The building for the Korça Icon Museum was originally a structure of columns and floor slabs (Maison Domino) abandoned when communism collapsed in Albania.
The Albanian office DEA Studio were comissioned to design facades and BOLLES+WILSON were then asked by the municipality of Korça to design and develop an interior exhibition design and sequence for the 300 Orthodox icons.
The heavy walls on the exterior with their small windows were intended to give an appropriate medieval reading.
The small windows from the inside did give an appropriate mysterious atmosphere but in terms of viewing Icons they were too bright and needed some interior masking to avoid too much contrast between a small area of bright outside light and the surrounding.
As the museum neared completion the albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama visited, and thinking the facades were too prison-like asked BOLLES+WILSON to extend their interior language to the entrance facade. Black painted plaster was added framing and respecting the DEA window composition. BOLLES+WILSON also added ‚Barnett Newman colours‘ to the existing communist fountain.
The given three levels subdivide well into Basement Archive with ground level laboritories/administration. The Exhibition spaces belong on the entrance level and the 1st floor – here the interior concept proposes a specific circulation route for visitors and an absolute division between public spaces and ‘back-of- house’. This is necessary for reasons of security (the public must not have the possibility to enter rooms where Icons are being worked on).
The floor between entrance level and 1st floor has been removed over the entire left hand exhibition room. This allows a new stair facilitating a simple and spectacular visitors circulation route. The new stair gives panorama views of a 9.5 metre high golden wall – for this wall the Petersburg hanging system was chosen – a close packing of Icons, a tapestry of images covering the entire wall, impressing visitors with the size of the Korça collection.
A SEQUENCE OF ROOMS
The interior concept develops zones of strong individual character defined by colour: gold on the left, black matt and gloss black in the central ‘Black Labyrinth‘ zone and Red for the Iconastas (Altar screen) on the right. The Sequential Rooms are carefully choreographed for the most dramatic effect:
(a) Entrance Lobby – an abstract collage of shelves for merchandising, postcards, posters, local handcrafts and even small Icons painted by Korça artists (a new local industry) are displayed and sold.
(b) The Gold Room – a two floor high gold screen (one that also wraps the sidewalls and tames natural light from slit windows). The screen is packed with Icons. Visitors promenade freely and then step up to the stair landing where an information handrail tells them what they are looking at.
(c) The White Balcony – overlooking the Gold Room – has a heavy Black handrail and a white (conventional museum) rear wall for a row of small Icons. These lead to an opening on the right.
(d) The Black Labyrinth – the central zone of the museum is particularly dark and mysterious with individually lit Icons floating in the penumbra. Walls are painted in a collage of matt and gloss black and grey to enhance the collage effect. Side alcoves with lower ceilings and wooden floors bring individually hung Icons intimately close to viewers.
(e) The Red Salon – from the Black Labyrinth visitors emerge into a sensual space where all surfaces are red. The central zone is defined by a 10cm high platform on which stands the iconastas (Altar screen).
(f) The final exhibition room is white with an illuminated ceiling – an ethereal space. The room displays the two most valuable icons from the 14h century.