The Visitor Centre at the National Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum in Oświęcim
1st award at a competition for an urban and architectural concept – July 2010.
Authors: Ph.D. Arch. Marek Kozień, Ph.D Arch. Magdalena Kozień-Woźniak, M.Sc. Arch. Katarzyna Kozień-Kornecka.
Cooperation: Arch. Arch. Katarzyna Basista, Dagmara Czaja, Marcin Gierbienis, Magdalena Habrat-Rączka, Jakub Kornecki, Michał Rączka, Małgorzata Walkosz.
Orderer: The National Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum in Oświęcim.
Usable area: c. 5 208 m ².
From the jury's opinion: The award was given for a concise and expressive concept of the layout of the visitor centre based on the principle of an underground solution of the entrance to and the exit from the Museum. The entire composition and the proposed character of its architecture produces the mood of quiet and focus necessary in a museum complex with such specificity. Moreover, this design preserves the historical image of the former camp slaughterhouse removing secondary rebuilding, while the body of a hotel under design makes its neutral background.
From the authors' description: The Auschwitz-Birkenau camp as a place is a monument, a sign. A silence zone. The spatial composition of the service and entrance area should listen attentively to the sound of silence. At a loss for words. The formation of a compact compositional layout of the area of the Visitor Centre connected with the area of the Museum by subways emphasizing the moderate layout of the Auschwitz camp is the main assumption of this concept. The existing objects were rebuilt and exposed, while the body of the hotel and the cafeteria were moved behind the Visitor Centre. The entrance and exit routes were separated to facilitate the visitors' one-way movement. The entrance to the Museum area is a sequence of places from a hall and a waiting room in the former slaughterhouse, through the undergrounds, to the exit to a square in front of the building of the introductory exhibition. The exit from this area leads to the Crematorium across the square towards a subway leading to a meadow which disappears over the horizon. The car park complexes are grouped in Zone A leaving Zone C as a green area. A car park for the visitors' buses and cars as well as two car parks for the guests and the employees were separated. Reserve car parks for the visitors were designed in Zone B. Additional isolating greenery and rows of trees emphasizing the elements of the composition were introduced. The greenery is also related to such designed objects as a green roof on the hotel or climbing plants on the concrete walls. Green fields of creepers make an important element of the square in front of the introductory exhibition building. Through an inclination with respect to the existing surface of green areas, the hardened surface of the square 'leaves' some deepened sections in place of the former wooden barracks stables. A relict of a nonexistent building in front of the crematorium was left as a green surface dissected by the square in front of the Crematorium.
The historic slaughterhouse is transformed into an object fulfilling the basic functions of visitor service as well as making the zone of the main entrance to the Museum areas. This object recovers its highly probable original character from the wartime without any serious interferences in the character of its external form. The main entrance to the object from the driveway square with the terminuses (the northeast side). The formation of an entrance square is supposed to raise the rank and significance of the existing object. Some glazed coverings were introduced above the courtyards – their space is incorporated into the layout of the object interior. An entrance to a subway leads from the ground floor to the Museum area. This entrance, defined by two high walls, leads onto the lower level to an interior with information light posts making the visitors' first encounter with the atmosphere of this place and the basic information on the route. This interior is the beginning of a visit. A hotel building for volunteers with a cafeteria makes a compositional complementation of the former slaughterhouse as a spatially and functionally separate element. This object has a three-storey complex of hotel residential units combined with such additional functions as a meeting room, a breakfast room, a cafeteria and some technical functions, including garages for two museum buses and warehouses. This solution facilitates a flexible separation of the object zones and an easy spatial adaptation, e.g. for the purposes of conferences or symposiums. The main entrance to the object leads from the driveway square with the terminuses. From the Visitor Centre, a loggia was introduced making a separation for a summer cafeteria. The object is covered with two planes: a flat one with a terrace accessible through the hotel hall and one inclined towards the camp as a "green" roof. This element compositionally closes the axis of the exit from the Museum.