Edvard Ravnikar’s local filter | Jelena Prokopljević

Edvard Ravnikar
Edvard Ravnikar

Edvard Ravnikar (1907 Novo Mesto – 1993 Ljubljana) is considered, after Plečnik, though only in the temporary scale, the most important architect of Slovenia. Ljubljana is of Ravnikar, so much or more than of Plečnik, though not always it is recognized. Together with Edo Mihevc he was the founder of the new school of architecture of the socialist Slovenia or Yugoslavian Slovenia who gave step to the current Slovenia. We speak about a country of small scale, compact though not homogeneous, between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea and, for extension, Mediterranean, with a rational identification with the Mitteleuropa -Austria and Chequia on everything- and other one, sentimental, with the south. Thanks to the succession Plečnik-Ravnikar, the Slovene architecture obtained a transition to the coherent modernity, consistent with his tradition and without typical breaks of the countries of the East where the change of the political system or drafts inside the same system they were dictating changes of architectural representation.

The new Yugoslavia that revived of the Second world war reunified under the socialist sign, followed, in the first stage, the architecture of the socialist, national realism in the form and Socialist in the content. The first years of the postwar period were a time of the frantic search for a national form in each of the constituent republics. At the same time there was a search for an architectural representation of the condition plurinacional, concentrated in the big projects for Belgrade, the capital. But, before it had economic aptitude to construct to grane scale, Yugoslavia broke the relations with the USSR in 1948 and before that the rest of the socialist countries began the process of desestalinización. This process had his architectural great reflection more powerful than the first one. His first collaborations with his teacher in the national Library and a brief step along the Le Corbusier´s office in 1939, would mark Ravnikar’s aptitude to do of bridge between the politically certain and seemingly contradictory narratives.

His first great individual project, the Gallery of the Modern Art of Ljubljana, projected between 1936 and 1939, but ended already in the socialism, in 1951, it followed Plečnik’s education. The impact of the direct learning Le Corbusier was revealed firstly in two urban development offers of the first years of the postwar period: in 1947 Ravnikar the center projected of New Belgrade (or I centre of future great Belgrade) on a base of radiant city with the “city” completely dedicated to the functions of administration and state direction. In his offer for the skyscraper of the Central Committee of the Communist party (for which it gained one of the second prizes in the contest without winner) there remained incrusted the famous skyscraper of Algeria, project in which it had been employed at Paris. Another city that was not realized according to his project of 1948 was Nova Goriza, the first socialist Slovene city placed in front of the Old woman Goriza that the new tracing of borders left in capitalist Italy. Again Le Corbusier considered the urbanism of ideal vehicle, not only for an ideal functioning of the city, but also as a representative tool to express the modernity of the new political system.

Memorial Kampor, isla de Rab. Planta | Kampor, Rab. Maqueta
Kampor Memorial, Rab Island. Ground floor | Kampor, Rab. Model

The first city realized of Ravnikar was a necropolis: the cemetery and brief to the victims of the concentration camp of the Italian fascists in Kampor, Rab’s island in the current Croatia. The work was inaugurated in 1953, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the liberation of the prisoners. In the epoch of the still in force socialist realism and his figurative rhetoric in monumental topics and briefs, Ravnikar proposed an archaic necropolis, with plant of the functional city organized about the central avenue with rows of blocks of stone that mark the tombs. The necropolis is closed by opaque wall perimetral that limits the step but the sight constructed of local stone placed like in the traditional houses of Dalmatia.

The enclosure is organized in the shape of tour, of a promenade architecturelle, beginning for the foyer of stone, with two seemingly Doric columns of half a height and a cylindrical urn. The brief does not belong to any religion, to any nation either: in a poetical act, the urn gathers the land of places of origin of the dead men who could identify. It is a monument to suffering, even more because the hurries of the inauguration forced to use the hard labor of the political prisoners of the nearby island Goli Otok, Yugoslavian Gulag for the Stalinists that, after 1948 they were questioning the leadership of Titus.

It does not also have an area – only only vertical two of stone to mark the territory. The way, in fact the rain central channel, it passes between the tombs, which also form the terraces of the area, descending and breaking. Towards the end there is the small museum that initially was containing the macabre relics of the field: the whip and the chains. More than museum it is a crypt, which repeats the form of the crypt of the Church of Sacred Heart of Plečnik’s Prague. Also it uses the joists of stone that stand out of the cover in the style of the dalmatian cathedrals (especially, that of Sibenik of the mythical Juraj Dalmatinac).

