It all began in the summer of 1998. I had come to Ljubljana to visit my friend Jana Hybášková, who only shortly before had become the Czech ambassador to Slovenia. The very first day, as we arrived at the embassy and began to discuss plans for all that I should see there, Jana said to me: »And in that house over there are some young architects, let’s pay them a visit.« These young architects were Robert Potokar and Špela Kuhar, and it was this meeting that marked the start of our personal friendship as well as my cooperation with the journal Piranesi. It really can’t be said which of these came first, because we understood each other very quickly, perhaps as well because we are of the same generation, and our interests and aims were very similar: to bring our country, whether the Czech Republic or Slovenia, back to the cultural and architectonic map of Europe. At that time, in 1998, this was far from a self-evident proposition. Europe was much less integrated than it is today, and neither of our countries was yet a member state of the European Union. From a Czech perspective, Slovenia appeared not only a more affluent society, but more »European« in its culture. Perhaps this was the result of the greater political openness of the former Yugoslavia, but doubtless as well the proximity of Italy and the culture of the Mediterranean, which was a normal presence in Slovenia but for an »inlander« from the continent’s heartland quite exotic.
Central Europe is a concept that now comes up only infrequently in public debate, but during the 1990s it was invoked with great regularity. After the collapse of the Soviet empire, the »successor states« strove to re-connect with their interrupted cultural traditions, which were submitted to detailed examination and testing to see if they were still viable. Part of this cultural inventory was the investigation of the idea of »Central Europe«, a designation roughly indicating the territory of the former Austro-Hungarian monarchy, occupying the area of today’s Czech Republic and Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, and as well a large portion of Croatia and even northern Italy. And precisely Slovenia with its position right at the fault-lines of geography, geology and culture could appear, in itself, a sample of Central Europe in miniature. Indeed, it is no accident that precisely in Ljubljana a journal such as Piranesi first appeared, titling itself the First Central European journal for the culture of space.
The culture of space – or perhaps more precisely, as indicated by its English subtitle, the culture of environment – is precisely what architecture should be about. Architecture cannot merely remain the creation of beautiful objects: it must be a form of care for the living environment and its culture. From the very start, the editors of Piranesi devoted great care to urban design projects, in the sense of small interventions in the urban or landscape environment, the creation of a public space. In this aspect, perhaps it is possible to note the southern, Mediterranian contribution to Central Europe’s culture, something possible only in Slovenia through its position at the borders.
On the cover of the first issue of Piranesi, from 1992, is a photograph of the interior of the Müller Villa in Prague by Adolf Loos, a Central European by birth and a world citizen by choice. It is characteristic of the nineties that the first cover turned back to the great moments of the past and indicated what values the journal’s publishers wished to revive. Practically throughout the entire decade, the pages of the journal put forth fascinating contributions concerning the history of modern architecture in the Central European region and the mutual connections and exchanges between individual countries, nations and cities. It was all in the tradition of Austro-Hungarian internationalism, if this term can be used to indicate the social and cultural diversity of an era when the architects of Ljubljana and Zagreb studied in Prague and Vienna, meeting Czech classmates in such fruitful instances as the friendship between Jože Plečnik and Jan Kotěra.
I can’t be sure if numbers really do have the magical power ascribed to them by numerology, but what is certain is that the year 2000 was awaited by many with tension and nervousness – even though, rationally speaking, there was no need for it. And I couldn’t truly say that a mere change in the calendar is capable of bringing forth a major shift in paradigms, world-views and stances towards life, yet when I look through the earlier issues of Piranesi (and the same is true for our journal, Zlatý řez, which this year will also celebrate its twentieth anniversary), I can no longer be so sure. If in the 1990s the central theme was investigation of the now relatively far-off history of the first half of the 20th century, and current realisations often drew attention to the inspiration of postmodern architecture and its historicised quotations, after the turn of the millennium the situation radically changed.
The laureates of the Piranesi Award for 1999 were architects Jure Sadar and Boštjan Vuga; in the interview with them, published in issue 13 of Piranesi, the themes of globalisation and the associated pragmatism of the »second modernism« first appeared in this journal for Central European architecture. The interview began with the words »The compression of time and space…« – and this, which we were then only beginning to realise, is today’s (virtual) reality, in which we live our lives. Nonetheless, it seems that the chaos of new possibilities, supported by the rapid development of new information media in the past ten or twenty years, is calming down, becoming more settled, and that the current crisis facing the globalised world is that proverbial turning point that at the same time offers new opportunities. Now, it is amply clear that the twentieth century is finished, and that it is necessary to find new paradigms of operating in a world where the old political borders have to a great extent been replaced by new borders of law and finance. After the first enchantment from the possibilities that the extensive »flat world« offers us, we are starting to discover its valleys and peaks, and alongside the possibilities of the virtual to prize all the more ordinary life. Piranesi has been following this change, faithful to its concept of architecture as cultural creation, and remains an image of its age, like every worthwhile journal. Happy birthday!