Modernist synagogue in Zilina being restored as cultural space

The Neolog synagogue in Zilina in 2011, before the renovation began. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Good news from Slovakia. Work is progressing on the restoration of the modernist Neolog synagogue in Zilina as part of a project that will transform it into a cultural space. In January, at a ceremony in Munich, the restoration project was presented the 2013 Bauwelt Advancement Award from the German architectural magazine Bauwelt.

Funding for the €1 million project remains a problem, however, and the project’s informative web site also includes a break-down of financing sources and PayPal and other means by which people can donate.

The synagogue, built in 1928-1931 and designed by the noted German architect Peter Behrens, had been used as a cinema and university lecture hall after World War II and for some years stood empty, though it has been on the register of national monuments since 1963. The 50-member Jewish community uses the small Orthodox synagogue for occasional services (that synagogue also houses a small Judaice exhibit).

In 2011 the Jewish community rented the Neolog synagogue for a symbolic sum for 30 years to an NGO called Truc sphérique which is overseeing the restoration of the building, which it will develop as a cultural center focusing on contemporary art.

We want the synagogue building to become a kunsthalle type international institution of contemporary art. There is a difference between the museum and the kunsthalle. Kunsthalle does not gather art collections, it mostly put it’s energy into making the contemporary art widely accessible to general public.
We want to use the word “kunsthalle” to make ourselves clear, that this place is not going to be one of the general galleries – which even some of the shopping centers are being called.

Our main reconstruction aim is to remove the architectonical interventions done during the communism era and bring back the building a look of the original Behrens’s architecture. The reconstruction began at the end of 2011 and will continue till end of 2014. We have been cooperating with the Regional Monuments Board in order to prepare the project documentation. […] The chief architect is Martin Jančok.

The  project web site  notes news and posts photos of the work that has taken place since the restoration process got under way in January 2012.

As detailed on the web site

The historical architect Magda Kvasnicova spent 5 months by doing a deep architectural and historical research. Additionally the restoration research was carried by Jan Hromada. He was joined by Peter Szalay from the Institute of Construction and Architecture and by Ivan Pilny from the Slovakian Academy of fine Arts and Design.

A complete documentation of the building was made. Also:

8 volunteers spent 4 months destructing and removing the unoriginal architectonical interventions. 40 trucks full of rubbish were taken away. Thanks to Zilina’s Council and T+T company, we did not have to pay for dumping 500 tons of rubbish.

After 50 years the sun shone again inside the old synagogue and the dome which is 17 meters about the ground got to open.

4 volunteer gatherings were organized. Between the 40 volunteers there were also KIA and GlaxoSmithKline workers who joined the volunteer project called Our City 2012.

The web site includes many photos from the project’s Flickr streams, documenting the process.




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