At the end of the tour there is nothing: opening in the wall to see the sea. Kampor is a mixture of references of Plečnik, Terragni, Le Corbusier, of the classic ones and of the architecture and local crafts, a modern and archaic monument conceived from the proximity and the sensations, as the best way of explaining the historical local complexities.

Museo o cripta exterior | Museo interior
Museum amd exterior crypt | interior Museum

In 1960 Ravnikar it gained the contest for the new political center of Ljubljana, the Plaza of the Revolution – today Plaza of the Republic – which construction extended during more than 20 years, supposing important changes in the design. It is a question of the biggest square of the city and, certainly, of the symbol of the new Ljubljana. With the national parliament in the north end, the square consists of two vertical powerful ones that do of portal and several low volumes of offices, mall, institute and cultural center and of congresses Cankarjev Dom.

Initially, both towers of triangular plant, which at the end of the construction only came at a height of 12 plants, were going to be the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Slovene Communist party and the Cabinet of the Republic. They ended up by being the anonymous ones TR2 and TR3, administrative headquarters of the electronic company Iskra and of the Bank of Ljubljana. The towers mark and delimit on the one hand the square of the parliament – square of socio-political rituals and, for other one, the urban square with the contents, tours and links. The excess of socialist planning did that the square of the parliament in few occasions was stopping being used as parking.

Conscious of being marking the profile of the city, Ravnikar thinks the Plaza and his contents, from the proximity, from the pedestrian perspective and from the sights that they open and cover towards the square or towards his neighboring neighborhoods. Since in Rab’s island, the materials and the textures are his local filter: both towers have end of plates of stone fixed with screws that remember Wagnerian details, as well as the rusty green copper of the exagerate technical plants (that mark the structural core and suplementan the lost height), they bring over to the Central European context. The ground floor – the income to the towers and other centers – was treated as a very varied way: one insisted on the plurality of forms, materials, differences and tours, to create an urban landscape, before that a central square. Cankarjev Dom, the cultural center and of congresses, placed in the south part of the square and ended in 1983, it connected in the underground plant to all the elements of the set.

The longest process of execution absorbed and reflected the different problems and changes of the socialist Yugoslavia: the decentralization and the summit of the technocracy, the prosperity of the 70s and the later economic crisis. Ravnikar understood the continuous modifications imposed as report of a process proyectual opened, incorporating elements of his later projects and foreign influences: brick of the residential complex Ferantov Vrt or of the hotel Creina de Kranj; concrete brut of Le Corbusier, prefabricated units – structural and not structural – that in the 70s had a great protagonism in the Yugoslavian architecture; appeased metal-worker as in the mall Globus de Kranj (that of fact was the first front of steel cut in Yugoslavia); appeased of stones and big surfaces of glass, already typical of the socialist modernism.

The form and details of the cultural center Cankarjev Dom often has related to the center Alvar Aalto’s Finland. This center puts the final point to the square, to his construction and his almost metabolic organization: four rooms with the whole machinery forced it to bury them not to increase the volumetry on the square and it made connect the different contents and tours in the basement, together with the enormous hall of Cankarjev Dom’s entry.

In 1939, after being employed with Plecnik at the national library, Ravnikar went away to the office of Le Corbusier´s office in whom his first teacher did not have any confidence. One wanted to restate Plečnik’s local classicism that had printed it on Ljubljana not as own forms, but as projection that better was sitting him. It returned thinking that important contradiction did not exist between the best modernism and the essence of the classicism. In 1957 he spoke on his teacher in such a way that also it refers to his own work:

“Plečnik was dominating to the perfection the expression in architecture. The expression that means part of the life inscribed in the material of construction. Maybe this particularity is the most inaccessible characteristic of the architecture namely, that the trace of the hand humanizes in the constructive material is one of the most intimate recollections that goes directly to the intelligence. It is possible to read fluently centuries later, even if it was created in another side of the world. And the anonymity only makes it more powerful.”

Jelena Prokopljevic. PhD Architect
Barcelona. May 2014

Images without indication are by: Aleš Vodopivec y Rok Žnidaršič: Edvard Ravnikar Architect and Teacher, Springer Wien-New York, 2010, Wolfgang Thaler y Node Urban Design 

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