Text by Kaja Beton, May 2018
One of Slovenia's most famous architects was born in Radovljica. His most well-known work is the building with the colourful facade on the street Miklošičeva ulica in Ljubljana. On the Tourism Ljubljana website, they call it simply 'Vurnik's House'.
I frequently walked past the building on Miklošičeva ulica whilst I was studying in Ljubljana. The building is in an excellent location between the railway station and the Triple Bridge. It's colours are also such that it is hard to miss. I have always liked the facade of the former Co-operative Business Bank, and it was hard to pass by without turning to look in its direction.
In this year of European Cultural Heritage, and just before the anniversary of Ivan Vurnik's birth, it is only right that we also remember him in our blog. Alongside Jože Plečnik and Maks Fabian, Ivan Vurnik is considered a pioneer of modern Slovenian architecture and the founder of urbanist architecturein Slovenia. In Radovljica a number of buildings in close proximity to the old town centre are a reminder of Vurnik and his work.
Ivan Vurnik was born on 1st June 1884 in Radovljica in a house which, from the outside at least, appears to be a simple farmhouse, not far from the entrance to the old town centre. The house in the former 'Podmesto' area of Radovljica (meaning 'beneath the town') was bought in 1843 by the fine artist Janez Vurnik Sr., where he ran a successful art workshop. His son Janez Vurnik Jr. carved the statue of Mary and Child, which adorns the corner niche of the house. The statue as seen today is a copy; the original is preserved in the National Gallery in Ljubljana.
In 1911 Ivan Vurnik, who studied in Vienna and Rome, married the Viennese painter Helena Kottler. This coming together also had an important influence of his work. The couple worked often and well together, including in the design of the afore-mentioned facade of the Co-operative Business Bank. In Radovljica, the best example of their co-operation is the tabernacle in the side chapel of St. Peter's church.
Vurnik was one of the founders of the Department for Architecture at the then Technical Faculty of the University of Ljubljana, which he later also ran. His first projects after returning to Ljubljana in 1919 were focused on finding some kind of special 'national style'. Among the results was the facade of the Co-operative Business Bank, whilst later, after 1925, he turned his attention to functionalist architecture.
Among his other works are the sanatorium for pulmonary patients in Golnik, the Institute of Anatomy in Ljubjana, the Narodni dom building in Kranj, and many more. After 1930 Vurnik began to design urbanistic plans for various Slovenian cities, however, not all of them were realised. In 1957 he and his wife moved from Ljubljana to Radovljica and lived in his birthouse untill he died in 1971. In 1966 he received the Presern award for life work. In 1970 Vurnik became an honorary citizen of the Municipality of Radovljica.
Click here to find out which of Vurnik's works you can see in Radovljica and its surroundings. And as a souvenir, you can buy some of the wonderful Vurnik-themed products from the range produced by 'Gifts of Slovenian Architecture'.
Some years ago, on the initiative of the Centre for Slovenian Architecture and in co-operation with the Ljubljana Academy of Fine Arts and Design, a range of modern souvenirs and business gifts was created under the group name 'Gifts of Slovenian Architecture'. The idea for the wonderful and practical items derives from the rich heritage of Slovenian architecture. The first items in the range were dedicated to Ivan Vurnik and his wife Helena Kottler Vurnik. The products with motifs that the couple used when designing buildings, have been turned into a wonderful collection by young Slovenian designers working under the wings of the Academy of Fine Arts and Design at the University of Ljubljana. New products are constantly being added to the collection, and the Vurnik range of products is available at the Radovljica Tourist Information Centre.
Alongside Jože Plečnik and Maks Fabian, Ivan Vurnik is considered a pioneer of modern Slovenian architecture and the founder of urbanist architecture in Slovenia. A number of his works can be seen in his birth town of Radovljica.