Piranesi no. 35/Vol. 22/2014 (The Ferant Garden by Edvard Ravnikar)
In the 21st century, global crises are appearing one after another, with no end in sight. Society is falling into so-called “new normals” ever more rapidly and frequently (now already every other year), and it doesn’t seem the crises are about to loosen their grip any time soon. Piranesi has developed and established itself as a seismograph of new normalities – from the very first issue, it has avoided the premise that anything is possible (a 20th century mantra) and has nurtured a policy of presenting architectural thoughts and projects (mainly from Central Europe) that, at their core, develop architectural approaches inspired by specific local conditions. In this way, it has developed a distinctive architectural position and, in line with it, has advocated a “regional critical architecture” as one that strives to establish cultural, economic and political independence despite the pressures of globalisation.
After thirty years of publication, the magazine can be evaluated as a defender of the “architecture of critical regionalism” in Central Europe. In the first decade it represented architecture that resisted the reductive functionalism of late modern architecture and the superficial aesthetics of postmodern architecture; in the second decade it advocated architecture that was poetically, critically and apolitically “sensitive” to space and resisted the commodification of architecture into a global consumer product. In the last decade, however, it has shed light on new development paths of “critical regionalism” that respond to the poor state of ecosystems and social change. In this way, it seeks architectural realisations and ideas that respond to climate change, irresponsible resource depletion and a new social normality in the local environment.
Piranesi is one of the few European architecture journals that have been promoting “architecture from the periphery” for decades, proving that Frampton’s postulates of “the architecture of critical regionalism” are not a dusty historical document, but are firmly rooted in the curricula of European regional schools of architecture and the design strategies of architectural practices. In the fourth decade, Piranesi will undoubtedly focus on architecture that responds to environmental change, context and tectonics through the integration of bioclimatic design, the use of local, low-carbon or biologically produced materials – that is, architecture that promotes the socio-spatial communication of the building as an act of regionalised sensitisation through the use of principles and materials in its tectonic design.
Many factors contributed to the creation of Piranesi. One of the key ones was the intention of Vojteh Ravnikar to open up Slovenian architecture to the European space and promote an understanding of the architects approach to a specific, Central European cultural space. As such, Piranesi has shed light on the “Slovenian attitude” towards Central European architecture and the notion of the importance of “social” space, which is hardly acknowledged in the wider Europe.
From day one, Piranesi has been multilingual and transnational, inviting national and international writers, architects and photographers to participate, with the aim of presenting the architectural ideas and realisations of regional environments in publications of the highest possible quality. From day one, it has been synonymous with a quality architecture journal: from Novak’s clear design concept, colour and black and white photographs, to the interweaving of texts that have introduced standards of quality architectural publishing to the Slovenian space. Piranesi remains a byword for exceptional architectural writing: from Ravnikar’s lucid editorials, which set the standards for quality architectural essays, to the in-depth architectural analyses of contemporary Slovenian architecture and its position in the European space by Tomaž Brate, which have become synonymous with quality architectural criticism, to the scientific and theoretical writings of many – for example Vladimir Šlapeta and Giovanni Vraganzo – whose texts are examples of quality scientific research writing. Even in the age of digitised media communications, which have taken over the role of informer and created a bazaar of endless images, Piranesi maintains its backbone and ensures the quality of what is presented and written.
I am one of those who cannot impartially evaluate the magazine from the outside, without emotions and memories, after two decades on the editorial board. I was delighted to be invited to write about the importance and role of the magazine after thirty years of publication, but I put it off for a long time, not because I was avoiding the inevitable internalisation of memories, but because I was aware of how diverse they are and how extremely difficult it will be to bring them together in a concise way. Additional time to think about how to form a reflection on the moments through which I am connected with the creators of the magazine is also required by the extremely dramatic dynamics of change in the field of architecture, which in the last three decades has been dictated more by the (too) rapid development of the consumerist attitude of society towards culture, the role and meaning of architecture and the spaces we build, than by the digitalisation of design and technological progress.
And here I must give thanks to Robi for his enthusiasm to not only ensure the continuity of the publication, but also to preserve the mission of the journal – to advocate architecture that is derived from space.
Piranesi is not only important as a herald of the (Central) European and Slovenian “culture of building”, as over three decades it has also become and remained a field of reference for architecture, defining the boundary between the normative and creative, by making complex sense of the relationship with the space it co-creates.