Glancing Back Forward
Previously I addressed this subject in my article Save Kolizej. I wrote passionately after one of my first visits to the Kolizej site that reflects one questioning visitors thoughts on this matter, But I’ll address it a little more in depth here once more.
I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit this wonderful city several times over the last several years, but I could not notice the apparent calamity of this building and the state of disrepair it has been allowed to fall into. It looks like a chipped tooth in an otherwise elegant smile of the city. The argument might be true in part that it is “just like so many others” in the time-period sense, I’ll let others more learned in the matters of history and architecture cover that angle in this book in their convincing arguments exactly how this space is of historical importance.
What I have to offer this project is this; I’ve traveled many world cities and cultures on half of our continents. I have developed a deep love for history and mortuary remembrances of times past, particularly in relation in our present lives. I see them as a commentary on contemporary life and recount our experiences in conjunction with our social behaviors and interaction in relation to them. The Kolizej stands out to me not solely for what it represents as a historical monument of the past, nor even it’s epic struggle for survival and adapt it’s functionality to benefit us in our present times, but also a deep-rooted signpost and reminder of historical respect. Sure Ljubljana might not suffer from one less historic building, but if this landmark building is simply allowed to be unilaterally erased what will be immune in future decades and centuries from other city development aspirations?
Ljubljana is not alone in this complex dilemma, yet it has a got a better running chance at setting a guidepost with this project then other cities have had in addressing this quandary due to the relatively small problem ratio to the city. It also helps to have so many other buildings of the historical city center being revived and remodeled in their old likeness. There is also a great pool of great minds and experts that have been making the case extensively on both sides of this issue that brings forth a healthy debate and opportunity for fresh ideas and inevitable lasting solutions at the highest level.
We all have heard the examples in the United States encountered in old cities like Boston and other New England cities that were blowing city block after city block away of neglected aging stone buildings in the 1960s before coming to the realization that contemporary history of this nature was worth something more then mere prime development real-estate, and instead opted to remodel many of the remainder into luxury housing and shops that both benefited the city through housing and tourism landmarks like the now famed houses of Boston’s Back Bay. San Francisco has also successfully renovated old warehouses into tech-savvy corporate office space for internet startups since the 1990’s, or choose simply protect and restore historical landmarks like the 1905 built Geneva Office Building and Powerhouse, that is simply a uniquely designed but terribly antiquated two story train junction center, historically it matters.
Now, to use some examples a little closer to home. I remember in 1998 staying with friends in Budakeszi, Hungary (a small town situated 10 km to the west of Budapest, on the Pest side of the river Danube), there was this large socialist era factory compound wasteland called GANZ, behind the newly built Mammot 2 mall. It clearly was just a sprawling graveyard to times past and an intriguing yet desperate site that anyone would have excused to level and add modern and more functional housing or office facilities.
On a brief trip there again in 2004 my friends wanted to go for an “outing” with their small kids to a new park, I went along. What I saw as we walked the familiar streets was Millenáris Park, a rejuvenated and wonderful building and park area replacing the industrial cold feelings with that of warmth and sunshine on that summer morning. I never believed it could still be possible while maintaining its original warehouse look that was genuine as the brick walls and iron stairs before me while inside one of the warehouse-turned-pavilions on the park. For they had left everything in tact structurally, just brought it to the public and the new century with some ingenious remodeling, ground level lake and rolling grass lawns.
Similarly this city of Ljubljana gave new life to a warehouse complex that is now the BTC complex, though it has a much more commonplace feel and no art value to the city except that of a pop culture multiplex cinema.
The two projects are very different in size and scope however it is my hope that like the Millenaris Park, Kolizej can symbolically raise from the ashes like the mythological Phoenix and advert destruction with some foresight, initiative and vision to be a torchbearer for architectural heritage and preservation while still serving a public service. It was originally intended to house protectors of the city and how fitting it would be for it to once again protect and preserve the history of the town by its own continued existence. It should be a beacon landmark of hope and endurance that the city can show off in its entire original splendor to the many visitors of the city right along side its other attractions.
To use a military barracks example truer to the project at hand is the old military base located behind the train station in Croatia’s northern city of Varaždin. It was used for many years to house displaced people during Croatia’s war for independence (1991-1995) and then later those needing temporary asylum from the Kosovo conflict of 1998. It was not until the city bought it from the state and renovated the building and grounds in 2006 that it became a state of the art student dormitory facility. Not only providing the city an opportunity to clean up the cultural and social eyesore that the base had become but a service and a source of revenue base to accommodate students at a prime location in town for boarding, and a source of pride for the city and educational faculties that the city is so renowned for.
I had the opportunity to visit the grounds prier to this transformation while supplying humanitarian aid to the government led agency running operations for those living there in 1999 and again in 2001. I must say it was cave-like in its design and scope. Low entry stairs, narrow dingy halls with shadowy life forms peering out from dank rooms divided by musty blankets that made up the temporary dividers between beds. Cardboard or rags poorly sealed up the widows broken glass as well as the holes and cracks in the plastered walls. A grim sight for a building to be in, and a tragic state of humanity’s forgotten people, though unfortunately not too different then conditions afforded the low-rent tenants of the Kolizej these days and the weather beating the building itself is suffering through neglect.
Gone are all those feelings and so are the foreboding outer walls and barbed wire, renovated and refitted to the times whilst still looking all of its dignified age and original charm behind a bright new coat of paint. Included are swipe card security door access systems providing an up to date security system and a modern looking central entry metal canopy adding a bit of flare. Don’t they say life only begins at retirement?
Examples would be incomplete without another and perhaps only other living example (surly Kolizej is the largest and most intact of the two) of the rather obscure Austrian innovator and architect that designed Kolizej, that of Graz’s own son, Jozef Benedikt Withalm (some historical writings call him Johann) and the famous city landmark Eisernes Haus (Iron house) that he designed, built (1847-1948) and owned to house a large café house that became known as Café Meran until he sold the building. While the size and use is different, there are visible comparisons and architectural similarities. Eisernes Haus is newly renovated and annexed to a large and modernistic “Kunsthaus”, a space-like art exhibition hall completed in 2003. Eisernes Haus had been drastically renovated and changed over the last century but still resembles outwardly Mr. Withalm’s vision and reinstated is the rooftop terrace that he had originally built, clearly a reminder of history and his contribution to the city while at the same time providing it with a current and functional service relevant to the people and visitors of the city today.
It is my hope that the people of this city and the world will understand and appreciate contemporary history within their city at least as much as a passing visitor and somehow come to a consensus with this location in relation to proposed projects, and that Kolizej – in the form we know it now – will live on, at least though this century renovated and cherished as a sample of valor and overcoming adversity, as the Slovenian people have shown throughout their history. They may have been downtrodden by others, abandoned and obscured, but were never out, and neither should be the buildings of historical importance on Slovenian soil.
Birds taking the opportunity to rest on the open windows
Red light, green light, which way will it go?
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