THE SYNAGOGUE in Žilina designed by prominent German architect Peter Behrens is being reconstructed and repurposed. The local Truc Sphérique civic association is turning it into an art gallery in a project that has already attracted attention from abroad.
“The synagogue by Peter Behrens might be for Slovakia a similar affair as the Villa Tugendhat in Brno is for us,” Iveta Černá, the head of the Villa Tugendhat, said at a specialised conference in Žilina in late October.
Truc Sphérique won a 30-year rental lease of the synagogue from its owner, the local Jewish community, for a symbolic sum with its €1 million project to turn the synagogue into a kind of art gallery commonly referred to as a kunsthalle. After the two-year reconstruction is completed, the synagogue will provide space for exhibitions, concerts and other cultural events.
“We are not returning this monument to its original state,” the architect Martin Jančok said earlier this year, as quoted by the SITA newswire. They are instead adapting the space to serve its new function. Truc Sphérique is cooperating with the regional monuments board in Žilina and other experts on the reconstruction.
So far they have removed all the elements that had been added to the building after it ceased being used as a synagogue. As a result it is again possible to see the 17-metre high dome.
The project has already received the 2013 Bauwelt Advancement Award. Representatives of Truc Sphérique will receive the award, along with €5,000, from German magazine Bauwelt at a ceremony in Munich on January 15, Marek Adamov, the initiator of the project to reconstruct the synagogue, told the TASR newswire.
“It is a surprise and an honour mostly for our colleagues – the architect Martin Jančok, all the designers, Magda Kvasnicová, Peter Szalay, Ivan Pilný and Ján Hromada, who have been working for months on research of the monument,” said Adamov, adding that the project was the result of their teamwork.
Completed in 1931, the Neolog synagogue in the historical centre of Žilina is one of the most important buildings in Slovakia to have been built in the modern style. It stands on the spot of the town’s original synagogue, built in 1881. It is the only work in Slovakia designed by architect Peter Behrens, some of whose students, like Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, became famous architects in their own right. It served the local Jewish community for less than two decades, after which it housed a university, a concert and theatre hall and a cinema. Since 1963 it has been a national cultural monument and there are indications that it might be added to the UNESCO heritage list.