MARKOWA – Polish architectural firm Nizio Design International has designed the Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jewish People in Markowa, a small village in the south of Poland. Like many other families, Wiktoria and Józef Ulma and their six children had been killed after hiding Jewish families in their home during World War II.
Architect Mirosław Nizio is well experienced in creating evironments where the public is encouraged to look and learn. Spaces for history and contemplation, like the Mausoleum of the Martyrdom of Polish Villages or the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw are part of the company’s DNA, with these being just two locations of this type that the firm has designed. The new Ulma Family Museum has a straighforward design far away from experimentation.
The simplistic shape of the museum’s entrance evokes a drawing made by a child’s hand, evidence by its innocent, straight walls and sharply-pitched roof – the epitome of a house, symbolising love and security. The side view though reveals the knife-like sharpness of the design, with parts of the building cutting directly into the ground. Not only the layout but also the texture and material are highly evokative, purposely so of course. Compositional forms resemble the sharpness of Daniel Liebeskind’s Jewish Museum and Peter Eisenmann’s Holocaust Memorial, both in Berlin, which immediately wake sentiments connected to anxiety and threat. Although the weathering-steel cladding suggests that time is passing, its presence urges not to forget. To the right of the entrance is a monumental concrete wall with sanded granite plaques and names.
On the inside, the light is dimmed. The everyday life of the Ulmas' is presented in a cuboid, perched on steel and covered with thick safety glass. The language of commemoration is continued through the use of specific materials – concrete and dark steel – in the most cubic and minimal ways. The journey through the museum continues around the cuboid and across the seven thematic sections, where the story is told through artefacts, documents, photographs' and materials presented at manual and multimedia stands. The visitor experience ends in the memorium orchard, where fruit-bearing trees symbolise the cycle of life.