Bokšto Skveras: a journey through time
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Bokšto Skveras: a journey through time

A mixed-use complex that enhances existing buildings though a contemporary lens

Studio Seilern Architects

Bokšto Skveras: a journey through time
By Editorial Staff -

A rich and ancient history, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and buildings with Gothic and Baroque features – these intertwining, overlapping factors served as the starting point for Studio Seilern Architects’ design of Bokšto Skveras. While involving restoration and conservation, the project didn’t forego modernity and a touch of innovation for today’s community. The project was thoughtfully conceived to respect the existing complex of six buildings, surrounded by gardens and green areas, while striking a balanced and harmonious relationship with it. This led to a careful selection of materials and technologies to produce a 142,800 sq.ft. (of 13,265 m2) mixed-use complex that comprises accommodation and residential buildings, bars and restaurants, and places devoted to art that reflect the past without imitating it. Christina Seilern, principal architect of the studio founded in London in 2006, recounted the evolution and development of the concept and project.

Bokšto Skveras, Studio Seilern Architects ©Roland Halbe, courtesy of Studio Seilern Architects

How is the history of the place kept alive in this new project?

“From the outset, we were fascinated by the history of the site; as we revealed the layers of history, it was clear we wanted to retain as much as we could. We started to look at which elements of the original architecture should be retained and restored, and which later additions were to be stripped away. The collection of historic structures formed a rich foundation for a series of subtle and considered contemporary additions which provided layers of servicability, programme and grace to the heritage site. As mentioned previously, the insertions clad in a mirrored facade along with a new sunken restaurant adorned with a reflective polished steel roof, act as mediators which pay homage to the historical context. They visually blend the preserved, the restored, and the inserted, seamlessly dissapearing into a collective whole. In regards to the new electrical services and plumbing, we utilised a “box-in-box” approach which very gently touches the original building fabric without intervening with the original structureand building fabric; leaving a beautifully restored and almost untouched structure”.

In your opinion, what are the unique features of this project?

“The ambitious project was a labour of love and passion, for the developer as much as it was for us. From a developmental idea nearly tewenty years ago, the project was over a decade long journey from concept, planning, to design development, restoration, construction and completion. Working in a country and context which only gained independence in 1991, Lithuania had a young history, politically, bureaucratically, socially and economically. As a result, the nations planning regulations were extremely tentative and there was a lack of suppliers at the onset of the project. It was long process to define everything from planning regulation to building materials and suppliers. Although it was a long journey, it was a shared with a passion from the developer, for their home country and a way to give back to the their community and nation”.

Bokšto Skveras, Studio Seilern Architects ©Norbert Tukai, courtesy of Studio Seilern Architects

Right from the initial concept, there were numerous sources of inspiration for this mixed-use project. Which were the most important ones and how are they reflected in the completed complex?

“Among the diverse sources of inspiration, the most notable ones are the Alhambra in Grenada, the Moorish walled castle of buildings and courtyards, David Chipperfield’s reinvention of the Neues Museum in Berlin, and the contemporary renovation of Venice’s Fondaco dei Tedeschi by OMA. Theses precedents share a sensitiity to materiality and the historic structures, playing with the concept of merging the old and new and demonstrating how the two work together. Taking cue, we used polished stainless steel for the external lift at Bokšto Skveras, turning a pragmatic addition into a sculptural piece that reflects the space back onto itself. Similarly, the reflective roof of the restaurant resembles the surface of water in Alhambra, adding a whimsical feel to the space. Rather than obscuring or hiding its historic components, these insertions complement and celebrate the original architecture”.

Greenery and outdoor spaces play a fundamental role in the project. How were they designed and how do they relate to the architecture?

“The historical complex was the palace of Bishop Goniewski, consisting of 6 buildings enclosing a series of irregular courtyards. From inception, the buildings and landscape were seen as a unified whole which cannot exist without the other. As a UNESCO Heritage site, the open spaces constituted areas where our insertions could happen. These careful and considered additions act as a mediator which reflect and disappear with the landscape and vice versa. Essentially, the importance and harmony of the site belong to both the physical buildings and the landscape, which strike a balance between the two, all the while augmenting their defining characteristics”.

Bokšto Skveras, Studio Seilern Architects ©Roland Halbe, courtesy of Studio Seilern Architects

The choice of materials and technologies reflects a philosophy of sustainability. Can you tell us more about this?

“There has been considerable effort to apply passive solutions; to improving the environmental performance of the buildings, while still adopting a non-interventionist approach to the historic fabric – a major challenge. The selection and layering of building materials that improve thermal insulation has been a delicate process. We made improvements to hermetically seal the structure; implementation of solar control glass in double-glazed windows; and the reduction of water and energy consumption throughout. Our involvment in defining local standards and materials meant we could set an example for design which conformed with rigourous local and national targets for environmental sustainability”.

What were the biggest challenges you encountered in completing the project?

“One of the more radical architectural interventions across the site has been the complete re-invention of the roofs. This has not only been a technical design challenge but has also required deep and meaningful discussions with local planners. The expectation was to replace the existing damaged roofs like-for-like with clay tiles, but with a series of rooflight windows to bring light into the usable roof space. We argued that this was in fact a distraction from the restoration principles of the project and used UNESCO charters to gain support for an alternative approach. The resulting roof design is an innovative construction of vertical steel slats that subtly reveal areas of glazing beneath. The slats are covered with a painted oxidized copper roofing and laser cut in strategic places to allow light into the internal space. The darkened glass of the windows is barely noticeable from the street, being recessed behind the patterned copper and designed to resemble the ripples of clay tiles. It is an effective and contemporary solution that offers the potential for light-filled roof accommodation, while maintaining the aesthetic solidity of the original roof form and the gothis characteristics of the historic archtiecture”.

>>> Read the editorial by Dorte Mandrup in THE PLAN 144, which examines the balance between nature and culture.

 

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Credits

Location: Vilnius, Lithuania
Architects: Studio Seilern Architects
Client: UAB OGVY
Completion: 2022
Gross Floor Area: 13.265 m2
Design team: Archinova
Main Contractor: PST

Consultants
Structures: Elvora LT
Building Services: NIT Projektai
Project management: Contestus

Photography by Roland Halbe or Norbert Tukai, courtesy of Studio Seilern Architects

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