Conversion of a ruin…Excerpts from Wienerberger’s Brick Book

By: HenrietaMoravcikova

Featured Architect: PavolPanak, Bratislava

Project: Conversion of a ruin

Location: Cachtice, Slovakia

Completion Date: 2009

Building’s purpose: Studio, weekend home

Brick type: Facing brick

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During the 1990s, Slovakia experienced a radical shift from the stagnation of Communist Totalitarianism to the economic boom of an emerging market economy. In architecture,this social transformation was reflected in a loosening of all formal rules,an unbounded eclecticism and uncritical admiration of all technical innovations. Yet it was precisely at this moment that one architecture “refuge” began to emerge, in the small town of Cachtice at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. Here, Pavol Panak slowly began to develop, as a counterbalance to the pressures of the market and investors’ ambitions, his personal sense of what is architecture.

 Organic growth


The site was special from the very outset. On the plot, in addition to a simple peasant cottage, was an artificial hill just over 3 m high – a former brick kiln. Around it, and even on it, grew a fruit orchard. At first, the architect addressed the house; the kiln only had its turn later. Yet the slow pace at which the kiln was transformed into the present atelier was decisive for the overall effect of the resulting work. It is a building that grew organically. The individual phases of growth can even be seen in the color of its bricks: the oldest, completely blanched, form the core of the old kiln, while the new ones were gradually added as the architect realized his aims.

The basic spatial form of the atelier is defined by the original brick kiln. This simple space in the form of a tunnel was most likely constructed at the end of the 19thcentury. Bricks with dimensions of 28.5 x 14 x 5 cm with the marking “CAB” were used for construction. Evidently, they were from the larger brickworks of Count Augustin Breunner, who from the 1880s onward, owned extensive property in the vicinity of Cachtice and left behind a relatively extensive built legacy. Its original use, like that of other small brickworks in the region, ended with the start of industrial manufacturing in the early 20th century.

Cartesian geometry


The architect retained the original kiln almost unchanged. The geometry of the ceiling,the ventilation passages, the narrow manipulation opening and the unique materiality of the old bricks still determine the actual spatial, visual and haptic experience.Yet the atelier is above all an autonomous architectural work. It has the form of a rectangular prism, surrounding the original structure. Out of the conviction that architecture requires order, tradition and evolution, it is based on nearly perfect adherence to the rules of Cartesian geometry. The resulting work is an example of classical order.

The kiln, still partially sunk into the artificial hill, thus acquired the character of aRoman fortification, and is yet surrounded by a layer of new brickwork. At the top, as lender steel structure of four columns and a thin roof slab has been added. The pavilionthat has emerged could be seen as an accompaniment to the geometric orderof the structure, but also as a reference to the delicate temples of antiquity, or simplyas a place for reflection, which is in itself crucial for the architectural profession.In parallel with the growth of the building, the surrounding orchard itself expanded; now, the trees grow not only on the slopes of the hill but even on the pavilion’s floor.

The rural atelier of Pavol Panak is a homage to tradition, continuity, place andbrick-making. The work of firing bricks was particularly demanding, requiring concentration,patience and skill. A similar near-religious devotion is demanded of the architect, who sits down today to create at his large table inside this “brick refugium”.

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