“Planet Lem” – a new home for literature and language in Krakow

The first centre devoted to literature and language in Poland will be established in Krakow. The construction of the “Planet Lem” Literature and Language Centre in the former Salt Store in Zabłocie was announced by the City of Krakow during a press conference on the 6th of September 2018. The conference was accompanied by the announcement of an international architectural and urban competition for the concept of the Centre.

Stanisław Lem will be the patron of the new Centre. “He was the most popular Polish author, a writer who dealt with issues that are universal and current, even for today’s reader. ‘Planet Lem’ will be a place devoted to the broad presentation of literature and language heritage and will become a symbol of Krakow – UNESCO City of Literature,” says Jacek Majchrowski, Mayor of Krakow. “Works on the detailed concept of the centre lasted for many years and involved all the literary circles of our city – and beyond. For the 5th anniversary of the awarding of the UNESCO City of Literature title to Krakow, we proudly present a mature vision of the place based on the idea of multi-generational literary and linguistic education. We want to do justice to this important location and use it for social purposes – in its special context at the junction of three districts and in the context of other cultural institutions of Podgórze and Zabłocie,” adds the Mayor.

The investment will be developed on a plot of land belonging to the city, with an area of about 1 hectare, at ul. Na Zjeździe 8, in the vicinity of other cultural institutions on the right bank of the Vistula –Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory, the MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art and the Cricoteka Centre for Documentation of the Art of Tadeusz Kantor, near the bridge of the agglomeration railway, the Podgórze Museum and the green areas of the Vistula Boulevards. In this way, a place will be created which will be particularly valuable for the cultural district that Zabłocie and Podgórze have become in recent years. The context of the nearby Bohaterów Getta Square is also important, as is the successive development of Zabłocie, where in recent years significant numbers of residents – families with children – coming there, looking for the so-called third place for themselves –a place to spend their free time, learn and rest.

Stanisław Lem will be the patron of the literary house of Krakow

The historic Salt Store building has been considered for many years as a future cultural space, and the authorities made considerations for locating the seats of a number of institutions there, including the Krakow Festival Office, Sinfonietta Cracovia, the Podgórze Museum and the Krakow Library. The subject of the international competition for the vision of “Planet Lem” is the revitalisation of the 18th-century salt warehouse building and its extension, which will comprise adding a new building on its eastern side. The whole complex will be a multifunctional space, open to all age groups, a place of literary education and at the same time a showcase of the first Slavic UNESCO City of Literature – Krakow has been holding this title since 2013.

A modern exhibition dedicated to the thematic universe of the novels by Stanisław Lem – futurologist, novelist, most often translated and published Polish writer – will constitute the heart of the investment. In this place, the memory of the creative output of other outstanding masters of written word, especially those associated with Krakow, will be nurtured, including Czesław Miłosz, Wisława Szymborska, Stanisław Wyspiański, Joseph Conrad, Sławomir Mrożek, as well as outstanding translators, illustrators, and authors of children’s books.

Multifunctional and innovative space for literature

The concept of the main exhibition was developed by Tengent, a studio, whose artists were partly responsible for the successes of the renowned Platige Image group, among others. The vision was created from an idea by Jacek Dukaj, one of the most important contemporary Polish novelists. The narrative of the exhibition is built around the key issues of technological progress, chance, evolution, strangeness and the boundaries of cognition, which were all crucial to Lem. At the same time, it will be aimed at a broader audience, including, first of all, youth and children, involving participants in an interactive game with the use of innovative technologies.

