Exceptional Oeuvre with Authorial Distinction

Photographs and Plans: Courtesy of Marko Mušič

Marko Mušič is a Slovene architect who was most active in the area of the former Yugoslavia. Towards the end of the 1960s and in the 1970s he won several competitions around Yugoslavia, of which the most visible ones are the cultural centres in Kolašin and Nikšić in Montenegro, in Šamac in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in Bitola in Northern Macedonia. From his oeuvre with a distinct authorial note perhaps the most well-known in Slovenia is the arrangement of the new part of the central cemetery called Nove Žale and the Church of the Incarnation of Christ in Dravlje in Ljubljana. He has received numerous recognitions for his work. He is a full member of the Slovenian and European academies of sciences and arts and a corresponding member of the sciences and arts academies in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Republika Srpska.

Photo: Primož Korošec

Photo: Primož Korošec

ON HIS STUDIES AND FIRST AWARDS AT YUGOSLAV COMPETITIONS

Piranesi

You completed your studies at the Faculty of Architecture in Ljubljana in 1966 with a thesis with Professor Edvard Ravnikar. What was the topic of your thesis, and what was your relationship with the Professor like?

Marko Mušič

I had known Professor Edvard Ravnikar since my childhood, as he and my father were close, inseparable friends. So, the decision to study with him came quite naturally to me, it was self-evident really. At Graben (ed., the Faculty of Architecture) we remained on friendly terms. He trusted me to entirely take over some of his own projects, both Hunters’ Lodge and a holiday house in Bohinj that I also independently realised. Also, the topic of my thesis was the result of a friendly agreement between the two of us, as we chose the presentation of one of the competition projects that I designed during my studies.

Jajinci Memorial Park near Belgrade, first prize, Yugoslav competition, 1980. Author: Marko Mušič

Jajinci Memorial Park near Belgrade, first prize, Yugoslav competition, 1980.
Author: Marko Mušič

Already during your studies you collaborated with a group of architects with whom you were awarded several first prizes in the then common country, Yugoslavia.

If the 1950s and 1960s were golden decades for renowned sculptors, then at the end of the 1960s and in the 1970s unprecedented possibilities opened for architects. Commemorative, memorial programmes were becoming increasingly ambitious and, above all, more architectonic. The construction of many cultural centres was on the rise, in particular in small, rather remote places. The choice of authors was declaratory and democratic, i.e., based on public competitions. The vast area with a population of some 20 million, and the fact that the members of the selection committees came from diverse environments, ensured impartial decision-making. These decisions emphasised the wish that the best architects available at the given moment be drawn in for the realisation.

Many notices for competitions were, of course, a particular incentive and encouragement for young architects, and at the same time a rare opportunity for them to gain their first experience in the realisation of projects. At the beginning we introduced ourselves as a group of Professor Ravnikar’s students. Later on, after graduating and returning from further studies in the States, I was designing projects for competitions on my own in my architectural office – Atelje Marko Mušič. Numerous competition victories from all over Yugoslavia followed. Some of them brought the first important realisations of projects.

Youth Centre in Zagreb, first prize, Yugoslav competition, 1966. Authors: Marko Mušič, Lojze Drašler, Jernej Kraigher, Tomaž Jeglič and Marjan Mušič jr. (Atelje 66)

Youth Centre in Zagreb, first prize, Yugoslav competition, 1966.
Authors: Marko Mušič, Lojze Drašler, Jernej Kraigher, Tomaž Jeglič and Marjan Mušič jr. (Atelje 66)

Your conceptual design for a villa in Bled was presented at the Youth Biennale in Paris in 1967, and achieved a rather resounding international recognisability. It is a bold and innovative project on the border between fantasy and actual feasibility. Was it designed as a mere study, or did it originate from the idea of the realisation of your own home?

Certainly a 25-year-old architect is allowed to daydream. This is why the design project for a villa in Bled was made in one fell swoop as an unbridled dream vision of my own home, free of everything and above all free of reality. This was a privilege and, definitely, my being selected as a representative of Yugoslavia contributed to me having it, as well as did the propositions of an entirely free, intrinsic architecture that was not binding in any way.

Villa in Bled, Vth Biennale of Young Artists, Paris, 1967. Author: Marko Mušič Photo: Vladimir Furlan

Villa in Bled, Vth Biennale of Young Artists, Paris, 1967.
Author: Marko Mušič
Photo: Vladimir Furlan

The competition for the Memorial and Cultural Centre in Kolašin, a rather small town in Montenegro, was particularly interesting, as it demanded the design of a memorial centre that would pay homage to the events during the war, while at the same time it was also to include a cultural programme. The architecture of the memorial centre can be read and perceived through the truncated prisms as an echo of the surrounding mountains or as a link to the traditional gables of the Dinaric houses in Montenegro.  

