Laplace and Piet Oudolf transform 18th-century naval hospital into Hauser & Wirth art gallery

Hauser & Wirth Menorca is located on a small island

Architecture studio Laplace and landscape architect Piet Oudolf have transformed and repurposed a collection of historic buildings on Isla del Rey in Menorca into an art centre for the Hauser & Wirth gallery.

Named Hauser & Wirth Menorca, the gallery is located on a small island off the coast of Mahon in the south of Menorca. It is housed within a formerly derelict hospital facility that was built and occupied by the British Navy from the early 1700s.

Hauser & Wirth Menorca was built on a small island
Top: the island is located in Menorca’s natural harbour. Photo is by Be Creative. Above: Laplace restored the 18th-century buildings

A two-year conservation project saw the three buildings converted into a 1,500-square-metre cultural hub. The site is complete with eight exhibition spaces, a restaurant, a gallery shop, a sculpture trail and biodiverse gardens.

Laplace explained that the studio looked to preserve the memory of the existing building by highlighting its “scars” and adapting the structure to appear as though it was always there.

Hauser & Wirth Menorca has gardens designed by Piet Oudolf
Elogio del vacío VI, 2000, by Eduardo Chillida was positioned beside a courtyard.

“We wanted to celebrate the history of the building and bring value to all its scars,” Laplace co-founder Luis Laplace told Dezeen.

“We have to keep the building’s integrity and work around the context. We have been working for a long time against the white-cube sort of space.”

Hauser & Wirth Menorca has a colourful shop and canteen
The Cantina has a nautical look

Long, linear exhibition spaces occupy the two largest buildings. These are adjoined at the centre by a contemporary courtyard that marks the entrance to the galleries.

The studio used traditional materials and techniques throughout the restoration, incorporating local masonry, a terracotta-tiled roof and terrazzo floors that were constructed using locally sourced stone.

Trusses span across the interior of the gallery
Installation view of Masses and Movements by Mark Bradford. The photo is by Stefan Altenburger and courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

The interior of Hauser & Wirth Menorca features original wood beams which were restored and whitewashed, while its walls were not rendered completely smooth but instead reveal the stone masonry beneath.

Large windows punctuate the walls and ceilings of the gallery space, creating a play of shadows on the stone walls.

“I did a lot of research on naval architecture here in Mahon, I looked at how to resolve things from trusses, a window, a door, a gate, to even a bench,” Laplace said.

“I didn’t want it to be a pastiche – I wanted it to be respectful to the local elements. It was very key to respect the naval history.”

Laplace left walls unrendered at Hauser & Wirth Menorca
“Scars” of the original structure were left exposed

Laplace has previously added two new wings to a collection of historic farm buildings in Somerset, England to create another Hauser & Wirth gallery.

This experience helped inform the new project.

“It reminds me of Somerset, where [Laplace] created a courtyard between the old and new building; here, it’s the same idea,” Laplace co-founder Christophe Comoy told Dezeen.

“[Laplace] created breathing spaces which are key in this type of restoration project, to respect what’s existing and also to improve the circulation to adapt it to the needs of today.”

The gallery overlooks the sea
Large rotating doors connect the interior and exterior

As Menorca is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – an area that aims to promote solutions that help safeguard biodiversity – a purpose-built reservoir that collects rainwater from the roof for irrigation across its gardens was added to the building to make it more sustainable.

The gardens and landscape surrounding the cultural hub were designed by Piet Oudolf, who also created the landscaping for Hauser & Wirth Somerset.

An olive tree is located beside the gallery
Local masonry was used across the site

His landscape design for Hauser & Wirth Menorca incorporates native plants, such as purple agapanthus amongst other perennials and grasses. It also preserved a collection of existing olive trees at the rear of the site.

A strict geometry sees plant beds organised in regular blocks around squared paved slabs that lead visitors around the centre, taking them between works by artists including Louise Bourgeois, Franz West, Eduardo Chillida and Joan Miró.

There is a sculpture trail at Hauser & Wirth Menorca
A sculpture Elogio del vacío VI, 2000, by Eduardo Chillida is located along the trail

Hauser & Wirth Menorca will host temporary exhibitions and artists’ residences, alongside a number of community workshops and artist-led programmes that centre on education and sustainability.

Its inaugural exhibition, Masses and Movements by American artist Mark Bradford, sees the contemporary artist lead an art education residency in collaboration with students at l’Escola d’Art de Menorca.

Hauser & Wirth Menorca by Laplace and Piet Oudolf
Piet Oudolf used native perennials throughout

Recently Hauser & Wirth displayed monumental sculptures by Eduardo Chillida at the gallery’s Somerset location in the southwest of England.

Piet Oudolf also created an ever-changing garden with winding paths and intimate lawns for Vitra’s architecture park in Weil am Rhein, Germany.

Photography is by Daniel Schäfer unless stated otherwise. Images courtesy of Hauser & Wirth. Images featuring sculptures by Eduardo Chillida are courtesy of the Estate of Eduardo Chillida and Hauser & Wirth. Copyright Zabalaga Leku. San Sebastián, VEGAP, 2021.

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