A School Refreshed By the Whirlwind of Life

Peter Gabrijelčič, born in 1947, belongs to the generation of architects who were forged by Professor Edvard Ravnikar, and who later on in the 1980s took over the education of young architects at the Ljubljana School of Architecture. As a long-time Dean he managed to raise the School to a higher, European level, and in addition to leading the School and teaching he worked on planning and designing. In the field of bridge design, in particular, he made a significant step forward towards understanding the spatial and architectural logic of bridges.  

Photo credits: Mavric Pivk

Photo credits: Mavric Pivk

Piranesi

You completed your studies at the Faculty of Architecture in Ljubljana in 1973. What was the topic of your diploma thesis with Professor Edvard Ravnikar? And how did it come about that you became his assistant?

Peter Gabrijelčič

In those times the students only got into first contact with architecture in the third year of our studies. That is when we started working in so-called project seminar courses or, simply, seminars. I decided to take part in Professor Ravnikar’s seminar as he was full of charisma and a legend of his time. Today it’s hard to imagine someone in the Slovenian architectural professional circle who would be such an expert and a person of moral power. Ravnikar’s seminar was attended by just 30 students from different years who worked in a common room. The senior colleagues, who were sort of auxiliary assistants, and full-time assistants, helped with corrections in the junior years. The working regime in the seminar was much like monastery asceticism. Work every day from eight in the morning until seven in the evening. Sundays were off. Ravnikar used to come to the sketching room exactly on time. Whoever wasn’t at his or her place yet was punished with silence until the next day. The work was intense, and we were in constant personal contact with our professor. Assistants were replaced every few years. The easy way or the hard way. Later, in practice, they all, almost without exception, established themselves as successful architects. New assistants brought fresh ideas and energy. This is how the seminar work retained its liveliness and lucidity.

Professor Ravnikar had two offices. A large one and a small one. The former was a mysteriously sacred space. Students had no right of entry. There, in the dark atmosphere of creative disorder, the Professor conceived his ideas for competitions, sketched, and painted watercolours. I knew that during lunchtime he was in the habit of peeking into the empty sketching rooms. I left some of my sketches from my travels on the table. One day the professor called me and asked whether I’d like to sketch some perspective views. That he needed them for the project of a new housing estate in Vienna. And I would be sketching them in the large office. In the large office!? Something like that?! Wow, what an honour for a green third-year student! After that I participated in most of the professor’s competition projects. After having completed my studies, I stayed on at the Faculty and helped in the seminar as an auxiliary assistant for another two years. That was the revolutionary period of room 25. A sort of controlled chain reaction. Ravnikar promoted it and I made sure that it didn’t get out of control. That would be to his detriment. I was a kind of an interface between the professor and the students. At that time, a new university was planned in Maribor. The question was whether the campus or the university should be in the city. Students were, of course, against a campus that would be pushed to the margins of life. We were in favour of the concept of a university in the city, we organised demonstrations, designed plans, made several-metre-large models, studies, publications. And succeeded! With strong moral support from the professor, of course. Then it was time for me to go and serve in the army. So, in 1973 I quickly graduated with the Maribor University project. At the military academy in Karlovac (Croatia) they spruced me up and made a disciplined, neat and clean-cut soldier from a disorderly, tousle-haired young man. On a gloomy winter day, it was snowing like crazy, I had an unexpected visitor and I was surprised to see it was Professor Ravnikar. We looked at each other. The professor had a hard time recognising me with my now shaved head. He complained that everything was going wrong at the School. That he wasn’t working with the old assistants, that students took matters into their own hands, that those professors who didn’t favour him wanted him to retire. Would I want to come back to school and work as a full-time assistant? That is how it started.

Piranesi

At the same time when you were his assistant, the architect Janez Koželj was also his assistant, and later you two together set up the foundations for the renewed study course at the Faculty of Architecture. What was the cooperation with Professor Ravnikar like then, and how did you and Janez get along?

