Stjepan Planić: Problemi savremene arhitekture
In Planiæ's practice of building detached houses on hills and green slopes of woodlands of the Sljeme, the regulation defining that living spaces should be looking on the street, opening the possibility of a representative façade, and the utility spaces at the back of a house, proved to be senseless and unreasonable. One of his earliest projects, a house in Jabukovac, will from that time on serve as an example of an architect's victory in his endeavours to create architecture "intended for the better life of man". Planiæ's belief in humanistic principles of the modern architecture, his persistence in the struggle to realise them and the strength of his argumentation, with considerable quantity of his personal charm, won him the triumph in confronting the regulations. It would "in the future be the aim of progress, not an obstacle." He spoke of this optimistic delusion of his, from that time, on the occasion of receiving the Life Achievements Award "Vladimir Nazor" in 1968. "The struggle for the modern is not yet won."
The drawings accompanying Planiæ's projects during the interwar period witness of his personal friendship with a distinctive and a great painter Ernest Tomaeviæ, who graphically designed a number of Planiæ's articles, exhibitions and competition works. Planiæ's opus, with 700 projects and realisations, as far as we know, belongs to the most numerous and is also one where family houses prevailed around which he designed gardens. In the most individual and authentic manner he applied the vocabulary of the two idioms of the contemporary architecture - the international functional and the regionally organic. Combining the two on a structural level he created works (the stereometrically pure Round Villa in Gornje Prekrije, the Tomislav Mountaineers Home of an Y- layout from the thirties and the cube-house from the fifties), which are anthology examples of the 20th century art memorials, as well as of the entire Croatian architecture.
My assumption is that the Zagreb School of modern architecture managed to realise syntheses hard to find elsewhere, primarily in the works of Drago Ibler and Stjepan Planiæ. I believe that when explaining the Zagreb school of modern architecture, as we call it, it would be proper to apply a thesis of Ljubo Karaman, our local art historian of "creating the freedom of a peripheral environment", instead of inappropriately importing hypotheses pertaining to literature and ideology. It can explain the specificity of Ibler's and Planiæ's opuses in an infinitely more objective and convincing manner, even of the Zagreb school of modern architecture as a whole. As distinguished from a provincial milieu adopting norms and imitating solutions of great centres, Karaman believes a peripheral milieu to be the one sufficiently distanced from more powerful cultural centres (and norms and dogmas dominating them) and according to him Croatia is a typical country suited to this notion. It offers an artist greater freedom of creation, without respect for the sometimes-rigid criteria ruling great centres and power-focuses, gives him a chance to draw from two or more sources and to make creative synthesis in auspicious moments. In the earlier mentioned Stjepan Planiæ's book just about every published example is of a building ending with a living terrace and a flat roof, it is almost a manifesto. These were the common qualities of the represented projects and works. Perhaps at the time they displayed the most expressive mark of distinction from the historical, particularly the historicism architecture of roofs and metal domes of Zagreb. Stjepan Planiæ, speaking in a documentary from 1978, standing on a terrace of a multi-storey building in the Petriæ's Street 5, on the so-called Zakladni blok in the heart of Zagreb, designed by himself, alluded to the continuity of forms and to the significance of a terrace in the architecture of ancient civilisations and not to the paragons of contemporary building. Gesturing towards the tin dome of the First Croatian Savings Bank building, the popular Octagon, he said: "All these roofs, all these domes were the composition equipment of the preceding generation, which was then called great architecture. Driven by an aspiration to bring gardens into the centre of the city, to offer a man in urban environment a commodity of a meadow, brook, or a forest, we realised them on terraces where they blossom even today. The hanging gardens of the Queen Semiramis are not a dream, this terrace realised 40 years ago proves that, it literally realises a connection between a man and the juices of nature." "To organise life
" as Planiæ often repeated, did not mean to impose solutions, but to creatively answer the demands of life and harmoniously resolve human needs within the architectonic space.
Besides writing (to begin with a book for adults "Problems of Contemporary Architecture," from 1932, to "Culture of Living," from 1985, intended for children) Planiæ wanted to effect immediate influence on individuals and small family communities. For that, he would always find time. "Three Letters on Housing" were just an example and a pattern, a drop in the ocean of talks and interpretations that Planiæ had led with the people he built houses for or with those who wanted him to design a home for them.
During the seventies I often drove Planiæ on his tours of construction sites and the adaptation of my terrace apartment was taking place at that time, too. I observed a relationship of true respect and absolute obedience on the part of his craftsmen, regardless of whether they worked with him for forty years or had been engaged only recently. It was rather unusual, since in his designs and in his demands on craftsmen Planiæ always went further, often demanding new, bold and uncommon procedures. Construction carriers designed by Planiæ would, as a rule, be more slender than others were, his windows were bigger (not to mention that they were of better proportions) than those in the neighbourhood. He often "broke" the regulations of dimensioning (excessive, as a rule, due to safety precautions). He defined them according to proportions, according to the formative criteria of the whole. For example, a board of reinforced concrete of a balcony usually appears thickset and in the Round Villa (1936), the round balcony board girding three quarters of the cylindrical body of the villa is deeply protruded into space, boldly thin, elegantly elevated in space. "It even vibrates a little," commented Planiæ. That was the earliest example I can recall. In his inexhaustible creativity he always made room for something new, ranging from the use of building materials and construction to the formation. It was particularly evident in the organisation of space, which he kept returning to in his later projects, most often dealing with a dynamic play in connecting of different levels within a flat.