The works of Jože Plečnik in Ljubljana – Human Centred Urban Design comprises 7 works of this architect in Ljubljana.
The bridges, squares, parks and other public spaces date from between the 1920s and 1940s. Architecture and landscape were connected to modernize the city, with respect for the classical elements.
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I visited Ljubljana after Christmas 2019 to spend New Years with friends who own an apartment in the city. Already then, before inscription, the town was overrun with tourists, mainly from Italy. Slovenia is not only a beautiful country but also cheaper then Italy to make a trip there attractive for Italians.
I am not sure how much of its attraction the city owns to Plečnik. Perhaps the generosity of open spaces in the center may his main merit. His buildings with the pyramids and columns do not necessarily blend well with the medieval and baroque architecture of the city center, they seem often a bit inserted into the surrounding buildings as if they were taken from another city and placed here. The most interesting place was for me the Plečnik museum where you get access to his home and workspace and you get information about his buildings and, almost more interesting, into projects, mainly for Ljubljana, that were never realized like a HUGE stair case that should lead from that city to the castle and a big pyramid like building for the Slovenian parliament that should get around 200 meters high. Those buildings would have the townscape much more then the existing buildings do.
'I find the title of the nomination very odd since "timeless" is certainly not the main characteristic for Plečnik's architecture. His stylized Neoclassizism leans on the Greek and Roman classic architecture but that doesn't make it timeless. In the opposite, it feels rather retrospective and did so probably already at the time when it was built. I do not think that his architecture had a far reaching influence beyond his students and it is hardly important on a European level, let alone on a global level.
This makes you once more wonder why Otto Wagners influence on Vienna is not even on the tentative list since his influence on the cityscape was much greater, more innovative and influenced architecture beyond Austria and Europe. His apartment buildings, his hospital buildings and mainly the design of the S Bahn down to the smallest detail really changed Vienna into a modern city and into the city we know today. After Plečnik has made it on the list the lack of Wagners Vienna (with the possible inclusion of further architects like Josef Hoffmann and perhaps Joseph Maria Olbrich) is felt even more poignant then before.
Ljubljana as a very nice small center with nice restaurants and nice promenades, but has hardly any must-sees. There are two places I found worthwhile that are perhaps not obvious immediately: The National Museum is a beautiful building and hosts an excellent archeological collection. Quite close to it is the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church with lovely (modern) frescoes. It may not be unique in any respect but I found this more enjoyable then the interiors of the Plečnik churches.
I have already expressed my enthusiasm towards Plečnik´s designs in Ljubljana in my previous review. Now, one week before the ultimate verdict of the UNESCO committee (July 2021), I would like to comment the omitting of The Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord in Prague from the original nomination and compare it to the Church of St. Francis in Ljubljana, which has been added to the nomination quite recently. (PHOTO - LEFT: Ljubljana church exterior from East and interior towards East, RIGHT: Prague church exterior from East and interior towards East)
I live nearby the Plečnik´s church in Prague, and I am glad of it. The church is extremely monumental located in the middle of the square in rich/posh neighborhood Vinohrady (it means vineyards in English). Its visual impact to the square and the adjacent streets is iconic. The exterior is unusual with the contrast between brown bricks and grey elements. The focal point of the church is its huge, rather flat tower with a giant round window with clocks. The interior is simple and vast. IMO it is the best example of sacral architecture of the first half of 20thC in Czechia.
The church in rather poor and unassuming suburb of Ljubljana called Šiška, built for Friar Minors, is the modest variant of the church in Prague. They share several elements such as one monumental tower in the eastern part, central rectangular interior, using of pyramids around the tower, etc. But the different budget in Prague and Ljubljana is clearly evident. The appearance St. Francis church is not such radical as compared to its counterpart in Prague, and rather cheap materials have been used in the interior (such as asphalt floor in some parts of the church).
One could ironically comment it that the Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord in Prague would be the best component of the Ljubljana sites... But it is deep misunderstanding. The OUV of Ljubljana TWHS is NOT expressed by architectonic value of the particular components (note the ICOMOS recommendation to inscribe the site under criterion iv and not i). The WHS should not be just a catalogue of the Plečnik´s work. I am trying to be consistent, and if I strongly disagree with proposal of the porticoes in Bologna as being a dull catalogue of porticoes, it is not possible to use this "catalogue" approach for the work of Plečnik.