In cooperation with the Foundation for the Museum of Polish Language, the concept of an additional permanent exhibition devoted to language (including in particular Polish in all its forms and dialects) and communication in general was developed. Additionally, mobile exhibitions are planned, reminding the visitors of outstanding literary figures of Krakow, modern, modular multifunctional rooms for festivals and other literary events (including the Conrad Festival, Miłosz Festival, Non-Fiction Festival, Children Literature Festival, Comic Book Festival) and a number of other literary initiatives carried out by the future partners of the Centre), as well as a media library, café and bookshop and a coworking space for literary and creative circles of Krakow. The building will be complemented by an adjacent garden, thanks to which post-industrial Zabłocie will be enriched with a new green space. “The investment concludes the programme of revitalisation of Zabłocie by establishing a common home for various literary initiatives and all the entities that have been building the literary Krakow for years. Our city needs such a place and for a long time, together with the literary circles of our city, as well as the Honorary Council of the UNESCO City of Literature, we have been talking about such a spacious and inclusive concept for all the various literary phenomena present in Krakow,” said Mayor Majchrowski. The development of “Planet Lem” fulfils the most important of Krakow’s declarations from the admission application to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. The facility will be operated by the Krakow Festival Office, which oversees the investment process on behalf of the City.

The project was supported not only by various literary circles in Krakow, including writers gathered around the Honorary Council of Krakow – UNESCO City of Literature, representatives of the Polish Language Council and a coalition of Polish linguists represented by the Foundation for the Museum of Polish Language, representatives of UNESCO Cities of Literature from all over the world, but also numerous guests of Krakow literary festivals, booksellers, publishers and translators.

Poland’s first Centre for Literature and Language

The literary centre in the Salt Store will be the first place in Poland devoted to the modern reflection on language. The establishment of the Centre was unanimously supported by the Polish Language Council at the Presidium of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) and all important linguistic communities in Poland. The idea of a modern centre for language stems from the conviction that its importance in the life of cultures and societies remains unchanged. There are interdisciplinary institutions around the world that use the latest technologies, interactive installations and spatial objects in their mission to present linguistic issues in a way that is accessible to a wide range of audiences. Languages such as Spanish (Casa del lector in Madrid and Museo del Libro y de la Lengua in Buenos Aires), Portuguese (Museu da Língua Portuguesa in São Paulo) and Lithuanian (Lietuvių Kalbos Muziejus in Vilnius) already have their own museums.

The enormous, but still little known and often underestimated richness of Polish history and the variety of phenomena occurring in the contemporary Polish language may be the starting point for a narrative including not only native speakers, but also Polish communities all over the world and all those interested in learning and exploring the language as the most perfect tool for communication.

International architectural competition

The announcement of the investment coincides with the inauguration of the international architectural and urban competition for the concept of the Centre, organised in cooperation with the Krakow Branch of the Association of Polish Architects. The two-stage competition, addressed to studios from all over the world, includes the revitalisation of the former salt store building and the construction of a new building or a complex of buildings on its eastern side.

The competition jury chaired by Piotr Lewicki will comprise architects experienced in cultural projects, including Alberto Veiga from Barrozzi/Veiga Studio (Szczecin Philharmonic, Auditorio Águilas, concert halls in Munich and Edinburgh, the Museum of Fine Arts in Chur, Switzerland) and Zbigniew Maćków (revitalisation of the Main Railway Station in Wrocław, author of the famous project Church). Beauty and Kitsch, which was carried out within the framework of the programme of the European Capital of Culture 2016 in Wrocław. The deadline for submitting applications for admission to the competition was set for the 28th of September, and the results will be announced in March 2019.

The investment will be carried out in 2019-2022. The opening of the facility, planned for 2022, will begin a new chapter in the promotion of Stanisław Lem’s work and will complete the Lem 2021 cultural and educational project carried out under the auspices of Krakow – UNESCO City of Literature programme in connection with the 100th anniversary of the writer’s birth in 2021.

The investment will be financed mainly from municipal funds; however, the organisers declare their efforts to obtain external funds, included the planned call for proposals for the Norway Grants. “Planet Lem” meets all the requirements for social and cultural investments. We follow the example of similar literary and creative centres that have been successfully operating for years in the world – Federation Square in Melbourne, Casa del lector in Madrid, Writers’ Centre in Norwich, German houses of literature. We are convinced that Krakow, as a city with a special literary identity and one of the cradles of Polish language, deserves to have a place which will properly highlight and showcase these traditions, and at the same time a space for further promotion of literature and development of knowledge about language,” Mayor Majchrowski concluded.



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