Plečnik’s Ljubljana

The urban-planning phenomenon

Tu pride flash
Plečnik's arrival in Ljubljana in 1920 inaugurated the third significant period of his career. He was now 50, at the peak of his mature powers and approaching the most fertile period of his life. The decision to settle permanently in Ljubljana gave direction to the rest of his life and led to his greatest achievement. Very few artists have the chance to design large urban areas, much less an entire city. Plečnik was fortunate in that. Critics have referred to Plečnik's inventiveness, originality and personal style and described Ljubljana as the city that bears "the artistic stamp of one master, signed by the artist."
Peter Krečič, the director of Ljubljana Architectural Museum and author of several monographs on Plečnik has described Plečnik's urban planning work in Ljubljana as "a world urban-planning phenomenon".

In Ljubljana Plečnik had two chief aims: to found a Slovenian architectural school, and to make Ljubljana into a Slovenian Athens and a worthy capital of the nation.
He succeeded in both aims beyond expectations.
He was appointed Head of the Technical School in Ljubljana. A pedagogue at heart, he was able to satisfy his need to teach to the full. His development as architect is linked to his development as teacher, and even today continues its pedagogical mission. The Ljubljana School of Architecture has produced many architects of note.

He also succeeded in creating a beautiful, livable capital city for Slovenes. One cannot fully understand Plečnik and particularly his mature work, without his Slovenian background, which played a major role in his development as architect. His search for historical forms also meant searching for traditions within his Slovenian culture. His architectural mission in "making Ljubljana a worthy capital of Slovenia" was an essential part of Plečnik and the foundation for his urban planning work.

Ljubljana is the city where the synthesis between the North (German) and the South (Roman) is most originally expressed. Plečnik's nostalgia for Ljubljana after his discovery of Karstian art and architecture deepened. The study of local architecture drew him closer to the baroque tradition. He was attracted to 18th century, a period when artistic influence of Venice was the key to central Slovenia. The fascinating accumulation of influences and layers, as well as the Byzantine architecture of Yugoslavia became the sources of his inspitration.

The first major project that inaugurated Plečnik's plans for Ljubljana, was the Church of St.Francis in Šiška (1925-1927). With this grandiose and astonishing building, the architect introduced into Ljubljana a new set of dimensions and a new standard of building on a grand scale. It amazed the city and created some resistance. It also started the most extraordinary and fertile period of creativity and realization of plans. It was the beginning of the "urban planning phenomenon" that is Plečnik's Ljubljana.

From 1920 onwards, while occupied with work on the Prague Castle, Plečnik designed and built a staggering number of building projects both within and outside Ljubljana, planned parks and beautiful city spaces. The work on Ljubljanica embankments was started in 1931 and completed with some interruptions in 1939, Tromostovje (The Three Bridges) berween 1930 and 1932.

An integral part of reconstruction was "green architecture", with weeping willows representing cupolas, poplars representing columns, hedges are walls, the fresh greenery enhancing and defining the gently curving waterway within its deepened riverbed and high embankments. Plečnik gave the river a series of features, enhancing its function as an essential artery of city life: through bridges, which give access and character, through the development of the Tržnica (market) along its bank, and the wonderful Tromostovje (The Three Bridges) in the very heart of the city.

Plečnik's plans for the National and University Library were completed by 1931. The work began only in 1936 due to wrangling with Belgrade about finances. Completed just before the beginning of World War II, it is the central project of Plečnik's opus in Slovenia, and reputedly one of the finest achievements of his artistic maturity. It is conceived symbolically as a temple of knowledge. Its long colonnaded entryway portrays the journey from the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge.

Except for periods of serious disruption and even terror, Plečnik continued working during the war, designing and planning everything from monumental plans, such as Ljubljana Castle to smallest details, building onto his enormous opus of realized and unrealized projects.

Plečnik's legacy is a city centre shaped with pavements, copses, statues, columns and a number of unique buildings, embankments parks and riverscapes. The National and University Library, Plečnik's Market, The Three Bridges, have lent character, distinction and beauty to the city centre.
Among the many buildings and areas designed and built by Plečnik in Ljubljana are: The Chamber of Commerce, Craft and Industry (1925-1927), Ljubljana Stadium (1925-1935), Mutual Assurance Building ((1928-1930), Križanke (1941), Congress Square (1927-1941), Tivoli Park (1929-1934), Baraga Seminary (1938-1941), Ursuline Gymnasium (1939-1941).

At the centre of Ljubljana is the Tromostovje, connecting the old city and the new, its living heartbeat. The whole areas along the river Ljubljanica embankment, the city squares, the bridges, the Tivoli Park and the streets leading outwards were gradually restored and embellished with new pavements, single trees and plantations, columns, lamps, monuments, bridges and embankments, gradually creating wonderful living and strolling spaces.

Plečnik was interested in creating social and sociable spaces, spaces for the people, such as churches and markets, and to make them pleasant as well as aesthetically pleasing. It is a strong part of Slovenian culture to honour their departed and make their final resting place beautiful with memorial stones and flowers. Plečnik created the beautiful Garden of all Saints, which became known as Žale (the place of mourning). It is a serene and beautiful place, consisting of administrative premises, two storeyed and colonnaded, the composition divided by the ceremonial portal in the centre. In the axis of the portal is the platform for the speaker, to the left and right are the 14 chapels, apparently random, in a variety of architectural styles, from prehistoric tumuli, classical temples and Serbian medieval architecture to entirely modern. The hedge of high shrubs and other ornamental plants create a living, rich, ceremonial ambience. The place for final parting in his view had to be a ceremonial, almost ritual space, a place of consolation and Christian hope rather than sorrow and despair "a classical garden, a garden with emancipated, absolute architecture". (Krečič)

Plečnik wanted to retain the historically multi-layered Ljubljana with its Roman, Medieval and Baroque periods and planned accordingly. He restored the past and added his own creations, imbuing the cityscape with his own perception of pleasant city living.

The present-day Ljubljana gives expression to what is alive, enduring and beautiful, blending the traditional forms and the new; the stone sculptures and the living trees; the bridges and the flowing river; the many-layered past and the modern present - a historicist's perception of time and history, combined with the organic perception of architecture and art as expressed in building.

My thanks to Dr. Peter Krečič, the Director of the Architectural Museum of Ljubljana for advice, contribution towards preparation of the Plečnik articles, and the permission to use the photographic material in his publications.


Krečič, Peter, Jože Plečnik, DZS, Ljubljana, 1992
Krečič, Peter, Jože Plečnik - Branje oblik, DZS, Ljubljana,1997
Krečič, Peter, Plečnik's Ljubljana, CZ, Ljubljana,1991
Burkhardt, F, C Eveno, and B Podrecca, eds.: Jože Plečnik, Architect: 1872-1957, MIT Press, 1989
Slovene Studies, Journal of the Society for Slovene Studies, No.2, 1996