Center, Gdansk PL
As part of an international architecture competition sponsored by the city of Gdansk, Poland, Biber Architects has proposed a design for a European Solidarity Center (ESC) that would act as an international center of culture, housing a museum, temporary exhibition space and an academic research center. The project seeks to memorialize the organization Solidarity (Solidarność), the first non-communist trade union in a communist country, founded in Gdansk in 1980. Solidarity was organized by workers from the Gdansk shipyard, the proposed site for the ESC, and was integral in helping establish the grassroots anti-communist social movement in Poland and subsequently, the rest of Europe.
The Biber Architects team’s design, called the Interrex, celebrates the time between the end of one regime and the beginning of the next, a position Solidarity held in Poland in the late 90s as the government transitioned from communism to democracy. The proposal creates a literal space in the form of a massive covered gathering place below the building.
The building itself, painted the colors of the Polish flag, actually pivots back and forth like the nearby shipyard cranes. While moving it focuses on a series of historical Solidarity icons, becoming a giant mechanical flag waving in the Gdansk skyline. The building’s site, on the northern side of Gdansk’s Solidarity Square, is a complex arrangement of icons and urban interventions including the Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Worker and the John Paul II Chapel that tell the story of Poland’s road to democracy.
The project is loosely conceived of as a ship‚ with a hull, mast and sail. In consideration of this context, the Interrex has been designed to be fabricated with the skills and materials that shipyard workers uniquely possess.
The Mast is a cylindrical glass tower that contains the main vertical connections to the exhibition spaces and is wrapped in a bas-relief glass screen. The Mast is a “Trajan’s Column for Solidarity” displaying the movement’s history in a cast glass screen (viewed from a ramp within) and three floors of exhibition and archive space hung within the column.
Atop the Mast, the Sail slowly pivots, pausing intermittently to allow for panoramic views of the Monument to the Fallen Workers, the John Paul II Chapel, the historic gate to the shipyard entrance and sweeping views of the shipyard and the Motlawa River beyond. The Sail is colored as national flag and is the main symbolic element of the Interrex. The red underside is lit in each of the structural dimples, giving a soft warm glow to the spaces defined by the hovering mass. In the midst of a grey winter the glow is a warm spot in the cool season.
The five supports of the Sail are enclosed structural trusses, with egress stairs from the spaces above and mounted to the wheels below that allow the Sail to move through space. Recalling a ship’s bow, the supports expose the formal language of the Sail to the street-level public.
The Hull is a base shaped to merge with the ground. The Hull contains all the functional program areas: offices, parking, service areas and mechanical plants along with one special element to give all these spaces light, nature and import: a Winter Garden. The Winter Garden unites all the bureaucratic spaces into a true living space as it introduces light, vertical movement and a view of the Monument of the Fallen Workers to the daily, quotidian spaces assembled in the base.
The open plaza below the Sail is the Forum, a public space that can be thought of as a deck, and because the Sail above moves about the Mast, the Form is constantly shifting. This is the point at which all public paths cross, both a plaza and theater, a public living room and a crossroads. It is a new breed of urban space. When a celebration of the Solidarity Movement is underway, it will be packed with participants. When the city is enjoying a warm summer day, it will be a spot to bask. When a political debate is held, it will be at the Forum. It is the outdoor, covered stage upon which an action in public becomes a public act. The remembrance, history and sense of public excitement begin at the Forum.