Historic Poznań stadium to gain second life as family park following radical makeover
Regarded as one of Poland’s most mind-boggling urban ruins, a historic stadium in Poznań is to gain a second life after ambitious plans were revealed to transform it into a park.
Officially titled Stadion im. Edmunda Szyca (in honour of one of the founders of Warta Poznań), the stadium has languished in a state of decay ever since its former tenants, the football side Warta, moved out in the 1990s.
A favourite haunt of urbex photographers and football nostalgists, many had once feared that this remarkable folly would be bulldozed into oblivion.
Instead, City Hall have now revealed a visionary concept that will see the development of a park that will preserve many of the stadium’s surviving elements.
Following a competitive process that saw 77 architectural studios submit their ideas, it was a project from the Gliwice-based Studio Fikus that was picked by a panel of jurors.
Izabela Małachowska-Coqui, the chairwoman of the adjudicatory panel, said: “We expected a revolutionary approach from the participants.
“As jurors, we wanted to see how the designers would deal with themes of water and green infrastructure. We were also interested in seeing how they would approach the existing buildings.”
Continuing, she praised the concept submitted by Studio Fikus for its clear compositional layout and multifunctional goals.
Among other things, the 46 hectare area will incorporate recreation zones designed for all age brackets, a sports hall seating 1,500 people, cycle paths, climbing walls and ‘silent zones’ where visitors can bask amid the greenery.
However, it is the way in which the stadium’s heritage stands to be rescued that has won the most praise.
Currently comparable to a gigantic overgrown bowl submerged under tangled trees and unruly vegetation, the stadium’s embankments will be cleaned up and an observation deck added.
Below, on what was once the pitch, a ribboning path will be built to sashay around a small lake. Outside, a pavilion will be repurposed to serve as a permanent exhibition space dedicated to the stadium’s history.
Completed in 1929 to coincide with the General National Exhibition – a major fair that had been organized to mark ten years of independence – it was officially opened by President Ignacy Mościcki.
Its beginnings, though, were somewhat inauspicious. In the general haste to finish the stadium, several shortcuts had been made and the President is said to have been escorted out after bits of masonry and scaffolding started raining down on those attending the ceremony.
Within 10 years, a significant rebuild was ordered to stop the stadium from collapsing entirely.
This was interrupted by WWII which brought with it the stadium’s darkest chapter – it was here that Jews from a nearby labour camp were executed by the Nazis.
A largely forgotten part of local history, the plans for the new park also account for this and a place of memorial will commemorate the 200 or so Jews that were hung here on a gallows.
After the war, the stadium took its present day shape when it was rebuilt between 1950 and 1957.
Typical of the sweeping stadiums that were being built around Poland at the time, it was used primarily by Warta Poznań who would share it on occasion with the local giants, Lech.
In 1972, Lech’s match against Zawisza Bydgoszcz attracted a crowd of 60,000, a European record for a second tier match that reputedly stands to this day.
But this was not the only big occasion. Staging its first international match in 1931, in all it hosted Poland’s national team ten times.
Included in these matches was a 7-0 mauling of the USA that saw the legendary Kazimierz Deyna net a hattrick.
Twice, the Republic of Ireland played here with players to grace the pitch including Liam Brady and Joe Kinnear. Later, in 1980, Scotland too appeared with a Zbigniew Boniek goal proving enough to edge a Scottish side containing Gordon Strachan and Kenny Dalglish.
Football was not the only draw, either. Athletics events were also held here and so too pop concerts – of the performers that once played, a 1979 appearance by Boney M is fondly remembered to this day.
Like nothing the city had seen before, the group arrived to Poznan by helicopter before entertaining 56,000 people with hits like Daddy Cool and Rivers of Babylon. Marred by the excessive and drunken behaviour of hundreds of overly-excited youths, the 90-minute gig saw numerous attempts to breach the stage.
Other large gatherings passed more peacefully, and these included a string of celebrity preachers in the 1980s.
There, the good times ended. Poland’s transition to a capitalist economy saw Warta Poznan plunge down a financial spiral and forced the sale of the ground to a housing developer.
However, legal complexities prevented the demolition of the ground, so instead it was left to fester and rot.
A magnificent urban phantom, today the stadium’s shattered stairwells, gloomy tunnels and overgrown terraces strike a compelling and eerie sight. Now, after years of devastation, a new era beckons.