A Story About Plečnik’s Ljubljana

Architecture is like music frozen in time but looking both ahead and behind. An architect has to design for the present, with an awareness of the past and for a future which is essentially unknown. There are precious few architects whose work feels eternal. Jože Plečnik (1872–1957) is one of them.

When some 15% of Ljubljana was leveled in a devastating earthquake in 1895, it was Plečnik who was entrusted with the rebuilding of most of the important public spaces and buildings in the following decades. Those visitors to Ljubljana with a keen aesthetic eye inevitably fall in love with the architecture of the city’s genius loci.

Plečnik was a Modernist mystic, living and working in the context of Modernism, but drawing upon an array of influences, from ancient Egyptian and Etruscan architecture to his contemporary Secessionism, all laced with his own unique perspectives. In just one of his designs, the sluice gate to the Ljubljanica River, the keen-eyed art historian can spot visual references to ancient Egypt, Etruria, Athens, Rome, Mannerist and Baroque styles.

He “designed” himself, too. He was an unusual gentleman, an ascetic (he favored cold baths and “coffee” made of barley), dressing like a Tibetan monk, refusing to marry (as he was “wed” to architecture, as he said) and consciously choosing not to work in the spotlight of a metropolis, but instead to return to his native Ljubljana, when it was something of a cultural backwater, and try to transform it into a city worthy of the name.

There are architects who joined major movements, and there are a few lone geniuses who created their own style at the highest level. And only a few cities in the world that may be so clearly associated with a single architect. Welcome to Plečnik’s Ljubljana!

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