A few years prior to the competition for the centre in Kolašin I was travelling in the area, and not far from there discovered the village of Andrijevica that enchanted me with its nucleated, clustered structure of unified houses, by then still fully preserved dwellings with steep, pyramid-like roofs, as they were shaped by time in the Durmitor massif with harsh winters and an abundance of snow. From the sketch I made there when I was passing through that area soon after the competition was announced, the idea of a similar nucleus of unified geometric volumes sharpened. On the one hand the forms of the local popular building became unified through geometric purity and, in places, the basic cells turned out to be only a little differentiated by size. On the other hand, however, the composition of these cells into a whole created a similar impression as that of a nucleus or cluster. The variations in the alignment of roof ridges, which from every view offer a counterpoint, and the richness of experience both add special dynamics. This is why I was not surprised that Professor Martino Stierli, the chief curator of the exhibition in MoMA, insisted on the presentation of both a plaster model of the basic, typical cell, and of course the large model, also made of plaster, of the entire Memorial and Cultural Centre and its immediate surroundings.

Belgrade Opera House, second prize, global competition, 1971. Author: Marko Mušič

Belgrade Opera House, second prize, global competition, 1971.
Author: Marko Mušič

The current state of the Memorial and Cultural Centre Kolašin is not something one can be pleased about. The building has been falling into disrepair for a number of years. Do you perhaps know what state it is in now, and have you been contacted regarding its renovation?

Unfortunately, the fate of the Centre has been unkind for a long time. Following a thorough rehabilitation of both the exterior and interior carried out 15 years after it opened, the Centre is steadily deteriorating. Even though the longitudinal tract of the municipal administration has been functional throughout this time, the cultural part, i.e., the part with typified cells, is abandoned and derelict. I was hoping that this architectural work that was also presented at the Venice Biennale and at the exhibition in New York, and which was ranked second among seven hundred architectural works by the World Monuments Fund in their Modern Century campaign, and that has been published in many a prestigious foreign publication, would eventually benefit from a proper and worthy renovation, however, I don’t have any encouraging information about that.

Belgrade Opera House, second prize, global competition, 1971. Author: Marko Mušič

Belgrade Opera House, second prize, global competition, 1971.
Author: Marko Mušič

Can you tell us more about the project of a restaurant just below the peak of Mount Lovćen that was also the subject of a competition? It was probably the idea of a circular room, a viewing terrace under the mausoleum on top of Mount Lovćen that persuaded the jury. We also see the linkage to the folk culture element called gumno or guvno, which was the central space inside or on the outskirts of the village, in the middle of which they initially threshed grain and in which the villagers gathered and took decisions in a self-governing manner.

For Montenegrins, Mount Lovćen is a consecrated place. The arrangement of tourist facilities at the foot of the Mausoleum of Njegoš exceeds the narrow programme framework by far. I was convinced that they needed to merge into a symbolic whole. Therefore, the restaurant is cut into the rock and is entirely disconnected from both the narrow and wider visual space. We experience it only as a round rooftop platform that is indeed reminiscent of guvno, a Montenegrin phenomenon in which utilitarianism and the symbolics of social events and connections intertwine. The positioning of the restaurant into the depths of the cliff was, however, conditioned on two requirements that were, at least at first sight, incompatible. The first required the restaurant to open to an amazing view of the ‘stone sea’, as the picturesque mountain landscape surrounding Mount Lovćen is called. And the second required the key segments of the rocks to be preserved, and with it the impression and experience that the mountain range lends.

The undulating glass envelope is a playful counterpoint to the mightiness of mountain structures, and at the same time it envelops and encircles the entire perimeter of the restaurant and thus emphasises the separateness of the lower, tectonic part cut into the rocks, and the lean supports of the elevated round platform with the guvno. The descent from the guvno to the depths of the restaurant reveals unexpected and mysterious interior panoramic views; the radial and terrace-like lowering of the floor towards the perimeter, and the amorphously designed and arranged tables opening towards the exceptional view of the stone sea. Towards the extraordinary broader landscape where one can still experience all seven Leonardo’s depth layers.

Restaurant on Mount Lovčen, first prize at a Yugoslav competition and execution, 1975–1977. Author: Marko Mušič

Restaurant on Mount Lovčen, first prize at a Yugoslav competition and execution, 1975–1977.
Author: Marko Mušič

How was it with the designing of buildings around Yugoslavia, how did that go? Did some of your colleagues go to regular meetings during the construction phase, or did you ask local architects to help you in supervising the construction? I suppose you were going to faraway construction sites as well, time permitting?

