Emancipation of form
Profile:In the decade after his graduation from the Faculty of Architecture in Ljubljana in 1990, architect Jože Peterkoč (1962) was still highly influenced by prevailing architectural thought in Slovene leading architectural circles. However, the major breakthrough came for him at the end of 1999 when more personal poetics of space replaced the dogmas of the past.
At the beginning of the nineties the prevailing architectural climate in Slovenia was ruled by the generation of architects, the so called AB generation formed around architectural magazine AB, that firmly held the leading positions in academic circles and in decision-making processes for the past two decades. Their architectural premises were based on a return to Slovene late modernism of the sixties and their mentor architect Edvard Ravnikar, but highly marked with postmodern notions of the genius loci and the context. With the tradition of continuity the postmodernist traps of ‘mere decoration’ were avoided and created fertile grounds for rational architecture within the realm of the idea of ‘Critical Regionalism’. Much of the architecture that was then built and promoted was in line with high quality architecture of Central Europe. However, the beginning of the nineties that brought us the independent state also significantly shook the grounds of all other pre-existing relationships and notions within the architectural profession.
The relationships that were taken for granted for past 40 years of socialist regime were no longer in place. The ideal figure of a remote master architect that could be quietly engaged with the ‘higher goals’ of architecture where the government was the only client had to give way to other newly formed players in the investing business. The process of so called transition was slowly reflecting in architecture as a crisis but as well as an opportunity for other possibilities. A travelling exhibition titled ‘Moderate Optimism’ that was launched in 1997 could be seen as the last attempt to preserve the ideology of Critical Regionalism and the tectonic culture of Slovene architecture. It presented an up and coming group of architects that started their careers in those uncertain times, Jože Peterkoč being one of them. The exhibition was launched by the editor in chief of AB magazine (Arhitektov bilten), architect Miha Dešman. Perhaps it is its somehow moderately depressing title that is the most telling of the crisis that faced Slovene architecture at that time where architecture wasn’t quite able to grasp its new conditions. It reflected its crises of values and its role in a society marked with demands of new clients and a new market economy. The ‘Moderate Optimists’ then somehow reflected also the hope that everything that the previous generations strived for wasn’t yet completely dissolved, as their aesthetic firmly remained within the above mentioned paradigm of the tradition of continuity.
In reflection on how the work of presented architects developed in the past decade, it could be said that most of them were successful in keeping the aesthetic of the continuity of the modernist tradition. A few others managed to fully embrace the new freedom and departed in the search of a more personal expression which transcends the Central European point of reference.
Petrekoč’s work is clearly marked with the departure from the ‘Tradition of Continuity’ that is explicit in his early work of the extension of Administrative Building in Brežice. In his later works the ‘square and the right angle’ weren’t the only norms of his designs. The new type of clients, new programmes and the locations allowed for playfulness and the questioning of architectural form which was liberated from the straightjacket of the formality of the context. They became autonomous objects in space while within themselves questioning the relationships between different elements of their materialization.
The preference for the sculptural was already visible in the design of Mežica parking lot (2001) where the only executed part of it was an angled concrete rim delineating the parking lot from the rest of its surroundings thus forming the connector and divider at the same time. The appearance of pop elements in Multipa business building (2003) further indicates the liberation from inherited ideas of architecture as being somewhat fatal but without the loss of its social responsibilities in relation to the investor, the built space and the user of the building. The shift of his architectural expression also corresponds with a beginning of participation of a younger generation of architects who had no difficulties in embracing the new conditions in the production of space. They have also consciously chosen to be a part of the international architectural community but are at the same time inevitably marked with their own locality. What they share is a freshness of ideas and boldness of their forms. Not many of Peterkoč’s generation managed to make a successful leap forward. Architect Jože Petrekoč received several awards and his work was published in local and international architectural magazines.
‘MULTIPA’ business building, Jurčkova Street, Ljubljana - 2003After the fall of Yugoslavia and consequent Slovene independence, the change from a socialistic market to the free market economy influenced significant changes of built space in Slovenia. Foreign businessmen that weren’t previously allowed to participate in Yugoslavian markets at the beginning of nineties started slowly occupying the edges of Ljubljana conveniently placed close to the ring road. The connecting roads from the city centre to those dislocated shopping zones quickly gained developing speed. Jurčkova Street is one of them. It is running along the edge of Ljubljana marshes which is an area protected by Slovene natural heritage protection law. Before the Rudnik shopping zone was developed the area was a sleepy suburban settlement populated mainly by scattered single family houses. Due to the difficult construction soil of the marshlands there was not much pressure for construction. However in the past 15 years its appearance changed drastically. It became a typical suburban sprawl where mono-functionality became a thing of the past.
The reality of contemporary suburbia is a chaotic mixture of different functions in a discontinuous landscape of voids and densities. One of such voids in the developing suburbia was occupied by the Multipa business building. Its appearance talks about two different stories. Placed in the outskirts of the city it talks about the suburbia, designed as a car showroom talks about the story of cars. This might sounds like some surrealist manifesto where the ultimate beauty is achieved through an accidental meeting of ‘sowing machine and umbrella on the operating table’. However if the surrealists loved the juxtaposition of unparalleled entities, the entities in our story are far more connected and co-dependent than is visible at the first glance. In architecturally underdeveloped areas the new buildings are marking the space in a constant competition for our attention.
