Atrium is trying to write the truth into the space

The work of the architectural studio Atrium reflects its symbolic name. It tries to provide a balanced view on the whole and the detail – from the wider urban solution through architecture to interior and art. Ing. arch. Dušan Burák, CSc. agrees that his work is deducted from the basic task of the architect – to serve.e. “Trough knowing the environment, financial possibilities and building functions we also choose architectural image.” Atrium is trying to experiment but rejects exhibitionism. Its members grieve for the unrealized projects but agree that the Art Elementary School Smižany (Dušan Jurkovič Award 2004) belongs to their masterpieces. The school is a fine example of possibility to truly express the nature of things through less words.

In the beginning there was the decision of the American investor with Slovak roots to gift his native Spiš something ever-lasting. Dollar investment counting 15 million Slovak crowns was formed into Art Elementary School which was placed in the old cantorial house located in the centre of the municipality. “The declining tendency of the American dollar has however cut our starting budget to half, but the generosity of the investor helped us overcome even this difficulty” says Dušan Burák. „I must say however that with the final cost of 7 million crowns the project ranks itself among the cheapest one to be created in that time. With the flow of time we not see things that we could have done differently.“

Truth of this form has aroused from the purpose of this object – to create a work of art intended for the young visitors which would identify themselves with it. Authors – Dušan Burák, Michal Burák, Ctibor Reiskup – have created an art school as a box of bricks and at the same time as a place for developing young talents. It is a composition of cubes or a sort of containers with together form this “jigsaw”. The largest cube – the multifunctional hall – is located on the square and the smaller ones on the side streets while their colour represents individual segments of art: orange – dancing, blue – multimedia, green – creative art. The musical studios are situated along the neighbouring parcel. Everything is connected by a passage from which it is possible to see all of the school activities. The constructional frame represents simplicity – brick walls and roof timber with the minimum 6% angle trapeze cladding. Mutual leaning, intersections, skewed gable wall (copying the parcel) and used material add to the dynamic composition. Front fasade is decorated by the work of students providing it with a distinctive image.

”For some of the citizens or children in Smižany our project appeared maybe as UFO and were sceptic at the beginning” says Michal Burák. ”Some architects on the other hand proposed that we should be even more daring. Even in this case we consider the context and had to heed to the need of the people which would use the structure. We were not wrong there. People have identified with our object in surprisingly short time.”

Living organism

But the story of the architectural studio Atrium has begun much sooner than the Smižany project. As many other studios even this one gathered from the post-revolutionary enthusiasm, tone of freedom and the disintegration of the big project institutions of the past regime. All of the three original founders – Dušan Burák, Martin Koniar and Ján Sekan – found mutual kinship in the Stavoproject during that time. Direct contact with the investor, clearer project formulation, new materials and unconventional constructions became a challenge. Dušan Burák remembers with a smile on his face as they entered the architectural society known as the Holy Three. In that time they won the competition to form the liturgical area on the Košice airport for the event of 1995 Pope John Paul II visit. One of the goals of this visit was to canonize three of the Košice martyrs.

But architectural studio is a living organism which searches for its image. In the year 2002 an important change has occurred. From the original trio only Dušan Burák has remained and was joined by his son Michal and two of his coevals Marek Bakalár and Ladislav Baran. This is the main four of the Atrium which is joined by other colleagues according to the extent of the projects.

”In the beginning of every new task there is brainstorming during which a raw idea is created. We search for a collective solution” explains Michal Burák the project contribution of other members of the studio. “The thinking is more complex and collective interest prevails but gradually the task falls on one member which then sees the task to an end. Of course, many organizational questions arise during the realization. These are treated by other members but the essence of the project belongs to one person.“

Holding the horses

Atrium is trying to lead its projects into realization because only then can all the technical details provided by the creative development be captured and synchronized. Things are often dealt with during the realization of the project.

”And that's the ever-present communication with the investor which has many positions” adds Michal Burák. ”In the beginning almost every investor seems ideal to work with. Eventually it gets more difficult. Thanksfully there are some of them which have our admiration and we consider working with them an honor. It is they who carry the necessary feeling and provide impulses which move the structure forward.”

