I remember well the surprise experienced by Italian architects thirty years ago when the Piran Days of Architecture were organised for the very first time.
For those of us who participated in the conference, a new window on a world that had until that moment been unknown to us opened in that conference room at the Portorož Grand Hotel. The tone of engaged discussions revealed a hope for the role that architecture could be playing, a hope that Italian architects had ceased to share, perhaps because we had been infected by cynicism and vaccinated against optimism, if not even anaesthetised with critical thought, of which we were the proud, but sad messengers.
From their inception, the Piran Days of Architecture have followed the clearly defined and ambitious objective of bringing unity in architecture, as well as with architecture (both local and global), between rootedness and openness, identity and attention to the ongoing historical transformations.
The very first Piran Days of Architecture were dedicated to identity and continuity, concepts that continued to be explicitly discussed for many of the following years. Those present were clearly aware of the cultural fact that architecture and modern design were part and parcel of a much larger programme. Conferences were livened by positive tension surrounding the conviction that identity and relationship with the history of the discipline and locations are not limited to reinforcing the autonomy of a design and its artistic status. We firmly believed that each design had to protect, nurture and regenerate cultural identities that are, by nature, common to us all. There was therefore a need to reassert the disciplinary value of the design on which, in our opinion, cultural importance could be based. Today we can say, with serenity and peace of mind, that our discussions focused on the eternal (or, even better, eternally topical) conflict between the autonomy and heteronomy of architecture. Even back then, we were well aware of the dangers and snares of our discussions, for similar debates, occupying architecture and other artistic disciplines, had absorbed significant amounts of mental and dialectic energy with poor operational outcomes.
Our intellectual excesses were finally swept away by the realisation that our identity is indeed composed of several identities, that our rootedness in a geographical place with a rich history comes, by definition, with a plural, complex and stratified identity. This is where both Vojteh Ravnikar and Matjaž Garzarolli excelled.
We kept discovering different, yet interconnected roots. Kras, with its Trieste-Vienna railway, is the crossroads where the Austrian Imperial Royal Government met the Slavs, Central European culture and Roman heritage, all incarnated in Plečnik and Fabiani, in the complex Trieste literary milieu, as well as in Avgust Černigoj who studied at Bauhaus in Dessau.
I am writing this brief article in Gorica, only a few metres from a Fabiani church and the Stadtgymnasium where the renowned philosopher Carlo Michelstaedter used to study (in German).
Every day, on my way to Gorica, I cross the old border between the Republic of Venice (later Italy) and Austria in a small town where a tiny publisher published the first Italian translation of various texts written by Peter Handke (including his Poem on Duration). I admire the landscape bearing the marks of its history.
This is where the Piran Days of Architecture take place. This is where they will continue to take place, for the project out of which they were born has not been completed. It shall remain uncompleted as long as we continue to perceive differences as a value.