Recapture Joze Plecnik!

Two pages of column capitals designed by architect Joze Plecnik.

Two pages of column capitals designed by architect Joze Plecnik.

Hats off to Angelo Gueli*, who photographed and sent to TradArch a pair fascinating pages from a book he has acquired of the work of Slovenian architect Joze Plecnik (1872-1957). He is a favorite of Andrès Duany and a candidate for “recapture” from the modernists, who consider him less an architect in his own right than a “precursor” to modernism.

Precursor to modernism? How so? Although there is much in the above set of column capitals to suggest that he was not bound tightly to the classical canon, neither is there anything to suggest that he rejects it, that he would have liked anything the modernists whipped up, and certainly not in any way that declares classicism an illegitimate world view through which to imagine a built environment that satisfies human needs and desires.

I did a post on Plecnik a while back. He deserves more attention than I have given him, and I take pleasure from every TradArch post that brings his work before my eyes.

Plecnik is certainly wandering out in the wilderness of architectural discourse, a fit target for recapture and relabeling as a classicist. Plecnik and other architects, such as Louis Sullivan, were knocked upside the head and rebranded as modernists once they could do nothing to protect themselves. Their spirits live in a nether world of dubious reputation, beloved by those who worship beauty but hard to find. They are pinned and catalogued by those who know nothing about what architecture is really about. This sinister rebranding by modernists does an injustice not only to the late architects and their work but to their potential fans, not to mention the rest of us in a world already thrown into confusion by modernism and its ability, cult-like, to transform abject failure into a kind of pop stardom. No wonder architecture “makes our head hurt,” to quote Tom Wolfe’s famous line in his slender 1981 book From Bauhaus to Our House.

Here is that excellent passage:

But after 1945 our plutocrats, bureaucrats, board chairmen, CEOs, commissioners, and college presidents undergo an inexplicable change. They become diffident and reticent. All at once they are willing to accept that glass of ice water in the face, that bracing slap across the mouth, that reprimand for the fat on one’s bourgeois soul, known as modern architecture.

And why? They can’t tell you. They look up at the barefaced buildings they have bought, those great hulking structures they hate so thoroughly, and they can’t figure it out themselves. It makes their heads hurt.

Sad but true. I have no doubt whatever that Plecnik, were he allowed to stop spinning wildly in his grave, would agree. He is an elixir, and, if successfully recaptured, will live on as an antidote.

* I accidentally attributed this initally to Joel Pidel, who was responding to the shots from Angelo.

 

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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2 Responses to Recapture Joze Plecnik!

  1. Plecnik! Just returned from Ljubljana Slovenia…where he rebuilt the city center into one of the most wonderful walking urban centers in the world! I’ll send you pics! The progressive mayor there now has banned all cars (except for delivery vehicles until 10 am)…(and a quiet golf-cart-like bus is available free to ferry around seniors and tired shoppers for free)…Plecnik should be required reading for all architects and planners…he creates a wonderful modern mash-up of the classical tradition that really works – most people are fooled not realizing important sections of this capital city, the bridges, the central market square…are a mere 75 years old! Pics to come…Plecnik knew how to build cities with soul…something most places lack…something architectural education rarely deigns to consider! (how weird is that!)
    best
    ann
    annsmail4@gmail.com

    Like

  2. westfall2 says:

    When Slovenia gained its independent status as a nation they issued a postage stamp with Plecnik’s unbuilt design for a national capitol building. His work in Prague Castle for that shortlived democratic state in the 1920s is wonderful, a superb modernization of the classical to serve a modern (not modernist, i.e.., not totalitarian) state.

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