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“Plato” Contemporary Art Gallery

New Life for a Ruined Monument

KWK Promes Robert Konieczny

“Plato” Contemporary Art Gallery
By Michael Webb -

Nothing could be more dramatic than the contrast between the blackened brick and the crisp white infills; the ponderosity of the original and the mobility of the additions. And the thickness of the pivoting sections is a testament to the sturdiness of the structure.

A battered witness to Ostrava’s industrial past has been transformed and given a new purpose. The former slaughterhouse of the third largest city of the Czech Republic is a monumental complex of soot-stained brick that was built in five stages between 1880 and 1920. Abandoned during the communist era, it was an endangered ruin when KWK Promes won a competition to turn it into Plato, a gallery of contemporary art. The architects have preserved the character and patina of the old structure, which recalls Ostrava’s history as a heavily polluted hub of coal and steel production. The rusted remains of the Dolní Vítkovice industrial plant, awesome in their scale, have also been recycled as a monument rivaling those on the Industrial Heritage Trail of the German Ruhr.

KWK Promes are based in Katowice, the Polish equivalent of Ostrava, an hour’s drive away. They have won awards for a succession of arts buildings including their Przełomy Dialogue Center in Szczecin, Poland, where an underground museum emerges from one corner of a tilted plaza. That gave principal Robert Konieczny the idea of opening up the slaughterhouse to the vacant site left by the demolition of workers’ housing. Exhibitions and events can be staged on this landscaped expanse of grass and gravel, which is permeable and allows rainwater to be collected in an underground basin.

The massive brick slaughterhouse had gaping holes and one section had collapsed. KWK Promes persuaded the conservation authorities to allow them to reconstruct one end and fill the holes with white micro concrete inserts modelled to replicate the original fenestration, outside and in. These sections,...

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