Location: Brezje, Slovenia
Floor area , 408 sq m altar and storage, 1730 sq m square
Photographers: Miran Kambič, Maruša Zorec
The village Brezje lies in the western part of Slovenia near the lake of Bled. It is the most popular pilgrimage place in Slovenia. In the neoclasical church there is a famous painting of the Virgin Mary painted by Leopold Layer, due to which people from all the world come to Brezje – to see it, prey and ask for help.
The church is much bigger than the scale of the village behind. It lies on the edge of the village and is turned with its main facade to the Alps on the west. On its facade there are some interesting mosaics done by the architect Ivan Vurnik. The existing walls which surround the square and some other interventions in front of the church are supposed to be planned by the architect Joze Plecnik.
During several years many small interventions happened on the square and arround the church, which destoyed the spatial qualities of the whole. Due to the needs of the large number of pilgrims who come to the place every summer and especially on the 15th of August, we were asked to reconsider the spatial values of the area. We were asked to find a place for the outdoor events, construct a permanent open air altar and to propose a new pavemet for the square. We were also asked to enlarge the square towards south, and by that to remove the existing small rectangular park, which was also done by Plečnik. The park is laying on an upper level and is surrounded by the existing stone walls. There is a beautiful contemplation place, quite different from the open square below. By its removal the square would be much larger but it would also loose its original form. Therefore we insisted to keep all the existing walls as they are. They define the proportion of the square in front of the church very well, form its borders and orientation.
Aim of the intervention
The main challange of our project was how and where to organise the place for the big events and where to put the open air altar. The aim of our intervention was to keep all the qualities done by the former constructors and add a new layer to the whole by organising it in a new way. We proposed the outdoor events to happen in front of the church and placed the new altar in the northern wall of the square. By that we reorientated the square from the longitudinal place to a more larger one. The altar is placed in a longitudinal building set completly hidden behind the whole northern wall. In it there is a large storage place for the chairs and new big toillet which is now accesible from a more appropriate and hidden road at the western part of the square. When the altar is closed the space functions orientated towards the church and its main facade. By the placement of the altar in the northern wall we kept the view to the church facade free, as well as the southern wall towards the park and the western open view towards the mountains. When the altar opens its facade becomes much larger due to the opened doors and it atracts the views to its interior. By that also the orientation of the square changes from the longitudinal to a more larger one. Similar as in some Plečnik’s and modern churches, the place of the open church is larger than longer and is by that bringing the pilgrims closer to the altar place.
Description of the intervention
We cleaned the space in front of the church and removed all the trees from the square, leaving it completly open. The pavement of the square is white and simple, leaving all the attention to the church facade. The pavement is done by the brushed and washed terraco, lit on the place. The edges of the square are paved with the local white stone which is similar to the stone used for the existing surrounding walls. The edges of the square were also remodeled. We placed larger stairs on the western side and a new ramp for the disabled, we renovated the stairs to the park on the southern side and the park itself. On the northern side of the square the open air altar was placed. It is almost completly sunken in the volume of the hidden storage building. It is only higher a little and its doors open into the square. The frame of the doors marks its right size and overlaps with the lenght of the existing wall. The altar place is set on an upper level and is by the large new stairs conected with the level of the square. The doors of the altar are dark and simple. As they open the interior shines out as a completly different space, clad with a simple wooden clading and lit with the light from behind. By the large stairs the altar place is well connected with the square. The doors are simple and can be easily opened by one hand.
By the realised intervention the square seems larger as it was. It is a simple place for pilgrims and local people to gather. It is clearly structured in defines the open public square and the more intimate ambiences, such as the park above. The realised project is now generating some other changes of the non appropriate interventions around the square – the small shops beside the park are being renovated, all the other pavments around the church will slowly be changed and perhaps a small new museum will be realised. By all the existing and planned interventions we try to define clearly the space, its diversification and form better connection with the existing structure of the village and its inhabitants behind.