The remarkable story of Poland's Jewish community
It is impossible to overstate the importance of Poland’s POLIN museum. Set in the heart of Warsaw’s former Jewish district, on the site of its wartime ghetto, the museum tells a story that has been largely forgotten since the Second World War – that of the Jewish community’s remarkable contribution to Polish life. Today, the museum is a widely celebrated, critically acclaimed and multi award-winning institution.
Housed in Lahdelma and Malmäki’s landmark building, the museum is a masterful symbiosis between exhibition and architectural design. We began working with the museum at masterplan stage, setting the narrative and taking the project through to detail design.
A theatre of history in seven acts
The experience has been described as ‘a theatre of history in seven acts’. The result of extensive content research with an international team of academics, the narrative takes you through a story stretching back ten centuries. The prologue opens in a magical forest – the setting of the legend of Polin when the first Jewish people arrived in Poland. From here, you move through the centuries – meeting Jewish people through time, seeing the setting evolve around you – until you reach the post-war epilogue.
The Holocaust exhibition marks a rupture in this chronology. It asks you to forget what you already know, leave hindsight at the door and to put yourself in the shoes of a typical Jewish person who could not foresee what was about to happen. Only slowly do we lift the veil – the torturous ghettos, the horrors of death camps and the murder of three million Polish Jews. This chapter ends with a white space. A pause in the narrative that offers a moment of quiet reflection.
Triumph over adversity
Some of our most powerful storytelling is done in the absence of objects. With many artefacts having been destroyed, we turned to design metaphors, art and allegory. This includes a full-size recreation of a wooden synagogue roof – once a feature of Poland’s landscape, but since obliterated during the Holocaust. The roof is recreated using traditional skills, both protecting and celebrating a dying craft, and it forms a powerful installation in the centre of the museum.
For every harrowing story, there is one of strength and resilience. This is ultimately a tale of triumph over adversity, a space where we are inspired, where tolerance is promoted and cultural difference celebrated.
European Museum of the Year 2016
European Museum Academy Prize 2016
Finlandia Prize for Architecture 2014
Lahdelma & Mahlamäki
Nizio Design International