To explain the world and change it, too

Janez Koželj has been a long-time professor at the Faculty of Architecture in Ljubljana. Currently he holds the office of the Ljubljana Vice-Mayor, in charge of the image and vision for the City of Ljubljana. At the same time he belongs to the group of more visible Slovenian architects formed around the AB – Architect’s Bulletin magazine in the mid-1970’s. In his career as he signed his name under several realised projects in residential construction, single-family houses, and a number of bridges. As a professor at the Faculty of Architecture he educated several generations of students who have marked contemporary Slovene architecture. For many years he also participated in the organisational committee for the Piran Days of Architecture… the list of his achievements goes on.

The interview with architect Janez Koželj was conducted by Robert Potokar on October 20, 2018, in the premises of 3biro on Kotnikova Street, Ljubljana.

Photo: MMC RTVSLO/Sandi Fišer

Photo: MMC RTVSLO/Sandi Fišer

ARCHITECT’S BULLETIN, PIRAN DAYS OF ARCHITECTURE, KRAS GROUP AND VOJTEH RAVNIKAR

Piranesi

I will leave the questions on your work as vice-mayor and your dealing with space in Ljubljana for later. First I would like to ask you about the 1970s and the group of architects around the AB – Architect’s Bulletin, but also about the Kras Group where you worked together with Vojteh Ravnikar. Each generation was formed around a certain project, yours, I think around the AB magazine. Also participating were Jurij Kobe, Aleš Vodopivec, Vinko Torkar, Andrej Hrausky, Damjan Gale, Dušan Blagajne… You were the editor-in-chief for twenty years, from 1974 until 1994.

Janez Koželj

We took over the editing of the professional magazine Architect’s Bulleting during the time when the Sinteza magazine, which followed the rise of Ravnikar’s architectural school, had slowly lost touch with the architectural discussions that were topical at that time. That was in the period when the subversive ideas of functionalism were already spent, and when architecture started to look back to its own historic foundations.

At that time, the protagonists of the Ljubljana School of Architecture, a progressive branch in Slovenian architecture of the 1960’s under the tutorship of Professor Edvard Ravnikar, started to abandon its principles and to adopt, uncritically, the language of postmodern architecture. We were not convinced by this change, as we understood it as a retrograde, opportunistic move.

After the decline of the masters, our teachers and role models, we were left to our own devices, we had to learn, to establish ourselves as a generation developing a common project. Rather than uncritically adopting postmodernism we started to look for a new synthesis between the tradition of the Ljubljana School of Architecture and the spirit of the time, that we could not find at the faculty nor in the works of the architects active at the time. We tried to establish where the architectural spatial language went, why architecture was no longer connected with the place, with the town. We shared a belief that what we do is important, we were not torn apart due to personal ambitions or jealousy about somebody else’s success. Each had a project on their own, and we contributed it to the common one, or added it to the project of someone else. We were not in competition, we supported those who could contribute their share to the common endeavour. We worked together in the editing of the magazine, in the publishing of professional reference literature, in the organisation of different campaigns, lectures, round tables, exhibitions, as well as study and visiting trips.

We were convinced that architecture is strong when it is based on reflection, and when it is intellectually linked with its era and society, that is why it needs activism. This is how the group around AB worked for 24 years, striving to achieve city-building architecture, architecture which is above all linked to the city, the place, and only in this connection can the individual architectural artistic narrative and message be born. The aim of our group was not only to define a new direction and establish modern architecture in the context of today’s critical regionalism (as proposed by Kenneth Frampton), but also to create an encouraging environment to establish it in practice.

Corporate Image for the Remembrance and Comradeship Trail, 1985: Koželj with Ilka Čerpes and Vlado Krajcar, Arhe Photo: Miran Kambič

Corporate Image for the Remembrance and Comradeship Trail, 1985: Koželj with Ilka Čerpes and Vlado Krajcar, Arhe
Photo: Miran Kambič

Memorial Chapel under Kren in Kočevski Rog, 2004, Janez Koželj, Polona Filipič, Martina Tomšič, Uniarh Ljubljana Photo: Miran Kambič

Memorial Chapel under Kren in Kočevski Rog, 2004, Janez Koželj, Polona Filipič, Martina Tomšič, Uniarh Ljubljana
Photo: Miran Kambič

When in the late 1970’s Marko Dekleva, Egon Vatovec and Matjaž Garzarolli invited Vojteh Ravnikar to join them in their cooperation with the Kraški Zidar construction company, the Kras group was formed which is a phenomenon in its own right. The successful implementation of the post office and the retail shop in Vremski Britof, and the municipal building in Sežana, gave wings to the young architects. Later the core group went their different ways. In some projects, you were also involved.

