Atelier-r breathes new life into Helfštýn Castle, fuses heritage with modern

Czech-based Atelier-r goes beyond a simple reconstruction brief by 'preserving and renovating' the country’s second largest castle complex with modern materials.

by Anmol Ahuja Published on : Nov 13, 2020

Established in 14th century near the onset of the Renaissance period, the ruins of the Helfštýn Castle complex - the second largest complex in the Czech Republic after Prague Castle - rise high above the Moravian Gate valley. The palace complex unfortunately closed down in 2014 due to the safety hazards the building’s ageing brought forth, including falling masonry and severe degradation of the ruins. The brief received by architecture studio Atelier-r by the clients overlooking the restoration of the castle, the region of Olomouc, was then to renovate the palace along with the construction of a new roof. Upon the National Heritage Institute’s insistence on the preservation of the building as a ruin itself, a partial roof was allowed, and was to be capped at the level of the peripheral walls. The castle was then extensively mapped using thousands of photographs captured through drones, and a 3D model allowed for identification of all plaster and masonry modifications.

  • The renovated Helfštýn Castle’s front | Helfštýn Castle Palace Reconstruction by Atelier-r | STIRworld
    The renovated Helfštýn Castle’s front Image: Courtesy of BoysPlayNice
  • Helfštýn Castle, Site Plan | Helfštýn Castle Palace Reconstruction by Atelier-r | STIRworld
    Helfštýn Castle, Site Plan Image: Courtesy of Atelier-r
  • Aerial shot of the Helfštýn Castle showcasing its “chambers” | Helfštýn Castle Palace Reconstruction | Atelier-r | STIRworld
    Aerial shot of the Helfštýn Castle in Czech Republic showcasing its “chambers” Image: Courtesy of BoysPlayNice
  • Helfštýn castle’s entrance court and a corten steel footbridge on the roof | Helfštýn Castle Palace Reconstruction | Atelier-r | STIRworld
    Helfštýn Castle’s entrance court and a corten steel footbridge on the roof Image: Courtesy of BoysPlayNice

Olomouc-based Atelier-r describes its approach as going beyond the “technical reconstruction assignment”, opening up new avenues for public engagement through their reformation of the castle. “We strived to compliment the historical building with the contemporary architecture that would focus on both practical use as well as gaining an aesthetic appeal," states the design team. The higher levels of the palace, earlier inaccessible to the public, were made within the reach by adding new sightseeing routes into the existing gaps in the ruins in order to create a more immersive experience of the original renaissance palace. While a major amount of the team's effort was expended in the conservation, preservation, and selective restoration of the castle’s authentic character, the new approach isn’t afraid to stir things up. Each level of the building employs the use of modernist and contemporary materials in a completely redefined character, yet in keeping with the character of a historically important site. The ground floor paths are made with polished concrete, the new staircases and footbridges use corten steel, while the roofing is made of glass, supported by steel beams.

  • A spiral staircase leading to the roof, constructed in corten steel | Helfštýn Castle Palace Reconstruction | Atelier-r | STIRworld
    A spiral staircase leading to the roof, constructed in corten steel Image: Courtesy of BoysPlayNice
  • Another added staircase leading to the roof, entirely constructed in corten steel | Helfštýn Castle Palace Reconstruction | Atelier-r | STIRworld
    Another added staircase leading to the roof, entirely constructed in corten steel Image: Courtesy of BoysPlayNice
  • An open to sky chamber of the castle showcasing corten steel walkways on the second floor, and concrete floor boards on the ground | Helfštýn Castle Palace Reconstruction | Atelier-r | STIRworld
    An open to sky chamber of the castle showcasing corten steel walkways on the second floor, and concrete floor boards on the ground Image: Courtesy of BoysPlayNice
  • The renovated chambers now also house exhibitions on the castle | Helfštýn Castle Palace Reconstruction | Atelier-r | STIRworld
    The renovated chambers now also house exhibitions on the castle Image: Courtesy of BoysPlayNice

A network of marching areas and pavements has been laid on to individual areas on the ground floor using precise, smooth pre-cast concrete boards. The organic nature of the ruins paves way for a more calculated, measured approach in some areas, as pre cast concrete boards form a superficial floor to walk on. The boards on ground are rigorously defined by straight, corten steel profiles, and the distance between them and the castle’s actual floor is filled up with gravel, highlighting and "conciliating irregularity with an uncompromising straight forefront”, evoking an unmistakable sense of symbolism. A new sightseeing route emerges through what used to be a roof, harnessing the magnificent vantage and views of the castle, lined all along in corten steel, inducing quite literally, an additional rustic persona to the construction. The timelessness of the corroded metal, after maturation, seemed to ape and reflect the texture of the old historic walls. Furthermore, Helfštýn Castle is well-renowned for its tradition of iron craftsmanship, making corten steel but an obvious choice for intervention.

  • Five of the chambers in the palace are covered with a glass ceiling supported on steel beams | Helfštýn Castle Palace Reconstruction | Atelier-r | STIRworld
    Five of the chambers in the palace are covered with a glass ceiling supported on steel beams Image: Courtesy of BoysPlayNice
  • The castle’s inner main wall showcasing its vibrant fenestrations | Helfštýn Castle Palace Reconstruction | Atelier-r | STIRworld
    The castle’s inner main wall showcasing its vibrant fenestrations Image: Courtesy of BoysPlayNice
  • Helfštýn Castle Palace at night | Helfštýn Castle Palace Reconstruction | Atelier-r | STIRworld
    Helfštýn Castle Palace at night Image: Courtesy of BoysPlayNice

Out of the nine chambers of the palace, five have been covered with a flat glass roof supported on precise steel beams, spanning the walls of the ruins. The use of sanded glass for the diffusion of flat light in the interiors of the palace chambers hosting exhibitions was also guided by its easy maintainability, apart from the chapel roof where the clear glass roof is meant to symbolise the presence of a heaven above, literally. For the compartments housing the staircases, the corten footbridges act as a roof. Some of the spaces in the castle have been intentionally left out in order to “enhance the spirit of the impressive ruins and encourage the visitors to look up to the sky”. An ambivalent lighting scheme comprising both linear and spot fixtures highlights the incursion routes along Helfštýn, breathing new life into the vast panorama encapsulated by the castle complex at night.

  • First Floor Plan | Helfštýn Castle Palace Reconstruction | Atelier-r | STIRworld
    First Floor Plan Image: Courtesy of Atelier-r
  • Second Floor Plan | Helfštýn Castle Palace Reconstruction | Atelier-r | STIRworld
    Second Floor Plan Image: Courtesy of Atelier-r
  • Roof Plan | Helfštýn Castle Palace Reconstruction | Atelier-r | STIRworld
    Roof Plan Image: Courtesy of Atelier-r
  • Longitudinal building section | Helfštýn Castle Palace Reconstruction | Atelier-r | STIRworld
    Longitudinal building section Image: Courtesy of Atelier-r

Project Details

Name: Helfštýn Castle Palace Reconstruction
Architects: Atelier-r
Location: Helfštýn by Týn nad Bečvou, Czech Republic
Year of starting: 2015-2016
Completion year: 2020
Built-up Area: 1370 m2
Gross Floor Area: 3000 m2
Usable Floor Area: 1340 m2
Plot size: 2050 m2
Client: Olomouc Region
Design team: Robert Randys, Lucie Rohelová, Adéla Tomečková, Milena Koblihová, Daria Johanesová

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