Slovakia, or what could be the meaning of the architectural periphery?
In words of art historian Ján Bakoš Slovakia is characterized as a “crossroad of cultures” whose particularity lays in “the sharp clashes of intense but evanescent impulses on the one hand and long-lasting up to conservative traditions” on the other hand. Remelting of the “evanescent impulses“ to the form acceptable by the domestic environment, their moderation and even deformation, characterizes the Slovak architectural scene all along the 20th century. “Sharp exerted positions are being abandoned in the name of the values important in this environment.” What are these values? Probably all is about practicality and elementary functionality. Pragmatic solutions are well received in Slovak environment since long ago. Tightly connected with the general preference of practicality is the unbalanced relation between the architect and client. Another characteristic attribute of Slovak architecture is the constant effort to overcome the feeling of backwardness and inferiority in relation to the more developed western neighbours. Polarity created by the permanent polemic between the western oriented innovators and traditionalists could represent the third important character of the local scene. All of the mentioned features are not unique; in variations they happen anywhere, yet their combination and intensity revealed the uniqueness of the local scene. To illustrate the specific inner mechanism of functioning of the local architecture scene the contribution concentrates on outstanding historical situations, works of architecture and architecture texts of the 20th century in Slovakia.
Is Eastern European architecture bound to speak? On matters of peripherality and representation
In 2006, the University of Chicago Press was publishing a solid study, lavishly illustrated, entitled When buildings speak. Its author, Anthony Alofsin chose this metaphoric title to treat of “Architecture as Language in the Habsburg Empire and Its Aftermath, 1867-1933”. Teasing identity as a methodological bias in studying Central/ Eastern European architecture was not a new approach, as scholars like Friederich Achleitner and Akos Moravanszky had already investigated this perspective in several works. What strikes in Alofsin’s book is the way “meaningfulness” turns into a crucial concept in decoding an architecture which has but a “limited ability to speak to us now”. By translating the trope of the herderian national theories – all national culture is based on a specific language –, Alofsin succeeded both to introduce the Western reader to the largely unknown architecture of Central Europe and to confirm the marginal position of this latter which – once again – needed a code in order to be understood. This was the predicament that faced generations of architects and ideologists from Eastern Europe in general, who were eager to build up a (meaningful) place for their nation on the geopolitical map. This paper will look at how ‘tactic narratives’ came to inform in a significant manner architecture – and consequently its historiography – in Eastern Europe. Thus, I will explore ‘meaningful’ architecture, with a focus on identity/ identification issues. Without ignoring the importance of the “historic” examples of such an architecture, as well as its very recent recrudescence, I will treat the socialist years as a counterpart. By doing so, I will question the applicability of concepts such as ‘meaningfulness’ outside the usual territoriality of identity. Ultimately, I am interested to analyze what are the most appropriate historiographical tools in dealing with Eastern European architecture.
Unfinished modernisations: Reconstructing the architectural history of Socialist Yugoslavia
Maroje Mrduljaš, Vladimir Kulić, Jelica Jovanović
We propose to present the regional project Unfinished Modernisations—Between Utopia and Pragmatism: Architecture and Urban Planning in the Former Yugoslavia and the Successor States, which was conducted by a group of researchers from Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Macedonia 2010-2012. We stress the need for the reconstruction of the common architectural history of the broader region of Central and Eastern Europe. Upon the collapse of the socialist state, the architectural history of Yugoslavia had a similar fate to that of another failed multinational state in the region, Austro-Hungarian Empire: partitioning according to new national borders. Like Austria-Hungary, Yugoslavia was also a polycentric state. Federal organization of the state and programmatic emancipation of constituent ethnicities resulted in distinct architectural cultures in each of the constituent republics, yet under a shared political-economic system and within the framework of common societal ideals. The diverse architectural cultures within a small territory were continuously informed by exchanges with the international epicenters of architectural knowledge. The result was a set of specific architectures that simultaneously reflected the local conditions and global tendencies. These achievements still await critical incorporation into the history of architectural modernity, demanding new analytical and interpretative tools. Despite the fact that Central-Eastern Europe after World War II consisted of independent nation-states with their own distinct cultures, most of them shared the general conditions of state socialism, thus raising a similar set of questions to the ones addressed in Unfinished Modernisations. We offer the project as a possible model for such examining questions.