We wanted to find our own roots and definitions of principles for architectural building, which was to actively influence the professional practice in Slovenia and also in Yugoslavia. These achievements by the Kras group were crucial for the consolidation of our movement. Vojteh’s reflections were based on the research of architecture by means of architecture. When the opportunity was presented with Kraški zidar, my colleagues boldly took over the challenge of actual implementation. Their buildings with simple concepts were the laboratory of clearly defined premises, they were devoid of anything redundant, they were telling and convincing. It is therefore little wonder that the lay public welcomed them favourably and with understanding. In the Kras group I was considered an associate member, the one who could explain: I was able to put into words the theoretical premises and to clarify the working method of the group. I also worked with them in some of the competitions, for instance for the memorial park in Udin Boršt, for the incorporation of the Social and Political Organisations House in the location of the Šumi factory complex, for the new concept for the centre of Slovenske Konjice, and with the organisation of exhibitions of the group, with resounding response, in Portorož, Graz and Moscow. We worked in mutual cooperation and we rejoiced in our success. First we disseminated our experience across Yugoslavia, and then we started to invite our like-minded colleagues from abroad and forge friendships in that way.

Motorway Viaduct Črni Kal, 2004: Marjan Pipenbaher, Janez Koželj, Ponting Maribor Engineering Photo: Miran Kambič

Motorway Viaduct Črni Kal, 2004: Marjan Pipenbaher, Janez Koželj, Ponting Maribor Engineering
Photo: Miran Kambič

Portoval Commercial and Entertainment Centre in Novo Mesto, 2003: Janez Koželj, Jože Jaki, Angelo Žigon with Veronika Ščetinin, Jože Marinko, Alenka Korenjak, Botas Kend and Primož Fijavž, Arhe Office, Ljubljana Photo: Miran Kambič

Portoval Commercial and Entertainment Centre in Novo Mesto, 2003: Janez Koželj, Jože Jaki, Angelo Žigon with Veronika Ščetinin, Jože Marinko, Alenka Korenjak, Botas Kend and Primož Fijavž, Arhe Office, Ljubljana
Photo: Miran Kambič

You were with the Piran Days of Architecture from the very beginning. How do you recall those times? How did the event evolve in these 35 years? And please tell us a bit more about your attitude towards Piran.

The first three topics of the Piran Days of Architecture were architecture in context, and continuity and identity in architecture. These were the topics that resumed the programme for the activities of our generation. What we conceived together in AB, Vojteh Ravnikar brought to a new, richer level. We followed him in this, and supported him. His goal was to escape provincialism, to open up a new space to exchange opinions. Piran Days were his project; together with the exhibition for the Piranesi award and the Piranesi magazine he thus opened many new platforms for socialising, dialogue, debates, learning, and making friendships all over the world. This networking dimension of the branch meetings in Piran remains a value to this day, with the longest tradition in Europe, and we must not lose it. Just a few words about Piran itself – it is the only town in Slovenia where you can see really far, right to Venice on the horizon.

Dental Practices in Gorenja Vas, 2014: Janez Koželj, Tina Rupar Kobe, Blaž Rupar, Barbara Petek, Mina Hiršman, Rok Škerjanc, 3biro d.o.o. Photo: Miran Kambič

Dental Practices in Gorenja Vas, 2014: Janez Koželj, Tina Rupar Kobe, Blaž Rupar, Barbara Petek, Mina Hiršman, Rok Škerjanc, 3biro d.o.o.
Photo: Miran Kambič

Single-family House in Poljane, 2016: Janez Koželj, Tina Rupar Kobe, Blaž Rupar, Barbara Petek, Alenka Kranjec, 3biro d.o.o. Photo: Miran Kambič

Single-family House in Poljane, 2016: Janez Koželj, Tina Rupar Kobe, Blaž Rupar, Barbara Petek, Alenka Kranjec, 3biro d.o.o.
Photo: Miran Kambič

PEDAGOGICAL WORK

You completed your studies at the Faculty of Architecture in Ljubljana in 1973 with Professor Edvard Ravnikar, with whom you later cooperated as his teaching assistant. Tell us some more about your graduate thesis, but also about your relationship.

Throughout our cooperation our relationship was always correct and respectful. All the time, practically every day, the professor would test me in demanding academic debates, thus leading me to reflect and broaden my horizons. He was always rather doubtful about our, at least seemingly, subversive ideas, and he had a critical distance towards our activities, even though he supported them. He was also wary when he left me and colleague Peter Gabrijelčič to work with the students, especially those in the practical seminar, for he himself did not have enough time for pedagogical work. My graduate thesis departed from an alternative approach towards the study of architecture, as introduced by a group of Ravnikar’s students from the revolutionary “Room 25”. In this work I evaluated the sensory characteristic of the Revolution Square [today’s Republic Square]. Today we might call this a behavioural map, based on the results of a sociological analysis of the experience of space with all the senses. I boldly dared proposing to the professor possible solutions for the improvement of his work. That analysis has been further developed by the graduate thesis of Rok Žnidaržič, and the recently completed survey of Marjan Hočevar, professor of spatial sociology. With the topic and method of my thesis I actually set the direction for my later endeavours to establish a form of design, i.e. the artistic components of scientific urban planning, which lead to the development of the subject Architecture of the City and later Urban-planning Design, which I taught for decades at the faculty. It was only with the current renewal of the City of Ljubljana and the renovation of public spaces in it that showed that the results of urban planning can really be proven with the high-quality, people- and environment-friendly form of the city.

The complete article is published in Autumn issue of Piranesi No. 40 Vol. 26.

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