Wrocław - Centennial Hall, Wrocław
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl

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Shortly after the First World War, Max Berg, designer of the Centennial Hall (Hala Stulecia), stated that “as democracy progresses, new buildings will feature concepts and works of art that will be accessible to everyone. Wrocław has already built its ‘house of democracy’, the Centennial Hall”. This declaration by the excellent architect and idealist, a man who not only rejected social stratification, but also put his ideas into action. The hall is the principal architectural landmark of the exhibition grounds located between Szczytnicki Park and the Zoological Garden. It was built to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the German people’s rebellion against Napoleonic occupation. It seemed that another grandiose eclectic edifice would be built, adorned with bronze cannon, statues of Germania and busts of long-forgotten generals. Thankfully, the urban planner Berg intended to create something entirely different, and the Town Council passed a resolution in the autumn of 1910 authorising him to do so. In designing this remarkable hall - with a panache that both surprised and scared his contemporaries - he easily and unashamedly managed to do away with all that was regarded as elegant at the time. He rejected all manner of ornamentation, festoons and pinnacles, and anything reminiscent of the Opéra Garnier, the Reichstag building or Vienna’s Ringstrasse. He brought architecture into the 20th century, creating the first fully mature work of Expressionism.

The building has a symmetrical quatrefoil ground plan with a circular central space covered by a dome of 65 m in diameter. By comparison, the dome of Rome’s Pantheon measured 43 m in diameter, and that of the Byzantine church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople - barely 35 m. However, size is not the issue here. Berg’s hall opened up new horizons. It was the first large-scale public building in the world to be made from reinforced concrete - a material used mainly in structural engineering projects. The architect blatantly left its texture and shuttering marks on display. Nothing was concealed with plaster. The hall was divided into two sections: the base and the ribbed dome. Both sections are structurally independent of one another, the dome resting on 32 bearings placed on the topmost ring of the base section. Inside, the hall is 42 m high, the base accounting for 19 m and the dome for 23 m. The building’s glazing and organic form give it an unexpected feeling of lightness. The assembly of the shell walls (complete with windows and ceilings) from pre-fabricated components was an innovation. The unusual structure raised many concerns, but Max Berg was certain of its stability. The hall is preceded by a ceremonial square (modelled on the forums of antiquity) which is accessed via a monumental gateway designed by Berg in 1924. The Four-Domed Pavilion which stands at the north side of the square was built in 1912 to a design by Hans Poelzig, who in that same year also designed the concrete pergola at the northern end of the exhibition grounds. This parabolic structure surrounds an artificial pond, separated from the Centennial Hall by a building housing a terrace restaurant. The Japanese Garden immediately north-west of the pergola was one of several themed gardens created especially for the Centennial Exhibition.

By late May 1913 the hall had been officially opened, and a play by the dramatist Gerhart Hauptmann had inaugurated a series of cultural events. The building was designed with a mass public in mind. It could accommodate 6000 people, who, regardless of their social status, were able to experience the same aesthetic feelings. In this context the Centennial Hall was regarded as a symbol of social harmony. Shortly afterwards (in the 1930s) the brownshirts of the Sturmabteilung were saluting the Führer beneath Max Berg’s avant-garde dome. After the war the World Congress of Intellectuals for Peace convened in the hall in 1948, and the Dove of Peace designed at the congress by Pablo Picasso was meant to cast into oblivion the terrible, though recent past. However, the conflict between the Soviet delegation and F. Légere and Aldous Huxley showed that the dark years had not come to an end. Today the hall - known as the People’s Hall after the war - is the pride of Wrocław and has been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

General information

  • Type: masterpiece of architecture and engineering
  • Chronology: 1911 - 1913
  • Form of protection: Historical Monument
  • Address: Wystawowa 1, Wrocław
  • Location: Voivodeship dolnośląskie, district Wrocław, commune Wrocław
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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