The (Un)Realized Parliament

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In the newly formed country after the end of World War II, the Federalist People's Republic of Yugoslavia, some of Slovenia's public and administrative offices were housed in existing buildings in Ljubljana's city centre. Parliament sessions took place in Kazina building, which clearly expressed the need for a new People's Assembly building. On 23 January 1947, Ferdo Kozak, the president of the assembly, met with the architect Jože Plečnik to talk on the subject of »building the Slovenian parliament.«* The event was followed by an extensive correspondence, held today by the Manuscript Collection of the National and University Library and the Plečnik Collection.

Plečnik originally proposed the location on top of the Castle Hill, where he intended to place a large octagonal structure and connect it by way of a monumental stairway with the entrance to the Magistrat building. Meanwhile however, the government set a new location in park Tivoli, at the location of the then fairground area. On 1 May 1974, it launched an invitation for the submission of ideas for the construction of People's Assembly building, and received 18 proposals. Some of the most important Slovenian and Yugoslav architects took part in the competition, among them I. Spinčič, T. Bokal, P. Göstl, F. Bitenc, B. Kocmut, O. Gaspari, M. Zupančič, D. Derkovič, E. Ravnikar, N. Bežek, V. Antolić, R. Masarović, J. Neidhardt, and others.   

The council of experts in charge of assessment and evaluation of drafts proposals, which included the architect Vinko Glanz, the author of the later realized proposal for the parliament building, did not award the first prize. Two equivalent second prizes were awarded to Edvard Ravnikar and associates and Jurij Neidhardt, and the third prize went to Vlado Antolić.* The majority of proposals dealt solely with the architectural solution of the building itself and with its immediate surroundings. Of all the architects taking part in the competition, it was only Ravnikar who saw in it the opportunity to tackle the wider problem of country's new administrative centre in which the People's Assembly building would form a coherent whole with People's Assembly Presidium building, a culture park in the so-called nunnery garden or next to the Cekin Castle, Government Presidency building, Central Committee of Communist Party of Slovenia palace along Ljubljana's main thoroughfare and the cultural institutions in this area of the city.*

Criticizing the proposals for new People's Assembly building, Dušan Grabrijan, the rapporteur for the council of experts, warned that in such an important assignment, one should not imitate foreign role models (Pantheon, Washington Capital, etc.) or resort to provincial or classicist solutions inspired by small German states (Weimar, Hannover, etc.), but that instead, a creative solution adapted to local circumstances should be sought.*

A few months later, the Presidency of the People's Assembly decided to assign the task to five selected architects: Jože Plečnik, Edvard Ravnikar, Vinko Glanz, Nikolaj Bežek and Marko Zupančič. In his reply letter to Kozak, Plečnik is full of gratitude: »If taken seriously, this task would be far beyond the powers of my old age! The young generation is maturing – let them mature all the way up! I think the time chosen to produce new, final designs for the new parliament, is a very good time.«* And yet, urged by Ferdo Kozak »…'hors concours', or outside of competition*«, he sent in a draft design for a monumental Slovenian parliament which was a derivation of some of his religious ideas from the pre-war time and which he symbolically named the Cathedral of Freedom. Later on, he also had a wooden 1 : 100 scale model made.

The results of this competition remain a mystery; what happened on the subject of People's Assembly between 1947 and 1954 is not known. Was Glanz engaged for this issue because he was, as an architect, a member of the executive committee and was also in charge of renovation of many other projects concerning state protocol buildings, or was it the result of his taking part in the 1947 competition?*

As Plečnik's student, the functionalist-oriented architect Vinko Glanz maintained a living bond with his teacher's creative credo, hence his sense for the monumentality of architectural address and pathos reflected in the outer appearance of the Palace of the People's Assembly and its sculpture-adorned entrance portal (Zdenko Kalin and Karel Putrih), in the classical design of its interior and in each of its individual architectural elements.*

Built in 1958, the representative and monumental Palace of the People's Assembly symbolized the power of political authorities of the time, while at the same time reflecting the modernist spirit present in the architectural language of its exterior. It was in this building that in 1991, following the nation's decision at the all-Slovenian referendum, the first independent Slovenian state was voted through. Since then, the state has built no further building that would symbolize individual aspects of state activities or its highest representatives.

Perhaps this is why the question whether Plečnik's »Cathedral of Freedom«, despite the fascination and different artistic re-interpretations and questionings of state symbols, belongs to the realm of utopia, remains just as relevant today.

MAO collection holds some of Glanz's drawings for assembly hall seats and benches, several drawings of the portal, a few unfinished floor plan designs made as ozalid prints and a design for the southern facade of the assembly building drawn on a transparent paper. Also presented at the exhibition are photographs of the assembly building by Janez Kališnik and Marko Turk's microphone, all held by MAO, a club chair and table (National Museum of Slovenia), archival footage by RTV Slovenia (Slovenia's national broadcasting organization), correspondence between Ferdo Kozak and Jože Plečnik (National University Library) and the documents concerning Jože Plečnik's unrealized design for the Slovenian parliament.

We would hereby like to thank institutions and individuals for loaned material, to Mr. Lojze Gostiša for allowing the use of portrait photographs of Jože Plečnik and Vinko Glanz taken on Brioni islands, as well as to Milan Kambič for his color photographs of parliament interior showing the architect's symbolic use of stone cladding, flooring and other details made of materials from Slovene quarries.