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The design brief called for an Omuli Museum of the Horse with artist residences and accommodations to be planned for the existing historical Omuli School building located in North Vidzeme Biosphere Reserve, Latvia.

Throughout history and across culture, horse has frequently been associated with the symbol of freedom, speed and beauty. A recurring theme of poem and literature, a horse carries with it a poetic connotation beyond its elegance physicality. Designing a space for the display of such nobleness thus poses a new challenge: How can we manifest the symbolism so strongly associated with the horse into architecture? In the manner of meaningful placemaking, poetically, we started to question ourselves: What does being free means in the context of architecture placemaking – to remove the shackles, to set loose of oneself, and to celebrate the beauty of unbound?

Thinking along this direction, the design brief of the horse museum thus gets dismantled, reinterpreted and reassembled again building upon the notion of “freedom in architecture” – in this case, eliminating the constraints that the site possesses to unlock its fullest potential. Site limitations have become site opportunities, and the design of the new museum complex revolves around solutions that “free” the architecture from three main constraints, namely time, space and form.

Freeing itself from these constraints, the architecture hence displays a kind of tension, breaking out from its mould, its wall, and its threshold. It is a space that exhibits a kind of charged energy yet effortlessly flow. It exerts power, albeit gracefully. Masculinity is at display against the landscape of Latvia, complementing the architecture with its feminine beauty.

It is an Omuli Museum, an exhibition space embodying the spirit of horses transcribed into its architecture.

It is an Omuli Coliseum, a theatre where the coming-together of art, history, nature and people is celebrated.

It is the O-MULI-SEUM.

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The architecture has to offer a development strategy that allows for a seamless transition and non-disruptive spatial requirements along the various opening phases – a design that seemingly grows over time, rather than fitted onto one another. In the manner of subtraction and addition, internal partitions are taken down by parts to make space for new programs’ needs according to the phasing and then using the recycled materials to rebuilt new accommodations around the existing building, simultaneously. In harmony, subtraction of internal spaces for public exhibition and studio area are offset by the addition of external spaces for the guesthouses and artist residences

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As the existing Omuli School is of interest to be preserved, its current dilapidated state however displays difficulty and enormous amount of effort to refurbish. While the exterior envelop holds its appearance and historical value, the interior on the other hand is not worth restoring due to a number of reasons: the badly deteriorated internal walls and timber floors, the congested layout that had been retrofitted over time to match various needs, and the room sizes that does not meet the new programs’ spatial requirement anyway. Each spaces of the museum complex has to accommodate for individual needs that are different across the number of programs, primarily in terms of room height from an intimate scale of guesthouses and artists’ residences to the double volume exhibition space – a design that breaks apart the single height datum as presented by the existing Omuli School.

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Design of the museum complex shall not be limited by the enclosure of the Omuli School. The beautiful landscape of North Latvia Biosphere Reserve, the history of the building itself (its silhouette a proud stature to look at), and the architectural interpretation of the museum’s subject (the horse and the art), form an integral part of the placemaking experience too big to ignore – a design that encapsulates all the qualities the site has to offer, both indoor and outdoor. As such, the accommodations are reimagined as individual glass boxes set amongst the landscape. Instead of rooms housed within the Omuli School overlooking the green, nature is brought to the doorstep. An array of walls then intersect the glass boxes and the landscape in a sweeping motion that seemingly cut across the Omuli School. Designed in a radial layout, these walls of randomized composition create a sense of perpetual rhythmic movement and a tension as they run across the context and interact with the surrounding. From visitors’ point of view, beside acting as privacy and wayfinding mechanism, these walls slice up the horizon into smaller intimate frames as they slowly pace them through the landscape. Recycled bricks from the demolition of existing building are re-used to construct some of these walls, while the others using the recycled timbers to imprint the concrete. Having these radial walls in such a dominant gesture, they become a homage to the Omuli School, as if carrying the DNA of its history and re-celebrate it with a new life. With these walls also doubling up as extended art displays in the park occasionally, the accommodations thus offer a unique getaway experience of getting lost amongst the green, the history, the art and the architecture.

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