Ljubljana and Jože Plečnik
21.6.2017 | Fiona Thompson
Much of the appearance of the Slovenian capital city, Ljubljana is down to one man – Jože Plečnik. There are the obvious sights such as the central market and the triple bridge, then the lesser known but still accessible Križanke, a former monastery and now home to the Ljubljana Festival, and the stunning library of the University of Ljubljana, and then the less well-known sights such as the now crumbling old national stadium or the magnificent cemetery at Žale; this workaholic architect did, perhaps, more than any other person to establish a “national identity” at the time when Slovenia most needed it.
Plečnik was born in Ljubljana in 1872. As a young man, he trained first as a furniture maker in Graz. then went on to study architecture in Vienna, creating a number of important buildings there between 1900 and 1910. In 1911 he went to Prague and was appointed chief architect of the castle.
Slovenia did not become an independent country in its own right until 1991. Before that, the country was either absorbed by other countries or else a part of a federation of countries. At the time when Plečnik was building his successful career, the question of how to establish a “Slovenian” identity was foremost in the minds of politicians and intellectuals. Plečnik made his contribution through architecture.
Plečnik didn’t just work in Slovenia; outside of the country, his most famous work is probably the reworking of sections of Prague Castle. He was proud of this work but, for understandable reasons, Czech architects were not particularly enamoured with the foreigner who came to their country and snapped up one of the plum commissions. Other work outside Slovenia includes churches and other buildings in Belgrade and Zagreb.
Back in Slovenia he was made a professor at the University in 1921 and still took on as many commissions as he could although he had, to some extent, fallen out of favour, partly because his work was out of fashion and partly because his political and religious views were at odds with the regime after World War Two.
In Ljubljana, his work was about town planning as much as individual buildings but sadly many of his ideas were not realised. He was, perhaps, ahead of the game with his aim to make the city as pleasant as possible for pedestrians, while his buildings were not simply utilitarian but were designed in such a way to work harmoniously with other nearby buildings and to heighten the overall visual impact.