by Jerry ElengicalJan 31, 2023
Can time remain preserved in the skin and soul of architecture? A former heating plant in the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava, has been converted into a generous coworking complex and contemporary art gallery, which may be a step closer to answering the said query. The original structure of red brick, steel and concrete was built by renowned Slovak architect Dušan Jurkovič in the early 1940s, and was closed in the late 20th century, before being finally announced as a national cultural monument in 2008. The Bratislava office is the second branch of the co-working company Base4Work, its first one located in Prague’s Churchill complex. Their new office appropriates the industrial setting of the brutalist building, keeping intact the rough yet chiselled towering concrete, steel and glass elements.
In Bratislava, there remains few structures with an industrial past that have been adapted to modern needs and settings, and one of them is the Jurkovič thermal power station that has long been seeking new function, and was finally renovated over a three year period. An enquiry into the unyielding nature of time vis-a-vis the power of heritage architecture, its interior design was supervised by the Czech Republic-based Studio Perspektiv, while the architectural solution, in the form of new interior spaces and structures, was carried out by the DF Creative Group. The PAMARCH, specialising in the protection and reconstruction of monuments, oversaw the building envelope‘s renovation.
Laced heavily with a post-industrial landscape mixing with sleek modernity, the adaptive reuse project has a specific aesthetic, carried out by the developer’s vision to create a diverse, interesting and inspiring workspace, as a backdrop connecting different user groups, from corporate clients to start-ups and freelancers, within the unique environment of a national cultural monument. The renovation is also able to withhold, preserve and reveal as much of the original premise and its industrial remnants in a new light, as possible. The original premises with a new function reflects the uniqueness that inhabits co-working spaces, which in this case, is this industrial edifice. The transformed heating plant resides within Bratislava’s large-scale Sky Park development being carried out by Zaha Hadid Architects. The complex is replete with residences, offices and a public park, on a former industrial land.
Perspektiv undertook the office design as a reinterpretation of Jurkovič’s work, seeped in the spirit and through the lens of contemporary architecture. Hence, most original parts remain visible and the spirit of Jurkovič's vision is preserved as much as possible. “When designing the interior of the coworking space, we perceived the context of the original monument and the new building. We tried to complement the space and relate to it both in style and in the geometry of the new elements. In addition, we wanted to make sure that both the new and original parts would be clearly recognisable – we didn’t want to imitate the original work,” architects Ján Antal and Barbora S. Babocká of Studio Perspektiv share.
DF Creative Group’s architectural solution placed a new, glass-clad five-storey building in the free internal space of the boiler and turbine hall, which created fresh and independent areas for Base4Work. “This made possible to clearly separate and distinguish the historic structures from the new ones. Other industrial elements of the heating plant were also used to pay homage to history – the entire interior is dominated by concrete hoppers, with the original crane forming the atypical open ceiling of the shared office,“ the designers say.
The freshly transformed interiors, where culture and co-working are united, has 3,900 sqm of flexible working space with a capacity of approximately 450 places in the heating plant. The rest of the building hosts massive concrete hoppers which were originally used to store solid fuels, which, interestingly, also house some meeting rooms inside them. The most popular ones seem to be the two meeting rooms on the fifth floor. “This is where we took advantage of the location and experimented with glazing in parts of the floor. The result is an iconic space that everyone wants to see. Even those who are afraid of heights,” says architect Antal.
Each floor hosts a diverse programme of spaces and zoning, with fixed desks, hot desks, separate offices, a phone booth, a workshop room, and expansive meeting rooms, catering to a wide range of users and their needs. Clients and visitors are also allowed to use the relaxing community lounges or the attractive meeting and networking zone during the day, as well as a roof terrace and an adjacent bar and cafe. The public areas of the workspace also include the DOT espresso bar and contemporary art gallery, an event space, and a restaurant from the Medusa gastro group network.
Described as “folklore in a minimalist concept," the community centre of the entire coworking space serves as the entrance area for the second floor, which combines a lobby with a café and some workplaces. Studio Perspektiv also channels Jurkovič’s extensive work, its style and its evolution over time through graphic elements and motifs used inside. The complexity and hardness of steel and concrete are “softened by perforation to create an interesting historical contrast with a legacy dating back to the early period of Jurkovič’s work," Studio Perspektiv reveals. The renovated structure is powerfully illuminated by the plant’s former concrete skylights and towering windows, its spaces accessed by cinematic, suspended walkways.
The original decorative elements were decomposed into prime factors to take the form of light elements on the walls or engraved cabinets. A CNC milling machine took the place of a folk carpenter, as solid wood replaced natural fireboards for the extensive office. “The craftsmanship and contemporary materials in their raw essence form a unifying motif for each floor,” explains architect Babocká.
The transformation of the industrial monument into a comfortable and distinct workspace was also spearheaded by the curated materiál and colour palette. This comprised terracotta-inspired hues, characteristic of the building’s shell, and the palette was further complemented by muted and deep tones of blue, green and carbon black. The floors in the common zones are accentuated with wooden surfaces as well as large-format ceramic tiles, inundated with sunlight and perceived as a generous and spacious structure because of ceilings that remain open.
The architects also employed recycled and natural materials as much as possible for the interiors, including the environmental friendly Re:felt panels made from recycled PET bottles. The acoustics were given priority for the meeting rooms and separate offices, by the carpets as well as the wall coverings.
"This important icon of Bratislava is thus coming to life again, becoming a cultural epicentre and a valuable contrast to the modern architecture of the surrounding context. Thanks to the renovation, the new appearance of Jurkovič’s heating plant has reinforced the importance of preserving the original buildings and confirmed that their preservation can also be beneficial for investors," the collaborators relay. Spanning the past and present in its bold marriage of the decades-old industrial monument with modern functions, zoning and elements, Base4Work Bratislava’s unique design is exclusive in its layered building of heightened uniqueness, and also in its poignant, handsome beauty tying in time and space.
Name: Base4Work Bratislava
Location: Bottova 1/1, 811 09 Bratislava, Slovakia
Usable Floor Area: 3,900 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Client: Penta Real Estate
Design: Studio Perspektiv (interior design), DF Creative Group (architectural solution of the building conversion) in collaboration with PAMARCH (designer of the building envelope renovation)
Design Team: Ján Antal, Martin Stára, Barbora S. Babocká, Jakub Budaj, Silvia Snopková (Studio Perspektiv), Martin Paško (DF Creative Group)
Collaborator: ENG2 Project Management (construction contractor)