Like a good poker player, the Baroque Court Apartments in Slovenia's capital city show a public face that reveals almost nothing of what's going on inside. From Mestni Trg, the adjacent 16th-century town square, the three buildings that make up the new residential complex fit right in with their historic neighbors. Pastel-hued facades, projecting cornices over windows, rusticated bases, and terra-cotta roof tiles all speak the common architectural language of Baroque Ljubljana. But just as every poker player has a 'tell,' a subtle gesture or tic that can tip off astute rivals, the Baroque Court project lets down its centuries-old guard at one critical point: the main entry. Look closely at the opening recessed within the first of five nearly identical granite arches, and you notice the dark steel frame and minimalist hardware of a glass door that hints at a different time and a modern aesthetic. Walk through that door, ascend the elegant wood stairs to the second floor, and you discover a radically different place'one where floor-to-ceiling glass and flowing white rooms bring the Baroque into the 21st century.
Because this project stands in the heart of historic Ljubljana, across the square from the Venetian-inspired, early-18th-century Town Hall, everything visible from the street had to pass muster with the city's heritage authorities. OFIS Arhitekti, the Ljubljana-based firm in charge of fusing old and new at Baroque Court, had made its reputation in 1998 by winning a competition to renovate and expand the local City Museum, a project that involved adding a spiraling glass-and-steel wing onto a Renaissance palace that sits above medieval and ancient Roman ruins (RECORD, December 2001, page 86). Since that museum opened in 2004, though, the firm's partners, Rok Oman and 'pela Videcnik, had been mostly busy designing dramatic new buildings, such as a pair of colorful, honeycomb-like social-housing blocks in Izola, Slovenia; a swooping soccer stadium in Maribor, Slovenia; and a graphically bold housing complex of 650 apartments in Ljubljana.
When Oman and Videcnik started working on Baroque Court in 2007, the client'a publishing company that had a bookstore on the ground floor and offices above'asked the architects to convert the complex into apartments. While the exteriors of the buildings had been renovated in the 1980s and were in fairly good shape, the interiors were a warren of dark spaces rambling over a trio of attached structures erected at different times (the oldest from the 17th century and the others from the 18th). Floor levels didn't align, and the buildings needed upgrading to meet modern seismic codes. Earthquakes are not unusual in Slovenia, and a powerful one in 1511 was the impetus for much of Ljubljana's Baroque construction in the following decades.
'The biggest challenge was getting light inside the apartments,' says Videcnik. 'These are old buildings, and they're pretty dark inside.' Since they couldn't change the street facades, she and Oman decided to scoop out the center of the property'where an ad hoc set of additions had been built over the years'and insert a new courtyard surrounded by glass walls. Large panes that are flush on the courtyard side and supported by 6-inch-deep aluminum frames on the interior now bring plenty of daylight to the 12 residences and the hallways connecting them. Reflective frits on the glass trace the profile of arches that once stood there, acting as ghosts of an earlier architecture.
In the process of opening up the core of the building, the architects discovered old elements that had been hidden by earlier renovations, including squat stone columns and graceful arches facing the new courtyard. So they incorporated these features in their design, highlighting the contrasts between different eras. They also found steel columns added in the 19th century when some interior partitions were removed to create large spaces for shops on the lower two floors. In an ecumenical spirit, Oman and Videcnik kept these exposed as well. To add seismic resilience to the existing structure, the architects injected concrete into old walls. They also needed to erect new steel framing for the rebuilt roof, which now supports wood-clad decks and balconies for duplex apartments at the top of the building. Although the roof's structure is new, heritage authorities required that it be covered with terra-cotta tiles and maintain the old, irregular profile.
Establishing the right balance between old and modern was at the heart of this project and required a pragmatic approach to materials, interiors, and services. So Oman and Videcnik restored the main stair's iron railing but installed new oak treads and risers and added an elevator. They surfaced floors in common areas with a cream-colored marble that seems both contemporary and timeless. In the apartments, they laid new wood floors but used a herringbone pattern that is often found in old residential buildings in Ljubljana. The project's apartments (four on each floor) range in size from about 1,200 to 2,400 square feet, and half of them have windows facing both a street and the courtyard. Because of the quirks of the existing buildings, each apartment is different. While white paint and large flowing spaces unify the interiors, idiosyncratic elements such as steps negotiating the differences in floor levels among the original buildings, and wall niches and moldings found in the existing rooms, give each apartment its own identity.
A block away, Jo'e Plecnik'Ljubljana's most famous architect'adapted and updated the city's oldest stone bridge in 1932 by sandwiching it between a pair of new pedestrian bridges. Baroque Court takes a similarly fearless approach to history, using distinctly modern moves to gracefully span different periods.
Close Up: Curtain Call
|Photo © Tomaz Gregoric|
|During demolition, Oman and Videšnik found short columns and graceful arches that had been covered up by previous renovations.|
Inner LightTo bring daylight into interior spaces that had been quite dark, the architects created a four-story-high courtyard in the center of the property and wrapped it with floor-to-ceiling glass. Half the apartments look directly onto the court; the others are entered from a hallway facing it. The height of the glass panels varies, depending on ceiling heights, while the width is affected by other quirks of the old buildings. Most panels are about 10 by 6.5 feet. The varying dimensions add a syncopated rhythm to the courtyard. A film applied to the glass shows the outline of arches that had once graced the buildings. Because the frits are reflective, they help distribute light around the courtyard.
Completion Date: January 2012
Gross square footage: 26,050 square feet
Total construction cost: $3.26 million
OFIS arhitekti d.o.o.
1000 Ljubljana, SI
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Architect of record: ROK OMAN, SPELA VIDECNIK
Interior designer: OFIS arhitekti d.o.o.
Mechanical Engineer: ISP d.o.o.
Electrical Engineer: Eurolux d.o.o.
General contractor: Timi Krsko
CAD system, project management, or other software used:
Metal Panels: Alufinal
Metal/glass curtain wall: Alufinal and Schueco
Curtain wall: Alufinal and Schueco
Metal frame: Alufinal and Schueco
Wood doors: Mizarstvo Kampo
Sliding doors: Mizarstvo Kampo
Fire-control doors, security grilles: Mizarstvo Kampo
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Mizarstvo Kampo
Paints and stains: Mizarstvo Kampo
Wall coverings: paint
Floor and wall tile: parquet floor and ceramic tiles used throughout: Marazzi, Megel
Other unique products that contribute to sustainability: EcoStop Pipes