The Szczecin Philharmonic’s new concert hall puts form and function wonderfully in tune—and thrusts an overlooked Polish city onto the world stage, reminding us that beauty can arise from conflict.

By Ian David Volner
Updated: January 21, 2017
Magda Biernat/OTTO

The history of the Polish city of Szczecin (pronounced shchay-cheen) is as vexed as its spelling. Near what’s now the German border, it was swapped among empires for centuries. Many of its buildings were destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II; still more were knocked down by the Communist authorities shortly afterward, among them the town’s Konzerthaus, its main music venue.

The site sat vacant, an open wound in the urban landscape, for more than 50 years—until the recent debut of a glittering new Philharmonic Hall designed by Barcelona-based architects Barozzi/Veiga. The building’s interior of sparkling gold panels and light-filled atria is wrapped in a semiopaque glass façade with matte white aluminum strips, all of it parceled into a sequence of oblong wedges whose gabled roofs look like a child’s drawing of home. At night, it is beautifully illuminated from within; in sunlight it glows a milky white.

The effect feels less like a monumental showpiece than a mini-village, an extension of the city’s jagged, irregular streetscape and its bristling skyline. As an act of historical healing, not to mention an invaluable addition to Szczecin’s cultural life, the hall is a virtuoso performance—one that well deserved the ovation it received when it claimed the Mies van der Rohe Award, the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture.