|7. 1. 2005
Rape being treated as a public Spectacle
Richard M. Andrews, Warwick, U. K.
|To the Mayor and Citizens of Ljubljana:
It is an unusual event in a civilized world to find an impending rape being treated as a large public spectacle, but that is the scene that now confronts those who chance to visit the ‘jewel’ of the Alpine-Adriatic region, until now one of the most intact examples of Secessionist planning in Europe, the Slovene capital of Ljubljana.
Why have property values soared in Ljubljana in the last few years (probably the only real reason behind the Kolizej scheme)? It is because people have come to like and value Ljubljana as a ‘human’ city, which, except for the onslaught of undisciplined parking (something that, with the political will to do it, could be solved at a stroke) matches cities with mediaeval beginnings such as Edinburgh or Bruges for visual pleasure and pedestrian scale of urban fabric, truly fulfilling the Architects’ ‘dictat’ of ‘Commodity, Firmness, and Delight’. This fact has been recognised by all who visit, or arrive to work here, and was early in the last century reinforced by the far-sighted guardians of reconstruction following the earthquake, such as Plecnik, Fabiani. Vurnik,and Subic.
Ljubljana is a city close to my heart, since I first discovered the treasures of Plecnik some twenty five years ago, as it still retains its human scale, and has managed, unlike many of similar size in western Europe (courtesy of a period of restrictive control -and lack of money- for the 50 year period of Yugoslav rule) avoided most of the insensitive commercial redevelopments of the 1960’ and 70’s that destroyed the character of many such smaller cities with recognisable Mediaeval roots throughout Europe..
The prospective ‘interference’ with - nay even ‘abuse’ of - the subtle fabric of the city, on such an important central site, represented by the KOLIZEJ scheme, beggars belief. The reasons why this redevelopment would count as a rape of the city are multiple, and it is amazing that the city authorities have even allowed this scheme to be promoted to the extent that now seems evident, the developers obviously working on the basis of a battle of attrition, with the people of Ljubljana in the firing line.
The planning reasons against the proposal are obvious:
The scheme destroys a significant part of Ljubljana’s built heritage in the interests of merely gaining extra floor space for offices (the argument to satisfy the banks);
Who will use these offices, when there are at least two other more appropriate major office developments under consideration near the centre? (the railway station site, and Masarykova Boulevard, both far more justified in location, helping regenerate run-down areas) Has the government already done a deal behind closed doors, to move Ministries, creating even more empty older buildings, presumably for further redevelopment?
How will workers get to these offices? While there may be provision of parking under the site what about the traffic generation at peak hours? Ljubljana is already choked by traffic at such times and this ‘employment centre’ will make matters far worse.
Surely my memory does not fail me when I recall that the City Authorities themselves have, not two years since, set down in the new Planning Document that the existing fabric of central Ljubljana should be protected in the interests of preserving the character of the city? Surely the most complete and intact surviving work of Benedict Withalm falls into the category of contributions to this important character that should be protected and preserved? Otherwise, why do we pay our planners to write guidance, which the authorities then ignore?
Or is this to be another Canary Wharf Tower (London Docks)? A scheme where the banks caught a cold after funding a monster, which never gained the income needed to service the loans. But then banks don’t mind – they just put up the charges to their savers and small investors.
This brings me to the architectural argument: There have been, in the past, several attempts to add ‘modern’ contributions to the fabric of the city, or ‘make a mark’ on Ljubljana’s skyline. There is Plecnik’s NUK, a truly modern building, but with the sense of scale and character that meant it immediately ‘fitted’ its allotted location, and has become a revered element in the city’s matrix of styles. There is the NEBOTIČNIK ‘skyscraper’ that still managed to complement its surroundings by its detail and sense of appropriate scale in relation to surrounding buildings, and again was successfully ‘knitted’ into the growing fabric of a human scale town. The latest struggle to reach the sky has of course been Ravnikar’s towers surveying the Republika square, which, although a little short on money and height, also originally had an appropriate relationship with their ‘new’ public square (now sadly relegated to car parking) providing ‘focal points’ to act as identifying and locational markers for the administrative focus of the city. Even the new Holiday Inn paid homage to its context by leaving the view of the castle free of obstruction from Gosposvetska cesta.
What of Kolizej? Not only does this proposal break all the rules of good town planning and urban design in relation to the city’s form, it is also a poor example of current architectural expression, merely being a series of fancy ‘joke’ façades, on a box of floor space. If we are to have new ‘modern ‘ (and hopefully sustainable) architecture then surely there are examples of more appropriate form and architectural integrity that could be followed. Unlike the quality of Frank Gerhy’s Guggenheim museum in Bilbao which contributes to the regeneration of a derelict part of that city, some distance from the centre, and in itself is an icon for the reconstruction of former shipyards, or even the Piano & Rogers Centre Pompidou (again regenerating a run-down area of Paris, and creating a new public square in the process) the site of the Kolizej is an integral part of the centre of Ljubljana, and if this existing part of Ljubljana’s architectural heritage is to be torn down in the interests of ‘progress’ then let there be progress, not merely a pastiche of funfair architecture that contributes neither appropriate form nor contextural enhancement to a city of delight. Destruction of old but venerable fabric, such as is the Kolizej of Benedict Withalm, deserves either an architectural replacement of greater sensitivity and merit, or to be restored as the fine example of sensitive urban architecture that it was originally.
In sadness for insensitivity.
Richard M. Andrews
11 Cape Road
Warwickshire CV34 4JP