The construction projects around Yugoslavia required many travels. My colleagues in my atelier helped me with that a lot. I didn’t have much luck as regards the cooperation with local architects. The evidence for that is in the cultural centre in Bitola, which due to their interventions partly in the realisation of the exterior, but in particular in the interior, was moving further and further away from my competition solution and conceptual designs. Therefore, after this I avoided such cooperation.

University Campus in Skopje, first prize at a Yugoslav competition, 1967. Authors: Marko Mušič, Meta Hočevar and Jernej Kraigher (Atelje 66). Design and execution, 1968–1974. Author: Marko Mušič

University Campus in Skopje, first prize at a Yugoslav
competition, 1967. Authors: Marko Mušič, Meta Hočevar and Jernej Kraigher (Atelje 66). Design and execution, 1968–1974.
Author: Marko Mušič

If the Cultural Centre Bitola was not realised entirely according to your plans, then the realisation of the University Centre in Skopje is more like the competition project. If we are not mistaken, that is also one of the largest projects which is the work of a Slovene architect outside of the borders of the present-day Republic of Slovenia. At the University Centre in Skopje you used the concept of the Greek agora – the central gathering point where students can meet.

The central Academic Square is surrounded by broad, spacious staircases and somewhat raised platforms on which the Faculty of Philosophy, Faculty of Law and Faculty of Economics are positioned. The propylaea of the Academic Square are represented by the building of the rectorate raised up high, to which two large-scale/voluminous masses of both faculty libraries are linked. The three faculties share a similar concept, but it is never the same. Along the agora, the Academic Square, there are public areas with large, multi-level vestibules and amphitheatres. The latter, strung around the Square, render the first impression, which is in always dramatic.

Study programmes and premises line the central, longitudinal tracts, along the department cores. The arrays of offices for academic staff burrow into the greenery of the spacious park on the perimeter of the faculty buildings. Unfortunately, though, during the construction of the University Centre it was not possible to also realise the cultural centre on the outer side of the rectorate facing the city. After decades of the space being reserved for the cultural centre, other university buildings were built there recently.

Cultural Centre in Šamac, first prize at a Yugoslav competition and execution, 1973–1980. Author: Marko Mušič

Cultural Centre in Šamac, first prize at a Yugoslav competition and execution, 1973–1980.
Author: Marko Mušič

The University Centre in Skopje is realised in exposed concrete, which used to be your most important construction material at that time. The primal nature of the material and the possibilities of its diverse use were probably the two things that fascinated you most at the time. That was also the time when Yugoslav architecture was at a truly high level, as shown at the exhibition Toward a Concrete Utopia in New York in 2018.

By that time, exposed concrete has long been established in world architecture. I was able to experience its beauty, eloquence and sophistication in the architecture by Louis Kahn during my training at his master studio as a Ford scholarship holder.

Cultural Centre in Nikšić, first prize at a Yugoslav competition and execution, 1976–1988. Author: Marko Mušič

Cultural Centre in Nikšić, first prize at a Yugoslav competition and execution, 1976–1988.
Author: Marko Mušič

Another interesting project was realised in this period, the Cultural Centre in Bosanski Šamac (present-day Šamac, Republika Srpska), where along the exposed concrete you set up the contrast of blue prisms, much like in the Cultural Centre in Nikšić. The latter, however, has never been entirely completed, and several years ago there was even a competition for its renovation published.

The Cultural Centre in the then Bosanski Šamac already represented a departure from the exposed concrete as was used in the Memorial and Cultural Centre Kolašin and the Skopje University Centre. The exterior of the Centre in Šamac is entirely clad with large ceramic panels of blue colour. The exposed concrete, profiled in various ways, however, remains the central experience of the interior, where it intertwines with the motifs made of natural wood.

In this Centre, the same-shaped glass crystals representing the cells of individual programmes surround the interior square, the vestibule of citizens. The connections of the cells and the square offer a multitude of arrangements, intertwinings and adaptations to specific needs and situations of spontaneous and programmed activities in the Centre. The Cultural Centre is raised high above the city’s parterre that is regularly threatened by the high floodwaters of the nearby Sava river. In addition to safety, this height difference, besides lending a monumental nature to the Centre, also enables a rich and versatile configuration of the exterior parking and event spaces.

