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Invisible Houses – Republic Square

A pair of office towers rising above the bell tower of the Ursuline Church is probably the most distinctive element of the Republic Square complex in Ljubljana. This central national square is framed by a composition of buildings –of different design, dimensions and content– and interconnected open spaces, passages and underpasses. However, their appearance deviates in many ways from what was originally planned. Two much taller towers, 20 storeys above the platform, were intended to frame the Monument to the Revolution, which the authorities conceived as the central symbolic focus of the area.

The design of Republic Square is based on the conceptual urban layout of the new square, then called Revolution Square, proposed in 1960 by Edvard Ravnikar, the most prominent Slovenian architect of the second half of the 20th century, in the winning competition design. During the development of the original idea and in the specific circumstances of the 1960s, which led to the suspension of construction in 1962 and again in 1964, and even to a change of investors, the two towers were lowered, rotated, moved to the north-east and raised above the level of the main platform. The Monument to the Revolution in the axis between the two buildings, originally oriented with their sides facing each other, was relegated to the margin of the square, to the remaining trees of the former Nuns’ Garden, in which a symbol of a new society and a new era was being built.

Foto: Janez Kališnik, MAO Collection

Ravnikar’s winning solution included the monument itself, which was not the subject of the competition, and several other buildings arranged around the main platform and three smaller squares, linked with the largest one in a “spatial and visual union”. Between 1960 and 1962, several building variants were produced, related to the “select competition for the layout of Revolution Square”, completed in May 1961. It concerned the western tower block and was also won by Ravnikar. These plans, drawn up from 1961 by the Investment Institute for the Construction of Revolution Square (IZITR), which was set up especially for this project, vary both in the location and design of the buildings and in the position of the Monument to the Revolution. Despite the many variations in the layout, the essential elements of Ravnikar’s original design were retained until the start of construction in 1962, as well as after the change of investors and the subsequent changes to the original layout plan. In addition to the tower blocks above the platform, the green belt to the west and the monument, finally relegated to the periphery of the architectural composition, a horizontally stretched commercial building on the eastern side of the platform and an office building designed as an extension of the street block along Josipina Turnograjska Street were added. Some of the buildings were not built or the planned programmes were later accommodated in buildings added to the base of the towers. The partly built cinema in the southern part of the square was pragmatically incorporated into the later designed Cankarjev Dom Cultural and Congress Centre.

The winning competition design with code 26534 – a cut-out showing the new Revolution Square. Source: Historical Archives of Ljubljana

The architectural and urban qualities of the Republic Square complex were enhanced by the realisation of much lower and unevenly rising towers with asymmetrical tops and additions differing in form, dimensions and material, as well as by the additional articulation of the central open space. Today, because of its already recognised qualities and values, it is a listed monument of national importance. Recent research has shown that not only the square as a whole, but also the towers themselves should be considered among the most important architectural achievements in the country, since they are truly pioneering approaches in design of tall buildings, ensuring seismic safety and topological optimisation.

Ravnikar’s sketches. Archive of the Projective Office Ambient.

The presentation of Republic Square is part of the project Invisible Houses.

A longer article is available at the link HERE.

Text by Tina Potočnik, Ph.D., IPCHS (Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia)

Translation: Jerca Kos

Image Sources:

Figure 1: The photograph of Republic Square, author: Janez Kališnik, Collection of the Museum of Architecture and Design.

Figure 2: The winning competition design with code 26534 – a cut-out showing the new Revolution Square. Source: Historical Archives of Ljubljana, SI ZAL, LJU 173, IZITR, unit 37.01.

Figure 3: Ravnikar’s sketches. Archive of the Projective Office Ambient.

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