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Enthusiasts turn Neolog synagogue in Žilina into a hall of arts

While the cultural centre in Bratislava – called Kunsthalle, or Hall of Arts, per the German term – is still awaiting state approval and financing, Žilina could have its own Kunsthalle completed. The Truc Sphérique civic association which already runs the Stanica Žilina-Záriečie culture hub won the competition of local Jewish religious community.

While the cultural centre in Bratislava – called Kunsthalle, or Hall of Arts, per the German term – is still awaiting state approval and financing, Žilina could have its own Kunsthalle completed. The Truc Sphérique civic association which already runs the Stanica Žilina-Záriečie culture hub won the competition of local Jewish religious community.

Organisers of the project in Žilina stress that they envisioned a different kind of financing such as standard grants and private donors. Peter Blaščák of the civic association told the SITA newswire that after renovation, the synagogue should house exhibitions, informal education, research, publishing, a film club, conferences, occasional concerts, festivals and yoga courses. He added that they are also planning a café, bookshop and a children’s corner. The designer of the reconstruction (which is estimated to cost one million euro) is Martin Jančok, one of the laureates of the CE-ZA-AR 2011 architecture prize. It is hoped that the assistance of volunteers will minimize costs. Operation of the “Kunsthalle” on the other hand is expected to be funded privately.

The building of the Žilina Neolog synagogue is the work of world-renowned German architect Peter Behrens from 1931 and stands on the site of an older synagogue dating back to 1881. As the only Behrens’ building in Slovakia, it has been a national cultural monument since 1963. It was used as a place of worship for just ten years after which the building came under state ownership due to the Jewish community being unable to repay the construction loans. Only later could the community reclaim it in restitution. After World War II, it was a theatre hall, part of the local college, and a cinema until 2010; which completely changed its inner structure. Jančok said the civic association had not planned to return the building to its original state, but the removal of certain features for the cinema – i.e. facing, lowered ceilings and drywall screens closed the space, and even removed the windows, thus depriving the space of daylight. “We put in new elements necessary for its new function such as exhibition space; and thanks to these interventions, the monumental cupola will re-open at its original height of 17 meters,” Jančok concluded.

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