|The title of this project – "Superdalmatia" – declares an approach determined to decisively confront the local conditions, which first of all implies scarce possibilities of control over the construction process between the project and its realisation. In the Balkans, as well as in most Mediterranean countries and the southern part of the world, the concept of construction project is usually interpreted very freely, and each architectural intention has to follow a path full of obstacles, improvisations, additions, misunderstandings, approximate solutions and all other kinds of possible problems. Therefore, if the commissioner decides to personally monitor the construction site in his free time, as it happened in this case – without having any intention whatsoever to pay the designers for the management of the work – the idea of regulating the construction process up to the point of determining the formal outcome with precision seems more like a dream than an attainable target.
But a situation which many "normal" architects perceive as hostile, which prevents them from fully displaying their creative talent, is here transformed in an interesting condition full of proliferative potentials. Just like great sporting champions or extremely innovative artists, Hrvoje Njirić radically changes the point of view, recognising numerous resources in obstacles and difficulties. Out of that derives a project strategically based on a series of successive motions which, as usually in the works of the Croatian architect, bring together clarity and necessity, experiment and elegance.
The demand for the construction of a 4 star hotel with 40 rooms on a relatively small and irregularly shaped plot of land is approached through extrusion of the construction area defined by the minimum distance from the boundaries, up to the allowed height of 11 meters. An operation which will in turn generate a clean-cut volume clad in a complex cover. It arranges the layers transversally – at right angle to the usual direction – with the objective of gaining significant increases in usable area, which is further enlarged by the expansion of the lofts in proportion to habitable spaces. Gradual approaching to the three-dimensional definition which reminds of the Metropolis of Tomorrow by High Ferris, with its exploration of the New York Zoning Law, is here presented through a very Mediterranean capacity of finding possibilities for a further increase of volume in loopholes.
What follows the almost automatic generation of a greater constructible mass is the application of subtractive techniques, analogous to the "Strategy of the Void" elaborated by Rem Koolhaas in his project for the Trés Grande Bibliotheque in Paris, and pertaining to the repertory of instruments used by Njirić (for instance, for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb). Several vertical cuts, open towards the most interesting sights of the island and the sea, distort the template resulting from the double objective of dividing the substantial volume into virtually independent elements, dimensionally comparable to the nearby buildings, and of multiplying the displays by allowing the in-depth penetration of air and light.
The next step calls for the typical section of the hotel, with rooms above the common and service areas (reception desk, restaurant, lounge…), to be made more complex by means of stratification which acts in the opposite direction, organising the passage between the public and the private inside out. A core on three height lines distributes various levels and gets the swimming pool and a wellness centre on the upper floors, thus intensifying socialness. As if the stroll which takes place in the street (an often practised activity in all tourist destinations and especially on the Dalmatian coast) were attracted to the inside of the hotel, folded and bent in the three dimensions around the events which combine the lives of hotel guests with the lives of other possible visitors. An idea which Njirić initially explored with the ultraNOLLI project (spatially reorganising the poché which indicated the extension of the public space to the inside of the buildings on the famous map of Rome) and experimented with in other proposals characterised by functional hybridisations and spiral motions (for example, the Faculty of Pharmacy or again the Zagreb Museum) and shared with other most inspiring contemporary proposals, from OMA's Jussieu Library to the Parkhouse/Carstadt by NL Architects.
This process of horizontal stratification of zones progressively endowed with greater privacy proceeds to the outside in different parts of the rooms, directly linked to the core and separated from one another by deep vertical cuts. Bathrooms are thus pushed in an unusual position on the outskirts and clustered in compact linear structures, rarely interrupted by loggias. The use of materials – solid and opaque on the margins, light and transparent on the cuts and in the core – underline the geometrical relationship between the dense outside walls, with their variable settings determined by marginal conditions, and an autonomous inhabiting abstraction of the central rectangle. The choice of inverting the composition of the bathrooms (usually placed so to separate the room from the collective areas) involves other interesting consequences. Njirić therefore gets the chance to change the generic international hotel-type transparency into an unexpectedly Mediterranean building, mostly closed from the outside and not too distant, in its prevalent materialness, from the examples of fortified churches which, in the course of centuries, have defended coastal communities from the attacks coming from the sea: the same churches taken by the Croatian architect as an example in his proposal for Aljmaš in 1999.
This is a Mediterraneity additionally researched, reinterpreting the tradition of the inhabitable patio. The loggias in fact function as habitable extensions to the rooms and bathrooms that face them, in relation to which they mediate in the relationship with the external in different climatic conditions, up to the point of transforming into winter gardens and offering interesting possibilities of use during low season. Although the projects for Le Corbusier’s cell houses, or those for "Immeuble Villas" by the same Swiss master, can remind of equivalent processes of superposing traditional Mediterranean types, this proposal is here presented as a more radical operation, literally Duchampian in its combination of the idea of the ready-made with an action of overturning, comparable with the one of the Bicycle Wheel. Njirić's sketch for another project, the Sun kindergarten, contributes to the clarification of the project sense. Vertical rotation, which there permitted the patios to demand better sun exposure, here concretely acts in isolating individual units as well as in the symbolic representation. The ready-mades and the necessary operation of inversion which follows their use, require multiple readings. The conversion internal/external, which brings the bathrooms to the external cover, joined with the verticalisation of the patios, provides for the guests' privacy, but also for the display of bodies, clearly made subject matter in a project which dedicates its own "public" programme to wellness, either in the functional, or the conceptual sense. These bodies, carefully covered in everyday life and generously displayed when we turn into tourists, constitute the specialty of the seaside condition and the fundamental reason for the very existence of the hotel. A hedonistic and carefree condition, paradoxically located near a small chapel, placed at the hotel entrance and open for use to the guests, other visitors and inhabitants.
Sacred and worldly, local and global, tradition and modernity are mixed in an intentionally hybrid idea which perceives tourism as an activity based on cultural exchange. An idea that confides the capacity of confronting local processes of architectural realisation pragmatically to proper convincing logic. A vital idea, anarchic, prolific, trusting in the indefiniteness…
In one word: Superdalmatia.