New competition for Warsaw museum architect

Top practitioners had been excluded due to “Kafka-esque” rules


A new competition has been launched to choose an architect for a Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, planned to open around 2009, after nine jurors out of an original 13-member committee resigned in protest at the “arcane” rules of the application process.

Over 200 architects submitted proposals for the new museum, including top names such as Zaha Hadid and David Chipperfield, but only 76 actually qualified for the competition due to the complicated rules that govern public building in Poland. Of these, only 14 architects were from outside Poland.

According to the competition’s organisers—the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the mayor of Warsaw, Miroslaw Kochalski—Polish law stipulates that all applicants and the directors of their architectural practices must provide sworn statements, in Polish, that they do not have a criminal record. They must also be registered members of the Polish National Chamber of Architects (IARP). Applicants were immediately disqualified if any of the relevant documents were missing.

Last month, a group of four jurors, including the London Design Museum’s director Deyan Sudjic and Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota, pulled out of the competition. In an official statement, they cited the “deeply flawed process” and Mr Kochalski’s “refusal…to adopt an appropriate, internationally recognised selection procedure” as their grounds for resignation.

Speaking to The Art Newspaper, Mr Sudjic complained of the “Kafka-esque complexity” of the application process and said: “Even looking at some of these rules gives you a headache, there’s so much meaningless jargon.” He added that the jurors “did not go to Poland with the intent of issuing demands and ultimatums but rather to help the city with this important project”.

Soon after, more jurors resigned, including the Polish artist Pawel Althamer and Adam Szymczyk, the director of the Kunsthalle Basel, suggesting in a separate statement that disqualified architects be given extra time to submit the necessary documents.

One of the project’s organisers, deputy mayor and chief architect Michal Borowski, has accused the jurors of “acting like terrorists”. He told The Art Newspaper that he was “absolutely shocked and disappointed” at the jurors’ actions. “I think it’s better to keep trying to work within the system than not do anything at all.”

However, as we went to press, Mr Kochalski had cancelled the original competition and announced a new one set to start 10 July. In his statement, the mayor apologises to the entrants on behalf of the organisers and promises the new application rules “will be as simple as possible, architect-friendly, and better adjusted to European standards.”