Boris Podrecca: Creative dialogues of a world-renowned master of architecture of Slovenian origin

Published: 30.3.2021

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Boris Podrecca: Creative dialogues of a world-renowned master of architecture of Slovenian origin

When Boris Podrecca wants to get to know the space he "observes it thoroughly and searches a dialogue to see what this particular space needs. He doesn’t impose his aesthetics as a net on a city or a town, instead, he lets them speak with him. This creates an intimate, almost erotic relation."

Boris Podrecca: Creative dialogues of a world-renowned master of architecture of Slovenian origin

Boris Podrecca, internationally recognized as the most successful architect of Slovenian origin, has more than one homeland. Born in Belgrade, he spent his childhood in Trieste and later on established himself as the world-renowned architect in Vienna, where he runs his studio. From his early ages, he has been exposed to a number of languages: Slovene, Serbo-Croat, Italian and German. “No matter where I’ve moved in my life, I’ve always been considered a foreigner”, says Podrecca. And just like himself, his architecture translates polyphony of life at the crossroads of European cultures. In the heart of Europe, between the Mediterranean, the Alps, the Pannonian plains and the Karst lies Slovenia, where he designed a number of town squares: in Piran, Idrija and Maribor. Although he is seen as the pioneer of postmodern era, his architecture surpasses narrow stylistic frameworks: his work always reflects the characteristics of a certain landscape, city or space. One can admire his intimate dialogue with public spaces in eight European countries, but his work in general echoes all around the world. Podrecca received a great number of international awards and spread the voice of Slovenian architecture around the globe with international masterpieces, such as Millennium Tower in Vienna, The International Gallery of Modern Art Ca' Pesaro in Venice, the world’s biggest porcelain museum in Limoges and Complesso parrocchiale Pentecoste in Milano. He also impressed the public with the Slovenian pavilion at World Expo 2010 in Shanghai. More than three million visitors came to see it and it also received the Gold Award for Creative Display (interior design). Another important piece of his work is the Jože Plečnik exhibition in Paris. This makes him the author of the two key presentations of Slovenia in the world in terms of architecture.

Master of intimate dialogue with town squares around Europe

“When I want to get to know the space in which I am about to design, I observe it thoroughly and search a dialogue to see what this particular space needs. I don’t impose my aesthetics as a net on a city or a town, instead, I let them speak with me. This creates an intimate, almost erotic relation.” Podrecca is known to be a master of transforming once forgotten squares into clean and central public spaces. He has created more than 30 layouts in eight countries, and as one of the first architects of his generation devoted himself to landscape planning and designing.

Piran: You never forget your first love

Podrecca Architect, Tartini Square, Piran, Photo: Jaka Jeraša

Tartini Square in Piran is the first square designed by Podrecca. This brought him world fame. A few years ago, he got awarded in Beijing for the best contextual urbanistic work. In his studio, he recently welcomed the delegation from Dusseldorf – the city of fashion and best-known Art Academy in Germany. They visited his squares in North Italy, Austria and also in Piran. The latter inspired them the most. They asked him to make a replica for the one in Dusseldorf. Since each of his squares is unique, creating a replica was not an option, but they agreed that he designs another exceptional custom square for Dusseldorf.

Idrija: a square that reminds of a pregnant woman

Podrecca Architect, Town Square, Idrija, Photo: Miran Kambič

In Idrija, the Slovenian mining town with mercury heritage and lacemaking tradition, that gained a global recognition and features on the UNESCO World Heritage List, Podrecca renewed the Town Square (Mestni Trg). Being a levelled square, it was one of the most difficult ones to reorganize. “The square has many levels and the aim was to minimalize the feeling that it’s leaning. The square flows downwards, with one cascade of water bringing a refreshment to the town. This is gaining on importance today, as cities are becoming warmer. It is a phase square, where different phases follow each other, from organic nature and green environment to the green ellipses. A part of the square, surrounded with stone pilasters, gives the feeling of an urban park, where older people who like to observe the surroundings without being too exposed, can sit. The square has all the elements of natural and urban, as well as the bridging staircase connecting different levels of the square and the park that functions as a path into the green.” The square renewal offered another unforeseen solution: “While reconstructing the square, an old chapel was found beneath, which was changed into an exhibition room of lacemaking tradition. This is why this square reminds me of a woman that carries a baby inside.”

