Between Gorizia, Alexandria and Cairo

Anton Laščak, an architect of Slovene origin, created most of his many architectural works in Alexandria and Cairo. Indeed, the only one of his projects carried out in Slovenia is the Rafut Villa in Nova Gorica, one of the rare neo-Islamic architectural structures in Europe.

Photo: Špela Volčič

Photo: Špela Volčič

Until the start of the new millennium, the architect Anton Laščak (1856–1946) went rather unnoticed in Slovenia, with his name appearing for the first time in in the appendix to the 2002 edition of the Encyclopaedia of Slovenia. There are hardly any records of his work in the reference literature, with the exception of the catalogue for the exhibition entitled Slovenia – architecture, the masters and the scene, staged in 2008 in Vienna, in the gallery of the Vienna Insurance Group commercial building. [1] On the Italian side of the border, however, interest in studying Laščak’s legacy was first spurred by research in the field of orientalism in the 1980’s – although this interest was limited only to that architecture which demonstrated an Arabic influence.[2] Laščak’s Italian projects were further highlighted in a monograph by Marco Chiozza, Antonio Lasciac – Tra echi secessionisti e suggestioni orientali, published in 2006. That same year an exhibition of photographs and drawings of his architectural works from the Roman Alinari Museum of Photography was shown in the Attems Petzenstein Palace, which falls under the auspices of the Land Museums of Gorizia. More recently his early works have been attracting a growing amount of attention.[3]

[1]             Dr Bogo Zupančič mentions Anton Laščak in his contribution entitled “Die Architektur der ersten hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts im Slowenischen raum: vom Architekten Anton Laščak bis zu den Schülern Plečniks bei Le Corbusier / Architecure on Slovenian area during the first half of the 20th century: from the architect Anton Laščak to the students of Plečnik with Le Corbusier.”. In: Slowenien: Architektur, Meister & Szene / Slovenia: architecture, the masters & the scene. Exhibition catalogue, Vienna: Gallery of the Vienna Insurance Group commercial building, 2008, p. 24-25.

[2]             Ezio Godoli, “Antonio Lasciac in Egitto / Antonio Lasciac in Egypt.” In: Da Gorizia all’impero ottomano. Antonio Lasciac – architetto. Fotografie dalle collezioni Alinari. Firenze: Fratelli Allinari, 2006, p. 11.

[3]             The research is promoted by the Department for Engineering and Architecture of the University of Trieste / Dipartimento di Ingegneria e Architettura dell’Università di Trieste.

Rafut Villa, 1912–1914 (1928–1929) photo taken around 1930 photo by: Del Vecchio, Aristide; collection: Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections, Florence; credit: Alinari Archives, Florence

Rafut Villa, 1912–1914 (1928–1929)
photo taken around 1930
photo by: Del Vecchio, Aristide;
collection: Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections, Florence;
credit: Alinari Archives, Florence

Rafut Villa, 1916, entry lodge; credits: ERPAC – Servizio Musei e Archivi Storici. Fototeca Musei Provinciali di Gorizia.

Rafut Villa, 1916, entry lodge;
credits: ERPAC – Servizio Musei e Archivi Storici.
Fototeca Musei Provinciali di Gorizia.

Rafut Villa, villa with the park, situation plan; credits: Archivio di Stato di Gorizia, Archivio Storico del Comune di Gorizia (1830–1927), b. 901, f. 1184/I, prot. 9888/1909

Rafut Villa, villa with the park, situation plan;
credits: Archivio di Stato di Gorizia, Archivio
Storico del Comune di Gorizia (1830–1927),
b. 901, f. 1184/I, prot. 9888/1909

There are many reasons why the Slovenian architectural profession has ignored Laščak’s legacy for more than half a century, one of them being the lack of documentary evidence, which remains dispersed in numerous foreign public and private archives (such as the collection of Mercedes Volait, a professor in Paris), and libraries, especially those in Rome and Cairo. But the most important reason is undoubtedly Laščak’s open declaration of national identity. The architect was born in Gorizia, in a multi-ethnic community where different groups lived side by side: Italians, Slovenes, Friulians and Austrians. All of Laščak’s ancestors were Slovenes from the Isonzo valley[1], but despite his Slavic origins he considered himself Friulian. During his studies at the Vienna Polytechnic, he already clearly announced his irredentist tendencies to the circle of young intellectuals. Of course, these tendencies were against the Habsburg Monarchy, which made him fall out of favour with clients in Gorizia, loyal to the Austrian crown.[2] Until the most recent systematic overview of the material kept in the archive of the Gorizia municipality and covering the years between 1876 and 1883, the prevailing opinion was that Laščak had emigrated to Egypt due to the conflicts in his working environment.[3]

[1]             His surname is spelled differently in the different parish registers of baptisms, which is a consequence of centuries of mixed nationalities in this region: Lašzhak (in the parish register in Ročinj, for Anton’s father), Lashzhak (in the parish register for Anton’s grandfather), Lasciack (in the parish register for Anton himself, in the Church of St. Rocco in Gorizia), while in Friulian literature we see the surname sometimes spelled as Laschach. Laščak’ wife, Marija Alojzija Plesničar, was also the daughter of a Slovenian tradesman from Gorizia.

[2]             Diego Kuzmin, Antonio Lasciac, Disegni goriziani / Goriške risbe / Goritian drawings. Exhibition Catalogue, Gorizia: Biblioteca Statale Isontina – Galleria Mario di Iorio, 2014, p. 28.

[3]             Ibid.

The complete article is published in Autumn 2017 issue of Piranesi No. 39/Vol. 25.

 

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