The organisation structure in Šamac, however, is of course entirely different from the one in Nikšić. While in the former, the central public space is a spacious interior square, to which the basic programme cells lined along the perimeter are linked (here we could find some similarities with the Memorial and Cultural Centre in Kolašin), in the latter, in Nikšić, this role is taken over by the main interior pathways of the longitudinal public promenade. They are stretched between both basic programme strands, between the youth centre and the complex of event spaces. Along the public glass-covered promenades there are linkages and connections to other programmes aimed at culture and education. At the time of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the Centre was constructed and glazed, yet the interior was not completed. Thus, for decades it remained useless and left to decay. The beginning of renovation and reconstruction following the new competition and the decision of the local authorities, unfortunately, turned to the demolition of the most important parts of the Centre, and it is still going on.

The Church of the Incarnation of Christ, Dravlje, Ljubljana, first prize at a competition and execution, 1980–1985. Author: Marko Mušič Photo: Janez Kališnik

The Church of the Incarnation of Christ, Dravlje, Ljubljana, first prize at a competition and execution, 1980–1985.
Author: Marko Mušič
Photo: Janez Kališnik

ON HIS WORK AT HOME IN SLOVENIA

The second milestone in your architectural career is represented by the Church of the Incarnation of Christ in Dravlje in Ljubljana. The new church was built in 1985 and it respectfully stands back from the existing Baroque Church of St. Roch, establishes a caesura, yet at the same time also sets up the dialogue between the old and the new. Of course, with your own authorial and recognisable language that draws both from the Baroque and organic architecture. Also, the idea of a green roof above the new church upgrades the relationship between the new and the existing.

Working in Yugoslavia came to an end and a new era started. I returned to Slovene architecture, and this was almost dramatic for me personally. In the spring of 1980, after the Centre in Šamac opened, I received an invitation to participate in the competition for the new church in Dravlje. When Tito’s death was announced on the radio, I was drawing perspective views of the new church and its surroundings with charcoal. It was definitely some kind of a symbolic sign of the beginning of a new period dedicated to symbolism and sacredness.

Despite many competition awards and projects and realisations, I too, much like every architect from time immemorial, yearned for the most prestigious, but also the most demanding, task: the creation of sacral architecture. My project for the church in Dravlje convinced the jury that was chaired by the academic Emilijan Cevc. And my old dream that in those times seemed quite ludicrous came true. I was also in luck regarding in-depth, close and inspiring cooperation with the Dravlje Jesuits. After many complications, occasionally also due to the then established church architects and also due to extreme financial limitations, the Jesuits managed to realise their church. And that without any changes of or interventions into the basic architectural concept, that was already well-reasoned in the competition solution.

Žale Cemetery, new part, Ljubljana, first prize at a competition and execution, 1983–. Author: Marko Mušič Photo: Milan Pajk

Žale Cemetery, new part, Ljubljana, first prize at a competition and execution, 1983–.
Author: Marko Mušič
Photo: Milan Pajk

Several important aspects are disclosed in the architecture of the sacral space in Dravlje: its central concept that is reminiscent of Greek amphitheatres, and the introduction of diffuse light into the interior. So we are not surprised that the title of the book aimed at presenting the new church, with the accompanying text by Nace Šumi, is Ripples in the Light (Valovanje v svetlobi). The central part of the church in Dravlje is actually one of those for which we can say that it brought a really significant novelty in the design of sacral spaces in Slovenia.

The building of a house of God needs to be simple, but by no means spatially poor. It must be simply understandable and yet not banally mundane. And universal and at the same time unique. Here and now the architectures of church buildings speak at all times. With the sincerity of the moment of their creation, their authors and place, these buildings emphasise the eternity and immeasurability of the idea they are dedicated to. What at the first sight seems to be a problem, that is, the inclusion in the direct visual space of the architectural monument, is actually a facilitating factor and a signpost in the search for an architectural solution for the new building. The fundamental lesson learned is that the tradition is something objective and reliable, and as such a solid base to which every era and its ambition can lean on. The mission of architecture is a comprehensive creative experience, as a historic, anthropological, psychological, social and stylistic consideration. This is why I wished to incarnate the church in Dravlje. To ennoble it, bring closer to people and to how they feel and experience the church space that corresponds to the needs of the contemporary times. The technical development made new construction forms possible, but the archetypes and mythical signs remained with the original, figurative and updated meanings. An architect who is aware of that can neither agree to a cold formalism nor to likeable eclecticism. His or her works must be living organisms that in every cell carries a coded biological, historic and humanist experience. The process of the realisation of an idea impresses a materialised building with a spiritual charge that is released in the perception of communication with the visitor as a vital energy, as the pulse of life. The space accepts the users, and communicates its mission to them through functional solutions, narratives and multi-layered meanings.

