Photo: Damjan Gale

The thirtieth anniversary of the Piran Days of Architecture and the twentieth anniversary of the Piranesi magazine.

Undoubtedly these are two milestone jubilees. We had the honour of celebrating the younger one in June this year with an exhibition at the Ljubljana Opera House. It was an exhibition marking twenty years of publication of the first Central European magazine devoted to the culture of space. We are now awaiting the new Piran Days of Architecture, the annual architectural meeting in Piran, where different architectural points of view are presented through lectures and discussions as well as exhibitions, of which the primary position is most definitely taken by the exhibition for the Piranesi Award. The Award, whose jury is composed of the lecturers, has gained more and more significance recently. Of course, neither the Piran meetings nor the Piranesi Award or the Piranesi magazine would ever have existed if it had not been for Vojteh Ravnikar, the initiator, the main organiser and the charismatic personality behind all of these activities. Unfortunately, he has no longer been with us two years now. However, in a way his mission is still present, amongst us and in Piran.

At least in its initial phase, the Piran Days of Architecture was a ground-breaking event, aimed at bringing world architecture closer to Slovenian architecture and, still at that time, the broader Yugoslavian space. However, the opposite was also true: it served as a venue for presenting Slovenian architectural thought and projects to the European space. The situation was different in those times: there was no information, or it was very scarce, whereas now we live in a time when information is abundant, new architecture “leaps out” of every magazine and it is no longer important what it looks like, as long as it is likeable and memorable for a few moments; when we are overwhelmed by the information from the internet and it is hard to decide whether, in this multitude of pretty images, something is convincing in its quality, not only in its beauty; when there is too much of everything and when we wish for less, and when we long for some thorough reflection. No doubt the Piran Days of Architecture is quite the opposite of everything mentioned above. The inflow of new images was just right for our brains to be able to process them and take an active stand towards them, to analyse them, to discuss them. When Sverre Fehn arrived in Piran in 1989 and showed us his work, he broadened our horizons and at the same time filled our heads. His approach towards architecture was so different for us, and yet so close that we have spent years contemplating his ideas. Of course, a number of renowned architects and theoreticians, as well as less known architects, have been presented during the course of the years, some of whom only gained wider acclaim later on in their lives. Among them was Peter Zumthor. In 1991, his reflection on the mission of architecture completely enraptured us, especially when he spoke about the time he spends pondering and working on the initial stage – the basic idea which gives character to the whole project later on.

That is why the core of this year’s autumn issue is devoted to Piran. The articles of some of the participating architects present different points of view on the importance and history of the Piran Days of Architecture, with an overview of last year’s Piranesi Awards. There is an interview with architects Stefan and Bernhard Marte and a presentation of their winning project – the Alfenz bridge in Vorarlberg in Austria. Also included is a presentation of the award winning renovation project for the tower in the Arzenale in Venice, by two younger Italian architects Magnani Pelzel, as well as two student works that received a special student prize.

The second section of the Piranesi magazine features the project on the cover, in this case the Wotruba church in Vienna, a piece of architecture that literary stems from the sculptural concept of the sculptor Fritz Wotruba. The sculptor’s expressive demarcation of the interior and exterior space was transferred into reality after the sculptor’s death by architect Fritz Mayr. This is a project worth visiting during your next trip to Vienna. The topic is further expanded by reflection on, and an overview of, the idea of the sacred and of the sacred space, through the presentation of Peter Zumthor’s Brother Klaus Chapel in Germany. This is a place which is quite different from Wotruba’s church, and yet so very special with its story about positioning in the landscape, about creation and passing…

Contemporary architecture in Slovenia is represented by three projects, including the newly built Orthodox Church Centre next to the Orthodox church in Ljubljana. The centre has a contemporary design, and is both in harmony and in contrast with the traditionally conceived architecture of the Orthodox Church. The second project is KSEVT (the Cultural Centre of European Technologies) in Vitanje, which in a way is in a similar relationship to its surroundings as the Orthodox Church Centre. The rural area is the landing site of the geostationary satellite, in memory of Herman Potočnik Noordung, one of the conceptual fathers of space voyages. The third project, however, is different, as it deals with the context of positioning a multipurpose building in the centre of a small Slovenian town: how to use local knowledge and wood as a natural material, and how to create a design with a gable roof which is unobtrusive, on the one hand, and recognisable, on the other – something that the AU architects have certainly managed to achieve.

Along with contemporary Slovenian architecture there is a presentation of Slovenian design, with chairs designed by Rok Kuhar and Katjuša Krajnc. The architecture of neighbouring countries is presented through the renovation project for the Benedictine monastery and church in Pannonhalme in Hungary, by architect John Pawson, whose work has already been presented in the Piranesi magazine: in 2006, with the project of the monastery in the Czech Republic. A Slovenian-Croatian architectural duo has conceived the new pavilion in front of the Kotor city wall in Monte Negro, while Czech architects have undertaken a revitalisation project for the bastion on the city wall in Vyšehrad.

To return to the beginning: I believe that this year the thirtieth Piran Days of Architecture will be just as interesting as all of the previous years have been, even though there is always a certain amount of improvising and last-minute problem solving. On the other hand, Piran with its Mediterranean autumn charm has never let us down…