The Multipa building is not an exception. Its dynamic volume, homogeneously wrapped in dark metal profoundly dominates its neighbourhood. The building is furnished with ‘street aesthetics’ of yellow zebra crossing to mark the entrance of the building for pedestrians and a ramp that penetrates its body from the glazed front. These elements indicate its original function of the car showroom. The building is loud and seductive in its form as a Ferrari and at the same time simple and reliable in its details as in an old Beetle. ‘Street’ iconography of yellow zebra crossings, drive-in ramp and folds of the façade have replaced the more traditional architectural archetypes thus rendering the more conventional reading of the architectural form impossible. In the appearance of the building where the street iconography and architecture are inseparably intertwined, the symbol of the suburban is embodied, where the street, the car and mobility are the driving forces of development of the suburban landscape.
Multipa business building received the Trimo Award in 2003 and the Golden Pencil Award from the Slovenian Chamber of Architecture and Spatial Planning in 2005.
House on a hill of Orle, Ljubljana – 2005In contrast to generic architectural plans that were prevailing in the realm of private house construction in the seventies and were later replaced with some quasi native type of generic architecture of past decades we are now witnessing quite a number of high quality of architecture in the private sector that builds its premises on the specific and the particular. It is the individual which is making the desired variety of built space. The specifics are inscribed within the project either through the peculiarities of the landscape or the particularities of the clients desires where the mastery of the architect is exposed through balancing acts between desires, conditions and regulations.
The interesting shape of the private house on the hill of Orle in the vicinity of Ljubljana was actually a result of the client's desire not to have a garage but only a covered area for parking. Of course this simple request could be executed in many different ways; however the architect Jože Peterkoč decided that the covered parking is included within the house itself. Combined with the sloping site and urban planning regulations for Slovene rural areas with prescribed volumes and roof inclinations the volume of the house clearly became divided in two distinct parts. The top living areas and bottom service areas where the volume provided for parking is simply cut out from the main volume of the building are furthermore emphasized with different material treatment. Black fibre cement plates embrace the continuous skin of the top living areas with a delicate scale like pattern, while the bottom service area in its monolithic concrete cast appears as a strong support for the black top. The indentation of the volume for exterior parking provides a sloping wall in the living room. A new interior landscape of the living room, spanning from ground floor up to the master bedroom gallery in the attic, induces various new ways of inhabiting the house. The form of the black continuous envelope is further enhanced with slightly recessed side facades with wood cladding. In the past decade the paradigm of continuous envelopes in pitched roof houses became a world wide phenomenon in slight variations of used roofing/cladding materials. The reason for this might be twofold. On the one hand the idea of the pitched roof house as an architectural archetype is thus emphasized and on the other hand it clearly offers an escape route for architectural expression in highly regulated areas. In his design of the Orle house architect Jože Peterkoč added a necessary twist to the now well established paradigm.
‘White Crystals’ – Row houses, Jurčkova Street, Ljubljana - 2009Before the nineties the profession of a property developer was virtually nonexistent in Slovenia. Private houses were either mainly self-built according to some generic architectural plans, or housing blocks were built by the government and were distributed to people through government run companies where people worked (kadrovska stanovanja). After the change of the system from socialism to a free market economy the Slovene space opened it self up to intervention of various players and investors of various kinds. In turn this fact influenced the shape and the appearance of physical built space of Slovenia. For Row houses on Jurčkova Street the specifics of the investors actually became the form-giving element. The fact that houses were built as an investment rather then for immediate sale on the market might be indicative of their higher architectural standard.
The architect, Jože Peterkoč was no stranger to the location of Row houses in Jurčkova Street as he has already built Multipa business building on the north side of the street in 2003 which was also built as an investment to bring back profit through rent. The specifics of the Row Houses lie in the fact that they have three investors who are business partners and friends. Each of them wanted one house that would be rented out. On the other hand the urban plan for the south side of Jurčkova Street calls for a stripe of clear space running along the road for possible road extension with a tram line rendering half of the lot unavailable for construction. With those parameters the only buildable area is pushed further away from the road while the front became kind of a communal park and parking space. Consequently the construction plot actually became rather small.
The small size of land and the desire to still build three houses became the decisive factor in generating its hybrid typology. It could be classified as a hybrid between a detached house and a row house, being connected but still wanting to have a life of its own. This desire furthermore influenced its foot print half the size of a typical Slovene house. The plan of the typical Slovene house of approximately 9 x 10 meters already proved itself as either being too big or too small for ever evolving life cycles of its inhabitants leading to numerous adaptations. In this sense the elongated floor plans with a first floor and an attic with enclosed roof terrace seems just about the right size. The connecting part between the buildings is a ground floor garage, its width also marks the distance between the houses. With careful manipulation of full height window openings the privacy is ensured and with delicate positioning of roof inclinations the best possible sun insulation is achieved. The uniform cladding of white fibre cement plates ensures the unity of its dynamic composition and at the same token its simple skin makes its architecture sculptural.
White Cristal Housing received the Golden Pencil Award from the Slovenian Chamber of Architecture and Spatial Planning in 2009 and the Plečnik Medal in 2010.