February 1997

Boris Podrecca is undoubtedly the most recognized Slovene architect of recent years. This is due not only to his work in Austria, Germany, Italy and elsewhere which has been mentioned in a wide range of international professional literature, but also to his pedagogic work. He has been a host professor in Lausanne, Paris, Venice, Philadelphia, London and at Harvard in Boston, and has been the head of the architecture department in Stuttgart for many years.
Despite the fact that he has spent most of his life outside Slovenia, he has never denied his roots. As a student, he organised the first exhibition of the works of Jože Plečnik in Vienna in 1967, and has repeatedly highlighted the significance of this great Slovene master architect. In addition, Plečnik's exhibition at the Pompidou centre in Paris, which contributed to his international recognition, was largely due to Podrecca's personal connections and endeavours. In the early '80s, Podrecca was once again the connection through which links with Vienna and the rest of Europe were established. We should also not omit to mention a number of young Slovene architecture students who are currently gaining experience at his studio in Vienna.
Like Fabiani and Plečnik, who once regarded Ljubljana from the perspective of Vienna, the Slovene capital has always been present in Podrecca's work. Although he has only had the opportunity to design small architectural works in Ljubljana, such as the DESSA gallery and the Platana Bar and Bistro (both in 1989), he was always especially interested in the
fundamental problems of organising the Ljubljana city centre.
His graduation thesis in 1968 dealt with the planning and layout of the area which is today Trg Republike. The invitation to the international competition for the design of the hotel at Južni trg in 1989 provided him with an opportunity to express his ideas. The site was a very sensitive one in the city centre and has occupied the attentions of many important Slovene architects, including Jože Plečnik and Edvard Ravnikar. In addition to Slovene architects, a number of prominent architects from Italy, Austria and Germany took part in the competition. Podrecca's project was awarded the first prize, but was not implemented due to subsequent political changes. The city found a new location for the hotel on the site of the former Šumi factory, and Podrecca was again invited to elaborate one of the proposals. This plan was again much praised by professional critics, but unfortunately it too was not carried out. The competition for the multimedia centre is already Podrecca's third proposal in a story that has been running for seven years at two locations and with two programmes. Once again, Podrecca's plan won the competition and, according to the committee, it "...represents the best and most mature solution to the task and was therefore unanimously awarded the first prize."
What the three projects have in common is the concept of making interventions which would bring the feel of a large city to Ljubljana. The city urgently needs new public places which would give it the hallmark of a capital.
The Ljubljana castle, which due to known circumstances almost completely lost its symbolic meaning in the public consciousness, has the role of the urban dominant in all three of his proposals. The first project for the hotel at Južni trg is a high, glazed ellipsoid facing the castle. The second project for the Šumi hotel catches the eye of passers by on the main street, and creates new perspectives towards the castle hill. The third project involves the Multiplex centre and a business centre - Šumi - and, apart from this prospect, also introduces a multi-level city area which rises up, by means of a ramp, in a vertical multimedia street. To Podrecca, the cinema is not a collection of dark auditoriums, but a city development programme which attracts visitors to the centre. Life in American cities which lack a true town centre is concentrated in the artificial environment of the suburban shopping malls, but in Europe there is no real motive for this. New phenomena need to be carefully added to the existing town centre in order to thus enrich it.
Architecture is not an exact science where quality can be measured by numbers. However, it is always possible to distinguish a good plan from a bad one, to employ a better means of urban intervention rather than a mediocre one. The difference is neither in the price nor in the material but in the basic concept which could bring a new quality to the city. Ljubljana has already found a good example of this in Plečnik's work. The question is whether today the city has enough creative power to make this project a reality.