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1st Central-European Architectural Magazine for the Culture of the Environment

Changing and preserving

Kanin Hotel, Bovec, Slovenia, 2021, photo by Robert Potokar

Editorial / Piranesi 44/45

Changing and preserving

Robert Potokar

The Kanin Hotel in Bovec, in the north-western part of Slovenia, is one of the finest examples of modern Slovenian hotel architecture, even though it will soon be 50 years old, with intermittent closures and renovations. At present a further renovation is underway, the final result of which is yet unknown. One can only hope that it won’t radically affect the interior, as the exterior is still more or less as the architect Janez Lajovic designed it in 1973.

The Kanin Hotel is interesting both in its floor plan and cross-section, where the rooms are superposed on top of each other with offset terraces, creating a cross-sectional inclination complete with an asymmetrically shaped gabled roof. The interior design follows the design of the outer shell, which merges with the silhouette of the mountains – including Mt Kanin – in the background. Lajovic was awarded the Yugoslav Federal Borba Prize for the Kanin Hotel in 1974, at the time the highest award architects could receive for their work in the country. That’s why we’ve dedicated this month’s cover story to the Kanin Hotel, and in a longer interview with architect Lajovic we shed light on his life’s journey, which he shared with his wife the architect Majda Dobravec Lajovic.

During the conversation, Lajovic presented his projects in more detail, explaining that the Kanin Hotel is actually the result of the design of his first hotel in Kranjska Gora, the Prisank Hotel. Unfortunately, this was demolished in 2008 and replaced by a prêt-à-porter building that does not respect ethical and moral principles, nor the characteristics of the environment itself. Of course, we understand that architecture changes over the decades and centuries and cannot remain intact. Changes are needed, but changes made with feeling can contribute to the building living its life for generations to come. This sensitivity has run out in the case of the Prisank Hotel, but fortunately it is still present in the exterior of the Kanin Hotel.

In contrast, the renovated building of Cukrarna in Ljubljana represents a successful rescue of the heritage of the city, not only through reconstruction and restoration, but also through the principle of active renovation, where new interventions and new programmes breathe the soul back into the building. Thus the building is given a fresh impetus, adapts to modern conditions and activities, and actively co-creates the surrounding space. Cukrarna is a good example of how architecture can generate change in space. The former suburban neighbourhood of Poljane becomes a point of attraction for visitors and young users of the outdoor spaces. A forgotten space, no longer hidden in our subconscious, becomes an active participant in the events of our capital city.

The magazine also features the renovation of the Cusanus Academy in Brixen/Bressanone, South Tyrol, where the architects of Modus Studio have shown how, by respecting the existing and adding the new, they can create a complete renovation with an updated programme, thus continuing the story begun in the 1960s by architect Othmar Barth with an extension to the monastery.

This year, the 17th Architecture Biennale was successfully held in Venice, where the curator Hashim Sarkis and selected participants focused on the main topic of how we will live together. Some of the exhibitors answered this question with conceptual thinking, some with an installation, others did not even touch the subject. Among the different pavilions and concepts, the reflection seen in the Danish pavilion is worth mentioning. There, the architects reflect upon sustainable architecture and its meaning through the conceptual rearrangement of the interior: recycled water meanders through the pavilion like a river, igniting a spark of playfulness in us and awakening positive thoughts for the year ahead.

This year will be remembered for something else, the feeling that for the second year in a row we are watching a film we have already seen. A period experienced through the filter of a face mask, when the personal contact between us is reduced to an eye glance, when the handshake and the broad smile disappear. The corona era has more or less prevented events, things are repeated day in, day out, and we can only hope that 2022 will indeed bring change and a return to normality. On the other hand, it is also an opportunity to reflect on what is really important in life, what is decisive for the individual, for society and for the environment. It is also a way to question our relationship to global economic growth, to the further enrichment of the wealthiest one percent, and to the meaning of our existence on this planet. As far as architecture is concerned, we could ask ourselves what it means at this explosively chaotic moment: a responsible attitude towards the world, the environment, the users, or simply a moment to show-off advanced technological solutions with a largely expressive, fanciful external architectural expression?

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