Modern architecture and careful renovation of historical buildings under monument protection do not usually go hand in hand. However, there are exceptions that lead to extraordinary results. One example is the PLATO contemporary art gallery in Ostrava, which opened in the fall of 2022. It was established in the converted buildings of a former slaughterhouse that operated here from 1881 until the 1960s. Since the 1990s, the abandoned facility fell into disrepair until 2017, when an international architectural competition was announced for its transformation. The post-industrial style of the halls lent itself particularly well to the exhibition of art.
Silesian studio KWK Promes was initially awarded only third place in the competition for the PLATO headquarters. The clients were afraid of the implementation of their bold and technically difficult concept. In the end, however, the contract was signed with the Katowice office and the architects' vision was realized.
An old slaughterhouse with holes like a Swiss cheese
The biggest challenge was adapting the badly damaged buildings, which stood on unstable ground. After needing to demolish some of the less valuable buildings, the basic framework of the old slaughterhouse remained, consisting of four buildings. For decades, the brick complex was treated negligently by its users. Valuable facades were pierced with arbitrary holes - where a new technical line had to be passed. Therefore, the objects that have survived to this day were heavily punctured.
Emphasis on the imperfect
The planners considered the flaws of the slaughterhouse as features not to be hidden, but to be emphasized in order to add another layer to the history of this place - this is the description of the concept of the main designers of Galeria PLATO - architects Robert Konieczny, Michał Lisiński and Dorota Żurek from KWK Promes. Therefore, it was decided not to mason the holes in the facade, but to fill them with modern concrete, which creates an interesting contrast with the brick facades.
The openings in the old walls gave the architects another idea - where gates and doors used to fill the holes, a total of six rotating concrete walls were now to be used. In the exhibition halls and the entrance hall, the walls offer artists and curators completely new exhibition possibilities. The huge rotating walls- the tallest being over 6.1 meters high, the widest almost 5.8 meters wide-required innovative solutions. Electric drives are responsible for their movement. They were placed under each movable element in a special underground chamber made of reinforced concrete.
Insulation without affecting the brick facades
Preservation of the brick façades required another important solution. The old slaughterhouse no longer met modern thermal standards. In the search for a material that could insulate the brick walls without affecting the historic façade, the choice fell on Multipor mineral boards, which can be safely used in thermal modernization from the inside and are perfectly compatible with lime plaster. Originally, the interior of the slaughterhouse was whitewashed with lime for hygienic reasons. Designers partially return to this solution - today white walls covered with lime plaster are a perfect background for the art presented here. In the old slaughterhouse buildings, the window reveals, which are often arched, also had to be insulated. The lightweight Multipor boards are cut with a standard saw blade and sanded with a trowel - making it quick and easy to adapt the insulation elements even to complicated walls or window openings.
"The good experience we had on our previous construction sites with Ytong or Silka technology also spoke in favor of the Multipor system. Xella's technical support in selecting the layers and the appropriate insulation thickness was also very helpful. In the old slaughterhouse, we ended up using mainly Multipor boards with a thickness of 125 mm" - explains Michał Lisiński. It was also possible to hide some installations in the insulation layer, where it was not possible in the furrows of the brick walls.
Emphasis on patina on the facades in combination with innovative movable walls makes the PLATO Gallery of Contemporary Art in Ostrava a unique building that is in no way inferior to the artistic value of the exhibits inside. The preservation of the historic building represents an unprecedented approach to the renovation of monuments. You can read more about the project on the architects’ homepage.
big picture above: Jakub Certowicz | other pictures: courtesy of KWK Promes Robert Konieczny studio