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Chambers of the Faculty of Medicine of Vytautas Magnus University

Kaunas, Lithuania
1 of 25
L. Mykolaicio nuotrauka, 2018 m.

The architectural processes of the interwar period are often described as a kind of battlefield between modernity and traditional forms of architecture. In the Lithuanian context, the architect V. Dubeneckis played one of the most prominent roles in this process by presenting his own vision of combining modernity and tradition. As a result, Dubeneckis's most important works not only became significant urban landmarks but also influenced the general development of the concepts of architectural aesthetics of that time.

As E. Gūzas, who has studied Dubeneckis's work, observes, "prestigious building in Lithuania in the period 1920-1930 had acquired a very dubious stylistic direction. As evidenced by the largest Kaunas buildings of the time (E. Frykas's Seimas Palace, M. Songaila's designs for the Bank of Lithuania and the Institute of Physics, etc.), the respectability of the albeit struggling Lithuanian state was perceived and tried to be realised in the traditional classical pompous stereotypes. [...] Dubeneckis's creative activity is a consistent transition from neoclassicism and stylised eclecticism to modern (in the understanding of the time) functional and distinctive solutions. Although the reorientation of Lithuanian architecture was not solely due to V. Dubeneckis, his role was distinct and decisive. Aware of Lithuanian cultural traditions and their essence, Dubeneckis gave Kaunas architecture a scale, rhythm and a system of dimensions. Understanding the possibilities and perspectives, he formulated the criteria of luxury, refinement and restraint, as well as the requirements of rationality and functionality. His work was the result of an inner synthesis, a professional inheritance that allowed him to combine classical traditions and modernist tendencies into a harmonious whole".

The Faculty of Medicine building is a clear illustration of these ideas. In assessing the architectural stylistics of the palace, we could use the term "stripped classicism", which is common in English-speaking architectural studies (perhaps translated into Lithuanian as "simplified classicism"). In the plan structure and facades, we can clearly perceive symmetry, monumentality, and features typical of historical objects. This is particularly true of the façade on A. Mickevičius Street, whose central part and entrance, surrounded by buttresses, are like those of a historic palace. However, the façade on Spaustvininku Street is much more modern. The curved and heavily glazed central bay (rounded overhang) gives a distinctive character to the street layout. A similar balance between modernism and historicism can be seen in the façades and interiors. If we compare the Faculty of Medicine with the examples of historicism mentioned by Gūz, it is clear that the architectural ornamentation is much more modest and modernised. From a structural point of view, the building is quite ordinary - brickwork, with 'metal beams' on the roofs.

The architectural solutions are thus balanced between modernity and historicism, while in functional terms, the palace was undoubtedly modern, bringing the conditions of medical students and professors closer to European standards. As noted in the press of the time, the building was designed 'on the model of the new building of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Brussels, which is considered to be one of the finest in Europe. Brussels also has seven institutes of the Faculty of Medicine. The Kaunas palace does not have such luxuries and was built with a view only to practical convenience and the greatest possible economy." The qualitative changes are particularly striking when comparing the new building with the previous anatomical building on the site. As Professor Jurgis Žilinskas recalls, in 1920, when the anatomical hospital was built on the basis of a derelict pre-war shelter, the environment was extremely poor: "We made two wooden chests to hold the corpses and got benches for the students."

The new building was designed to be a versatile and modern university research and teaching facility: 'One block facing Kalėjimo Street [now Spaustuvininkų Street] accommodated the institutes of anatomy, forensic and sociable medicine, and general anatomy and pathology with pathological anatomy. The Mickevičius Street block houses physiology and physiological chemistry, pharmacology, histology with embryology, and pharmacy with pharmacognosy. The crematorium, built in 1936, was another sign of modernity. The foundations and the cornerstone of the VMU Faculty of Medicine were consecrated on 3 July 1931. The new palace was consecrated on 15 February 1933. After the construction of the Eye Clinic and the Institute of Physics and Chemistry, the facility continued the development of the university in the city.

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