Peter Gabrijelčič

With a fellow architect Janez Koželj, well, we got employed at the Faculty on the same day, in the spring of 1974. Before that, paradoxically, I was his assistant. He actually returned to the Faculty from Belgrade, where he was a youth official. So he had ample political experience. This fact along with Janez’s general knowledge and talent were the reasons for Ravnikar’s decision to employ him. As Ravnikar’s assistants we cooperated academically, professionally and as friends. We, that is, the two of us alone or with other colleagues, won many competitions. However, sadly, those ideas weren’t realised due to the then economic crisis. For hotels both in Slovenia and other republics of the former Yugoslavia, banks, office buildings, museums, residential areas and the like. If they had been realised, our careers would’ve probably developed in a much different way. Janez was very much a systematist and perfectionist. He complained about the mess that was left behind after our sleepless creative nights. When I went to sleep, he stayed up and gruntingly cleared the tables for the next day. Different characters. Despite our differences, however, we shared a great passion for everything we were doing. The teaching work took from morning till evening. At that time, Ravnikar’s seminar had up to a hundred students or more that needed to be “taken care of”. And we had little teaching experience and our knowledge was weak. In addition to working at the Faculty, there was also work in the association, with the AB magazine and in politics.

Professor Ravnikar didn’t get much involved in what we were doing. Every year he set the topics for projects that needed to be done to complete the seminar, and left the rest to us. Only once at the beginning of my work as an assistant did he take firm action. That was when I organised the students in quite a military-like manner, told them to work in groups of three, and set specific tasks and the method of work to make their task easier, so they would complete it as soon as possible. This is how I was taught in the army. When Ravnikar saw the militarised seminar platoon he entered the design room and started pushing me towards the door with his belly while yelling at me, “No, Gabrijelčič, no! You don’t understand! This is not a military academy or some secondary technical school. It’s not the result that matters, it’s the way. The path that every individual at the Faculty should find for themselves, and this isn’t a journey without effort.”

Years later, when I was researching teaching methods and study programmes in German universities and colleges, I remembered his words. The concept underlying the renowned Humboldt University is built on the ideas of an autonomous individual and cosmopolitanism, on two values of the Enlightenment that believe in a socially responsible and independent individual who forges connections with other members of the global academic environment, regardless of their social and cultural affiliations. This environment is focused on the promotion of general human values, such as justice, peace, ecology, and respect for human rights. Studies at such universities aren’t limited in time and aren’t fully determined in terms of programme. Students graduate when they believe that they have reached the academic goals set for them. Unlike studies at colleges which are more practice- and work-oriented, with a structured and limited timeframe. This, however, also limits their adaptability to new social and professional challenges that are brought about by time. Therefore, I’m convinced that a student is first and foremost a student at the university as a whole, whilst the field of study is of secondary importance. Only in this broadest academic framework can students also develop to become socially responsible professionals in their field of work.

Most na Kodeljevem, Ljubljana, 1983 Kodeljevo Bridge, Ljubljana, 1983 Avtorji / Authors: Peter Gabrijelčič, Peter Koren Photo: Damjan Gale

Kodeljevo Bridge, Ljubljana, 1983
Authors: Peter Gabrijelčič, Peter Koren
Photo: Damjan Gale

Sava Footbridge, Bled, 2007 Authors: Peter Gabrijelčič, Peter Koren Photo: Miran Kambič

Sava Footbridge, Bled, 2007
Authors: Peter Gabrijelčič, Peter Koren
Photo: Miran Kambič

Ribja brv Footbridge, Ljubljana, 2014 Authors: Peter Gabrijelčič, Boštjan Gabrijelčič, Gregor Cipot Photo: Miran Kambič

Ribja brv Footbridge, Ljubljana, 2014
Authors: Peter Gabrijelčič, Boštjan Gabrijelčič, Gregor Cipot
Photo: Miran Kambič

Patio House, Ljubljana, 2019 Avtorji / Authors: Peter Gabrijelčič, Boštjan Gabrijelčič, Aleš Gabrijelčič Photo: Jure Goršič, Jure Grom

Patio House, Ljubljana, 2019
Avtorji / Authors: Peter Gabrijelčič, Boštjan Gabrijelčič, Aleš Gabrijelčič
Photo: Jure Goršič, Jure Grom

Peter Gabrijelčič with students at Faculty of Architecture in Ljubljana, 2015 Photo: Mojca Gregorski

Peter Gabrijelčič with students at Faculty of Architecture in Ljubljana, 2015
Photo: Mojca Gregorski

The complete article is published in Autumn issue of Piranesi No. 41 Vol. 27, 2019.

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