The new church is positioned at the back of the terrain. Thus, its leaned and greened roof entirely preserves the view of the Baroque Church of St. Roch. And also the view of the linden-lined lane connecting Dravlje with the cemetery. In the interior of free, organic forms the round amphitheatre stands out. It is directed towards the raised presbytery and opens up to the view of the old church and the tree-lined lane. The visitor slowly and gradually descends along the gentle slope of terrace arches with benches. Within them, two gentle slopes descend to the presbytery as if two arms are intertwined. In this way they express the relaxed character of the space and its pilgrim nature. The nave actually represents a break from the concepts of sacral spaces of Slovene churches used until then. So I was not surprised when Nace Šumi wrote in the catalogue of the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana (Moderna galerija Ljubljana), “…that ever since the times of Plečnik there has been no such creation in Slovenia. It could even be said that the Dravlje church even surpasses the Plečnikesque level, as it is not only narrative in the details of the solemn space, but is also animated as a space. And this is a quality that we have not met here ever since Baroque.”

Teharje Memorial Park, first prize at a competition and execution, 1993–2007. Author: Marko Mušič Photo: Miran Kambič

Teharje Memorial Park, first prize at a competition and execution, 1993–2007.
Author: Marko Mušič
Photo: Miran Kambič

Within the scope of sacral architecture an important place is held by your concept of the new part of the Žale cemetery (Nove Žale) in Ljubljana, where you didn’t want to compete with Plečnik, but you rather created a different space, the city of the dead behind the wall fortified with symbolic towers – portal pillars with greenery growing from them. The dialogue between the living, the momentary, and the eternal. You have used the greenery and green roofs in their symbolic meaning in several of your projects.

When taking on such a project, we should keep in mind Wittgenstein’s view that the point of ethics and aesthetics is to uncover the unspeakable. Being aware of that, the architect’s role and his work in arranging cemeteries become very subtle, sensitive and spiritualised. And that applies to the whole range – from the general arrangement to the last tiny detail.

The basic concept of the new part of the Ljubljana central cemetery reproduces the principles of the ancient spatial planning and is thus linked to the Roman Emona. It is defined by longitudinal and transversal tree-lined paths that surround the insulae, burial fields for different kinds of burials. The appropriately high greenery trims of the paths veil the views into the interior of the burial fields. Thus, the paths become the ambiences of popular promenades. By contrast the burial fields are somewhat raised. Thus, the visitors have open views to the surroundings which prevents them from feeling enclosed and anxious. At the same time they are structured into smaller units that refer to the usual size of Slovene village cemeteries.

In planning and designing a cemetery one needs to be aware that graves and their urbanisation represent a monument to each and every deceased individually. They are a reminder of a person’s life and at the same time a dwelling, a refuge, in which they start their second, eternal existence. Every small part of space that we design therefore needs to have its own symbolism and ritual function. All equipment and interventions need to bear witness to the defiance of time. The conversation with time that by far surpasses the human era is actually the aim and substance of the cemetery’s message. This, however, can only be done by architecture as an integrated experience with all main pragmatic and symbolic, material and rational elements, with the entire wealth of their intertwining and an infinite multitude of subtleties that express us, communicate about us and touch us.

The approaches to the cemetery are marked with signs and portal entrances that on a smaller scale also determine the passages to individual burial fields. All references to the ancient city reflect a respect for tradition and the awareness of its eternal relevance. A special feature of the new part of the cemetery is also a vast perimeter park that is intended for the scattering of ashes of the deceased. Spatially it is defined by overgrown mounds that symbolically refer to the mounds of ancient graveyards of the early inhabitants of our land, as we can still fully experience in the near-by field Sorško Polje. These tumuli, burial mounds, are therefore an association to prehistoric times. The memory of large piles of earth, overgrown with greenery, covering the remains of our oldest predecessors.

But of course, a still not realised idea of the central avenue, the cardo of the entire Žale cemetery, will be of particular importance; it will be on the present-day Tomačevska Street. The central avenue, together with the Path of Remembrance and Comradeship, will set up the basic structure of the cemetery as a decumanom, and eventually connect its old and new parts into a meaningful whole.

Hercules Fountain at Stari Trg, Ljubljana, project and execution 1989–1991. Author: Marko Mušič Photo: Janez Kališnik

Hercules Fountain at Stari Trg, Ljubljana, project and execution 1989–1991.
Author: Marko Mušič
Photo: Janez Kališnik

Teharje Memorial Park is different in its essence, the area is not as large as the Žale cemetery, yet the tragic story of the people executed in Teharje is that much deeper. This is the reason why you wanted to transfer this tragic story into eternal memory with the arrangement of the park, a path, and with the setting up of a chapel and a monument above which a wreath in white concrete is symbolically elevated, which ripples and serves as a reminder.

