The Centennial Hall, a landmark in the history of reinforced concrete architecture, was erected in 1911-1913 by the architect Max Berg as a multi-purpose recreational building, situated in the Exhibition Grounds. In form it is a symmetrical quatrefoil with a vast circular central space that can seat some 6,000 persons. The 23m-high dome is topped with a lantern in steel and glass. The Centennial Hall is a pioneering work of modern engineering and architecture, which exhibits an important interchange of influences in the early 20th century, becoming a key reference in the later development of reinforced concrete structures.
The history of the city of Wroclaw is coloured by many influences and rulers, also reflected in the varying forms of the name of this ‘Island City': Wrotizla, Vretslav, Presslaw, Bresslau, Breslau, Wroclaw. As the capital of an important province and one of the principal cities in the German Empire, Wroclaw (then Breslau) developed rapidly in the late 19th century. Taking into consideration the city's historically strategic location and its role as an important multicultural communication centre, it was considered to require a permanent structures to house exhibitions such as those in Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Leipzig or Dresden. An opportunity for building the new Exhibition Grounds was the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the address to the German Nation presented by King Frederick William III, in 1813. The decision was taken by the City Council in 1910. The location was decided as part of the suburban complex (150 ha), consisting of the mid-19th century Park Szczytnicki, designed by distinguished garden designers, and the Municipal Zoological Garden of 1864-1865. This area was a favourite retreat for visitors, and a tram line had been built to connect it to the city in late 19th century.
In 1909, architect Max Berg (1870-1947), who had studied in Munich and worked in Frankfurt am Main, was appointed municipal architect. In the following year, he started preparing a design for a multipurpose exhibition hall, presenting the project in early 1911 as a part of a plan for city improvement. On 28 June, 1911, the City Council approved Berg's design and gave its consent to the construction of the Exhibition Grounds and the Centennial Hall.
At the same time, an architectural competition was announced for the design of the Exhibition Grounds. The task of developing the overall layout was entrusted to Hans Poelzig (1869-1936), the Principal of the State Academy of Fine and Decorative Arts in the city. The final project was developed by him in collaboration with Berg. The focal point was the Centennial Hall, and the overall layout of the grounds was based on two principal axes, instead of one as had been proposed by many other competitors. In 1912, the City Council approved the plans for the second exhibition building, the Four-Dome Pavilion designed by Hans Poelzig, to house a historical exhibition on the Napoleonic Wars. To this were added the administrative building and a restaurant, these structures formed a forum-like square, with the main gate located on the west side, and a view to the north over an artificial pond surrounded by a monumental pergola, designed by Poelzig.
The work site was opened in 1911, and the construction of the monumental arches started in April 1912. The technology was avant-garde. Specially designed electric compressors were used to pre-stress the concrete. The stability was verified by Professor Heinrich Müller of Berlin. Building materials were selected with great care. Special cement, supplied by the Silesia Cement Plant in Opole and tested in Groß Lichterfelde, Berlin, was used for the concrete. High-grade rolled steel was employed for reinforcement rods instead of the standard structural steel. In the sections exposed to higher stress, an aggregate made of the highest quality granite was used. The municipal authority examined the hardening of concrete during month-long tests. The required strength was 6 times greater than estimated. A hardwood model of the apse was built in scale 1:25 and tested under a load of 6000 kg. Only qualified and experienced workers were employed.
The Centennial Exhibition opened in May 1913, attended by Crown Prince Wilhelm. Over 100 000 people visited the Exhibition. After it closed, the temporary pavilions were dismantled, but the Centennial Hall continued to serve as an assembly place and Poelzig's Four-Dome Pavilion as an exhibition hall. After World War I, the Exhibition Grounds were managed by a joint stock company. National and international industrial fairs were organised, as well as art exhibitions, concerts and theatrical productions. In 1924-1925 the Exhibition Grounds were expanded, and a large exhibition pavilion, Messehalle, and a monumental colonnaded entrance were built to Berg's design, but destroyed during World War II. In 1929, a "Living and Work-space" exhibition (WUWA) was organised in Breslau by the German Werkbund, an important manifesto of new architecture, innovative technologies and services.
The Exhibition Grounds survived World War II relatively intact. In 1948 the Exhibition of the Reclaimed Territories (returned to Poland) was staged here, commemorated by the steel Spire ("Iglica"), designed by Professor Stanisław Hempel, erected on the square in front of the Centennial Hall. In August 1948, the World Congress of Intellectuals in the Defence of Peace was staged at the Centennial Hall, attended by Pablo Picasso. In 1995-1997 the interior of the Centennial Hall was renovated.