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A horse museum on the site of a former Latvian school. Designed by the Gierbienis + Poklewski studio.

28 of July '21

In July, the Bee Breeders platform published the results of the Omuli Museum of the Horse competition. The task was to adapt and expand a former elementary school building located in the North Latvia Biosphere Reserve. The facility was to become a museum and education center about local horse breeds. Although the Poles did not win the podium, several projects from Poland made it to the final list of so-called shortlisted projects, and among them was the concept of architects from the Gierbienis + Poklewski studio.

The village of Omuli is located in the area of the UNESCO-recognized Biosphere Reserve of Northern Latvia, and the project plot is located in a forested area only 4 km from the Latvian-Estonian border. The competition task was to expand a 1936 elementary school building with an area of 785 square meters. The facility was to become a museum of nature and history of local horse breeds. The competition also envisaged the introduction of a hotel function, an atelier and apartments for resident artists, and was to be implemented in three construction phases.

Projekt muzeum
w miejscu dawnej szkoły

The museum would be built on the site of a former elementary school

© Gierbienis + Poklewski

The submitted works were evaluated by an international jury of specialists in architecture, sustainable construction and conservation. The team included: Diego Baraona (founder of Chile's DBAA - Diego Baraona Arquitectos y Asociados), Robin Dhar (Donald Insall Associates, Architects), Meritxell Inaraja Genís (Meritxell Inaraja Arquitecta of Spain) Joe Martinolich (JMM - Joe Martinolich Architect), and Julie Nelson and Todd Poisson, partners at New York-based design firm BKSK. The jury decided to include the project by Polish architects Marcin Gierbienis and Damian Poklewski- Koziello of the Gierbienis + Poklewski studio in the list of shortlisted projects.

Fazy realizacji

The project is based on the principle of minimized interference

© Gierbienis + Poklewski

respect for place and nature

Despite the possibility of introducing a new volume, we declined to do so, referring directly to the expectations of the building owner and appreciating the aesthetics of the building. In the case of Omula, the overriding goal, taking into account the special aesthetic and sentimental value of the object, became the thorough restoration of the building and its protection in the name of the idea: protect, don't demolish. In our understanding, this was the premise of minimizing the architect's interference with the existing fabric and landscape. The unusual location of the school building in the thicket of the reserve's trees became the inspiration for the project, respect for the place, both for the beautiful wildlife and the building, which is widely considered to be Omula's treasure, the authors say.

 Omuli Museum of the
Horse, tył budynku

The school is an example of classicizing architecture

© Gierbienis + Poklewski

Dating back to 1936, the building is an interesting example of classicizing architecture, while at the same time drawing attention to its wooden structure. It was this distinctive structure, demonstrating the craftsmanship of Latvian craftsmanship, that provided the architects with a starting point for further design decisions.

The simplicity of the plan was also an asset, the structure's ability to adapt to changing needs, which has enabled the building to last over the years and now be adapted to the museum's needs, the architects add.

Rzut muzeum Omuli

The building's trump card is its simple plan

© Gierbienis + Poklewski

inspired by the kintsugi method

The concept includes remodeling the functional and spatial layout of the building, introducing a new arrangement into the preserved exterior walls so that the building can function at any stage. Leaving the school in its original form was, in the authors' understanding, an expression of respect for its rich past, but also had a purely practical significance increasing the chances of reusing those elements that have not been strained by time.

 Drewniana elewacja
muzeum  Projekt muzeum, przekrój

The ceramic cladding of the facade was exposed behind glass

© Gierbienis + Poklewski

We approached the project like a craftsman would repair a broken vessel, referring to the method of kintsugi - the Far Eastern art of vessel repair, which dates back to the 16th century. The technique involves joining pottery shards together using lacquer (lac sumac resin) and decorating the cracks with powdered gold or other precious metal. Exposing the cracks, filling these so-called wounds with precious material makes the object more beautiful and unique. Each product made in this way is one of a kind, and its imperfection becomes an asset. Kintsugi is more than the art of repairing vessels. It is a philosophical concept that finds reference in various spheres of life. Repairing a broken vessel becomes a metaphor for human existence, showing how fragile and flawed it is [...]," the authors say of the inspiration.

The architects were keen to bring out the original wooden structure of the school, while leaving a visible trace of time as a record of the memory of the past. Referring to the kintsugi, they secured the existing elements of the structure, and the newly introduced wood - distinguished by its texture and color - filled in the cavities and filled in the openings that were not used when the functional and spatial layout of the building was changed.

Latvia's architectural identity

In the interiors, the existing wooden elements were made visible, and the new partition walls are covered with light gray plaster. The floors were made of multicolored terrazzo, and the details - staircases and ironwork elements - were made of black and red steel. The authors stripped off the ceramic cladding of the facade, choosing to expose its structure, clean it and expose it by enclosing it under glass.

: Duże przestrzenie
i wyeksponowana drewniana konstrukcja Wnętrze muzeum, wyeksponowana
drewniana konstrukcja

In the interiors, the wooden structure was exposed

© Gierbienis + Poklewski

In order for the building to achieve the right thermal parameters, the insulation was made from the inside, following the principles of historic preservation. Additions or damaged parts of the facade were made of new wood with a subtle color difference, all to emphasize the visual identity of what is past and present.

In our case, the use of wood is not only the result of sustainable design, but also a gesture to the past. Wood construction is part of Latvia's identity. Hidden behind a glass display case, the wood remains visible, and the glass, reflecting the surrounding trees, creates a unique mood of the place. Thanks to this treatment, the object's relationship with the forest surroundings becomes expressive," conclude Marcin Gierbienis and Damian Poklewski-Koziello.

elaborated: Dobrawa Bies

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