Maribor: Podrecca's acropolis as the heart of the city

Podrecca Architect, Faculty of Medicine, Maribor, Photo: Miran Kambič

While the centre of Ljubljana is known as Plečnik’s Ljubljana, who is considered one of the greatest architects in the 20th century in Europe, Podrecca has left his mark in Maribor, the capital of Styria. “Professors in Maribor said: Ljubljana has Plečnik, Maribor will have Podrecca. So, I started renovating the university building.” Thus, one of the halls in the remarkably renovated building of University of Maribor is named after him and he was also given the title of the honorary doctor there. Podrecca also designed the Faculty of Medicine, the state-of-the-art building along the Drava river, and was asked to redesign the Slomškov Trg square, which he sees as a real city acropolis, surrounded by the university, the theatre, the post, the library and in the centre with the Franciscan Church. »But this acropolis has a patch of grass and some trees in the middle, where people walk their dogs. Hence, they had a hard time accepting that this green area could be transformed into a classic piazza, so the construction stopped. Now we are again in the middle of discussions to continue with the project. This is important for Maribor, as the city would get its own acropolis. There are some smaller squares all around, a bit here and there, but you know what they say: a person without a heart is not a person, and the city without a main square is not a healthy city. Every city needs one monocentric element.

Three notable Slovenians that rank high in the Central European architecture

Podrecca Architect, Millennium Tower, Vienna, Photo: Monica Nikolic

Podrecca's father, coastal Slovenian, met his mother from the Herzegovinian family of bans Jelačić in Belgrade, where he worked as attaché at the court of king Aleksander I. Karadžordžević. Although Boris Podrecca has not lived in Slovenia as a grown-up, his childhood memories remind him of Ljubljana. After the World War II ended and his father was arrested in Belgrade and deported to the Osnabrück concentration camp in Germany, he escaped to Ljubljana with his mother. What impressed him the most at that time were frog-shaped garbage cans in the Tivoli Park and white pillars designed by the renowned Jože Plečnik. “Jože Plečnik and Maks Fabiani were the first to design in Art Nouveau style. Fabiani built two outstanding palaces: Portois & Fix in Artaria in the late 19th century in Vienna. He had done this even before Otto Wagner, who is referred to as the father of the modern movement. Another important architectural piece of work in Vienna is definitely Plečnik’s Zacherl Palace, the most remarkable building of that time”, says Podrecca. “When I saw their works for the first time as a student in Vienna, I was blown away. They are incredible, not only in terms of technology, but also in terms of space and materials used. I consider Plečnik and Fabiani to be the giants of the architectural creations, but as an author of the first skyscraper in Vienna by the Danube, I feel that I have also significantly contributed to the general development of the architecture here. I feel that someone should write a book about us.”

The Karst of the bold Fabiani, who does not know sentimentality

Podrecca Architect, Austria Campus, Vienna, Photo: Miran Kambič

Maks Fabiani was born in the Karst, the landscape that gave name to the karst phenomena all around the world. The Karst spreads from Postojna in Slovenia to Trieste in Italy, where Boris Podrecca comes from. Podrecca adores Maks Fabiani: “He was versatile at his work, ahead of a time and a mastermind. When he received the honoured doctorate in Vienna as a senior, he stood up and surprised everyone with his speech. He said that young Vienna architects should not be sentimental and think historically, but they should build skyscrapers in the city. Some of his best works can be found in Vienna. In Slovenia, he wonderfully constructed the Ferrari Garden in Štanjel.” For Podrecca, Jože Plečnik, who was born in Ljubljana, is also a Karstic compatriot, as Karst terrain covers almost half of the country’s surface in Slovenia and does not only refer to the main Karst region.