The horrific reality of this place is like an image of an unknown, undiscovered landscape, of Hamlet’s dread of something even beyond death. The misshapen nature and the ruins of the death camp surrounded by mounds of waste scream of both crimes, the first – the bloody one, and the second that was even worse, that humiliated the victims under the rubbish for the last time, equated them with waste and took the name of a Human Being from them.

The rest of the camp is like an infiltrated last trace of the tragic truth. The ground in the camp, the original level of terror, anxiety and death, is a sacred area, where the sacred in the Hegelian sense is that what connects people. It is an expression of the deepest common human nature where homo simbolicus is disclosed as homo religiosus. Symbolically, the ground is inaccessible, intended for a lone private experience, reflection and digging deep into one’s own depths. The main symbolic axis, the path of silence, is therefore subtly elevated above the preserved original ground of the camp. From the portal entrance and the Chapel of the Flagellation of Christ, the path of silence leads from the north portal and the central memorial monument that represents the triple experience of absolute time. The crypt with a symbolic sarcophagus that is embedded in the pedestal of the monument illustrates the absolute past. Above it is a presbytery with the altar of the absolute present. Finally, on top there is the wreath of victory as the symbol of the absolute future. This is why the vertical of the central memorial monument is a paraphrase of the symbolic vertical of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Here, under the highly raised wreath– in the basilica the magnificent Michelangelo’s dome – is the presbytery with the altar table – there the altar with Bernini’s and Borromini’s baldachin – which is precisely above the crypt with the symbolic sarcophagus – and there above the apostle’s grave.

Church in Kotor Varoš, BiH, first prize at a competition, execution and post-war renovation, 1986–1992–2016. Author: Marko Mušič

Church in Kotor Varoš, BiH, first prize at a competition, execution and post-war renovation, 1986–1992–2016.
Author: Marko Mušič

You have designed a number of other memorials, could you highlight any of them that was particularly close to your heart and with which you paid homage to the memory of persons or events?

Already before the Teharje Memorial Park (which was designated as a cultural monument of national importance) I won the grand competition for the memorial park in Jajinci near Belgrade. This competition was a sort of a confrontation between sculpture and architecture. Having received numerous sculpture solutions, amongst which the contribution of Dušan Džamonja was the best, the jury led by Bogdan Bogdanović was most convinced by the essence of my project. Merely a symbolic landscape without any monuments and sculpting additions. When we started drawing up the implementing documentation, however, the project was halted due to local political antagonisms.

Several smaller monuments in Ljubljana have been realised. For instance, the Hercules Fountain at Stari Trg, the Cenotaph for the victims of the 1991 Slovene Independence War (also designated a cultural monument of national importance), the Memorial to victims of road accidents in Slovenia, the memorial to all who gave their life for Slovenia, and the monument to the renowned singer Julij Betetto in front of the Opera House. And abroad there was a realisation of the comprehensive Memorial to Croatian victims of war and the postwar killings.

Church of St. John the Baptist, Podmilačje, BiH, first prize at an international competition and execution, 2003–. Author: Marko Mušič

Church of St. John the Baptist, Podmilačje, BiH, first prize at an international competition and execution, 2003–.
Author: Marko Mušič

In the former Yugoslavia you also designed several sacral buildings, the churches in Kotor Varoš and Podmilačje (BiH). The latter especially has an interesting story, which we hope will be fully realised one day.

I never thought that one day I would be given the task to continue Plečnik’s cooperation with the Franciscan province of Bosna Srebrena. It is well known that Plečnik was friends with its then provincial head, Fra Josip Markušić. This is how an exceptional masterpiece was created, Plečnik’s Church of St. Anthony of Padua in Belgrade. As well as some other larger and smaller projects in Bosnia of which, sadly, only one was realised, a new wing of the monastery in Jajce.

It all started with an unexpected invitation to the competition for a new church in Kotor Varoš near Banja Luka (BiH). Allegedly, the reason for the invitation was the church in Dravlje, which drew attention not only from the architectural and other circles, but also from religious communities. The new church was completed and furnished, but it was burnt down and blown up during the war, although, we renovated it entirely – of course with the understandable poetic licence.

Even more chilling was the fate of the central Bosnian shrine, the Church of St. John the Baptist in Podmilačje near Jajce. The shrine with churches, pastoral and other buildings and arrangements were completely destroyed during the war. After an international invited competition I became the architect of the new buildings and the renovation of the shrine. The reconstructed church, the oldest in Bosnia dating back to the beginning of the 15th century, and the new church with a tall spiral belltower, have shaped the portal of the shrine valley since then. Other buildings and arrangements were also realised. This is an ambitious project and, as such, it is, of course, still far from completion and the expected full experience and use.

