The design that changed European cities

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After the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, was devastated by an earthquake in 1895, an innovative architect redesigned the city in a way that not only improved it, but set a standard for other European cities.

Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik had already worked with notable designers of the time in Vienna and Prague before returning home to rebuild the capital in the 1930s. His plan was inspired by ancient Athens – he even called “The Slovenian Acropolis”. Art historian Peter Krečičv explained that Plečnik’s design had direct analogies to ancient Athens: Ljubljana Castle was the acropolis; the Žale cemetery was the necropolis; The Place du Congrès was the agora, or place of assembly; and the Ljubljana market incorporated the stoa (a covered portico).

But Plečnik did not stop there; although modernism and functionalism were popular at the time, he wanted something different. “Both styles met basic functions or needs, but lacked the spiritual component that Plečnik was looking for,” said Ana Porok, director of the Plečnik House Museum. Thus, inspired by ancient cultures and by Baroque and Renaissance art, Plečnik created a unique architecture totally different from the dominant style of the time.

“Plečnik rearranged classical elements, such as columns, arches and crowns. These were practically forbidden under modernist orthodoxy,” Krečičv said. “Nevertheless, Plečnik uses them as the basis of his modern visual language.”

Plečnik also took the step-by-step decision to close the city center to motorized traffic, which other European cities would not do for decades. Instead, he put pedestrians and public spaces front and center, creating a promenade for strolling through the city (which passed through some of his other renowned designs, including the Slovenian National and University Library) and along the Ljubljanica River, as well as numerous squares, parks and bridges.

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