of such complex oval forms of plywood and copper cladding however presented immense design and implementation challenges as each panel had to be prepared to be cut and bent separately.”

The project note of the exhibition reads, “The new architecture of the exhibition was originally intended to resemble a contemporary quasi-sacred space, blended in a surprising way with an enfilade sequence of rooms. Similarly to the nearby cathedral, this new ‘chapel’ was to adjoin the already defined interior and the main visiting route, constituting an autonomous form and continuing the tradition of layering various styles and architectural forms at Wawel. A similar idea inspired the design of another exhibition in the same building in Wawel—this time fluid forms made of plywood and wood created a spatial frame for Rembrandt's mysterious work— The Polish Rider.

  • Vaulted arched ‘chapel like’ interior of the Wawel Royal Castledesigned for Masterpieces from the Lanckoroński Collection| NArchitekTURA|Bartosz Haduch|STIRworld
    Vaulted arched ‘chapel like’ interior of the Wawel Royal Castle designed for Masterpieces from the Lanckoroński Collection Image: Anna Stankiewicz; Courtesy of NArchitekTURA
  • Visitors at the Lanckoroński exhibition| NArchitekTURA|Bartosz Haduch|STIRworld
    Visitors at the Lanckoroński exhibition Image: Anna Stankiewicz; Courtesy of NArchitekTURA
  • Interiors of the Rembrandt Wawel Castle| NArchitekTURA|Bartosz Haduch|STIRworld
    Interiors of the Rembrandt Wawel Castle Image: Anna Stankiewicz; Courtesy of NArchitekTURA

While some designs function as conduits between the past and the present, some others exist on the borders of art, architecture, and nature, for instance the Hokusai. Passages…—a poetic expression of Katsushika Hokusai’s works. At the National Museum of Krakow what awaited visitors was a grandiose encounter with the dimensions of time and its passages. The project, inspired by Katsushika Hokusai’s woodblock prints, brought to life traditional and cultural motifs of Japan, combining aesthetics supported by contemporary methods of expression. Adapted from Jun'ichirō Tanizaki’s book, In Praise of Shadows imparted mystery to the exhibition through dark colours and discreet lighting. Drenched in satin navy blue hue borrowed from Hokusai’s works, a central room showcased a waterfall representation, while all other rooms were painted black. Infusing a dimension of nature into the museum interiors were gardens that were adjusted into individual exhibition spaces.  

  • Hokusai.Passages…exists on the borders of art, architecture, and nature| NArchitekTURA|Bartosz Haduch|STIRworld
    Hokusai.Passages… exist on the borders of art, architecture, and nature Image: Jakub Certowicz; Courtesy of NArchitekTURA
  • Drenched in satin navy blue hue borrowed from Hokusai’s works, a central room showcased a waterfall representation, while all other rooms were painted black|NArchitekTURA|Bartosz Haduch|STIRworld
    Drenched in satin navy blue hue borrowed from Hokusai’s works, a central room showcased a waterfall representation, while all other rooms were painted black Image: Jakub Certowicz; Courtesy of NArchitekTURA

Every space has its own inherent character; however, project requirements sometimes necessitate a complete makeover, for instance The Great Synagogue Memorial Park, designed in Oświęcim by NArchitekTURA, where industrial waste materials such as grey sandstone slabs were used. Representing the ruins of the now-defunct Great Synagogue (1863-1939) and the ‘paths of life’ of a diverse community of the past, the slabs with innumerable cuts became an important strand of the Memorial Park connecting the past with the present. 

  • The ‘paths of life’ of a diverse community of the past, the slabs with innumerable cuts became an important strand of the Memorial Park connecting the past with the present | NArchitekTURA|Bartosz Haduch|STIRworld
    The ‘paths of life’ of a diverse community of the past, the slabs with innumerable cuts became an important strand of the Memorial Park connecting the past with the present Image: Bartosz Haduch; Courtesy of NArchitekTURA
  • The Great Synagogue Memorial Park designed in Oświęcim by NArchitekTURA | NArchitekTURA|Bartosz Haduch|STIRworld
    The Great Synagogue Memorial Park designed in Oświęcim by NArchitekTURA Image: Piotr Strycharski; Courtesy of NArchitekTURA
  • The Great Synagogue Memorial Park where industrial waste materials such as grey sandstone slabs were used | NArchitekTURA|Bartosz Haduch|STIRworld
    The Great Synagogue Memorial Park where industrial waste materials such as grey sandstone slabs were used Image: Piotr Strycharski; Courtesy of NArchitekTURA

Divya Menon: NArchitekTURA is the combination of nature and architecture. How do you achieve this unique coming together in each of your projects?