Bus Station, Novo mesto, first prize at a competition and execution, 1989–1992. Author: Marko Mušič

Bus Station, Novo mesto, first prize at a competition and execution, 1989–1992.
Author: Marko Mušič

Your architecture generally does not belong to the international postmodernist language, we could say that it is distinctly authorial, you have thus created your own, particularly recognisable architectural language in which the organic intertwines with the geometrically accurate, and at the same time it contains many symbolic messages. A touch of postmodernism, however, might be discerned in Novo Mesto projects. The Bus Station in Novo Mesto is a literal sign in space, the abbreviation NM is implemented as a visible determinant of the area and of the programme.

I entirely agree with Jure Mikuž’s statement who wrote, in the book on Nove Žale, that in my architecture one will not find formalist postmodernist quotes. But, of course, the classics have always been close to my heart. Both as a result of how I was brought up by my father and of my own fascination with it, as well as due to my love for Plečnik’s architecture. It is not about the reproduction of the formal expression of classic architecture. It is more about experiencing it and its intensity. And about the use of stone and the mastery needed for shaping it. This is also where, after the end of modernist architecture in exposed concrete, a new era started for me in which I have used natural stone a lot.

Miran Jarc Library, Novo Mesto, design and execution, 1987–2001. Author: Marko Mušič

Miran Jarc Library, Novo Mesto, design and execution, 1987–2001.
Author: Marko Mušič

In your entire architectural oeuvre the mastery and knowledge of tradition is reflected, or, if you will, the greatness of a Renaissance master who knows and understands a lot and shows it in his works. At one point you also stated that architecture is “the queen of arts who was born much earlier than other arts”.

The greatness of every good work of architecture is that it is humane and humanist, that tradition and the time of its creation become one. It is made for humans; this is why it respects a person’s dignity by taking into account humanist ethics and aesthetics. These, however, are based on accurate knowledge of history, tradition and the present day.

 

All your works demonstrate your attitude to detail, as it is well-known that you work on projects for a long time and hope to find solutions to details, with all aspects of their technical implementation. So that even details show your authorial recognisability. You tackle details through sketches, drawings at different scales, models on paper or in clay.  

I’ve always appreciated architectural works that are comprehensive. Where, as Alberti wrote, the beauty of architecture is in such harmony and concord of all the parts achieved in such a manner that nothing could be added or taken away. This is why it is completely understandable that I can only bow to such endeavours as well. This means that I cannot accept the divide that separates the basic architectural expression from its detail. Much the same as in music the mightiest topics are implemented with minute, but no less important, no less necessary motifs and details coordinated with the essence of the topic. And every creator decides for themselves as to what is the path to such integrity.

 

You are also a master of drawing and sketching; you are transferring your ideas to paper in pencil. This skill is no longer in the foreground with younger generations, as nowadays this process is mostly abstracted and transferred into computer software.

We need to differentiate between an architectural drawing in which we are presenting motifs that we find important on the one hand, and on the other a sketch which is a working tool with which we note down the impulses and ideas that have just been born and are not yet clarified, we compare them, evaluate against each other and upgrade them as possible vantage points for further design.

 

ON RESIDENTIAL HOUSES

In your oeuvre there aren’t many single-family houses; was it that clients didn’t come to you with this request or was there another reason? And the two houses in Bled and Sorica have probably not been made in the way you would have wanted to the last detail.

I have never been interested in the construction of residential houses and I’ve only designed them in exceptional cases, and only those where I appreciated the owners, mostly cultural professionals and artists. The first house that I designed was the house of the painters Adrijana in Janez Bernik in Breznica near Žirovnica, and I believe that it was awarded the Borba Prize. Some more houses for interesting clients followed, amongst them also such who chose an architect through an invited competition. We certainly need to be aware that a house design intervenes into the intimate sphere of its owners; that this means that their adaptation to an actual life is understandable and inevitable. Not to mention the changes in the interior and even in the exterior that are the result of changes in ownership.

House in Breznica, design and execution, 1972–1974. Author: Marko Mušič

House in Breznica, design and execution, 1972–1974.
Author: Marko Mušič

However, you managed to control things down to the last detail at your holiday house in Dolenjska, where you could use all your authorial freedom.

Even at your own house several options need to be tested before a definitive decision is taken. As we know, Plečnik was doing that as well. In principle, however, what we wish for ourselves, should not be more than what we are doing and making for others. Well, with a touch of humour we can remind ourselves how Ludwig Wittgenstein, who aspired to become an architect and tried to do that several times, wrote: “You think philosophy is difficult, but I can tell you it is nothing to the difficulty of being a good architect.”

