Edvard Ravnikar: Republic Square (former Revolution Square), Ljubljana Photo: Robert Potokar

Edvard Ravnikar: Republic Square (former Revolution Square), Ljubljana
Photo: Robert Potokar

Modernism is always topical. Even in the beginning of the 21st century, we can look back with joy and pleasure to the golden years of Modernism that marked several generations in the broader space of our former common state. It did take a long time, however, for Yugoslav Modernism to lose its very own socialist label, which was called communist in the West, as in the period of Cold War, when they could not see the differences between the countries behind the Iron Curtain. Yet there were differences, at least in Yugoslavia, the part that wanted to work in the strict communist Eastern Bloc system, and at the same time tried to let a certain level of freedom and different views into the system, into the society and eventually also into the architecture. We could even say that, in the 1960s, a kind of rebirth of practically everything began: the borders were opening and, at least in Yugoslavia, we could feel things shifting for the better and the focus to the brighter future, not only in terms of political slogans. It was in this atmosphere that Yugoslav architecture was forged and now its major achievements are being presented at an acclaimed exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. The exhibition entitled Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980, was organised by curator Martino Stierli. Together with Vladimir Kulič and colleagues, they shed a completely different light on Yugoslav Modernist architecture, which gave this architecture a previously undiscovered visibility and outreach, so that the visitors have begun to wonder where such high-quality architecture of that period came from. Perhaps it was just a combination of lucky circumstances: very good architectural schools, the opening of the society, state investments…all of this contributed to the fact that these were the golden years of architecture in the former Yugoslavia. One of the main protagonists of that period (and of the exhibition) was the Slovene architect, Edvard Ravnikar who, at that time, was creating an almost unrepeatable, unique architecture for the current conditions. In addition to that, while he was teaching at the Ljubljana School of Architecture, he introduced the so-called B-course that produced a large number of architects who were active not only in the field of architecture but also in the field of design. In their origins and details, the Ferantov Vrt Residential and Commercial Complex and the complex of the Revolution Square are far ahead of the architecture that was constructed in the Eastern Bloc.

The New York exhibition covers the period until the beginning of the 1980s. Towards the end of this period, the architecture was created that we are presenting as the title topic in this issue of Piranesi magazine: the National University Library in Priština in Kosovo, the work of architect Andrija Mutnjaković. Architecture that developed from orthogonal Modernism that tries to introduce a new, let’s call it a space-like, approach to architecture, in which capsules with light domes are stacked into a building that could even be erected on the Moon. A kind of a lunar module that is a harbinger of new times. Architecture was so special and so particular then that it has never attracted vocal admirers. With Kosovo gaining independence, however, we hope that it will survive and that we will see acknowledgment of its importance and its subsequent renovation.

Yet another event needs to be mentioned: this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale is arguably one of the best in recent memory, as the curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara succeeded in attracting renowned, yet not highly visible, architectural offices to present their views on ‘free space’. The exhibition, and in particular certain pavilions, at the Arsenale and in the Giardini leaves an indelible mark on the visitor. And, above all, it leaves an impression that, in the multitude of bright and shiny new buildings and constructions around the world, there is still architecture that is reserved, environmentally friendly, and that can boast of its yet-undiscovered, albeit interesting architectural stories. The award for the pavilion-like set-up at Arsenale went to architect Eduardo Souti de Mora, for the renovation of a hacienda where, only after a more thorough observation, did we perceive interventions that were implemented during the renovation. This just goes to show that not everything is in the perfection of the architectural image and the external technological wrapper or the ‘wow effect’. One such pavilion is that of the Slovene architect, Maruša Zorec, who was also invited there by the curators. In her innovative and imaginative pavilion, she presents her attitude towards the open space through the layering of architectural memory, as the majority of her projects are subtle renovations. These facts are also corroborated by the Golden Lion Award for Life Work that was granted to architect, historian and critic Kenneth Frampton who, above all in his books and reflections, connects architecture with humanist philosophy.

In addition to the title theme, this issue of Piranesi also features the work by architect Janez Koželj, who was at first Edvard Ravnikar’s student, then his assistant, and later an excellent professor at the Ljubljana Faculty of Architecture. In the last eight years, however, Koželj has been tackling urban and architectural challenges, as well as developing the city’s visions, in his function as Deputy Mayor of the City Municipality in Ljubljana.

Within the scope of the presentation of the contemporary architectural production of Central European countries, in addition to awarded architectural works at the Piran Days of Architecture 2017 (the first of which is the chapel of architect Bernard Bader from Vorarlberg), Piranesi also endeavours to present works of architecture that are important for its intended use for the environment in which they are placed. One such work is a cheese dairy and shop called Kaslab´n, in Austria, where the architects succeeded in combining the technology, production process, local context, attitude towards environmental issues…and put all these together into a reserved yet convincing architecture.