Bartosz Haduch: NArchitekTURA (NArchitecTURE) is indeed a blend of the words 'nature' and 'architecture. 'Nature is unfathomable and there is no single way of comprehending it, rather it is all encompassing. Its unpredictability, diversity, interdependence, and complex processes from micro to macro scale are all fascinating phenomena that propel architectural interpretation along different pathways. NArchitekTURA finds its stimulus in nature and this correlation is crucial to the work of the practice, which incorporates natural materials, and processes into architecture. Sustainable development, ecology, recycling, climate change or seasonal changes and cycles, light, shade, time—and the impact of the above mentioned aspects on human life—these are the main issues explored by our group. The practice’s interests are also centred on different ways of notation of information: music, image, text et cetera. Inspirations for particular concepts can be found in various, sometimes contrary sources: from scientific research to intuition, from history to futurology, from botany to behaviourism, from technology to art, from beauty to the ordinary.

Divya: How would you define the role and process of designing an exhibition space?

Bartosz: On a rather humorous note, I compare our work in the field of exhibition design to a supporting role in a movie or theatre.  We create a background for art, but not entirely neutral and predictable. We try to go beyond the standard white cube scheme, or at least try to diversify or modify it. We are also interested in the idea of a 'tailor-made' space for individual works or groups of objects. Continuing the cinematic comparisons, we always take care of grading impressions and building tension by differentiating individual parts of the exhibition—we interweave the 'spectacular' spaces with more intimate and contemplative ones, allowing for a diverse reception of art. We try to complement our concepts with precisely selected: lighting, visual identification, individually created furniture, and sometimes even music. We make sure that even the choice of wall colours has a conceptual or contextual justification. To sum up, in designing exhibition spaces, we want to establish a dialogue between art and architecture—multi-threaded, adequate, and creative.

Design of the exhibition Botticelli tells a story which reinterprets the Renaissance vaults of the room, designed by Giovanni Battista Quadro | NArchitekTURA|Bartosz Haduch|STIRworld
Design of the exhibition Botticelli tells a story which reinterprets the Renaissance vaults of the room, designed by Giovanni Battista Quadro Image: Jakub Certowicz; Courtesy of NArchitekTURA

For Bartosz and NArchitekTURA, designing is a pursuit of perfection knowing that perfection is but a myth. The trial and process itself are important, formative, and developing pegs. In NArchitekTURA's works one finds many different themes, threads, references, inspirations, interpretations, transformations. In the Ethnographic Museum in Krakow, encoded sheet music appeared, in the Contemlatorium in the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec, they refer to historical antiphoners, in the French patisserie Nad & Greg there were discrete graphic op-art interventions, in the design of the exhibition Botticelli tells a story they reinterpret the Renaissance vaults of the room, designed by Giovanni Battista Quadro. At the Continuum house and the Jewish Museum in Oświęcim, they experimented with prototype materials. This multiplicity and diversity naturally make it hard to classify their practices into unconditional definitions.  

Impermanence appeals to Haduch and particularly in these pandemic stricken times that we are living in, perhaps transience is an intense and intimate personal experience for mankind at large. Haduch adds, “Admittedly, we are drawn towards temporary exhibitions that remain only in the minds of visitors. Human memory and a carefully curated set of photographs extend the temporary existence. The incredibly mysterious, rather indescribable and inexplicable process of flow and materialisation of thoughts into a specific record of the concept is the essence of creativity. Sometimes it is based on long, painstaking and precise studies, sometimes a fraction of a second, chance, and pure intuition." He believes that now, more than ever, a visit to a museum, gallery or artist studio is the need of the hour — a ceremonial event that spawns personal encounters that contribute to a consummate art experience — singular and nonpareil, one that cannot be replicated in the virtual world. 

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