I cannot decide, which church is "better", they only had a tinier budget in Ljubljana - that is the point. I like the monument in Prague more, but liking does not justify the inscription to the WHS list.
What I know there have been announced two reason for omitting the Prague church from this nomination: (i) rather vague statement that it would decrease chances for the inscription, which I can read in the way expressed already above - it should not be just a catalogue; (ii) the parish of the Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord disagreed with the inclusion to this TWHS. They argued that the church is the sacral space and it should not turn into cheap tourist attraction.
All in all, it has been smart decision to keep only the components in Ljubljana, it makes sense to me. Further, I cannot imagine that the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord in Prague will be inscribed as the separate monument. It has no OUV by itself, and it is of national/Central European importance (believe or not but Czechia is not Eastern Europe...).
When the Advisory Body Evaluations (ABE) of the 2020/2021 nominations were published a few weeks prior to the WHC meeting, I was surprised to see that Ljubljana received a clear positive recommendation from the ICOMOS experts. According to the ABE, inscription is justified because the architecture of Jože Plečnik transformed a provincial town of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire into a modern and prestigious capital.
However, ICOMOS also had some concerns. They considered that the proposed criterion (i) (a masterpiece of human creative genius) was not met. Thus, Ljubljana is very likely to be inscribed only under criterion (iv) (example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history). The name of the site also changed, from the rather epic "The timeless, humanistic architecture of Jože Plečnik" to "The works of Jože Plečnik in Ljubljana - Human Centred Urban Design". Not much of a difference, if you ask me. Still the name Jože Plečnik is included in the title of the WHS, which places Plečnik in a category with the Gaudi, Le Corbusier, Frank Llyod Wright and Victor Horta. And that, in my opinion, is not justified.
The topic of this WHS is urban planning and design. One would therefore expect a contiguous core zone in the city centre, illustrating the connections between historic structures and new or renewed components. But it is nominated as a serial site with seven locations, some of which are in the outskirts of the city. And the core zones basically only include the perimeter of the structures designed by Plečnik, without the context of the surrounding area.
The central component of this proposal is the two and a half kilometre long stretch along the Ljubljanica River from the stairs at Trnovski pristan in the south to the sluice gates in the northeast. Here Plečnik designed the waterfront promenade and several bridges. At Tromostovje ("Three Bridges") he transformed an old stone bridge into a fancy triple ensemble by adding two lateral bridges. Next to it is the covered Market Hall. The front on the river side is reminiscent of a Renaissance palace with its columns and oriels. I liked the area around the wide Cobbler's Bridge best, it is more of a square than just a bridge.
Adjacent to the river promenade is the complex of Kongresni Trg, Vegova Street and the National Library. No idea why the square and the street were included, but the library is probably Plečnik's most iconic building. Most striking is the red brick façade with inserted white stone blocks. The library is accessible during regular opening hours. The entrance hall made of black marble with its massive marble columns is worth a look inside.
Two components are close to the centre.
The Roman Wall was supposed to be demolished. Plečnik prevented this, added a passage and designed the area around it. The Trnovo Bridge is more of a forecourt for the parish church than a bridge, but the church is not included in the core zone.
The remaining three components are in the outskirts of Ljubljana: The Žale cemetery and two churches. However, not the whole cemetery is included, but only the entrance gate and the chapels. The entrance gate resembles a triumphal arch where Plečnik extensively indulged his passion for columns. A little too much, in my opinion.
The Church of St Francis is a bit chunky, again columns as decoration. I could not visit the interior, it was closed when I visited. I liked the Church of St Michael better, with its long staircase and the open bell tower (photo). The interior is mostly made of wood and has a rather plain design. The church is located in a rural area, not far from the two Slovenian pile dwelling sites. There is a bus stop right in front of it, so it seems easily accessible from the city centre.
I have not yet visited the Church of the Sacred Heart of Our Lady in Prague, which was originally included as a transnational nomination. From photos, however, I would rate it as more outstanding than the two churches in Ljubljana.
Plečnik's museum, his former home, is a good addition to the visit of this (T)WHS. The permanent exhibition is mainly focused on the buildings in Ljubljana. The museum is located close to the Trnovo Bridge.
Jože Plečnik was born in Ljubljana in the period the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He developed his architectural style at the beginning of the 20th century in Vienna and Prague. The buildings he designed in Ljubljana were built between the two world wars and are considered the highlights of his work. However, I have to say that this architecture is not my favourite style, too much decoration and too many columns, even where they make no sense. His architecture also differs significantly from the style of his teacher Otto Wagner and from his contemporaries such as Mies van de Rohe or Walter Gropius.
