Interview by Eve Komp
After holding a lecture for the department of architecture of Estonian Academy of Arts, Boštjan Vuga gave an interview for Sirp (Estonian Online Magazine) about the revitalization of abandoned constructions. After economic crises in 2009, Vuga has been interested in the state of unfinishedness and thinking about architecture as constant process.
Could it be possible to draw lines between abondoness in Estonia, given the fact that it has similarities with Slovenian recent history? And for example, what kind of solutions could be applied for empty Linnahall building?
Eve Komp: After Estonia gained independence in the beginning of nineties there were a lot of changes also in living environment. Diminishing of kolhoze centres, closing or reducing of big industrial areas and factories, people leaving the country or relocating to cities. Today there are many abandoned places and buildings because of there has no need for the specific space or there is just no users. How is the situation in Slovenia, is abandoness an issue to be noticed?
Boštjan Vuga: Actually, the change of the system in 1991 didn’t really generate any kind of abandonedness in Slovenia because transition was probably not as drastic as it was here. It’s because of the location of Slovenia – it was most western country of former Yugoslavia and it is small country with 2,000,000 people. For example, Ljubljana has developed organically from the old town compare to New Zagreb or New Belgrade which were added as a completely new urban development detached from the old city. Even in the sixties or in the seventies state development was much softer in terms of, how to plan, how to build. Abandoned state of certain places, fenced construction sites and empty areas where actually caused by the financial and economic crisis, beginning in Slovenia in 2009. This left much stronger impact in the city. The largest project of our office so far, The Sport Park Stožice in Ljubljana, project which I represented in lecture, is largest project in the city since 1970. The main reason why the construction stopped was due to simple fact the private partner of the public private partnership bankrupt in 2012. It is interesting that the economic reasons caused abandoned construction sites, rather than political ones.
At XIV Venice Biennale in 2014 you were a part of the curatorial team presented abandonedness and unfinished buildings of Montenegro. How did you reach to the topic, what was the starting point?
The starting point was actually the fact that the Stožice sports park project stopped and remained a construction site. Only the public part was built – the arena and the stadium. Eighty thousand square meters of the shopping centre remained unfinished. This coincides with an invitation of Dijana Vučinić and then my involvement in the workshop APSS in Kotor in Montenegro, where we started dealing with abandoned buildings from the modernist period. We decided together with Dijana Vucinic, Simon Hartmann, Ilka and Andreas Ruby to present these buildings to the public, to kind of expose pure architecture special quality of empty, unfinished, abandoned buildings. The unfinished sports park and workshop in Kotor where we first tried to develop approaches to a reuse of an abandoned hotel in Kotor impacted mine and our office attitude
to viewing and working with architecture. When we started in 1996 with two big projects, it was all about the new, the progress, the process, building the new. And then after 17 years we started, reconsider that the existing could become the source for the new. This is very important change in our approach, we understood we need to come up with a new formula how to deal with the existing,
Pompous Dom Revolucije was one of the presented buildings. Your office and HHF architects from Basel won the architecture competition few years later and offered solutions for the usage of unfinished construction. What could be the common lines with the empty Linnahall that you visited briefly?
If I try to make a comparison between Linnahall, the biggest difference is, that it was a completed building which operated for 20 years and it’s lived its own life. Whereas Dom Revolucije has never been completed, it has always been in becoming. What we proposed in our project is also a kind of constant becoming. The first thing which would be necessary to be done in Linnahall, is to liberate the building from its referential frames. And this means liberating the building from its primal function and use, maybe from some heritage protection, which in a way blocks the building to get lively again. This liberation or release of primer function, I think it’s necessary to inject a new life into.
With the project of Dom Revolucije you offered 10% of indoor use, 20% passages and passes and 70% of closing the building for the future use. Interactions may be different, but could be something similar applied in Linnahall?
It could be applied. Which means really to start with minimal intervention. If you start with saying, we need 150 million euros, to open the building again, no one will come. If you say, 10 million euros is needed in four phases, development becomes much more attractive. It is visible in Telliskivi Loomelinnak, where existing fabric is getting transformed step-by-step. The constant unfinished state brings life and stimulates someone’s imagination, what could be done there. Completed building is a completely decorated and you’re obliged to use it according to program, for what it is built for. So, if you try to implement the same strategy to Linnahall means you need to bring this brutal, massive building into the state of unfinished.
How can it be done?
It means you need to liberate the primer function and not to deal with entire mass at once, it could be just one part. Maybe it’s just the outdoor space under the arches on the terrace above or the extension of the building towards the sea. It’s about transforming the building into the urban fabric and deal with it more urban way. Urbanism and landscape if you want is all about incompleteness, architecture more about frozen, completed. These minimum interventions need to start with safety. For example, how to provide a safe walk through to the building, that you can actually get directly from the center to the sea and not need to go up and down again.
As architects, we tend to notice the potentials or interesting spatial conditions of abandoned and empty spaces better. Usually people evaluate unused places from their perspective, for example useless wasteland could be at the same time best playground for children. How hard or how easy it was to open up people’s eyes about Dom Revolucije, that it’s actually very fascinating and interesting city space?
It’s still very much in process. The exhibition opening and press conference we had a couple of months ago was actually the first event, which started to involve people, to introduce the ideas. Inhabitants would like to see the change because they have been watching this fenced “blue tomb” as they call it in the center of the city for 35 years. And they are happy that something will change. This existing urban fabric is very good tool to get people involved because as architects we can provide a framework. Hardware is there, we just correct it little bit in order to software could come, which will be provided by people who live there. We see our role more as moderators, we have designed only a couple of things. Inhabitation actually changes the perception of the space. For example, simple act of open up Patarei sea fortress from the seaside by Beeta promenade completely changed the perception of the building and that part of the city because people walk through and find a different spatial sequences and atmospheres.
What do think about the authors position in this process? In the lecture, you said that with the Sport Park project you would step aside and let someone else design further.
We designed the sports park Stožice as a hybrid of four projects: fooball stadium, multipurpose sports hall shopping centre and the public park. I would like to have completed according the initial design of our office and AKKA, the landscape office the public park on the roof, which is part of the initial design. But the rest, the shopping centre, it could be even more interesting to see if someone else would be involved.
So, basically when the project is finished and the building starts living its own independent life you would withdraw as an author?
I know that this is a very, very radical thought. As an architect and an author, you bring the building to finished state. And then it lives its own life and then it deteriorates in its own way. I have not come to thorough conclusion. This state of unfinished also relates to that. For example, building of Estonian Architecture Museum was built for different purpose and museum is the adaptive use. And adaptive use is not connected to the program. When thinking about the program, you think about Neufert handbook and technical data. In order to think about the use, you need to liberate the existing from its primary function. The state of unfinished is a source for creation in constant creation.
After the project of Dom Revolucije, have you applied or deal with temporary use in any other project?
I would rather say adaptive use not temporary. Last year I conducted the design studio in TU Graz, which actually dealt with abandoned, really interesting ruin of hotel from 1970s in Croatia. With studio, we approached again very pragmatically, we observed it, mapped it and then we defined the percentages of what would be subtracted, reused or added. It could be called as progressive preservation. It’s not killing the evolution of the building but brings it back to life. This is what has been going on in the history, it’s not something new. So, what I’m interested in at the moment, it’s how knowledge from adaptive reuse of the existing could be used when designing completely new. And how this will happen I can say in a couple of years.