The crown of Plečnik's Ljubljana: a metaphor of the Karst landscape

Podrecca Architect, Vila Urbana, Ljubljana, Photo: Miran Kambič

Plečnik impressed Podrecca the most, this is why he presented him for the first time to the international audience in Vienna and later also at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The Almost half a million people visited the exhibition. “For me, Plečnik’s National and University Library (NUK) in Ljubljana is the crown, not just of the city, but of Slovenian architectural works. Always when I look at it, I discover something new. This building is nothing else but a Karst land, raised up in the vertical. Its facade is a metaphor of a landscape with the Karstic stone, scattered around the library building as naturally as in the Slovenian Karst. For me, this shell is the most important piece of the Slovenian architecture. But it is not only about the shell: the whole building is an amazing spatial idea. You enter the building through vertical stairway with a dark grey colonnade, yet you already see the light coming from the big hall.” Plečnik designed the passage from the dark stairway to the illuminated reading room as a passage from the darkness of ignorance to the light of the knowledge.

Podrecca, working in Plečnik Ljubljana

It was not only Plečnik who saw the charm and opportunities of Ljubljana. Podrecca agrees: “Ljubljana has a big advantage over Vienna, the capital of Austria, where I live. In one hour from Ljubljana, you can travel to the coast of the Adriatic Sea or to Pohorje Hills. This way you can swim in the sea in the summer or ski in the mountains and return back in the evening. From Vienna I have to drive six hours to reach the coast, it takes longer to get to Trieste or Venice. From the cultural-geographic perspective Ljubljana is one of the best cities to live in.”

Podrecca Architect, Hotel Mons, Ljubljana, Photo: Jošt Gantar, Hotel Mons Archive

Podrecca created the first design hotel in Slovenia in Ljubljana – Mons Hotel (Four Points by Sheraton). “I was looking for the most beautiful tree that exists in Slovenia, and I found it there. It is about the context, which is almosta a love dialogue between architecture and nature.” Podrecca senses a special poetic when designing hotels: “It’s nice to design hotels. They need to be designed in a way that when you enter, you get the feeling that you are going to find that one person, you have been waiting for your whole life. A hotel needs to suggest some hypothetical meeting with someone.” His residential housing portfolio is also very interesting. His concept for Vila Urbana in Ljubljana is very special. Facade of both residential buildings is not finished, instead the clients can, by collaborating with the architect, choose different elements for their apartment, like French windows, balcony, loggia or bow windows. “This is a tailor-made apartment. The final customer needs to participate in the process.”

Podrecca Architect, Pipistrel, Ajdovščina, Photo: Miran Kambič

Four big names of Slovenian culture in life of Boris Podrecca

Podrecca admits that his work was greatly influenced by Slovenian culture and art. Four Slovenian artists in particular left a major impact on his life: painters Avgust Černigoj and Zoran Mušič, writer Marjan Rožanc and architect Edvard Ravnikar. As a young boy, he was introduced to the world of the art by painter Avgust Černigoj, a professor and one of the most important representatives of Slovenian Modernism in Trieste. They worked on his first exhibition together. Podrecca’s connection to Slovenia was also through the cultural and political magazine Most (The Bridge), published in Trieste. He was in charge of its publication in Vienna. At that time, Slovenian writer Marjan Rožanc greatly contributed to the magazine and he introduced Podrecca to the culture of Ljubljana. Discussions with architect Edvard Ravnikar meant a lot to him as well, his role in putting together the exhibition about Plečnik in Vienna was crucial. Last but not least, there was also painter Zoran Mušič, the only Slovenian that made it to the elite art circles of the 20th century in Italy and France, especially Paris, where he lived. “He was a good friend of mine. In Venice we lived in the apartments on the same axis of the Zaterre canal. Today, when I go to my apartment I always stop in front of the lobby of the palace where he lived. There’s still a doorbell with his name there. To me this is like a going to the altar.”

Podrecca Architect, Complesso parrocchiale Pentecoste, Milano, Photo: Cecilia Castelletti

Also today, Podrecca remains actively engaged in architecture and bursts with intellect and visions of the future. Only in Ljubljana, a number of his creations is being constructed, among others also the City Tower Ljubljana skyscraper that will form part of the northern city gate to the centre of Ljubljana and Šumi, a modern commercial and residential complex. It is definitely worth visiting some of his creations in Slovenia. Try to talk to them, the same way he does.

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