Location: Ptuj, Slovenia
Design Team: Dean Lah, Milan Tomac, Polona Ruparčič, Andrej Oblak, Maruša Zupančič, Alja Černe, Tjaž Bauer, Petra Ostanek, Nuša Završnik Šilec, Nebojša Vertovšek
Area: 3,527 sqm
Photographs: Miran Kambič
Structural Engineering: Elea iC
Mechanical Services: Nom biro
Electrical Planning: Elsing
From the architect. The Dominican monastery in Ptuj boasts more than 800 years of history, which is, in various degrees of apparentness, expressed in its building structure. The Dominicans came to Ptuj in the early 13th century, when they were given a plot within the city walls, at the very edge of the west corner. Alongside the existing Romanesque buildings, they began the construction of the monastery and the church, whose transformation of its Romanesque configuration to the current Baroque form had several interim Gothic phases. The rest of the monastery complex shares a similar fate also; however, much more of the Mediaeval, Gothic structure is preserved there.
After the dissolution of the monastery in the late 18th century, the building saw a number of uses, serving as barracks, a hospital, a museum, and providing social housing, to mention only those most significant. During this time, the building complex had its ups and downs, but each role it served left a mark in the shape of extensions and conversions. The nave was the part that “suffered” the most, having lost its entire apsidal portion – nearly a half of the building – in the Baroquisation.
The new Baroque nave has been squeezed in between the remaining longitudinal walls and to this day exhibits its unusual, elongated volume. In the time after the dissolution of the monastery, the church was divided into three floors along its vertical axis, which effected the creation of additional window apertures by means of breaking through the walls. In the remaining part of the monastery, the interventions were never as destructive; mostly, they consisted of creating extensions and additional floors, and, after the dissolution of the monastery, converting larger spaces into smaller ones.
With its splendid and inspiring past, followed by an unfortunate fate after the dissolution of the fraternity, the renovation Dominican monastery represents a demanding task of great responsibility. For a successful renovation of a historical building, the key is to keep the building in service and strive for the new programme to showcase its historical value, as well as artistic merit. The building also has to be adapted to its future use without major invasive interventions, which would damage its historical structure. A congress and cultural centre comes close to the function which the building had in the time of its completion: in the past, monasteries performed the role of cultural and scientific centres while in the Middle Ages, churches served as one of the only venues for indoor public manifestations.
Due to similarities in the programme, the monastery complex serves the new organisational scheme almost flawlessly. The main event hall is situated in the erstwhile nave while all the remaining auxiliary spaces are lined around the cloister; there is a smaller hall in the erstwhile refectory, and another one in the erstwhile working spaces. The cloister serves as an entrance hall and the main node of all the paths through the building. The interweaving of different building styles forms fragile and sensitive environments, which offer an excellent spatial framework already on their own. All the minor shortcomings affecting the users’ comfort are richly compensated by the artistic and historical experience.
The perennial quest for compromise between the demands of conservationists and functional demands of the new content has been taken forward with architectural ideas informed chiefly by the attitudes of respect towards the built and cultural heritage. Whereby another challenge in the renovation of the monastery has been the difference in the time required for a complete renovation by the various parties involved.
While architecture has to provide all the necessary spaces required by the envisaged programme already in the first phase if the complex is to function properly, the conservation and restoration work is performed in steps and takes considerably longer. It is due to the extensive painted surfaces, which have been only partially uncovered and restored, that the new intervention is limited exclusively to the surfaces where no new archaeological finds or conservation interventions are expected: the floor. The floor contains the full gamut of the new technological functions required by the renovated congress and cultural centre, from the installations network to heating, ventilation, lighting, and sound. The wall surfaces remain intact and ready for the demanding restoration, which will require additional time when the building is already in use.
The very fact that it has to connect finished spaces and those yet to be finished – originating, as if this was not enough, from different historical periods -, the expression of this new “carpet” comes with a little more presence than might be expected. The spaces are tied together into a more solid design whole by black concrete paving, which is sufficiently neutral so as not to compete with the revived beauty of the restored parts of the building, and yet contrasting enough to drown the chaos of the parts of the building still awaiting completion.
This spatial concept of simple design features a key twist in the main event space – the nave. After the construction of the added floors had been torn down, subsequent archaeological work revealed rich findings in the central section of the erstwhile Gothic church. The sepulchres, reredos, and the remains of the steps and flooring made from Roman gravestones will be presented “in situ”. Above this section, the new floor is consequently raised in space, forming tiered stands for the visitors at the same time, and acting as a spatial partition between the reconstructed Baroque church and the remains of the erstwhile Gothic building.
The path along the staircase towards the visitors’ seats is thus a sequence of different spatial experiences. Having taken a walk amid the archaeological finds, the first landing offers a view of the floor plan of the erstwhile Gothic building; on the second landing, one can take a close look at the newly discovered details of the Mediaeval architecture; while at the end, towards the top, the view of the entire splendour of the Baroque nave gradually opens. The contrast between the new floor and the historical substance of the erstwhile monastery is deliberately greatest in the black-on-white appearance of the main hall, referencing the famous black and white habit of the Dominican Order where the white is symbolic of innocence and black of modesty.