Layers of Time: An architectural intervention at MAO

Project

As part of the exhibition We are renovating!!!, which draws attention to recent projects for adaptive re-use in Slovenia, Matevž Čelik, the director of Museum of Architecture and Design MAO and leader of the Future Architecture platform proposed a competition for architectural intervention in the Fužine Castle, where MAO is located. The winner proposal was “Layers of Time” by Julio Gotor Valcárcel.
 
The intervention on the Fužine castle is understood as the addition of new layers of time. Eventually, this building is the result of the compilation of a collection of layers. The different architectures that have changed it, the history, the age of the elements, the change of program, etc. A collection of layers that shapes and renders the reality of the building and its relation with the surrounding.
 
As per Aldo Rossi, the Great Mosque of Córdoba is more interesting than the Alhambra in Granada, for its use and shape have been steadily transformed as Córdoba itself evolved, compared to the fossil and permanent character of Alhambra.
 
The intervention in the castle comprises the setting of a new layer in this palimpsest. A simple, delicate proposal, according to the present reality of the castle and its use. In a nutshell, the intervention dialogues with these temporary layers which have shaped the reality of the castle, and their duration.
 
As if it were a Bach’s coral opus, the castle is formed by a series of architectural elements, very much like melodic lines. The addition of them all resulting in the complexity of the total itself. The walls, the courtyard, the succession of arches creating galleries, its relation with the river, and so on.
 
The proposal includes works on the courtyard. An intervention aimed at the implementation of its present use, through a series of proposals, layers added to the present shape:
 
– Shading. The courtyard and corridors will be closed during the hottest months of the year: a series of retractable awnings allowing different positions depending on the program. With this, the implementation of the program is allowed, enlarging the terrace space for the cafeteria, the outside reading space and the leisure area when needed. The awnings will be designed according to the structural lines of the building, a series of transverse stripes acting as the sails of a ship. Some Roman-like awnings, translucid, contrasting the sturdiness of the castle. These veils filtering the light and reflecting time as it goes by during the year. The geometry of the awning dialogues with the arches in the courtyard, being a reflection of the stress the structure geometry.
 
-Occupation. A collection of flexible elements will be displayed, vegetation and furniture. Simple and portable pieces arranged according to the situation. These elements allow the use of the surrounding spaces. Furniture for the terrace, leisure and reading spaces, playing zone for children. This same logic will be applied in KIOSK K67. One of the moving platforms allows it to be placed as needed. As to vegetation, some plants platforms, rolling raised beds, will be placed, like many other contemporary public space interventions. The plants will be chosen having two aspects in mind: Ljubljana’s climate and their perennial character. Species with overlapping blooming months will be chosen, resulting in a colourful variety from spring to winter. This will be another temporary layer added to the reality of the castle.
 
All the works together are aimed at maximizing the use of the courtyard of the castle, doing so in a sensitive manner, adequate to its historic reality. The proposal reveals and fosters thinking about the different layers that make the historical space. In conclusion, the aim is to create a new architectural scenario by means of the superimposition of temporary layers, from what there was and what there will be.

Interview

How does the project approach notions of preservation and restoration?

Buildings are never a relic. The relation with the notions of preservation and restoration is tackled through the project itself. The main aim in the development of this project is to preserve and enhance the use of the castle’s courtyard. We understand the patio as the core of the building and conceived the proposal as an opportunity to restore the importance and significance of this space by expanding its use and atmospheric quality. Therefore, the purpose is to add new layers of content that allow us to enhance the potential of the courtyard in a pragmatic and symbolic way.

As it was said before in the example mentioned by Aldo Rossi, instead of treating the castle as a fossil or something still that cannot be altered, we consider the building and its surroundings as a piece of history that has been changing continuously and something we can still work with in a sensitive manner. The building is an alive structure that it is being shaped through the addition of new layers of physical and symbolic content and transformations.

What research did you undertake in order to understand and define a methodology through which to approach the project?

