When a couple of months ago dRMM architects received the 2017 Stirling Prize for their renovation of the Hastings Pier, their head Alex de Rijke turned to other shortlisted nominees and said: You've all done fine buildings, but it seems that this year what really captured the imaginations was not doing one. The renovation followed a fire that all but destroyed the original Victorian pier; instead of returning it to its traditional form of a platform crammed with commercial establishments, the architects have chosen to cleanse the historical structure of its content, thus creating a generous public space free of immediate use-value.
Similarly, the ambivalent freedom of an empty pier is something not unknown to the port city of Rijeka where the postindustrial age has sealed the fate of much of its once thriving shipbuilding and transport industries. But it is not within the fenced-off coastal port with its rusty cranes where we are to search for Rijeka’s recent expression of an architectural optimism. Instead, it is in the new seat of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMSU), situated in a disused former factory Rikard Benčić across the street from the port and the main railway station, where a very casual, and at the same time a hugely ambitious redevelopment by Dinko Peračić and his colleagues has taken place.