On difficulties in writing the history of Romanian architecture
Ana Maria Zahariade
In Romania, the systematic recording of the architectural past was born in the first half of the 20th century. The narratives of the first generation of architectural historians were fostered by the ethos (and chimeras) of the late 1800’s eruptive modernisation, and bore the particularities, inconsistencies and fluctuations of that process. Their histories remained uncritically descriptive, centred on “objects” and styles, focused on aesthetics, avoiding social and political issues…; with few exceptions, they are self-centred architectural records, arbitrarily secluded inside the national borders. Even younger and frailer, history of modern architecture, added its own problematic issues. Communism, another instance of modernisation, split it in two distinct histories, each condemned to deeper isolation. The first, the interwar period, obnubilated by the regime, is nowadays idealised and resurfaces vigorously. The second, the communist phase, glorified at the time but shunned after 1989, is even more challenging: from biased and unreliable records to questioning how to write the history of an epoch ideologically suspect to such an extent. Today, its study is rather the individual endeavour of a few researchers who lean over various stretches and issues. Their number is growing, denoting an increasing interest; yet, the history waits to be (re-)written and to surpass the inherited “isolationism”. In this respect, I chose to skim through the recent Romanian architectural historiography and to examine its difficulties in interpreting and “geometrising” the facts. Discussing them with historians in the CEE region who, probably, have encountered similar problems, might build a common critical apparatus capable to recuperate the meaning of the local in negotiation with the transnational.
On Michal Milan Harminc – builder and architect of the Central European region: Specifics of the biographical historiography of architecture
Jana Pohaničová, Peter Buday
Architects and builders operating in the territory of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and its successor states in the late 19th and in the first decades of the 20th century represents a particular phenomenon of Central-European Historiography of Architecture. Research of their life and work is difficult due to the large territorial scope of their ‘opus’. Almost the entire Central Europe and also often other countries became a place of their activities. From this point of view, personality of builder and architect Michal Milan Harminc (1869 – 1964)- one of the doyen of Slovak architecture – is an interesting topic for research. He is known as an architect of two centuries, an excellent eclectic with a wide stylish and typological range of work. It combines the legacy of historical styles and impulses of Modernism and Functionalism. Impressive, nearly 300 completed buildings between years 1887 – 1951 existing on the territory of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, then Czechoslovakia (now Slovak Republic) and in other successor states (Hungary, Serbia, Romania and also Ukraine) ranks he among the most productive architects not only in Slovakia, but also in Central Europe. Research of Slovak historians of architecture realised on soil of the Faculty of Architecture of Slovak Technical University in Bratislava within grant projects and monographical work recently brought several new findings about Harminc’s work in Slovakia. Early ‘Budapest’ phase of architect´s work also includes work in neighbouring countries. Potential cooperation on this topic particularly in the field of archival and local research represents an interesting contribution to the historiography of Central European architecture. Its aim is to increase the knowledge about the important personalities of past centuries architectural scene. Finally, they will serve as a basis for protection of architect´s key works from perspective of preservation of our and European heritage too.
Architectural and material research of Peter Behrens synagogue in Žilina, Slovakia
Magdaléna Kvasnicová, Peter Szalay
The paper is going to shortly introduce current results of the architectural and restoration research of Neologic Synagogue in Žilina, Slovakia, the work of world famous German architect Peter Behrens. Ongoing investigation is a part of the conservation and conversion project within which several specialists of the field of heritage research from academic institutions (Faculty of Architecture of Slovak Technical University, Institute of Construction and Architecture, Slovak Academy of Sciences and Department of Restoration of Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava) collaborate together with nongovernmental organization “Nová synagóga”. The aim of the participating NGO, the initiator and investor of the heritage renovation of the synagogue is its conversion to the exhibition space, the so called “Kunsthalle”. As a member of the academic research team, I would like to present not only the research of the Synagogue architectural and historical “layers” but the whole concept and strategy of preservation and presentation of their values to the public as well. The main issue of my contribution is to bring up a discussion on questions related to the possibilities and boundaries of restoration and presentation of the modern movement architecture with the Behrens´s synagogue as its exceptional example.
Flavouring ‘Goulash Communism’: Approaches to modern architecture in the early Kádár Era in Hungary (1957-1963)
At the second part of the 1950s – after the short but impressive period of socialist-realism – Hungarian architecture returned to modernism. In consequence architects had to reinterpret the old cultural demand of “socialist in content, national in form”, which was reaffirmed by politics, and they had to define their relationship to modernism within it. When in December 1954 Khrushchev announced the need for a change in architecture he referred to modernity: he stressed the power of technology as a means of industrialization, prefabrication and standardization. Hungarian architects – while also celebrating modern technology – focused not on quantity but on the problem of modern architecture’s national features and on the ‘advanced’ traditions, whether they should or shouldn’t be adapted. In the period of a temporary political uncertainty and of gestures of détente controlled discussions were accepted. The paper investigates contemporary debates of the theme on political, professional and public level, and analyses some buildings and their reviews. Finally, it raises some possible interpretations of the leading opinions: 1/ Were they an attempt to catch up with contemporary western modern architecture 2/ Were they a kind of resistance to universalizing tendencies of modern architecture or 3/ Can we evaluate them as ‘situated modernism’, or as an ‘alternative modernity’ born on the periphery?
Visions of anarchic space in 1980s Estonian architecture and performance art
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