Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik designed these lampposts for the Tivoli Park promenade in 1931. Of the sixteen now standing, some are restored originals, while others are reproductions. The National Museum of Slovenia has one of the originals, and plans to display it at its new Metelkova extension, due to open this spring.
AFTER decades of neglect, an art nouveau landmark in Ljubljana is poised for a renovation.
The owners of the 104-year-old Urbanc store, known in most travel guidebooks as “Centromerkur,” hope to restore the building at Trubarjeva 1, at the edge of Prešeren Square, the heart of Ljubljana.
The building impresses with its statue of Mercury on top, a statue of Commerce inside (right), an ornate staircase, and a hundred little flourishes. Still, it suffered from incongruous additions and inadequate upkeep during the Communist era, and it will take a lot of work–and money–to return it to its original glory.
At the turn of the last century, local businessman Feliks Urbanc commissioned Graz architect Friedrich Sigismundt to design the building that would become home to the city’s first department store. When it was completed in 1903, Urbanc’s name appeared on the building’s side.
The Yugoslav government took possession of the store in 1948, painted over the Urbanc name, and called it “Centromerkur,” the name which now appears above the entrance (right). After denationalization, Urbanc’s grandsons, Ljubljana businessmen Hubert and Jorg Kosler, took possession of it in 2002.
Because the building is a historic landmark, the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia is giving advice to the Koslers, who want to restore the 4,000-square-meter (43,055 square-foot) building and expand and modernize its department store. (Its current dark and cluttered retail atmosphere seems anachronistic in bustling Ljubljana Center.) The Institute’s Restoration Centre prepared a detailed plan for the building, says project manager Boris Deanovič.
The plan calls for a €600,000 ($881,000) renovation that would return the building, last renovated in the 1980s, as close as possible to its original appearance.
This would include a €270,000 ($397,000) restoration of the façade and its decorations. In preparing the plan for the exterior, restoration specialists took samples of multiple layers of varicolored paint to find its original color: cream with gilded flourishes.
A €215,000 ($316,000) restoration of the interior would include removing the linoleum that covers the original oak floors (right) on the upper levels and tearing down the walls that were added in the 1960s to fill the building’s inner courtyard.
The plan also involves a €30,000 ($44,000) cleaning of metal elements such as the front door decoration, and the €75,000 ($110,000) replacement of several etched windows.
As originally designed, the building’s ground and first floors housed a department store which sold mostly textiles, since clothes were then homemade or tailor-made. (The original wooden shelves, seen at right, are still in use, and the plan calls for their preservation.) The 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors were private apartments, several of which have spectacular views of Prešeren Square. The new plan would make all five floors part of the new store, allowing the public to enjoy the views.
On the ground floor, light once came through 12 etched windows with a flower-and-vine design. Only one of the 2m X 2.7m (6.6′ X 8.9′) window panels still exists, but craftsman Aleš Lomberger, who reintroduced the etched glass technique in Slovenia after independence, will likely reconstruct 11 others.
But not all of the fixes need to be expensive or elaborate. Restoration can also mean something simple, like moving the ATM (at right) from its position beside the building’s central staircase to a less conspicuous spot.
With luck, this will be the last overhaul needed for a long time. “It is always easier to keep a building in good shape on an everyday basis than to restore it after it has been neglected,” Deanovič says.
Ljubljana Opera House (photo courtesy of SNG)
VISITORS to Ljubljana during the next year or so won’t get to peek inside one of the city’s most unique buildings, but they may want to take up a favorite local pastime: Watching the construction site.
Ljubljana’s Opera House has been a jewel in the crown of the city’s architecture since it opened in 1892, when Slovenia was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
But with its intricate façade and auditorium growing careworn, the gem needed polishing, as well as a major new addition, the government decided. This year, Slovenia broke ground on an estimated €25 million ($35 million) project to renovate the old building and to construct a new annex that will more than double the building’s size, from 3,640 square meters (39,200 square feet) to 10,000 square meters (107,600 square feet).
As the home of today’s Slovene National Theatre Opera and Ballet companies, its facilities had become “inadequate and obsolete,” according to the national Ministry of Culture. (During the renovation, the opera and ballet companies will perform at other venues, including the Ljubljana Fairgrounds and Cankarjev Dom.) Tickets are available at Cankarjeva ulica 11.
Slovene architects Jurij Kobe and Marjan Zupanc designed the solution, which is unfolding in three parts:
First, ramps will descend from the streets on either side of the building to a new public entrance and atrium beneath the auditorium. (Above is a sketch of the approach to the atrium. Image courtesy of SNG.) The new space will include a restaurant, cloakroom, music shop, and space for socializing during intermission.
Next, a new stage will take shape. The old stage was already removed by hollowing out the back of the building, while leaving its “skin” (seen at right) intact. The design then adds height and depth to accommodate larger backdrops and updated technology for rotating them.
Finally, a glass-and-steel wing will rise behind and connect to the original building. It will include the opera and ballet companies’ rehearsal halls, dressing rooms, and administration offices. (Sketch of the annex, right, courtesy of SNG.)
Before work began on the addition, the Opera House’s 500-seat auditorium was sealed to protect it. But when the building work is stable, artisans will analyze the ornate façade (seen at right) and auditorium, then decide what to simply clean or repaint, and what to replace.
The plan has faced criticism from some residents that the annex to the beloved old building is too different and too modern.
“We respect the old building,” Zupanc says. “It reflects the time that it was built, but this will reflect the time that it is being built.”
“We can’t build a new, old building,” Kobe says.
The neo-Classical Opera House was designed by Czech architects Jan V. Hrasky and Anton Hruby between the years 1890 and 1892. Although the country was then under Hapsburg rule, the building was one of the first constructed by local authorities, at “a romantic time of growing national consciousness,” Kobe notes. Its architectural style sets it apart as well, since it and the National Gallery are rare examples of Classicism in eclectic Ljubljana.
Those who’d like to watch the new wing take shape and judge for themselves how it blends with the old can stroll past the construction site, which is visible on two sides (from Cankarjeva ulica and Tomšičeva ulica). Work is tentatively scheduled for completion late next year.