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From Industrial to Cultural Hub: The Redevelopment of Automatic Mills

Automatic Mills Grain Silo Conversion, Pardubice, CZ / Prokš Přikryl architekti

Converting old mills and grain silos into cultural spaces symbolizes the shift from urban industry to a more artistic and economically influential force. Projects like the Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town or the Mkm Museum Küppersmühle in Duisburg by Herzog & de Meuron showcase how the grandeur of 20th-century industrial architecture complements the contemporary art scene.

Automatic Mills Grain Silo Conversion, Pardubice, CZ / Prokš Přikryl architekti

The buildings themselves often convey the most powerful messages. An excellent example of this is the renovated Automatic Mills in Pardubice, Czech Republic. Originally designed by architect Josef Gočár and inaugurated in 1909 for the Winternitz brothers, the building remained operational until 2013, when it was deemed unnecessary. However, the exceptional quality and intricate design of Gočár’s work ensured the preservation of the building.

Automatic Mills Grain Silo Conversion, Pardubice, CZ / Prokš Přikryl architekti

Situated along the Chrudimka River, the site offers vast space and potential for the city. Martin Prokš and Marek Přikryl from Prokš Přikryl architekti were entrusted with overseeing the conversion of the building into the focal point of a new culture-oriented urban area.

Gočár’s initial design was a true representation of industrial architecture, with the towering Silo showcasing meticulous brickwork and detailing reminiscent of a palazzo or Renaissance style, yet distinctly modernist.

Automatic Mills Grain Silo Conversion, Pardubice, CZ / Prokš Přikryl architekti

In collaboration with Lukáš Smetana and Mariana Smetanová from the Automatic Mills Foundation, an organization established to supervise the project and preserve the site’s essential characteristics, Prokš and Přikryl chose to implement bold material and structural changes while maintaining the integrity of the original architecture.

Automatic Mills Grain Silo Conversion, Pardubice, CZ / Prokš Přikryl architekti

The transformation of Automatic Mills resulted in a new social center, featuring a purpose-built hall capable of hosting various events such as theatrical performances, lectures, and social gatherings. Additionally, a roof terrace was added to provide a fresh perspective of the city. The concrete grain bins, with their textured walls, were partially opened up to create exhibition spaces, and the ground floor was opened up to create a covered public square.

Automatic Mills Grain Silo Conversion, Pardubice, CZ / Prokš Přikryl architekti

Gočár’s impressive exterior once masked the inner workings and structure of the milling industry, projecting a sense of civic pride in industry and labor. The architects note that the mills were never viewed solely as industrial buildings, but rather as structures that evoke the enigmatic presence of a machine concealed within a fortress. Even the grain silo, an addition made in 1924, adds to the sense of mystery by not being easily comprehensible.

Automatic Mills Grain Silo Conversion, Pardubice, CZ / Prokš Přikryl architekti

The act of peeling away the original purpose of these buildings to expose the inner forms and mechanisms of a bygone industry is a common trait among many of our contemporary cultural mills. By incorporating glass-concrete floor panels and metal mesh staircases, the industrial and otherworldly essence of these vertical spaces is preserved, allowing for a newfound appreciation of their forms and physicality.

Automatic Mills Grain Silo Conversion, Pardubice, CZ / Prokš Přikryl architekti

In addition to the mills, the site also features the Gočár Gallery, Gampa Gallery, and an educational center. Efforts have been made to conserve as much of the original patina as possible, particularly in areas that have undergone changes and adaptations over time.

Image courtesy of Petr Polák