Warsaw’s iconic Museum of the History of Polish Jews (POLIN) sits at the heart of the city’s historic Jewish quarter. The institution celebrates the rich history and culture of the Jewish community in Poland across the last thousand years, and creates a forward-looking platform for conversations about the importance of tolerance and diversity across the world.
The concept of a ‘museum of life’ has been expertly executed by Finnish architecture studio Lahdelma & Mahlamäki’s design. Appearing as a simple, geometric volume, the building opens up to reveal a cavernous entrance hall, where undulating, sand-coloured walls create a striking visual impression, allowing light to flood the building. The geometric, curving wall is one of the building’s defining design features, and has been variously described as symbolising the gap in the history of the Polish Jewish community or being evocative of the parting of the Red Sea, among others.
Bringing the curvilinear wall to life posed a significant challenge for our structural engineers due to its size and unusual form. Arup’s team verified the feasibility and bearing capacity of the wall design, providing advice on the most suitable technological methods for the delivery.
Our consultants also conducted a feasibility study of the unique façade, a structurally complex design which includes load-bearing glass elements. Our engineers supervised the construction of both elements, requiring specialist know-how and understanding of their significance for the Museum.
From vision to reality: world’s first curvilinear wall of this size
Because of its shape and size, the curvilinear wall designed by LMA is considered to be a world-first in the built environment globally, dwarfing a comparative structure at Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart tenfold.
The initial design proposed the wall to be made entirely of reinforced concrete, however due to the significant size and unique shape, it quickly became clear that this would not be possible. At that point, our consultants were invited to collaborate.
Our team recommended a design solution which provided an equally impressive visual effect. The initial design was reinvented and replaced with a three-layer concept. As a primary structure, on which the whole composition is based, our engineers designed a steel structure, already largely resembling the final shape.
The next layer is a double-breasted, supportive structure also made of steel components, allowed transferable reinforced concrete cladding panels. On this substructure, a wooden form made of flexible beaverboard was installed, and on top of it a reinforcing mesh was fixed. On such robustly prepared formwork, coats of sprayed, coloured concrete were applied achieving an intended shape fully satisfying the architect.
The whole process was supervised by our engineers and monitored by geodetic service in real time through laser scanning technology.
Together we developed a technological solution which helped bring to life the architect’s vision of creating a place that brings together our tragic history and a place that’s alive. ” Capital City Development Authority (SZRM)
An exceptional glass façade design
The extraordinary structural design of the curvilinear wall is matched by the bold façade design, featuring load-bearing elements made of glass, another defining element of the museum’s design.
The dramatic visual effect is achieved by placing vertical, laminated glass panels upright in relation to the elevation. Invisible to the visitors, steel rope ties were installed to provide additional protection and stability to the overall structure.
Opening the view from the Museum to the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, which honours the victims of the 1943 uprising, the glass façade establishes a ‘dialogue’ between this well-known place of remembrance and the Museum.
The glass panels are inscribed with the word ‘Polin’ in Hebrew and Latin, referencing a legend about the Jewish people first settling in Poland. Meaning Poland in Hebrew, the word Polin is made of two parts: ‘po’ (here) and ‘lin’ (rest). According to the legend, Jews fleeing from other European countries heard these words from birds whenhey arrived in the Polish land.