Architecture – A game of surprise

The 2004 Dušan Jurkovič Award was awarded to the Art Elementary School Smižany designed by Košice Architectural Studio Atrium. We have talked to the architect Dušan Burák about the award winning project, architecture and other realizations and studies. The Dušan Jurkovič Award is the highest appreciation awarded by the Slovak Architects Association for a realized project in the field of Slovak architecture. From a list of ten architectural projects signed into this year's competition the Committee has awarded this price to the Art Elementary School in Smižany. Its authors and author associate are Dušan Burák, Michal Burák and Ctibor Reiskup from the Architectural Studio Atrium Košice. The jury has appreciated “the freshness and present spirit of the design and the realization with the feeling for the local scale, the simple yet elegant structure, colourfulness and composition which boldly contribute tu the countryside architecture. Even if the project is not a top architectural masterpiece it is still an indisputable contribution and may be an important impulse for the Slovak countryside architecture development.” As the authors state, the project came to existence thanks to an impulse from the American investor of Slovak origins Dr. Ing. Dezider Eugen Slavoj which towards the end of his life decided to donate a school to his native Spiš. The building stands in the centre of the village where a former cantorial house used to stand and totally uses the parcel – it copies its shape and traces of the corner house. Composition of the house is derived from the municipality scale, historical background and function of the object. It tries to react to the feelings of the children – the size, colour, freedom etc. by building “their own school“ (there are student citations in the front).

How did the cooperation with the investor go? To what extend did he interfere with the project? Was he trying to promote his own thoughts or did he give you full liberty?

“It was an extraordinary rare project. Investor was across the ocean and so he gave us his full trust in choosing a parcel, in functional and capacity goals of the investment and its architectural image. Sometimes we even had the feeling that me miss the concrete opposition. The only limiting factor was the investment sum which started to decrease due to strengthening of the Slovak crown towards the dollar. But the entrusted investor in Slovakia had just crossed and crossed and crossed the costs out during the prism…“

“We had to therefore design an optimal size of the school, integration of typological ties and inserted a possibility of dividing the concept into multiple phases.“

Have you received any contracts in the United States thanks to the award?

(Laughter) “No, not yet…“

What were you inspired by during the designing phase?

“By children and my own experience of a student of an art elementary school. “A building as a jigsaw“ – this is how you could define the principle of design. In every cubicle – box a different creative children activity takes place. You enter a structure, inspire yourself and you exit the structure on the other side. The cubicles have furthermore the size of the family houses on the square and through this simple principle we searched for a way for environmental integration. Composition has three characteristic images – the northern, western and the southern which reflect a concrete urban situation”

Did you have specially modify the fasade surface in order to use the student works and citations?

No, we did not as we used a method which was as simple as possible – plaster mixture. According to the building permit we had the possibility of using wooden facing but due to the possible complications we did not. The supporting construction system is wall – ceramic brick-blocks. It is plastered, covered with dilatation net and gradually by plater mixture.

How would you characterize your architectural signature?

“It can be derived from the architect's purpose – to serve. We choose the architectural image through considering the prism of environment, financial possibilities and building function. We are at the same time inspired by the past and the future. Architect must respect social situations and try to present them almost in a prophet-like way. The architecture must here abstract and free itself from the subjectivism and exhibitionism. We are trying to search for the architectural truth and simplicity. A friend of mine which is a sculptor says there is certain connection, maybe something regional? Or widely national?… I don't know.”

It is said that present architects do not have the taste for detail…

I would say that the opposite is correct but the question of aestheticism and functionality is in continuous development. The present architecture must push the borders, it must experiment. It is not difficult but it has to be so. Even today we need en lighteners.

Your studio has done many urban studies. To what extend do you consider fasade an urban element?

“Our studio has participated in a great number of competitions. It was a great training though. We oscillate between architecture, urbanism and creative art. We consider every single architectural piece a contribution to the city or municipality image. Every single piece carries a message – about philosophy, inventiveness and the era as well as the investor, society and its vitality. The society has only perceived the architectural work or a detail inside it before. The wider living environment suffers. I believe in quick fixing.”

One of the successful Atrium project plans include the International Olympic Committee Seat in Poprad – Tatry which represented Slovakia during its 2006 Winter Olympic Games candidacy. The Olympic games will not take place in High Tatras but even so your project attracted a lot of interest. Can you briefly introduce this project?

It was a very strange task which required to express a kind of particularity – wider cultural and time ties. Olympic games was to take place under Tatras. Namely the projected International Olympic Committee Seat was supposed to be located in Poprad surrounded by an urban settlement, a cannery and administration. The complex parcel near the station and the city centre defined the architectural concept of the Seat. The block ideologically builds up on the rich heritage of the Spiš cities and the Olympic thought by outlining the elliptic square as the core of the composition. The whole took place in an imported Tatras environment outlined by three symbols: Gravel stone – Congress hall (concrete, or copper plate emphasizing the moss), log – Hotel of the Olympic family (wooden facing emphasizing year rings), rock – Hotel for the International Olympic Committee members (rock facing and glass). A torrent of Tatras spring water (ramp) would run from the obelisk in the centre of the square towards Hotel Poprad washing piece of art (fragments of ornaments in the surface, flag poles of the contesting countries, greenery etc.). The corners of the blocks are emphasized differently – by a huge wooden art work – south with 2 landing platforms – north-west. For the era of a new century was our idea presented as a game – a game of surprise, a game of the present and past, a game of development of the city.”Co-authors are our friends architects P. Šimko, M. Koniar and J. Sekan. The author of the virtual video is M. Burák.

Fasades 4/2004

The D. Jurkovič Award 2004

This year contestants were the Multifunctional House Europeum in Bratislava, Aerobic Centre Košice, House of Furniture Atrium, multifunctional house, Villa Andrea, reconstruction and extension of a family house, Medúza Bar and restaurant Mezzo – Mezzo in Bratislava, Art Elementary School Smižany and reconstruction of the historical part of the Jonáš Záborský Theatre building in Prešov.