Plecnik's Pad

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by fizzytom on June 20, 2011

Although Ljubljana has a handful of moderately interesting museums, I usually find that I can pass my day or afternoon in the capital quite easily just strolling around the compact city centre and never feel the need to be constantly looking for something new to see. However, the more I explore the city, the more I’ve come to appreciate just how much of the way the city looks is down to one man – Joze Plecnik. There are the obvious sights such as the central market and the triple bridge, then the lesser known but still accessible Krizanke, a former monastery and now home to the Ljubljana Festival, and the stunning library of the university and then the less well known sights such as the now crumbling old national stadium or the magnificent cemetery at Zale; this workaholic architect did, perhaps, more than any other person to establish a "national identity" at the time when Slovenia most needed it. I wanted to know more about Plecnik and there’s no better place than at the museum located in the late architect’s home in the Trnovo district of Ljubljana.

Plecnik was born in Ljubljana in 1872. As a young man he trained first as a furniture maker in Graz.then went to study architecture in Vienna, creating a number of important buildings there between 1900 and 1910. In 1911 he went to Prague and was appointed chief architect of the castle.

Slovenia did not become an independent country in her own right until 1991. Before that the country was either absorbed by other countries or else a part of a federation of countries. At the time when Plecnik was building his successful career, the question of how to establish a "Slovenian" identity was foremost in the minds of politicians and intellectuals. Plecnik made his contribution through architecture; I’ve travelled a fair bit in this part of the world and Ljubljana does have its own very distinctive appearance; there is much in common with other cities of the Austro-Hungarian empire but there is, at the same time, much that sets it apart.

Plecnik didn’t just work in Slovenia; outside of the country his most famous work is probably the reworking of sections of Prague Castle. He was proud of this work but, for understandable reasons, Czech architects were not particularly enamoured with the foreigner who came to their country and snapped up one of the plum commissions. Other work outside Slovenia includes churches and other buildings in Belgrade and Zagreb,

Back in Slovenia he was made a professor at the university in 1921 and still took on as many commissions as he could although he had, to some extent, fallen out of favour, partly because his work was out of fashion and partly because his political and religious views were at odds with the regime after World War Two. During the tour of the house the guide emphasised this point which I found odd because I find it hard to reconcile his acceptance of the commission for Krizanke if he was so religious: the Communists removed the monks from the monastery and appointed Plecnik to redesign the complex.

In Ljubljana his work was about town planning as much as individual buildings but sadly many of his ideas were not realised. He was, perhaps, ahead of the game with his aim to make the city as pleasant as possible for pedestrians.

The house is easy to find and is situated just ten minutes walk from the Triple Bridge in the centre of the city. Walk along the river with the pink Franciscan church behind you and the river on your left and cross the road at the Shoemaker’s Bridge. Walk past a couple of bars and shops and when the square opens up turn left just past the inlet running off the river. Keep going and you’ll find the museum just past the top of the square beside the grey church with its twin spires.

Only one staff member at a time works in the museum and the front door is locked when tours are going on. Tours tend to start around five past the hour so turn up just before the hour to get a place. If you arrive early and the previous tour has finished, you can (weather permitting) wait in the garden and you’ll be called when the tour is about to start.

The complex comprises three dwellings and Plecnik resided in the middle one. It’s not the largest of the three and the intention was originally for Plecnik to live in the house with his brothers and sisters but, as we learned from our guide, Plecnik’s difficult personality made him hard to live with and, apart from a brief spell when his pianist brother lived with him, Plecnik lived alone in the house until his death in 1957. The other two houses were occupied by the housekeeper, and the gardener and his family respectively. Only the house that Plecnik lived in can be seen on the tour.

The house is very small. Even with a limited knowledge of Plecnik it soon became apparent that Joze lived a very spartan life, devoting himself to his work and to God. The tiny rooms have been cleverly designed to incorporate hidden storage that doesn’t spoil the line of the two circular main rooms in particular. Even the picture frames were designed and made by Plecnik and the same simple graceful styles are a recurring theme in his work. As well as the furniture and the small number of personal items that belonged to Plecnik, there are also models of some of his work, both jobs realised and some that never came to fruition. There’s an excellent one that shows how Prague Castle would now look had Plecnik’s designs been used in their entirety.

The two rooms I liked best were the conservatory and a "winter garden", for want of a better description. At the back of the house over looking the garden the conservatory shape echoes the round rooms above it on the first and second floors and it contains a number of interesting items, mostly ecclesiastical pieces but also a collection of smaller pieces salvaged from building sites where his designs were being executed. Plecnik was a great believer in recycling things and architectural features such as pillars are instantly recognisable both in the structure and decorative aspects of the house. He was also keen on nature and the conservatory and winter garden contain vines and other heat loving plants while the exterior of the round section of the house is covered in wild vines.

The long garden comprises a packed vegetable patch, flower beds and a section of lawn. There are benches under a shady wall on one side and opposite, under a low wall are further architectural relics from Plecnik projects. We sat in the garden while we waited for our tour to start and you are welcome to spend as much time as you like in the garden once your tour has finished.

We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the house and came away knowing a lot more about Joze Plecnik and his work. Our guide, Caterina, was not Slovenian, possibly Spanish or from somewhere in South America and although her English was not perfect she was a terrific guide, full of knowledge and enthusiasm for her subject. I thought she was really intuitive in talking about those items she spotted the visitors appeared most interested in and this, and the way she was able to answer unscripted questions, showed what a good guide she was.
If you have a special interest in architecture I would recommend a visit to the Plecnik house: the man was pivotal in creating the Ljubljana we see today and his contribution cannot be underestimated. Other museums in the capital are OK but none really connect with the city in the way this one does.

At €6 per person for a tour that lasts less than an hour this is quite expensive for Ljubljana but it is excellent value as an experience and it is good to know that profits are continually being ploughed back into restoring and maintaining the building which is a costly undertaking.

I wouldn’t say it’s a must visit for everyone and it would probably not be something you'd do on a first visit to Ljubljana but I'd recommend it if you visit a second time and want to know more about the visual history of the city,

Plecnik House/Architectural Museum Ljubljana
4–6 Karun Street
Ljubljana, Slovenia, 1000
386 01 280 16 00

© LP 2000-2009