Piranesi no.1/Vol.1/1992 (Cover: Adolf Loos and Villa Müller)
In addition to survival itself, the 30-year continuity, in content and character, of an architecture magazine is rare. For Piranesi I am taking this reality for granted, simplifying it, and it must be kept in mind for the short reflection that I’m proposing.
In my personal history, many things started earlier. Back in 1984 I met Matjaž (Garzarolli) and Vojteh (Ravnikar) and their colleagues, Marko Dekleva and Egon Vatovec, and I published a (then pioneering) article for Casabella on the work of their Kras group in Sežana and its surroundings.
My interest in that project, even if it was only partially carried out, was then (and today) in the role given to individual pieces of architecture as part of a plan capable of transforming a small urban centre through a set of specific modifications, based on a careful reading of the areas and landscape, both physical and cultural. A design made up of architecture and not of norms, where relationships and public spaces are more important than architectural objects. And I was also interested in the different political and social conditions and the role architectural work had in them.
Since then for years we have had discussions about masters, places and landscapes without distinctions or historical and temporal preferences. We could therefore say that architects such as Le Corbusier and Plečnik, Max Fabiani and Oton Jugovec, and the spontaneous architecture of the Karst or the Balkans, were our interlocutors and objects of reflection, all present at once. I remember this comparison because I still see it in Piranesi’s “hard core”, in the middle articles of each issue, along with the cover, around which the other contents seem to me to be subordinate.
In this way, a partial and rightly tendentious history of the architectural modernity of Central Europe has been built over time. Durability, resistance to fashion, criticism of the “always different” of the present of architecture are entrusted to it, and a critical function seems to be reserved for them.
It can be said that their choice was often guided by the ability to be a synthetic expression of a historical moment and a landscape.
These personal memories are instrumental, and are needed to indicate what are the tasks we face as architects and how this magazine can also make a contribution. We all know that some conditions have profoundly changed and, likewise, the prevailing settlement structure in what we define as Central Europe is still one based on small and medium-sized centres. The transformations of larger cities are at the same time dominated by increasingly pervasive economic rules, where the design of the public space – it seems to me we can be sure – is increasingly difficult and architecture itself has increasingly narrow margins for meaningful intervention. The tradition of the modern is not equipped at the same time for the transformation of fragile contexts such as those of small and medium-sized centres, where even slight errors cause enormous damage and the relationship with the landscape is still present and structural, and therefore indispensable and to be protected. The thought of an architecture of precise modification becomes necessary, but inserted in broader, territorial scales, such as identifying new strategies for the encounter between public purposes and private capital.
Over the years, various schools of architecture (and in particular that of Ljubljana) have produced important experiences of urban design on small scales, led by professors such as Ravnikar and his pupils who later became teachers: it would be necessary to reopen the discussion of these experiences, as well.
It is therefore easy to understand how the history of the experiences of the Kras group that I set out at the beginning comes back to me as an important and instrumental example. The conditions have changed radically: it is not a question of Yugonostalgia, nor of the rhetoric of “small is beautiful”. This is a necessary reflection on our role and on the (still possible) civil role of this discipline that I hope that this magazine, with all the difficulties it faces that cannot be ignored, will be able to deal with.