The timeless, humanistic architecture of Jože Plečnik
Permanent Delegation of Slovenia to UNESCO
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party
Church of St. Michael / Cerkev sv. Mihaela: 46 00 44N, 14 30 22E
Promenade along the Embankments and Bridges of the Ljubljanica River / Promenada ob nabrežjih in mostovi reke Ljubljanice: 46 02 54N, 14 30 22E
Green promenade: Vegova Street with the National and University Library from French Revolution Square to Congress Square and Star Park / Zelena promenada: Vegova ulica z Narodno in univerzitetno knjižnico od Trga Francoske revolucije do Kongresnega trga in parka Zvezda: 46 02 51N, 14 30 13E
Trnovo Bridge / Trnovski most: 46 02 36N, 14 30 08E
Roman Walls in Mirje / Rimski zid na Mirju 46 02 44N, 14 29 54E
Žale Cemetery - Garden of All Saints / Pokopališče Žale - Vrt vseh svetih, 46 04 03N, 14 31 43E
With the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire a host of new states emerged in Europe. Certain tendencies in new national architectural styles that ran parallel to the prevailing modernist style thus gained momentum. Between the 1920s and 1940s the city of Ljubljana underwent considerable changes in architecture, landscape planning and design under the decided influence and direction of architect Jože Plečnik - changes that were clearly out of step with the dominant currents of the day. In approaching his vision of the city the architect was confronted with an existing urban fabric that had developed from antiquity up to the late 19th century under the influence of Camilo Sitte and Maks Fabiani. In so doing Plečnik managed, with countless innovative gestures, to upgrade the city in a way that reinforced its best qualities. In the process he reinterpreted celebrated architectures of the past, which resulted in unique architecture and planning solutions. In his native Ljubljana, where he spent nearly two decades on comprehensive planning, he devised and proposed myriad landscape solutions, bridges, squares, parks and other public spaces.
The Ljubljanica River was, together with Green promenade, transformed into one of Ljubljana's central urban motifs. Different buildings and spaces were interconnected through a network of architectural elements into a unified whole. His comprehensive and painstaking approach only emphasised the original characteristics of the space. The component parts (designed public space, secular and religious public buildings) of the nominated property are full of rich symbolism that can still be recognised and understood today. They embody characteristics of a perennial architecture (Architectura Perennis) that upgrades and reinterprets the space, and at the same time re-contextualizes its traditional functions and finds new uses in overlooked urban potentials. The component parts have been chosen as those examples that best express the influence of various styles and eras. Plečnik employed traditional artisanal know-how, re-use, and an innovative use of new materials in his constructions, and his interventions grew out of profound reflections on the city and the sustainable use of such. All of the architectural monuments, public spaces and structures supplementing the urban fabric that are the subject of this nomination are still in their original use; and Ljubljana still continues to develop on the basis of this concept.
The nominated property represents a perennial and timeless architecture that offers universal solutions to pressing issues that span generations. In the 1950s it was admired for its pronounced monumentality achieved using only simple means. The postmodernism of the 1970s discovered its use of free compositions and classical architectural elements as the basis for creating architecture and public spaces of human scale and intelligible, accessible forms. And the crisis in contemporary urban planning sparked the discovery of it as a humanistic public space well attuned to its context, together with its ability to reflect the value of landscape planning in the city.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
Ljubljana is a remarkable example of a town distinctly redesigned in the twenty years between the two wars according to the vision of a single architect. Many ideas of his were born in Prague and transferred to Ljubljana, where the architect worked to establish a modern, humanistic society with specific architectural works and landscape interventions.
The thematically-rich property consists of two main component parts — river and land axis — that represent a heritage of international importance. The cultural value of the selected component parts lies in their absolute sense of harmonious form, syntax and rhythm, with intentional reference to the style principally derived from the classical architecture forms. With an emphasis on context, sustainability and often a minimum of construction costs the properties anticipate the concept of sustainable development and respect for the environment.
The well-considered concept of each component part of the property testifies to the exceptional humanism embodied in the innovative landscaping of public spaces, public buildings and churches. The component parts represent different types of buildings and urban landscape. All of them are designed in an entirely innovative way that surpasses the usual limits of the particular component type. Bridges are conceived as public squares, the church is a manifestation of liturgical innovation and symbolic starting point of promenades, the library is designed as a temple of wisdom, and the funerary complex is created as a garden of mourning chapels in different styles.
