It was a rather normal day at his architectural office in Barcelona – busy, but normal. Suddenly, an unexpected visitor appeared. It happened to be an acquaintance from the architect association, and he was carrying a bottle of cava. He popped the cork and announced the news.
“That’s how we found out that we’d won the Kunstsilo competition, and that was so great. We celebrated with cava and tequila, and we were overjoyed. It’s a privilege to be a part of this, and we feel very fortunate to be entrusted with it. It’s an important project for us,” says Magnus Wåge of Mestres Wåge Arquitectes, who has designed Kunstsilo along with two other architectural firms.
Wåge describes himself as a happy user of art-related and cultural buildings, but this is his first museum as an architect. However, his team has gained a lot of previous experience from working on similar buildings.
The most important architectural decision for Wåge and his colleagues was to turn the silo into the heart of the museum building. When you enter Kunstsilo, the first thing you will encounter is a large, airy space where the remaining cylinders of the grain silo hang 20 metres above the ground.
Then you’re in Silosalen, the main hall.
From there you are also able to look at all the exhibition floors above and get an orientation of the building. You’ll see concrete from the original silo there, and visitors will be able to get a strong sense of the original building, which was erected in 1935.
“We were concerned with creating an aesthetically pleasing and vibrant centre in the building. Silosalen will be a sort of sculpture that the whole museum will centre around. There’ll be two entrances that can take you into the centre of the building; you can either come in from the quay or the square in the back. And no matter which room you visit, the whole time you’ll be moving around, through and over the main hall. At the top, there’ll be an area that can host events with a restaurant where you can still see Silosalen through a glass ceiling at the top of three of the cylinders,” he says.
Right now, Wåge is standing in the area that will become Silosalen over the next year. At the moment, however, this is an open space where the wind blows in from all directions and machines rumble by. The architect has just carried out an inspection and, due to all of the already known challenges during the last few years, it’s been a while since the last one.
“It’s incredibly good to watch the development of this project. Now we have a number of processes we have to bring to a close in regard to the surface on the concrete and the detailing. We’d like there to be a historical story in and on the walls, and the question is where to stop these processes going further,” he says.
The contractor Kruse Smith created a new support structure for the silo by, among other things, using a beam structure that runs between all of the cylinders. After that they cut the cylinders at a height of 20 metres above the ground.
“A technically demanding operation was required to change the entire structural system for the building in order to create a large room like the one we’re standing in now. We’re very impressed with how they’ve solved this. This was the most important thing to achieve for this project,” says Wåge.
It has also been important for the architects to create spaces that contrast with the silo – exhibition rooms where you can display art without the background taking attention away from the works.
“At the same time, we think that the character of the silo contributes a special value that allows you to exhibit certain types of art here such as, for example, Gjerdeløa. The dialog between them will be great,” he says.
Magnus Wåge has become a successful architect with many big projects under his belt. However, he actually considered taking some completely different paths.
“There are a lot of architects in my family, but I had decided that I wouldn’t become one in any case. I studied music and explored a few different options. Then at some point I thought about giving architectural school a try and to see if I could get in. I’d been around architecture the entire time I was growing up and I’d always been drawing. So, I got in and then got more and more interested in it and more and more fascinated by it,” he says.
Wåge studied in Oslo and got a girlfriend from Barcelona who also shared the same passion for architecture that he had. They lived in Oslo for a few years after completing their studies before deciding to move to Barcelona in 2005.
“We started our own firm, and it went quite well for a few years. Then a major crisis struck the construction industry in Spain. We had some savings in the bank, but things were tough. And then we won a competition for a new city hall in Førde as a part of an architectural consortium. We became more seasoned professionally during the project and got through the crisis,” says Wåge, whom colleague Erlend Strønstad describes as being a very analytical architect.
“He uses a lot of time thinking through all sorts of aspects concerning architecture, and he has a strong conceptual understanding in regard to it. Him having worked a lot on buildings and urban planning is important – understanding the relationship between the construction and a city is a strong asset when you have to figure out how to tackle complex buildings like a museum,” says Strønstad.
Wåge is standing on top of the silo. He has traipsed up the many steps for the second time in a brief period of time, and on this occasion, it is for a small photoshoot on the roof. He doesn’t mind; he likes to see what the silo is about to become.
“What’s been the biggest challenge so far?”
“It’s been figuring out the rehabilitation of the silo from a technical standpoint. Altering the forces within the building has been a extensive job. During the competition stage we already had an engineering team onboard in order to consider whether this was even possible,” he says.
As far as Wåge is concerned, the Kunstsilo project has been intense and at times all-consuming. But first and foremost, it has been exciting.
“I feel proud to be a part of this, and we hope people will appreciate the museum. If the building is liked, then it will also be looked after over time. Then we can say we are satisfied.”