Typical for the town of Idrija, the Idrija Miners’ house is a unique architecture that reached the height of its popularity in the “century of the miners’ house” spanning from 1776 and 1876. In contrast to later miners’ apartments blocks, this type of multifamily building was privately owned by the workers: the first floor was occupied by the owner’s family while the upper floors were being rented. The majority of miners’ houses therefore housed up to 20 or more people at a time! Between the wars, their construction halted, and after 1945, people started to either transform them or bring them down. What are they facing in the 21st century: complete annihilation or a new life?
In 2018, 102 miners’ houses were recorded in Idrija. As they have been heavily modified, only 18 have retained more than five traditional characteristics. Only 8 of those are still inhabited. Today, a half of the 102 houses are empty. In a time when Idrija and its surroundings are facing a dire lack of apartments, this is a problem worth discussing. Their renovation followed by moving people in would regenerate the city centre while strengthening the identity and the architectural and urbanistic image of this UNESCO site.
As the biggest problem, the owners of Idrija miners’ houses point out humidity and warn about the typical difficulties that appear with ageing: the sagging of the house, wood damage, dilapidated roof and bad insulation. They also list several deficiencies: no bathroom and toilet in older houses, low ceilings, limited car access and small windows. Despite many shortcomings, the majority of the owners are extremely attached to their heritage — to the places, buildings and objects, as well as to family history connected to these houses. When planning a renovation, these emotions must definitely be considered: shortcomings must be remedied without the solution standing out and the renovation must retain any elements carrying messages and contact to the family- or town heritage.
Renovation measures catalogue
In order to simplify renovation and improve the living conditions of the owners and the current and the future inhabitants, we have prepared a catalogue of measures on how to renovate Idrija miners’ houses that systematically addresses the key architectural and construction challenges. After assessing the state of the house in terms of humidity and structural load, there are several measures that can significantly improve the quality of living (e.g. sealing the gaps between window frames and walls or window panes and window frames, renovating old or installing new windows, adding insulation, renovating the roof, the attic or the installations, organizing the space around the house in a different way).
The Trnovec house in Grapa
The Trnovec house in Grapa at the corner of Vinko Mohorič and Mrak Street is an excellent example of a typical Idrija miners’ house. As it is partly buried in the steep hillside, and caught between the road, the torrential riverbed, the neighbouring building and the hillside, its outside areas are strictly delimited. Its typical front façade overlooks the riverbed and faces east. The entrance is found on a small slanted yard on the northern side of the house facing the curve of the road.
This mighty building features three “black kitchens,” i.e. three apartments, and additional loft rooms. The ground floor was once occupied by a woodworking workshop, the cellar was home to livestock, while an outbuilding served as a storage, chicken house and a smaller barn. As used to be the habit, the building was home to several families. In 1870 it housed as many as six families or 31 people in total! The building underwent multiple modifications and extensions, which is obvious from a partial painting on the front façade, the differences in the design of the windows and the eaves: the overhangs on the two front façades are wooden, while those one the longitudinal façades feature a semi-circular plaster finish. Originally, the roof boasted three shed dormers, however two of them were eliminated when the roofing was changed from wood to concrete shingles.
Inscribed in the cultural heritage register, the house has been empty for the last twenty years and has recently become municipal property. Its condition is quite poor yet not hopeless. As a house that offers many challenges as well as potential, it serves as a pilot project.
After years of abandonment, the house is now severely decayed. The roof construction, the majority of the windows and the inner staircase are beyond repair. Floor-ceiling constructions are damaged, the back wall facing the hill partly crumbled at the level of the first floor. The outer stone walls of the cellar and the ground floor, as well as the wooden walls in the higher floors need renovation and static reinforcement. The outbuilding standing in the yard will be demolished and replaced.
After the renovation, the new Trnovec house will be transformed into a two-dwelling building. The outside appearance will be left practically intact while the inside will have a completely new design. The bottom, stone part will be reinforced with reinforced concrete walls, and the upper, wooden part with a cross-laminated-timber construction. The latter will not only form a construction framework but also a new inner wrap. The three façades visible from the street will retain the original appearance, whereby the structure of the plaster will indicate which part of the house is made of stone and which is made of wood. The back façade facing the hillside will be completely glazed bringing more light and contact with the outside world into the house.
The house will be divided into two apartments (a classic and a modern one) vertically so that both dwelling units will reach from the ground floor to the loft, maintaining the typical verticality of the layout in an Idrija miners’ house. The staircases will be situated in the middle of the house, in the expanded wall between the two apartments, intertwining in the middle. Despite the humble dimensions of the house, this will allow the two apartments comparable living conditions: an entrance on the ground floor, and light and spacious living quarters in the attic.
The modern apartment spanning all three levels of the building covers 106 m2. The ground floor encompasses two bedrooms, a bathroom and a foyer that leads to the terrace on the south side of the building. On the first floor, a large bright kitchen with a dining room opens toward a partially glazed gank or traditional balcony, shaded with wooden slats. On the western side of the house, the double-height ceiling and a fully glazed wall offer an uninterrupted view on the terrace and the surrounding greenery. The stairs then lead to the loft with the living room which also opens into the green surroundings towards the west. As the loft is equipped with a toilet, it can be transformed into an additional bedroom.
Apart from a small foyer on the ground floor, the classic apartment that covers 87 m2 begins on the first floor with two bedrooms and a bathroom. Classic window openings remain in all three rooms; on the inner side, they feature wooden window frames with insulating glass. Bedrooms face east which offers beautiful views on Idrija. In the loft, the living room and the dining room feature 6 loft windows on the front façade. Additional light comes from three shed dormers with three glass sides. Facing west, the glass-enclosed kitchen provides direct exit to the terrace pushed into the hillside. From the terrace, stairs lead back to the yard. As in the modern apartment, the living room in the classic apartment can also be transformed into an additional bedroom.
For more information on the project, Idrija miners’ houses and the Trnovec house:
Alenka Korenjak, firstname.lastname@example.org, 00386 40 367 212
Matevž Straus, email@example.com, 00 386 51 411 388
KD prostoRož, Rimska 22, 1000 Ljubljana.
Društvo Idrija 2020, Ulica IX. korpusa 17, 5280 Idrija. www.idrija2020.si
Alenka Korenjak (prostoRož), Matevž Straus (Idrija 2020), Maša Živec, Blaž Kandus (kombinat arhitekti), Chiara Boccingher (kombinat arhitekti), Bruno Dujič (CBD), Franc Pohleven, Miha Tomšič (Gradbeni inštitut ZRMK), Luka Zupančič (Gradbeni inštitut ZRMK), Jasna Svetina (ZVKD Nova Gorica), Mary Lah, Drejc Kokošar (Idrija 2020), Matevž Šlabnik (Idrija 2020), Urban Šlabnik (Idrija 2020), Iztok Hvala (Idrija 2020), Miran Podobnik (Občina Idrija)