Excerpt from a speech given to a masonic lodge, 1938

I had good fortune in my youthful years. My guide was a teacher with a wise spirit and a humble heart, strong in his ethical views: Jože Plečnik.

For us students he was not only a guide towards technical skill, but also a true and warm-hearted friend who saw us not just as his disciples but also as his brothers and his children.

In the evening, after sunset, when the work in the workshop was done, he would come and join us with a father’s smile. He sat in our midst, paying no heed to the prestige of class. He became our friend. And for the rest of our lives we have continued to hold on to the things he inculcated in us in those moments of rest. The influence of those moments on our views, on our relationship to life was so strong that it has become legendary even among architects who studied elsewhere.

They would say about some student of Plečnik’s, with a hint of disdain at some formally more sentimental approach to a task: “He still cannot rid himself of Plečnik!”

Few people could understand it. Few people understood him. He spoke too much with his heart. Anyone who knows Plečnik’s renovation of Prague Castle will agree.

He spoke with us about art, about politics, about the war, about the powerful people of this world. About literature, family life, and human simplicity.

He was a son of the countryside. He often dreamed of tilling the soil, of raising pigs, of a simple country kitchen in which everything gleams with shining copper cookware.

He liked to talk about children (he had a young nephew), how they grow, how one can play horsey with them: how, with the passing years and with education, they become adults, people of reason; how their relationship changes as parent-protectors become friends in the most beautiful and noble sense of the word. And he added, in his mix of Czech and Slovenian: “Surely one can now have a reasonable conversation with them.”

He did not like grand lordships. To such people he was harsh, dismissive. When he was working on the Church of the Holy Spirit in Vienna, he was visited in the studio by the heir to the throne – a member of the commission – who criticised him for not designing a church in the Baroque style (then popular with the Imperial Court). He did not care for these words, and the result of the discussion was an open studio door.

His real religion was a faith in simple people, a faith without scepticism, without doubt, without reservations. His intellectual speculativeness ruled out any faith in God.

I remember – it was during the war – the enthusiasm with which he came to school one day and told us how he had been watching workers stacking bricks and stonework for a building on Wenceslas Square. He was happy that, after a long time, he could again see something being built during that era of ruin and destruction.

He staked out the moral principles of the architect’s work with the words: “If anyone forces you to build the central heating of a large building in the basement where there is no access for divine sunlight, refuse that work, for you would condemn the stoker to darkness.”

In assessing architecture as a human act, he rejected the artistic value of the Egyptian pyramids, which he saw as works stained with the blood of slaves – of the workers. As an example of a higher and more noble manifestation of the architect’s work, he cited the communion chalice for the Blood of God (the Blood of Man), a symbolic representation of the Holy Grail.

And so he taught us to build with a view to man as God’s creation and also with a view to man’s heart and soul.………..

During my visit to Ljubljana this year, where Plečnik’s work can be felt today, the man who took me to his home on the outskirts of town pointed out a canal that had been regulated and designed by Plečnik in such a manner that its surroundings radiated with an inner poetry.

For a long time, I could not understand the joy felt by my guide, a simple man who still associated this beautiful experience with the memory of an ugly and dirty ditch into which trash from all over the city was still being dumped not long ago.

“How beautiful it is here now!”

Behold, the humanity of technical work! Created not just with a view to functionality but with the heart, which consecrates the technical work so that it may radiate with poetry and arouse feelings of joy within a simple human heart. Does not this example, too, show the relationship between beauty and humanity?

František Lýdie Gahura, »Humanita v architektuře,« Svobodný zednář 12, no. 1 (1938): p. 40–44.