In my opinion, Plečnik’s architecture is more of national significance. Thus, a thumbs down from me.
The work of Jože Plečnik emanates a special spirit for me, though I am not able to exactly explain what it is and why it is so. I know his work already from Prague as he was the major architect of the first president of Czechoslovakia in 20s-30s of 20th century and reshaped the Prague Castle. Therefore, some of his projects and buildings are parts of WHS Prague. His church built for Prague neighborhood Vinohrady was originally the component of this nomination with Ljubljana, but it has changed after bilateral negotiations and advice of ICOMOS. Now, only several buildings, bridges, squares and one church in Ljubljana are proposed.
Plečnik was active from the break of 19/20th century as a pupil of Otto Wagner in Wiena. After WWI, his work (as well as his personality) radically changed. Thus, his style was no more Art Nouveau, but turned into a weird variation of neoclassicism and autochthonic modernism, and he was active till 50s of 20th century. Plečnik did not like functionalism and architecture with the function at all, which was no architecture in his opinion. He was influenced by theories of architects like Semper (Dresden opera) and Palladio (Vicenza). According him, real architecture should be timeless, beyond function, and it should consist of symbols recognizable for common people - therefore we can find the symbols of ancient Rome, Egypt and Etruscan era in his work (pyramids and columns everywhere). Plečnik was very, almost extremely, spiritual, ascetic and of humanistic nature. He was active in ultraconservative, right-oriented and a bit nationalistic parties in Wien and Slovenia. He believed that Slovenian nation is not of Slavonic but of Etruscan origin. It was quite significant point that can be recognized in his architecture. Nowadays Ljubljana is located in the place of former Roman town Emonia. The reconstruction plan of Ljubljana designed by Plečnik was very complex and run in line with this ancient testimony. Therefore, his style is sometimes called as neoclassicism, but it does not fit. He had also very special attitude towards older buildings and structures: He did not destroy them but recycled, incorporated into new buildings or at least transfer them to other places.
I spent in Ljubljana one week in September 2018, and the impact of Plečnik is visible almost on every corner of the very small city center. From the proposed components, I could enjoy walking along embankments of river Ljubljanica with several bridges and colonnades, and adjacent squares. One can see big difference between central parts designed by Plečnik and quite ordinary streets (further from the cathedral and the river) of historical center. The jump forwards due to the Plečnik is clearly evident. I also visited the National and University Library (considered as his best work in Ljubljana) with typical brick/stone facade with recycled ancient stone pieces from excavations and parts of original baroque palace and with the colonnade-like staircase inside that remind me his work in Prague castle, and also the Žale cemetery in the outskirts of Ljubljana (maybe the most "strange" structure from the series) with monumental entrance (PHOTO) and ensemble of small chapels built in diverse architectonic styles. It is a pity, I could not see the church of S Michael in Ljubljana suburb. Instead I visited S Francesco (not included to TWHS) but it was very strong experience for me anyway (contrast of austere exterior and very fine interior of unique disposition).
I can admit that the influence of Plečnik is a bit overestimated now. I am not sure if he was the best architect of 20th century. I am also not sure if the use of classical columns in totally non-classical position in the middle of main facade is so radical and innovative... (look at small chapel in the middle of PHOTO)
All in all, I can see OUV in his work and it is visible and recognizable directly on site. The Ljubljana components designed by Jože Plečnik should be inscribed regardless what one knows (or thinks) about personality and theories of mister architect. His work is an interesting counterpart to other branches of 20th century architecture such as works of Mies van der Rohe, Adolf Loos, and Le Corbisieur.
Updates, January 2020:
The state party of Slovenia is intensifying an effort to finish and submit the nomination. I am happy that also St Francesco in the suburb of Ljubljana called Šiška has been included. The church is austere from outside, inspired by Palladian calssicism seen on the structure of the doubled attics on the western facade. The strongly monumental interior also has significant Palladian influence: it has central though rectangular disposition with a colonnade on its sides, inspired by palladian Basilica. It is decorated by chandeliars, among other equipment, made by local artists. During my visit in September 2018, we met very friendly priest, a monk of friars minor. he guided us through the church and explained everything we asked and much more. We also climbed the bell tower, which is round with the colonnade on the highest floor with excellent views. Strong experience...
