Comfort of the existential minimum

architects Dražen Juračić, Jelena Skorup
project renovation of vacation house, Jelsa, island of Hvar,Croatia
written by Sandra Križić Roban

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Each historical urban ambient contains many characteristics of previous periods whose totality creates the context. How do you enter it without causing unwanted consequences? How do you remain true while showing responsibility towards the space and its local specifics, providing arguments for a modern intervention at the same time? What is the correct way of taking into account the historical heritage, the continuity of form and former function that very rarely, if ever, cope with changes and novelties?


The interdependency of the historical sequence and the setting may result in various achievements. In the example of the vacation house in Jelsa on the island of Hvar, reconstructed by architects Dražen Juračić and Jelena Skorup, they were enriched by the concept of the perceived historicity of the building and its context, interpreted from the standpoint of today.


The stone house of irregular miniscule plan, 6.5 by 3 metres, is located in the historic part of the town, in one of the streets climbing south from the parish church of St. Fabian and Sebastian. Not particularly marked by anything, its volume is simple, and taking into account the climate, of typically rustic façades, the house is adapted to the plot’s position and size. Its form and modest dimensions are derived from the context it belongs to – a farm settlement in Jelsa, somewhere between the 16th and the 19th century. It was built in three phases: the oldest layer is a single-storey stone house that was probably a stable or some other farm building. A first floor, also in stone, was added to it later. In the 1960s, the building got its second floor with walls and a balcony in cast concrete. 


The position and the size of the plot, its cramped space and irregularity, and the proven oldest ground-floor layer are the arguments in favour of the thesis that it wasn’t originally a residential but a farm building. This enabled to some extent a freer spatial arrangement. After the reconstruction, the inside was divided into four levels: the kitchen and living room on the ground floor, two floors (each with two bedrooms and a bathroom) and the attic partially covered by a monopitch roof, while the other part is occupied by a small terrace overlooking the town core and the northern and eastern parts of the island.


The historical layers can be seen on the façade primarily due to thedisposition and openings of different sizes. After a recent adaptation, the openings were joined in a new, graphically interesting way, hinting at the upward movement dynamics achieved on the inside by putting a staircase “sail” along the façade wall. Among other things, the extremely rationalized spatial organization was achieved by grading of floors and bathrooms placed on some sort of middle level (enabled by the suspended construction), while the staircase “body”, i.e. the open metal stair construction, greatly defines the dispersion of the space, which can be interpreted in the end as naval interior architecture. 


The fluidity and dimensions of the contemporary spatial organization were for a long time considered to be key elements of a successful residential space (as well as for relaxation). In the given context, architects Dražen Juračić and Jelena Skorup were not able to connect the inside with the outside, intimate space, so all the dynamics were limited to the interior of the house. To be more precise, all the way until a sort of culmination – a small terrace with a view that (finally) stretches into a wider space that we see as a memento of the tradition of summer kitchens located on house terraces in the historical urban centers of the Adriatic.


Due to the principally traditional allocation of content among the floors, the vacation house in Jelsa has some of the building memory of the context it is in. Juračić and Skorup have managed to harmonize the functionality necessary for the new users with elements interpreted from the spatial whole, connecting and interpreting them in a decent, dynamic way on the inside, without interpretative bias to any historical version. This vacation house by architects Juračić and Skorup is not static, but on the move (the open staircase construction has an effect on the dynamics of vertical movement), it is a shelter that can fulfill many needs of its users. Its comfort can be seen as the existential minimum of skillfully disposed and perfectly made parts.


Family houses are often considered universal values whose precondition is privacy, and we often identify them by the term “individual”. How to achieve individuality in the context defined above? The house in Jelsa managed to provide privacy to its users without the use of aggressive means. Their daily activities are only hinted at on the ground floor – similar to other houses along the coast. Blue window sliding shutters on the façade are graphically connected to white shallowly plastered window frames, visually the most exposed proof of refurbishing. The permeation with the environment happens on the top floor – the small terrace, while all other events, due to a series of conditions already mentioned, are organized only inside the house. Without narration and conceptual-dramatic pauses (for which there is neither room nor time), organized within itself, the house in Jelsa has a sophisticated character thanks to the well thought out design of equipment and detailed usage strategy. Within this small space is an excellent interior in which the architectural ambitions are harmonized with the set circumstances.