In the previous issue of Piranesi, we focused on Villa Tugendhat and architect Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, and we are somehow returning to this topic in the present issue as well. The recently renovated Villa Tugendhat has given us an opportunity to conduct an interview with architect Vladimir Šlapeta, who is an expert on Czech Modernist architecture and Modern architecture of the 20th century in general. It was he who wrote an article on the Villa for Piranesi, examining its placement in the spatial and temporal context of the early 1930s. To have an opportunity to walk through the Villa, to talk about it, to sit on Mies’s chairs (made as replicas of the originals) and to relive the time and the world of that period – naturally, through the eyes and conversation of Vladimir Šlapeta – was indeed priceless. You can read more about it in our interview with him, in which he also shares with us the fact that both his father and his uncle were architects who worked together, and that some thirty years ago he swam in the cold sea in Piran at the beginning of November.
The leading topic of the present issue is the Zagreb City Hall (gradska vijećnica), which was built according to plans by architect Kazimir Ostrogović in the late 1950s. Although the building was not constructed entirely in line with the tender proposal, it remains one of the most prominent buildings of the post-war period in Zagreb, Croatia. With its reserved Modernist language and the use of the majority of the elements of Corbusier’s architecture, it is more than a mere building intended to house the offices and administration of the city of Zagreb. It is a building element of the typical city structure of socialist urban planning, lying along the main street into the city (now called the Street of the City of Vukovar – Ulica grada Vukovara): pavilion-like and sufficiently monumental buildings set in an open, wide space. Together with the neighbouring Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall, it creates a space that would probably be desired by some other larger city in Europe.
Slovene contemporary architecture is represented by the small project of the Care and Work Centre for the elderly/adults with mental health disorders in Mengeš, Slovenia, where the architects have managed to position a new programme in the sensitive space of a small settlement, adapted to the local context with a wooden facade and ridged roof, while at the same time offering the users of the centre a new experience of the interior.
The selected Hungarian project is relatively small as well: a new information centre for the presentation of former volcanic activity in an area that is today part of Hungary. The building itself has not, of course, been designed like a miniature volcano; rather, it interprets the eruptive nature of a former volcano in a contemporary manner, in exposed dark concrete combined with weathering steel (Cor-Ten), which is reminiscent of a lava flow.
The MAST cultural and experimental centre in Bologna is the result of a fortunate relationship between an enlightened client and an architect, where it is the client that makes a huge cultural contribution to the town with the self-image of its factory, as it brings together several cultural functions in the building – exhibitions, events, etc. – which is a rather rare case both in Italy and elsewhere in the world.
The renovation of the Secession building of a former public bathhouse in Ljubljana into the current space of a city playground aimed at children and young families is an example of a high quality architectural renovation of both the exterior and the interior. Above all, it is a case study of how a city can revitalise individual buildings with small spatial and financial interventions, thus providing its citizens – in this case, mainly families with small children – with better infrastructure. Everything that there has been significantly less of in recent times. In short, this is an example how social interest can be somehow upgraded, demonstrating that it pays to invest in smaller, developmental projects that, in the long run, provide a better offer and contribute to an improved perception of space and architecture.
Perhaps this is the very element of motivation on the national, local and personal levels that – despite the crisis – could lead us a few steps forward: How can we make a city more acceptable, more pleasant, with small interventions within the existing spatial infrastructure? Not only a city, of course, but a whole country or landscape, thus generating a great deal of responsibility from a small scale project.