Universum Plečnik

Between Workshop and Myth
Grad Fužine, Pot na Fužine 2, 01000 Ljubljana Map
Mon–Sun 8 am–6 pm

In 1921, after decades of working abroad, Jože Plečnik returned to his home city of Ljubljana. Already a famous architect with an international career he took a position as professor at the newly founded university, and together with his students and supporters embarked on building a unique architectural, artistic, and ethical world, one that over the decades evolved into a one-of-a-kind architectural phenomenon. Plečnik’s school was organised as a workshop run by the master, who led with absolute authority and dedication to the vocation. From the very inception of the school his students swayed between loyalty to the master and defiance of his archaic authority. By the time he died in 1957, Plečnik had created a body of work that ranks among the most distinctive architectural oeuvres of the 20th century and which defies categorisation into any of the established architectural styles. Further, he educated several generations of architects who went on to shape the distinctive modernism of the Ljubljana School in the second half of the 20th century.

After his death, both the profession and society in general lost interest in Plečnik’s work, but from the 1970s onwards this began to change. Over the last half century Plečnik’s oeuvre has received ongoing attention from both Slovenian and foreign researchers, and we have witnessed him evolve into a cultural and touristic icon. Each new social situation thus gets to pick its own Plečnik: a harbinger of young Yugoslavian art, a provincial epigone, an archaic designer of eternal architecture, a modern classicist, the first postmodernist, a pioneer of urban renewal, a radical destroyer, and a designer of public space with outstanding universal value. In 2021, we saw selected works from Plečnik’s oeuvre inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List; he is recognised as one of the most acclaimed 20th-century architects and has become a national myth as well as a commodified icon.

Occasionally, intense interest in Plečnik’s unconventional personality has overshadowed both his work and the many people who helped him shape his alternative vision of human-centred public space. Looking at some of the approaches that the architect used in his work and discussing the complex relationship between the teacher and his students the exhibition at the Museum of Architecture and Design reflects on Plečnik’s extensive legacy and on certain topics that have not yet received much attention. With limited means, Plečnik reinterpreted the remains of the past and combined them into new, comprehensive units, gradually building the Slovenian capital into what we recognise today as the possibility of a different, more sustainable, and humane city. Archival plans, models, sketches, and photographs reveal Plečnik’s legacy of communal and public spaces as the complex and comprehensive vision of a connected world. In the fragmented and privatised world of the 21st century we need, now more than ever before, the lessons derived from the work of Jože Plečnik and his collaborators as well as a critical reinvention of the myths surrounding his personality and our understanding of his legacy.