After the First World War a first version of Yugoslawia was formed consisting of Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia. As a consequence the importance of Ljubljana grew as it became a regional capital. To reflect the growing importance and to create a distinct national identity in their capital they asked Jože Plečnik to remodel the city.
Jože Plečnik was a successful architect, having made himself a name in Vienna and Prague. In Vienna he was a figure of the Vienna Secession movement . In Prague he redesigned the Prague Castle.
He applied his ideas to the center of Ljubljana. The most notable structure to me were the river banks he constructed.
If you have ever been in Ljubljana you will have seen his work.
I am not sure that the narrative of the great Jože Plečnik holds. Looking at his wikipedia page I can't shake the feeling that an enthusiastic Slovenian optimized his English page. The German page is far less enthusiastic. Looking only at his CV he seems to be primarily of regional importance.
The buildings I saw in Ljubljana are not ground breaking. Indeed they seem to be watered down Art Deco buildings, nice to look at but inconsequential and a bit late to the party.
The two most distinctive examples of his style are the Roman city gate with the pyramid on top and the Trnovo Bridge. They are not special or great or even unique. Comparisons to Antonin Gaudi are way off target. And it does feel the Slovenians are trying to leverage the world heritage process to bolster the credentials of a national architect into a global star.
And to justify a bit why I say dated, I would point you to Kaunas, a city also redesigned after World War 1. The styles of the two cities could not be more different with Kaunas being ahead of the curve and Ljubljana behind.
Still, I do think Ljubljana overall deserves its place on the list. There is much here to like and I understand all the tourists flocking to the city.
Ljubljana being the capital is well connected to all parts of Slovenia. There are direct busses to Idrija and busses and trains to the Skocjan Caves (Divaca). Google maps seemed complete with regards to the connections, schedules and bus stops.
To get out of Slovenia you will find plenty of bus connections. I came from Triest. There are also connections to Zagreb.
Slovenia’s Tentative List features The timeless, humanistic architecture of Jože Plečnik in Ljubljana and Prague. As the title already implies, this was meant to be a serial transnational nomination by Slovenia and Czechia. Last December however, after consulting ICOMOS, Slovenia decided to continue with the efforts alone: “the transnational bid was assessed as having little chance of success”. It is unclear yet whether they made the 1 February 2018 deadline for submitting the dossiers to be nominated for the WHC 2019, but we can safely assume that Slovenia will put this site forward within the next couple of years.
Jože Plečnik was a Slovene architect who made his most important works in the first half of the 20th century. He is nicknamed “the Gaudí of Ljubljana” for this architectural imprint on the city. I visited Ljubljana in 2014 after a few days checking out (T)WHS by rental car around Slovenia. This site wasn’t on the Tentative List at the time, so I had to revisit my photo archive of the day to see if I had visited (photographed) any of his buildings anyway.
The city is strong on Art Nouveau as well, and examples of that style stood out more to me in the streets of the Slovenian capital than the works of Plečnik. I spent most of my time at the embankment of the Ljubljanica River, an area in the city centre with lots of cafés and restaurants. This is already Plečnik Central. He was responsible for the masterplan to redesign the riverfront. It resulted for example in a total makeover of two existing bridges and the addition of a colonnaded market building.
The nomination will be a serial site of (at least) 4 locations across Ljubljana. Most iconic is the Slovene National and University Library building. It’s huge, with a square ground plan “modelled in the manner of the Italian palazzo”. Entrance for tourists is limited, but you can visit it on the twice-weekly “Walking Tour of Plečnik's Ljubljana” organized by the Ljubljana Tourism Organisation.
To me, the story of Plečnik and Ljubljana parallels that of Ödön Lechner’s Budapest, which I visited and reviewed a few months ago. These architects have had a large impact on country level, but lack the international exposure and following that for example Le Corbusier or Frank Lloyd Wright have had. Neither have they designed single buildings that are so iconic that they could compete in the league of the Sydney Opera House.
The Czechs were dismissed by the Slovenians and will withdraw their tentative site. At the Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord in Vinohrady, the single location that was proposed in Czechia, they were actually grateful for the outcome. The commitments resulting from a UNESCO listing would be a burden for the parish: "The church, ..., must first remain a church, a sacred space ..., and almost all the profane tourism of today is not very good".
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Successor to former TWHS The timeless, humanistic architecture of Jože Plečnik in Ljubljana and Prague (except for Czech parts)
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