New look at star architect Plečnik

Triple Bridge and produce market in Ljubljana.
The Triple Bridge and Market in Ljubljana, two of Plečnik's most famous creations. Photo: Nebojše Tejić/STA

Architect Jože Plečnik (1872-1957) transformed Ljubljana in the first half of the 20th century with buildings that are now among the capital’s main sights and has become a near mythological figure in Slovenian architecture. His overarching philosophy has, however, often remained in the background outside academic circles. A new exhibition at the Museum of Architecture and Design in Ljubljana aims to change that.

Plečnik has variously been described as a harbinger of young Yugoslavian art, an archaic designer of eternal architecture, a modern classicist, the first postmodernist, a pioneer of urban renewal, a radical destroyer, and a designer of public space with outstanding universal value.

Most importantly, Plečnik reinterpreted the remains of the past and combined them into new, comprehensive units. By doing that, he gradually built the Slovenian capital into what it is recognised today as the possibility of a different, more sustainable, and humane city.

Archival plans, models, sketches, and photographs reveal Plečnik’s legacy of communal and public spaces as a complex and comprehensive vision of a connected world.

“In the fragmented and privatised world of the 21st century we need, now more than ever, the lessons derived from the work of Jože Plečnik and his collaborators as well as a critical reinvention of the myths surrounding his personality and our understanding of his legacy,” the museum said.

The show also delves into Plečnik’s complex and often fraught relationship with his students, many of whom would go on to become major architects in their own right.

The Plečnik’s school was organised as a workshop run by the master, who led with absolute authority and dedication to the profession. From its inception his students swayed between loyalty to the master and defiance of his archaic authority.

The exhibition is the final major event marking Jože Plečnik year on the 150th anniversary of his birth.