<Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, 2011–2014


The building 1A on Gorskiego dates to 1963, built shortly after Warsaw’s neoclassical center was reconstructed at the end of the 1950s. Making up part of the townhouses ensemble defining the Nowy Swiat street front, the building was remarkable for its steel and glass façade, which made it an “airy” corner: the openness of its glass façade and the verticality of its structure stood in marked contrast to the closed order of the neighboring neoclassical buildings. The 2015 renovation of the corroding building took as its leitmotif the corner building, its figure and structure. In contrast to its original condition, the concrete façade of the renovated building now invites a wide range of dialogs and interactions between inside and outside, between mass and void, a quality due not to the concrete panels and framed windows.

Galerie Foksal, which uses the top three floors as exhibition space, decided to renovate the building to increase the wall space and that the steel-and-glass construction could no longer offer. To this end, alternating façade elements, which either contain frame glass or concrete panels, structure and define the building externally, its short side corresponding to the width of a single panel, the long side to two panels. These elements make the continuous arrangement of the internal exhibition spaces evident externally, with the stairwell arranged immediately adjacent and clearly visible from the outside through the windows. The barber shop on the first floor, meanwhile, remained untouched, while the exhibition space on the top three floors gained renewed versatility, a fact that is clearly communicated in the play of the external relief. The visitor enters the exhibition space from Gorskiego, stepping in through glass doors that lead to the stairwell made of artificial stone. The stairs lead visitors to the exhibition spaces on their respective floors and, by way of a specifically added flight of stairs, to the roof space. The terrace above the newly added parapet has also been converted into an exhibition space.

The punctuated concrete façade and the horizontally arranged large rectangular windows shift the gravitational pull the building exerts. The resulting façade, without actually copying any surrounding buildings, draws attention to their sculptural qualities and engages the historic neighborhood in a dialog. Conversely, the antagonistic placement of the skeletal structure within the streetscape works to underscores its quality as a corner structure. Overlaying this is the play that results from the tension between the extra-white glass, which draws the eye to the building’s inside, and the cast concrete panels, which repel the viewer’s gaze.

A central concern of  the renovation was to preserve the openness and sharp-edged quality that the initial skeleton structure and steel framed window grid had stenciled into the original building. In this manner, the original and well-preserved skeletal structure was maintained as the architectural origin of building during the post-modern era of socialist Poland was made evident.

The prefabricated concrete elements were cast as contained units that would fit together like the squares of a coffering. Their thickness remains evident due to the construction of the building’s corner, which sees the individual elements staggered and intertwined floor by floor. Each of the façade elements either provides the framework for the dual glass panels that slide open to the center or for the protruding and receding concrete end pieces that make up the homogenous relief. The proportions of the bespoke façade elements, the frames and glass panes, the niches and ledges, they all work to create a relationship that unites different elements without imposing uniformity. Accordingly, the building reflects the irregularities of the existing structure and plot as the play between the transparent and opaque elements defines the rhythm of the façade.

The cast concrete elements with the window panes serve as the light source for the north and west facing rooms and define the view. The original window sills and the radiators have been replaced by lower sills and floor heating. The windows can be opened to ventilate the work and exhibition spaces with fresh air. The use of fluorescent tubes arranged along linear trajectories to provide artificial lighting was maintained as a matter of principle. Accordingly, the lighting provides an additional layer of historical references that recall the original building but without questioning the underlying technical installation. Moreover, with this artificial lighting the spirit of the 1960s art galleries that looked to the artist studio and the production spaces of art is evoked, exhibition spaces whose design marked a resolute opposition to the exclusive art boutiques.

Date: 2011—2015
Client: Foksal Gallery Foundation
Location: Górskiego 1A, Warsaw, Poland
Gross Floor Area (GFA): 380m² (Entrance gf-4th floor), 107m² (basement)
Use / Function: exhibition space, storage, office
Structural Engineer: KiP, Piotr Kapela, Warsaw
Mechanical Engineer: mgr inz. Grzegorz Robakowski, Warsaw
Construction supervision and local architect: Urbana S.C., Warsaw and DJiO, Piotr Jurkiewic, Warsaw

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