Wroclaw Part 4: History transformed
Anna Esbjørn - When the Red Army came marching from the South and West during WWII, the high bunker in Breslau was the last point of defense for the SS. The Germans fought as long as they could but had to surrender on the 7th of May 1945, three days after Berlin. At the Potsdam Conference where the post-war map of Europe was drawn up, Breslau was handed over to Poland who renamed it Wroclaw.
For many decades, the high bunker in Wroclaw lived a sad life and was used for various purposes: Military hospital, storage space, home to various low quality shops, outlet for a fireworks sale and even a sex shop. In 2010, however, the historic landmark was given a new importance for the city when it was decided to convert it to a contemporary art museum. The budget was extremely low – 1 million Euros – but the young architect Lukasz Wojciechowski / VROA & CH+ architects bid on the auction and got the assignment.
The team behind the transformation started by opening up the bunker in the middle but keeping the many cells facing the walls of the bunker to be used for small artist working galleries. They cleaned the concrete walls and made sure to leave it raw to keep the authentic feel of the building. In the core, a large lift was inserted and a massive hole was drilled into the 2.5 meter thick ceiling, one of the most difficult and expensive stages of the transformation.
Wroclaw: Facts at a glance
The result is a simple yet elegant exhibition space stretching on several floors. At the ground level, playful furniture invites visitors to sit down, read or play. Cheap but strong ‘less is more’ choices have been made in terms of architectural solutions and interior design. When I visited the museum, there was a great display of works by the female architectural icon, Jadwiga Grabowska-Hawrylak. At the top, I could sit down and relax at a spectacular roof top bar, taking in the view over Wroclaw and absorbing the things I had just seen and experienced. No words needed.
The Contemporary Museum Wroclaw opened in December 2011 with a conference discussing the difficulties and challenges that the cultural institutions using 'concrete' post-war buildings are faced with. In the eyes of the public, however, the high bunker conversion is a success. Visitors talk about “the magic of the place” and the omnipresent feel of history. Despite the minimal budget and challenges during the process, Vroa Architekci has managed to make a unique landmark that insists on its history but transforms it to an open and inviting setting. I felt that when I visited. And I am definitely going back.
Anna Esbjørn, Senior Project Manager / anthropologist at the Danish Architecture Centre