Marching Through Time: The Polish Army Museum’s New Home

Established by a decree of Marshall Józef Piłsudski in 1920, the Polish Army Museum has, for over a century, preserved a unique collection exceeding 300,000 exhibits. Until now, it lacked a dedicated headquarters to showcase its treasures. Today, after more than a century, the museum unveils its modern home, complete with a permanent exhibition and space for temporary exhibits and cultural events. The design of the new building is credited to WXCA Architectural Design Studio.


Returning Warsaw Citadel to the city

In 2009, WXCA Architectural Design Studio emerged victorious in an international competition to design the new Polish Army Museum headquarters at the Warsaw Citadel. Its concept earned acclaim for its historical resonance, reaching back to the pre-tsarist fortification era.

The concept introduced an urban layout inspired by the 18th-century Polish Royal Foot Guard barracks and a central square. This square is flanked by the north and south buildings of the Polish Army Museum and the two wings of the Polish History Museum headquarters.

Based on the competition concept, this representative complex, alongside the X Pavilion of the Warsaw Citadel and the existing Katyń Museum, will create one of Europe’s most extensive and modern museum complexes. Beyond its role as a place of remembrance and cultural heritage, it’s designed to be a hub for the daily activities of Warsaw’s residents. This includes over 30 hectares of green space, previously enclosed behind brick walls, now accessible to Varsovians, along with the 19th-century fortifications.

Military symbolism in design

WXCA's architects incorporated military symbolism into its design with geometric, disciplined structures for the Polish Army Museum, organised around the square of the Polish Royal Foot Guards. The first completed structure, the south building, uses coloured architectural concrete reminiscent of the Warsaw Citadel’s brick walls.

The architects added a specially-designed chevron pattern to break the building’s monumentality subtly. This pattern invokes military themes while creating a surface for the interplay of light and shadows, altering the building’s overall perception throughout the day. The ornament’s module size was designed with the human scale in mind, specifically that of a human hand, offering a graded aesthetic experience. As you approach the imposing structure, it’s the facade’s detail that captures your attention.

The south building comprises eight functional blocks. Four of these house the permanent exhibition, with three of the largest blocks tracing the history of Polish Arms from its inception to the end of World War II. The fourth block showcases an oriental weaponry collection. The heart of the museum lies in the fifth block, the Temporary Exhibition Hall, designed for special events and commemorative exhibitions. Its adaptability will encourage frequent visits.

Apart from close to 6000m2 of exhibition space, three blocks include visitor services and facilities, an audiovisual block for up to 100 people, and a warehouse and technical office block. The interior design emphasises spatial tensions between specific building units and the spaces between them, providing a minimalist backdrop for the exhibits.

Glass facades blur the lines between interiors and exteriors, connecting the museum with the surrounding park. Outdoor exhibition spaces will be interspersed among the green areas, and some historic Warsaw Citadel buildings will house visitor services and facilities.

Architect Paweł Wolanin notes: “We treated the architectural structures of the entire complex and park space as an indissoluble whole. This is exactly what we mean by the term ‘museum park’, challenging traditional notions of museum space.”

The north building of the Polish Army Museum will follow in the second stage of development. Together, both buildings will form the core of the Citadel of Museums in Warsaw, including the Polish History Museum headquarters. This complex is set to become one of Europe’s largest and most modern museum complexes.

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