Moving the structure forward in Atrium means getting closer to the truth. It is never a coinsidence if a line is drawn in the given direction or if it is connected to other elements of architectural language. Sensibility of the author and the search between the image and the function is important. The members of the studio agree with the opinion of prof. Eva Jiřičná that during the process of realization it is important to hold your horses. “Of course, sometime it is difficult to hold the innovative notions back during the realization” explains Dušan Burák. ”Individual thoughts can be different from those of the collective but we are always trying to delicately implement them. Sometimes it works and sometimes I would rather jump out of a window…”

The architect points out an interesting fact that during the planning of a house the women are those with the better feeling for architecture and for the future of the structure as such. Men seem to be more conservative, they percieve things more rationally. He perceives it from the financial and economical aspect, she perceives it from the aestethic aspect,” adds Michal Burák, ”Then they get into a fight and we try to figure it out…”

Pedestrian precincts and urbanism

The Atrium Studio deals with a diversity of structure types. From sacral architercure, through board houses, hospices, houses of mourning and schools to multifunctional centres, pedestrian precincts and urban projects. “We walk between architecture, urbanism and creative art,” says Dušan Burák. ”We consider every single architectural piece a part of the city od municipality image. Every single piece carries a message – about philosophy, inventiveness and the era as well as the investor, society and its vitality.”
The Pedestrian Precinct In Liptovský Mikuláš which was nominated for the CE.ZA.AR Award is worth mentioning. Project was formed on the basis of public architectural-urban competition winning design and was and used as a complex solution of pedestrian precincts of the central city zone with the size of cca 3 ha. “Huge space in the 1. phase of the pedestrian precinct in the historical core of Liptovsky Mikulas has provided us with the possibility to form present thoughts, peculiarities and contradictions of the city” says Dusan Burak. “We were touched by the ambient of the 19th century technological inventions an it has found its way into the proposal of authentic design elements – kiosk, lamp-post, benches, constraints, hand-rails and the use of burnt brick as the pavement.”

The AUREL fontain is the main motif while the piece of art in it (authors: Mulan Pagáč, Viktor Oravec) is a “tribute to creative thinking”. The work of art views some kind of an orientation device – turbine vain turn against each other and the base was embeded according to cardinal points. The pedestrian precinct required the search for a new komposition of garden architecture, structure and traffic organization, the level of applying historical marks (highlighted clastle walls, original composition of surface – travert planks, gravel-stones etc.) and the feedback of the architecturally defined space.

At present the Atrium Studio designes a vast urban concept of Eastern City in Košice which provides living space for cca 60 000 people. Plan is related to the new commercial-administrative profile of the city where a cosiderable amount of space is dedicated to information technoloy.

Exclusive support of the portal which informs about urbanism, ground planning and landscaping from the beginning of this year is another interesting activity of the Atrium Studio. “Portal was created due to impulse provided by the architects, city and municipality mayors to represent modern, simple and accessible form of that which was impossible until now” explains Michal Burák. From our point of view it is a remarkable project which needs to be supported. We are sure that other will join us. The Association has developed a technology which fundamentally hastens and improves quality of work with such a complex document as the ground plan. Project can be perceived as an encyclopedia of future which will include a vast database with information which are not easily accessible. The whole project is vital and up to date while everything is free of charge.

Never-ending stories

Contextuality, multilayer architecture reading, expressive language – these are also features of architecture which tell a story about itself, about the author and of course about the era as well. Atrium studio views them as well and is always trying to tell something new and is not afraid to take the risk. It is not searching for a style by all means but follows some-kind of ancient truth of architecture that includes truth of knowing the cultural context, function, disposition, form, economic possibilities and creates a harmony between them. The responsibility of the designer is also a part of this truth and gets bigger if the object is located in the historical centre of the city. A new building in this organism is a new moderator of the given environment and it is up to the architect to choose in which language to communicate with it.

“We could easily sit down, relax and let the years of our work pass, but without taking the risk it would not count” says Dušan Burák. “Experimenting is the spice of the creativity but of course it has to lead to a successful end. This is how it was with our projects. All of them are our children. Some of them more and some of them less successful. We of course watch them in action and we evaluate what could have been done differently and in a better way. It is always some kind of architects confession to his work.”

It is peculiar for the Atrium Studio members to mourn for the projects which were not realized such as The International Olympic Committee Seat in Poprad during the 2006 Olympic Games in Poprad – Tatry candidacy of the Hejce Air-crash Disaster Memorial. Even here applies that the structure is most interesting for the creator while its birth. In the moment when its being handled to the new user and is being introduced into life an entirely new chapter of the story begins. They are never-ending stories which search for its recipient. It is an urge to draw the truth and to place it into the space.

Ľudo Petránsky – ASB