WROCŁAW (PL) - CH+ and VROA have transformed a monolithic WWII bunker into a temporary museum.
For decades this bunker was a special piece of architecture in Wrocław's cityscape. Built during World War II by Nazi architect Richard Konwiarz, it was supposed to provide the best possible protection for the community of the then-German city of Breslau from the Allied bombers. The bunker survived the war almost unscathed and entered the post-war period as a space with great potential and an unclear future. Too visible and prominent to be urbanistically ignored, too monstrous a structure to be radically altered and with too difficult a layout to be transformed into a space for any conventional function, the bunker waited more than six decades to become, once more, a place where people congregate.
Eight years ago the Polish Ministry of Culture launched a public programme of founding contemporary art institutions and erecting museums of contemporary art in sixteen major Polish cities. The result was a series of international open design competitions. With the winning project in Wrocław on hold because of budget shortfalls, the idea arose of converting an existing building into a temporary museum. The choice of the city-owned bunker was quite logical, as it had recently become a site of contemporary art. A few years earlier its front elevation, thoroughly renovated, had acquired a piece of concrete poetry by prominent Polish artist Stanisław Dróżdż, while its interior was home to a new Polish art review aptly entitled 'Survival'. Instead of an architectural competition, the conversion was the subject of a design-and-build tender won by a team of two very young Wrocław studios, CH+ and VROA , together with an experienced general contractor.
The task confronting the team was obviously a tough one. Six floors of claustrophobic space, 1.1-metre-thick reinforced concrete external walls, a 1.5-metre-thick reinforced concrete roof slab and three internal concentric load-bearing concrete rings combined with a extremely large number of internal partitions did not make it easy to convert the bunker into a well-functioning building. Moreover, because of a very tight budget, the architects’ intervention had to be modest.
Even after having removed all the non-structural partitions, the architects did not obtain typical contemporary art museum white-box spaces: instead of being high, well-proportioned and orthogonal, they were low, narrow and curved, and still evoked a sense of claustrophobia. To open up the interior, CH+ and VROA removed part of the floor slab between the third and fourth storeys and inserted a new lift shaft in the very centre of the bunker, covering the holes of the old shaft with metal gratings. The result is a series of floors where three concrete rings create an undetermined space in which exhibits and visitor movements – both vertical and horizontal – intersect, and in which from time to time one gets glimpses of what is happening on the neighbouring levels.
The interior is minimally finished. The architects scraped the old layers of plaster off the internal surfaces, poured a concrete finish on the floors and put all the piping and wiring directly onto the walls, thereby exposing the sinister, thus far invisible beauty of the bunker. The only real architectural interventions were the new glass-walled lift, a rooftop café and a multifunctional space in the exhibition zone. The first two, painted in a fashionable green colour, provide unusual spatial experiences: the lift through its movements within the circular concrete shaft, and the cylindrical glass café because it offers a real three-dimensional release after the constriction of the six floors below. The multifunctional space, shimmering with a palette of bright colours, is an unexpected addition by Swiss artists Sabina Land and Daniel Baumann. Called 'Beautiful Tube', it simultaneously follows the logic of the building's layout and contradicts it by offering multiple levels, shelves and places to sit.
Even after the intervention the bunker remains a labyrinth of cramped spaces. Although very regular in its geometry, it is a space where nothing is obvious and where everybody gets lost, not just in the building but also in difficult contemporary art. Perhaps the real issue here is that the bunker, being a built expression of the political force that anathematized artistic modernity as 'Entartete Kunst' (degenerate art), is now exhibiting works that are the direct descendants of that despised art.
December | 2011 | Poland | Roman Rutkowksi