Exciting news from the NGO team currently restoring the important modernist synagogue in Žilina, Slovakia that was designed by the German architect Peter Behrens — original copies of Behrens’s project for the building, thought to be definitively lost, have been found in the archives of the Olomouc Museum of Art in the Czech Republic.
The directors of the NGO Truc sphérique, which is carrying out the restoration of the synagogue for eventual use as a contemporary arts center, made the announcement this past week, at a news conference in Zilina and also made it known a few days earlier at the Managing Jewish Immovable Heritage conference in Krakow.
“Everything that we proposed so far was based on a few archival documents and in particular on the research conducted directly in the synagogue,” Martin Jančok, the chief architect of the renovation, said in a news release. “The discovery of original project documentation of Peter Behrens significantly changes the situation especially in terms of renovations of the lost eastern […] wall which was completely destroyed in the 50s of the 20th century,” he said.
The discovery of the Behrens documentation was made by Peter Szalay, from the Department of Architecture of the Slovak Academy of Sciences who is working on the Žilina project. A theoretician specialized in modern architecture, he had recently found older Behrens’s sketches in the Pfalzgalerie in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
“During archival research Peter Szalay found a note about the architect Ľubomír Šlapeta’s order for the first reconstruction of the synagogue into a concert hall after World War II. His project had never been realized but we hoped it could shed some light on the lost original architecture,” said Marek Adamov of the Truc sphérique.
He said that on the recommendation of Šlapeta’s son, professor Vladimír Šlapeta, “we went searching in the Olomouc Museum of Art, [and this] is where, in addition to Šlapeta’s unrealized drawings, also seven originals from 1928 by Peter Behrens were found.”
Szalay said, “After 60 years we thereby collect scattered pieces of mosaic of this landmark by the world known architect which is one of the most important of its kind in Europe.”
The find concludes two years of archival research and is a breakthrough in the process of restoration of the landmark, the news release said.
Researchers had to travel away from Slovakia over to Israel, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. In addition to Peter Szalay and his colleagues, also other experts from the Department of Restoration at Academy of Fine Arts Bratislava, the Department of Architecture at Slovak Technical University Bratislava and the University of Žilina have participated in architectural, restoration and archival research since 2011 with willing support of the Regional Monuments Board, the State Archive in Žilina and Bytča and other institutions.
Built for the Neolog community and dedicated in 1931, Behrens’s synagogue is considered an important landmark of modern architecture. Though on the list of national cultural monuments of former Czechoslovakia since 1963, it was long used as a university lecture hall and cinema, with most interior elements covered or destroyed. For some years it stood empty.
The renovation of of the building began in 2012. The Jewish religious community in Žilina symbolically leased the landmark to theTruc sphérique for 30 years. The $1 million project aims to removed alterations to the interior and restore as closely as possible the original Peter Behrens’s architecture, while revitilizing the building as an artistic institution.
The project — which to date is only one-quarter funded — received the German magazine Bauwelt’s 2013 Advancement Award in January.