Plečnik’s beehouse in the garden of his house, September 2022; photo: Robert Potokar
Anniversaries are an opportunity to remember important personalities and events that have marked their time and place, and left indelible traces on the present. In the publication before you, we will focus on the 10th anniversary of the death of the Austrian architect Günther Domenig, the 150th anniversary of birth of Jože Plečnik, and the 30th anniversary of Piranesi magazine itself.
This year, colleagues from Austria organised a series of events to commemorate the Austrian architect Günther Domenig, who died in 2012. They started with an opening and a dance performance at his house, the Steinhaus (an English translation could be the Stone House, although this is the term used for traditional Karst-Istrian houses in general) in Steindorf (Stone Village) by Lake Ossiach, continued with the opening of an exhibition on the architect’s life and work at the Carinthian Museum of Modern Art (Museum Moderner Kunst Kärnten – MMKK) in Klagenfurt, and an evening event in the exhibition building for the Carinthian Regional Exhibition in the former ironworks town of Heft, which is part of the area’s industrial heritage, and which was renovated in the 1990s by Domenig. All this in two days. Moreover, many other events will take place in various locations until the end of October. All in honour and recognition of probably the best-known architect in Carinthia, who, of course in a different light and time, is to Carinthia what the architect Jože Plečnik is to Slovenia.
Domenig built the Steinhaus on Lake Ossiach in increments over three decades, as the money flowed in and as opportunities for construction presented themselves. With the benefit of hindsight, I might say that the building is one of the highlights not only of Austrian contemporary architecture, but I would dare say of European – if not world – architecture. It is probably one of the few deconstructivist architectures that was designed with the heart and soul, as well as the vision of its author, and in the same person, its investor. Domenig plays both roles, which is why he was able to afford all the bold ideas and crossing of the boundaries. Perhaps it is telling enough that he was granted permission by the competent authority to erect a sculpture, not a building. The artist did not even live in it. With its appearance, its unique character, and last but not least, the story of its creation, it transcends the norms and standards of the time, and all this just a stone’s throw away from Ljubljana. Only a little more than an hour and a half drive separates us from entering an unusual space, completely different from what we are used to. And what is most interesting about his architecture? In his life project, Domenig has managed to incorporate, metaphorically speaking, the mountains and valleys in which he grew up, his outlook on life, his struggle with ossified institutions and the irregularities of social arrangements. But also as a rebellion against the life choices of his parents, who were prominent representatives of the Nazi Party during the war. In the text prepared for the exhibition, Andreas Krištof, one of the co-authors of the major event Günther Domenig: Dimensional, gives us a detailed description of Domenig’s creative path, his struggle, his resistance and his understanding of it, with a focus on the Steinhaus.
A special mention must go to the opening of the Steinhaus, as we haven’t seen such a unique and unusual performance for a long time. Within the concrete, metal and leaning walls, the naked dancers of the Vienna Dance Quarter, choreographed by Doris Uhlich, moved through the five-storey building for over an hour and a half to the rhythm of techno. Through their movement they illustrated their relationship to the architecture, at the beginning they were reserved, withdrawn into themselves, but slowly they began to interact with the visitors. Just like the house, which is cold at the beginning, but becomes increasingly familiar through exploration. The performance was an extravagant attempt to reawaken the spirit of the Steinhaus in another field of creation. The charm of the dance company also lay in the imperfections and diversities of the bodies, as the dancers were of different shapes and ages, and included performers with disabilities. Together they created an event that could have quickly been labelled banal in a different space, but in this context was profound.
If Günther Domenig is becoming an icon of Austrian architecture through the exposure of his life and work in a rich programme of events this year, in Slovenia this status has been associated with the architect Jože Plečnik for the last few decades. Children learn about him as early as primary school. We have devoted several issues of Piranesi to his architecture, and it is right that we should think of him again when we remember his birth one hundred and fifty years ago. In Slovenia, a broad range of events are still happening in different places, perhaps not as coordinated as those for Domenig in Austria, but still wide-ranging enough: from the opening of special exhibitions and websites, to new publications, guided tours around his architectural works, and more. Worth mentioning among these is a publication of a comic book on Plečnik, which we highly recommend reading. In this issue we also present the story of Plečnik’s beehives, as a beehive has recently been built in Ljubljana, based on his preserved design, just like the one that was built in the garden of the Czech President Masaryk’s summer residence in Lany in the 1920s. A replica of the beehive was located on Grajski Hrib in Ljubljana, above the villa where the Association of Architects Ljubljana has its headquarters. The beehives testify to the master’s attitude to architecture, as he approached each task with the utmost care, whether it was the design of a chalice, the lighting fixtures in a church or an ambitious urban design.
In this editorial it is worth mentioning the interview with the Slovenian architect Janez Kobe. The architect, who was professionally active in the former Yugoslavia, designed the hotel and tourist complex Slovenska Plaža in Budva in the 1980s. Recognised as an excellent architectural work, it was awarded the Federal Yugoslav Borba Prize in 1985, which was the highest award an architect could receive in Yugoslavia at that time. A similar story was presented in the last issue of Piranesi, when the architect Janez Lajovic was awarded the Federal Borba Prize for the Kanin Hotel. In this issue’s interview, you can also read about Janez Kobe’s architectural projects on the territory of the former Soviet Union.
After a one-year break, contemporary architectural production is once again presented with the Piranesi Awards, presented at the Piran Days of Architecture in 2021. The main prize went to the renovation of the Ptuj market by Krušec arhitekti, which we already presented in last year’s issue. This issue, however, brings a few more quality renovations from Slovenia: first of all, the renovation of the Vrlovčnik Homestead in Solčavsko, which, although carried out in 2017, gives the impression of a project that has just been completed. The architects of Medprostor, in collaboration with an extremely aware and perceptive investor, have shown what a top-quality renovation means, by preserving the existing quality and adding only a few, in principle inconspicuous, solutions and elements. A renovation that, in its own sense, makes the architecture modern, fit for living in the 21st century, but at the same time preserves its original substance. And if I may add, in jest, the only drawback of this project is that it is flawless. We also present the renovation of Hotel Bohinj by the Ofis architectural firm, which is also active in other European countries, and is featured in this issue with a subtle renovation, one that has transformed the former Hotel Bohinj into an above-the-average architectural asset and a source of added value to the natural environment of Bohinj.
Let us turn back to the 30th anniversary of Piranesi, mentioned in the introduction. We are still here, and we are still trying to preserve the traditional format of a printed magazine, despite the dominance of the internet media. A magazine that you can pick up, read and leaf through, and eventually put on the shelf. A magazine that establishes a tactile relationship with you, the reader. That is why we hope to continue our mission, because we believe that the printed copy is, after all, something that will be properly preserved for posterity. This is also why the magazine continues to have a traditional orientation towards Central Europe, a tradition that began with the Piran Days of Architecture and Vojteh Ravnikar. Speaking of anniversaries, next year will be the 40th of the Piran Days of Architecture, and we can already promise all our readers, old and new, that we will be preparing a very special event with the organisers.