The “morphogenetic” evolution of the castle. The first step was to understand the castle and its evolution during the last five centuries. What was there? How did it change? From the very beginning the notion of palimpsest showed up in relation with the project. The castle has been shaped through all these years by the transformation and addition of different content.

Hence, it is fair to say that the building is the result of a compilation of different realities. In the end we were proposing a new one, we were scraping on top of the existing (etymology palimpsest means “scraped again”).

Eventually, the project is the result of a selection process. The proposal highlights certain realities and qualities of the existing castle in order to enhance its use and to bring back the importance of the courtyard as the core space.

As a result of this selection methodology we proposed two new layers:

-Shading: controlling the sunlight in summer and creating a new flexible atmosphere.
-Occupation: a collection of furniture and vegetation pieces as tools to augment de use of the courtyard and its relationship with the user.

What role do structures as the modular chiosk designed in 1966 by Saša J. Mächtig play within the context of the castle?

These structures and modular elements as the chiosk designed by Saša J. Mächtig are introducing a new scale in the courtyard. In the end this is a result of the general strategy. The first proposal, the shading, controls the light and atmospheric conditions of the big space. On the other hand, the flexible and modular elements propose a human scale which stablishes a relation with the users and with the void. In the end, these modular structures are controlling and articulating the big void delimited by the castle’s courtyard. Each of these strategies are defined and developed according to their hierarchy, purpose and scale.

Eventually the vegetation elements, as part of the modular structures, propose a link with Ljubljana’s vegetation. A variety of vegetal species from the botanical garden are chosen allowing a continuous and overlapping blooming time from summer to winter.

What tools did you use in the development and articulation of the project?

In a conceptual way, the notion of layer and palimpsest is a key aspect of the articulation of the project. As it was said before, the understanding of the castle and the project as the result of a compilation of layers. Hence, the concept of history, time and evolution is also applied into the elements that constitute the proposed layers. The fabric of the shades will work as a filter of the light conditions, the vegetation is used in order to reflect Ljubljana’s seasons evolution and the wood itself will be modified due to the impact of rainwater and sun. All the elements will reflect the evolution of time.
On the pragmatic point of view, 3D software and collage-renders were the main tools used in the development of the process. 3D software, in order to control the geometries and position of the shade in the courtyard and the relation with the arches. The collage renders are understood as a tool to propose atmospheres in a precise and poetic way. They are a critical tool to project architectural and phenomenological ideas.

How pivotal were the images and the collage as means through which to test ideas and possible scenarios?

The images and collage were a key element in the development of the process. They were understood in a way to represent ideas not only in a poetic or atmospheric point of view but in a precise one. The images were useful in order to reflect and test the spatial qualities and the flexibility of the ideas.

This technic was also chosen due to its relationship with the idea of palimpsest through the whole project. The collages allow us to blend different ages into one single image.

What informed the choice of silhouettes positioned within the images? how do they inform the architectural vision and site?

These silhouettes come from different Spanish painters I am familiar with (Velázquez, Goya, Martínez del Mazo, Jadraque, Sorolla). In the end, the way these silhouettes are placed, and the composition of the collage-renders is heavily influenced by paintings of these masters and some other baroque paintings.

I deeply believe that many of these paintings offer very interesting and expressive notions about space, light and atmospheric conditions. We tried to bring some of these qualities into the project not only by placing the silhouettes but understanding and highlighting the qualities of the works.

From collage to photograph, what is the importance of these in documenting the completed architectural intervention?

Eventually both documents are capturing the same ideas with different degrees of precision. What was supposed in the collages is confirmed or contrasted in the final pictures. Things that you cannot completely control (roughness of the materials, reflections, weather condition, etc.) are finally revealed in the photographs. In any case, both documents are showing similar spatial qualities. They both are talking about how the atmosphere and the reality has changed through the intervention.

What defined the absence of individuals in the majority of these?

The absence of individuals is revealing the two scales this proposal is working with. The striped reality of the linear awnings, which is covering the scale of the void and the modular elements which are relating to the human, the individual. The already mentioned absence is reflecting this relation in a more radical way.

