Between monument and building, the proposal for the Gdansk World War II Museum Competition by Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects attempts to translate notions of conflict and peace into the sensory language of masses and forms. In addition to offering the expected range of exhibition and educational spaces, it focuses on portraying the duality of human nature. The concept of contrasts is consistently expanded by opposite treatment of building and landscape.

Monumental threes surrounding the building are part of the Bialowieza forest, one of the remaining parts of the immense primeval forest which once spread across the European Plain. During the war it served as refuge for Polish and Soviet partisans.  It played a significant part in, as the architects state, “maintaining the continuity of Polish identity in times of political turmoil”. Flowing from below the hovering building, fractured paths extend towards the landscape and lead to small outdoor exhibits, as if discovering lost and found traces of the Great War.

The vertical rhythms of the forest are contrasted by the horizontality and reflectiveness of the building. Sharp, thrusting surfaces of the overhead structure create a distorted image of the individual, exposing him to less appealing sides of human nature. The evocative spatial experience transforms, as the visitors enter the building. From the plaza, large escalator lead to a progressively calmer, more organized environment of the Entry Hall / Urban Observatory.  Always open to the public, the Observatory offers numerous views of the city: the Old Town, the Polish Post, the Motlawa River, the Radunia Canal, etc. Following the entry area, visitors are introduced to a number of facilities; exhibition halls, cinema, conference halls, library and restaurants are few of the contents offered by the museum’s program.

The upper part of the structure acts as a counterpoint for the unsettling tectonics of the entrance level.  Through gradually achieving calmness, the building demonstrates the unconstrained force of change.

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