The Museum of the History of Polish Jews wins the first Finlandia Prize for Architecture

Sixten Korkman, Professor of Practice in Economics at the Aalto University, has selected the Museum of the History of Polish Jews to be the winner of the first Finlandia Prize for Architecture. Sited in a Second World War ghetto area in Warsaw, the museum was designed by Finnish Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects. The prize was received by the museum’s head designer, Professor Rainer Mahlamäki, at the award ceremony held today at the Helsinki Music Centre.

According to Sixten Korkman, the building’s restrained design, when experienced on-site, feels like absolutely the right approach to take, considering its use. It is an approach that respects the history and tragic fate of the Polish Jews.

”The fruitful main idea of the building is the tension between the restrained exterior and the dramatic form of the entrance hall. The mood of the building is solemn and dignified, but at the same time warm and optimistic. We are dealing with more than just a museum: this building is a powerful and significant work of art that will change the look of Warsaw as a whole”, says Sixten Korkman, explaining his selection.

Korkman evaluated the designs based on three selection criteria: What is the relationship between the formal idiom of the building and its use? How well does the design combine aesthetics and function? How does the building ’sit’ in its environment?

”The form and facade of the building fit in with the adjacent Monument to the Ghetto Heroes. The large entrance hall, which divides and structures the building, forms its heart. Its high, curvilinear or undulating, and slightly unpolished walls baffle visitors and raise questions about the message of the space. Many metaphors have been suggested in the interpretations of the entrance hall, which is an indication of its successful design”, says Korkman.

Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects won the international architecture competition for the design of the Museum of the History of Polish Jewish in 2005. The building was completed in the spring of 2013, and the main exhibition was recently opened to the public, on 29 October 2014. The head designer was Rainer Mahlamäki, with Riitta Id (from 2005 to 2007) and Marita Kukkonen (2008 onwards) as project architects. The museum was realised in cooperation with the local architectural firm Kuryłowicz & Associates.

“It is a great honour and recognition to receive the first-ever Finlandia Prize for Architecture, and for a building that features a cultural dimension that touches us all. This is a fine ending to a project that has lasted nearly ten years. This award is for all those who contributed to making this building become a reality”, says Rainer Mahlamäki.

A multifunctional building to promote research, education, and the culture of the Jewish tradition

The museum building is a multifunctional facility that promotes research, education, and the culture of the Jewish tradition. The permanent exhibition is housed in a ’raw’ space of 5,000 sq m, located under the entrance hall. The exhibition presents the various forms of the culture of the Polish Jews, from the Middle Ages to the present day.

The frame of the building is cast-in-situ concrete. The curved walls and the adjoining curved ceiling structures in the entrance hall are part of the frame. The technical design of the curved load-bearing walls was particularly challenging. The walls are large, uniform, and geometrically double-curved blocks, the largest ever realised. The exterior of the museum is glass. In the outer layer of the double-layer facade, laminated glass fins alternate with pre-patinated copper mesh.

The museum project was commissioned by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland, the Jewish Historical Institute and the City of Warsaw. Earlier this year, the Association of Polish Architects, in its review of the best architectural designs in 2012 and 2013, recognised the museum building with two awards (the SARP Award of the Year and the Award for the Best Architectural Object Built Using Public Funds under the Honorary Patronage of the President of the Republic of Poland).


Professor Sixten Korkman to select the winner of the Finlandia Prize for Architecture

Autumn 2014 will see the Finnish Association of Architects, SAFA, award the new Finlandia Prize for Architecture for the first time. The four shortlisted candidates for the prize, three of which are located in Finland and one in Poland, are the Serlachius Museum’s Gösta’s Pavilion in Mänttä; Kaisa House, the main library of the University of Helsinki; the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw; and Seinäjoki main library Apila. The winner of the prize will be selected by Sixten Korkman, Professor of Practice in Economics at the Aalto University. The winner will be announced at an event to be held in November.

The organisers wanted the judge chosen for the competition to be an influential figure who is known as an expert in a field other than architecture. The selection seeks to emphasise the fact that high-quality architecture is, at its best, an experience that resonates with all its users. Everyone can be an architecture expert.

”When I look at the designs of architects, I pay attention to at least three points. What is the relationship between the formal idiom of the building and its use? How well does the design combine aesthetics and function? How does the building ’sit’ in its environment? High-quality architecture is important, because the built environment is our extended living room and affects how at home we all feel. As a sixth-former, I dreamed of becoming an architect, but I realised that I did not have enough artistic talent for it, and decided to go for other career choices,” Professor Sixten Korkman says of his view of architecture.

The prize is awarded to a design or renovation design for an outstanding new building or building complex that has been completed within the past three years. The selected candidates represent high-quality public architecture. This time, no residential projects were included among the shortlisted candidates.

”Public construction is currently offering more opportunities to realise fresh ideas than residential projects. In Finland, residential architecture has, for a long time, been in a state of stagnation. All the shortlisted candidates were winners of an architectural competition, and the designers of the buildings represent three generations. I’m happy to see that our architecture is being transformed, while the tradition of expertise continues,” says Jorma Mukala, chairman of the pre-selection jury, architect, and editor-in-chief of the Finnish Architectural Review.

The other members of the pre-selection jury are the director of the Museum of Finnish Architecture Juulia Kauste, the architect Esa Ruskeepää, and the Professor of Spatial Design at Aalto University, School of Arts, Design and Architecture Pentti Kareoja. The secretary of the jury is the SAFA secretary general Paula Huotelin.