The outstanding universal value is marked by the impression of timelessness carrying symbolic messages for all walks of society, and thus represents a universal architecture and landscape design that offers solutions to contemporary challenges. The selected properties expresses a universal symbolic language that appeals to all people, regardless of their cultural sensibilities, education or time in which they live. This effect was achieved by the creative use of basic architectural elements such as pillars, arches, obelisks and pyramids freely, without strict adherence to the stylistic dictates of the past. As regards building materials the technology used in processing the materials employed stresses their particular characteristics. Materials, architectural elements and much of the whole objects themselves were systematically reused with a conscientious sense for the prevailing values of the time. Whenever possible, future users participated in the construction process, because the relevance and larger, far-reaching quality of the result was of absolute importance to the architect. These humanistic and sustainable approaches were unique in the early 20th century.
Criterion (i): The nominated property represents an example of human creative genius. Architect Jože Plečnik established his own architectural language, which is evidenced in his unique and complex approach to architecture and landscape design, and in his unique approach to classical forms and his ability to re-conceptualise them. The selected component parts testify to an inclusive intervention into an existing urban context and serve to set certain guidelines for sustainable development that are still valid to this day. They represent an original and responsible creative style, one that did not follow the largely modernist trends, laws and dictates driving the architectural currents of the time.
Criterion (iv): The property represents a unique synthesis of local cultural traditions and universal architectural heritage that transcends the genius loci and time in which it was created. The urban landscape, the public buildings and the church are comprehensive masterpieces, not only in their concept, function and interior design, but also in their finer details. Ordered, composed greenery was introduced into architectural and landscape schemes as an equal compositional element. Component parts include transcultural symbols that enable the user to develop an emotional connection to the buildings and to the spaces. This particularly applies to the interiors. The staircase and the reading room of the National and University Library, as well as the interior of the church of St. Michael are one of the finest examples of this approach.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
Plečnik's architecture is subject to the highest protection based on the state decree declaring the work of architect Jože Plečnik in Ljubljana a cultural monument of national importance. Both the content and original functions of the component parts are authentic. Following the original concept, they have undergone only minor adjustments arising from the demands of contemporary life. The continuity of use, traditions and urban pulse only enhance their cultural significance. The surroundings in which they stand have in some cases changed owing to the decay and degradation of vegetation and similar. The process of conserving the component parts is currently on-going in order to preserve their originally-planned form and character. All interventions are subject to agreement between the owners and the Institute for the Protection of the Cultural Heritage of Slovenia. Due to the necessary renovation work designed to improve energy efficiency, most interventions have been maintenance-related, but have not caused any material, design or emotional/spiritual degradation. The well-preserved character of these perennial architectures and humanistic public spaces that are sensitively attuned to their contexts testifies to the original authenticity of the initial concept of Ljubljana's urban landscape.
Comparison with other similar properties
The component parts represented in this nominated property represent an extraordinary contribution at the moment modern architecture was emerging, albeit with significant differences and drawing on different principles. It is impossible to classify Plečnik's architecture in terms of a single defined style, as it finds its inspiration in universal architectural heritage. In the history of architecture, changes in style were usually triggered by major social changes. But unlike his contemporaries, Plečnik did not experiment with the new forms of the international style; instead he preferred to reinterpret time-tested architectural principles, greenery and preserved built heritage. He succeeded in carving out his own personal style, one that always paid particular heed to the history of architecture, symbolism and ethics.
Very rarely does a single architect plan and design a city over the course of decades, as is the case with Ljubljana. Such cases are far more typical of the Renaissance, or in the reconstruction process of cities destroyed by war or a sweeping natural disaster. But this represents the first time in history that an architect planned an established, constructed city in such a comprehensive manner. There are no similar examples of designing and planning a city centre in such a short period of time, and according to the vision and implementation of but a single architect, over the some two decades that span the 1920s and the 1940s. Jože Plečnik's urban planning and design of the centre of Ljubljana and its outskirts share much in common with his planning of the Hradčany district in Prague. In both Ljubljana and in Prague, new urban designs were created with a pronounced respect for the existing older architecture and were connected into a single whole with broader symbolic meaning. A comprehensive understanding of architecture as an environment for quality life is also demonstrated in his designs of public spaces and roads, including the bridges in Ljubljana — this at a time when the creative concept of Gesamtkunstwerk was undergoing a transformation towards increased specialization in both architectural design and urban planning. In Ljubljana we can observe one of Plečnik's typical, integral approaches to urban landscape design at work: his ability to recognise the city's main identity points, introducing new elements into it, and connecting architectural markers to create a decidedly urban whole.