House in Dolenjska, design and execution, 1980–1985. Author: Marko Mušič

House in Dolenjska, design and execution, 1980–1985.
Author: Marko Mušič

ON BOOKS AND HIS FATHER

Several books have been published presenting your reflections and your work in detail. Nace Šumi wrote a number of monographs on your projects, and also the book by Fedja Košir offers a more precise insight into two of your projects in Montenegro, Kolašin and Lovćen.

Two books by Jure Mikuž certainly belong here, on Nove Žale, Mušič’s Žale (Mušičeve Žale) and on the new church in Dravlje, Incarnated Architecture (Učlovečena arhitektura). And, of course, the monograph by the academic Georgi Konstantinovski, a renowned Macedonian architect, dedicated to the University Centre in Skopje.

 

You are also the author of a book on the work of your father, Marjan Mušič, in which you presented his theoretical work, his contribution to the monumental profession and renovations, and architecture in general. Can you tell us something more about his work and your relationship? Was it an advantage having a father who was an established and renowned architect, and a former student of Plečnik, excellent sketch artist and the author of several books? Or did this bring additional burdens and responsibilities?

My father was an exceptional person in a thin enough layer of the Slovene spiritual aristocracy. He was a prominent polymath in the noblest Renaissance meaning of the term. An exquisite art connoisseur, a theoretician and historian of architecture delving deep into architectural questions, an excellent project designer, a classic practitioner of Slovene architectural drawing and, of course, a prolific and exceptional writer. I simply adored him, and we were inseparable from my youth on. I accompanied him on the excursions of his practical course, on his professional paths, and day in day out we had discussions about all sorts of things, which as a rule started and finished with architecture. I was absorbing his drawing technique and detailed explanations and meanings of the architectural motifs he illustrated. And in-between we would sit at the piano and play four hands of the classics that he also loved very much.

I have always been aware of the advantage that was given to me through my father. I humbly repaid this at least with the albums of selected architectural drawings, with the book Architecture for All Times (Arhitektura za vse čase), in which I presented my father’s work for Novo Mesto and the Dolenjska region in detail, and finally with the comprehensive monograph The Art of an Architectural Drawing (Umetnost arhitekturne risbe). I collected the most beautiful of his drawings in it and commented on them in detail. On the centennial of his death I organised a two-day symposium in the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts with many speakers. Their contributions are published in the Miscellany of Marjan Mušič.

Drawings of greek architecture by Marko Mušič

Drawings of greek architecture by Marko Mušič

ON HIS ARCHITECTURAL OFFICE AND CURRENT WORK

The stories of the new railway station and new National University Library (NUK) in Ljubljana are similar; you received the first prize in both competitions, but it never came to their realisation. The old railway station and some of the areas in Plečnik’s NUK were renovated partly according to your plans, and later two new competitions were held, the winners of which, however, were also not realised.  

I didn’t have much luck in Ljubljana regarding victories in large competitions. Thus, the projects for a Passenger Station, for the National University Library (NUK 2) and for the Apostolic Nunciature remained unrealised.

 

You worked on the projects with various colleagues, and lately you have been working with some regular co-workers, for quite some time now. To the outside you still maintain the appearance of an authorial atelier in which your authorial architecture comes to the foreground. We would like to know what the current work in your office looks like; are you creating something interesting that will be completed soon?

I am now mainly working on both mentioned sacral complexes in Bosnia with a view to supplementing them. Currently a quite particular part of Nove Žale is also being implemented. The part that will complete the new part of the cemetery on the south side facing the city.

 

And when you are left with some free time, do you still like drawing or sculpting?

Certainly. And I also like playing the piano, in particular Bach who has always been my hero of heroes.

Fedja Košir, Kolašin and Lovčen: From Human to Trans-Human. Architect Marko Mušič Marjan Mušič, Architecture for All Times. Novo mesto and the Dolenjska region

Fedja Košir, Kolašin and Lovčen: From Human to Trans-Human. Architect Marko Mušič
Marjan Mušič, Architecture for All Times. Novo mesto and the Dolenjska region

When you look back upon your realised works, would you do anything, any design, differently with the knowledge you have now? Or rather, would you have decided for a different approach?

Not at all. Each of my realised works is a reflection of many conditions and elements in space and other areas, of considerations and creative initiatives. Looking back: no, I wouldn’t change any of the realisations. And if I started working on them today, I’d be happy if they turned out just the way they are.

Drawing of greek architecture by Marko Mušič

Drawing of greek architecture by Marko Mušič

 

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