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Kaunas Military Research Laboratory

Kaunas, Lithuania
1 of 25

When the decision was made to build a new modern military chemical research centre in Lithuania, the location of the building had to be decided upon. Concerning the classified nature of the facility, suggestions were made to build it further away from the city. However, if the decision had been made to build the facility in a village, it would have been necessary to build apartments for the officers and qualified staff. Furthermore, to create a dedicated energy source for the laboratory to provide its own water, which would have made the construction unacceptably expensive. The need for cooperation with universities was also a motive against moving the laboratory to a distant region. In addition, the shortage of staff was also taken into consideration, meaning that some of the staff would have to work not only in the laboratory but also in the Artillery Workshop. Based on all these arguments, it was decided “to build the scientific part of the Laboratory in Kaunas and to distribute the production companies in the provinces in compliance with the instructions of the Chief of Staff. As a result, in 1932, the Minister of National Defence gave approval for announcing a tender, and the tender committee awarded the first prize to architect Vytautas Landsbergis-Žemkalnis.

Vytautas Landsbergis-Žemkalnis can be regarded as one of Lithuania’s most influential architects of the interwar period, whose impact on Kaunas is considerably visible. According to the committee, his project was selected due to its originality and, at the same time, the flexibility of its design. Once construction of the facility had started, Landsbergis-Žemkalnis was also entrusted with the technical supervision of the building. The building was constructed on the outskirts of the residential neighbourhood called Žaliakalnis, next to the Ąžuolynas (Oak Tree) Park. The construction began in the spring of 1933, and according to the original contract, the main construction work was supposed to be completed in October of the same year. However, such an extremely fast construction schedule proved far too challenging, and the deadline was extended, during which time the project was also adjusted. These adjustments were made in order to improve quality and durability, as well as cost-effectiveness.

The façades of the building are dominantly formed by corner windows and window strips that are extended all along the façade without interruption. These characteristics of the windows give a horizontal emphasis to the building. The roof of the building is flat in appearance with a slight parapet; however, as it can be detected from the original details, there is an insignificant angle for the dispose of the rainwater. It contains a stack of approximately 200 copper chimneys in 2 different sizes. The chimneys are the main components that help the ventilation in the laboratories of the building. Furthermore, the density of the chimneys and their specific shape establish a considerable impact on the perception of the building. Therefore, it is possible to state that the chimneys are one of the most striking elements of the building, which gives it significance.

The building contains a basement floor, three main floors (first, second and third), a partial fourth floor and an attic. The plan schema of the basement formed slightly different from the first and second floors due to having a shorter corridor and having mechanical and technical rooms that it facilitates. Furthermore, the third-floor plan can also be considered relatively different due to the terraces it contains and the two individual rooms located on top of the north and south entrances. However, despite minor changes to the floor plans, the building has a repetitive plan schema and some repetitive elements. For example, there are armoured traction cabinets located in the laboratories on every floor, and inside the cabinets, there are ceramic fans connected to the chimneys. Therefore, they facilitate the ventilation of the spaces where chemicals are used. Furthermore, metal grills are detected in the corridors for ventilation, which vary in size.

The building has a reinforced concrete frame and curtain walls on the basement floor. On the upper floors, the main walls and the separation walls are built with the use of bricks. The columns of the upper floors are mostly hidden in the walls; however, it is possible to see two of the monolithic columns in the hall of the second and third floors. The building is designed to survive accidental explosions and perform research regarding chemical weapons; therefore, the main skeleton of the structure is separated from the outer walls and windows. The floor beams and the floors are reinforced concrete. The whole structure is organised in a specific way, allowing to arrange of the partitions and the openings freely in the design. Therefore, the building applied the language of the Modern Movement successfully by designing a structure which is fulfilling the needs of its function. This is no coincidence that this building is considered one of Lithuania’s most important examples of modernism in the first half of the 20th century. The laboratory has become important not only to the city as a centre of advanced technical science but also as the focal point of scientific development in the region. In the second half of the 20th century, as Kaunas expanded and new industrial and residential neighbourhoods were formed, the entire Campus of Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) emerged next to the laboratory. Today, the laboratory is the oldest building on the campus and serves as a symbolic gate to the site.

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