In the end, it is also related to the personal choice of the photographer (Miran Kambič) in a certain moment and light condition. I find this contrast between the symbolic excess of the collage silhouettes and the abstractness of the final photographs interesting.

What informed the various perspectives through which the finished project is captured and shared?

The key element these perspectives are revealing is the apparent huge contrast that exist between the heaviness and rigidity of the castle arches and the fragility and flexibility of the roman awnings. The first one solid, opaque, heavy, still, permanent and old; the second one transparent, reflective, movable, shaky, light and temporal.

For us, the real interest is how both elements are ruled by the same gravity stresses. The stone arch is defined by a circular geometry which leads the loads to the ground level. The geometry is revealing the stress. In the same way, the awning is deformed and stretched by the gravity force, defining an array of continuous catenaries. Therefore, the same forces are defining both geometries in a mirrored way. The contrast is caused by the same source.

What is for you the contemporary relationship between architecture and the image?

There are different ideological approaches in terms of architecture and representation. This idea is briefly developed in an acutely interesting short text written by Alejandro Zaera Polo, “Paper tigers”. I find it interesting in the way he contrasts between the neo-naïf collage approach, related to a critical reaction against the neoliberal market and the hyperrealist tendenza apparently serving to the market. He discusses about the possibility of a meeting point between both trends where the new realist simulation tools can be used in a critic way.

In my opinion there is a huge relation between these ideas and what is defended by Guy Debord in the book “The Society of Spectacle”. As he claims, everything we experiment has become a representation.

On the other hand, I do believe in the value of the image as a meaningful way to express ideas. We should be able to master contemporary image production tools together with a critical thought in order to achieve credibility. As this year Trienal de Lisboa’s motto, the goal of representation should be guided by the “poetics of reason”.

What is for you the architect's most important tool?

Flexibility. In Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, there is a memorable dialogue where the main character declares how fragility, weakness and youth is related to life, while strength and hardness is linked to death.

Flexibility is closely related with that idea. By means of flexibility we are able to react and adapt to different scenarios. Being flexible is the only way we can blend with the changing and liquid reality of nowadays.

About

Julio Gotor Valcárcel (Albacete, 1993). Architect graduated from ETSAM (Madrid), with 1st Class Honors, 2017.

He has worked in Tokyo (internship at Atelier Bow-wow) and Madrid (estudio Herreros). He is currently based in Basel, Switzerland.

He was one of the winners of the Young Talent Architecture Award by the Mies van der Rohe foundation in 2018. Therefore, his work has been exhibited as part of the YTAA exhibition at ETSAM (Madrid), Chengdu IFS Skylark Gallery (Chengdu, China), ETSAG (Granada), Malaga University ETS Architecture (Málaga), Neubrandenburg University of Applied Sciences (Germany), University of Zagreb – Faculty of Architecture (Croatia) and Faculty of architecture at the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia). His work has been exhibited and recognized, among other exhibitions, at the Palazzo Mora (YTAA, collateral event at the Venice Biennale 2018), Documentos por Venir (Bienal Española de Arquitectura, 2018), COAM (Colegio de Arquitectos de Madrid, 3rd prize Final Thesis Award).

In 2019, he participated at the Future Architecure Platform-Matchmaking conferences event in Ljubljana, Slovenia. He was selected to participate at the Trienal de Lisboa 2019, The Poetics of Reason. He participated and led a workshop at the Tirana Design Week 2019 (Albania). In 2019, his proposal Layers of Time was selected and developed at the Renaissance Fužine Castle, Museum of Architecture and Design of Slovenia (MAO).

His work has been published at Documentos (Por Venir), TC Cuadernos, Young Talent Architecture Award catalogue 2018, and digital media like Domus (Italy), Baunetz (Germany), Archdaily, Afasia (Spain), Outsider Magazine (Slovenia), BMIAA, Metalocus (Spain) or Plataforma Arquitectura.

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