Hildegard Auf Franić is a professor emerita at the Faculty of Architecture in Zagreb and a recipient of numerous architectural awards in Croatia such as Vladimir Nazor Award and Viktor Kovačić Lifetime Achievement Award. She is the author of many projects and realizations, and also engages in research where she devoted herself to educational buildings typologies. In our discussion we tried to elucidate certain connections between various forms of architectural activity and intertwine them with contemporary issues.
Oris: Globally, we got hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and Zagreb was struck by an earthquake as well. These are contradictory moments; the pandemic requires confinement, physical distancing, while the earthquake, on the other hand, forced many citizens to move out, as the damage had to be repaired. In your opinion, what was the reaction of the architectural profession, but also of other relevant disciplines, to the current problems, and what are the possibilities of architecture’s reach in general, if we take into account that urban space management is primarily a political issue?
Hildegard Auf Franić: The earthquake of 1880 was much more devastating than this one and was the impetus for creating the downtown. This new urban plan is based on the then already accepted plan of the orthogonal grid of Zagreb, with new investors who transformed it into a city that we, 140 years later, are supposed to preserve. The question for the profession is firstly quite interdisciplinary. This moment is not as stimulating because the urban grid already exists, and most houses have survived. The interdisciplinary renewal must start from the preservation of the urban understanding of the downtown. Secondly, traffic is important. Due to the fear of falling parts of buildings, trams currently do not pass through Jelačić Square, Ilica is unusable, and the Green Wave roads downtown have less traffic. Could we interpret this as an indication that the downtown can function with new penetrations south of the railway? Could the downtown function with less busy traffic that has always been fateful and bad for it, cutting the city in slices and therefore blocking it from functioning in its totality as envisioned. The blocks are only third in line, followed by the houses. Of course, there will be widely divergent views, because, on the one hand, part of the profession would protect everything, while the other part would say that it is a stimulating opportunity for this generation to interpret it in a new way. We are all aware of some gaps. There are many examples; particularly indicative is the intersection of Varšavska and Frankopanska Streets, where there used to be a famous tavern. The intersection is substandard. But what happened is that a house worth nothing remained intact, while the beautiful chestnut trees in the outdoor restaurant disappeared to create space for a parking lot. I think it takes a critical spirit and intense communication between various professions to come to a common position on what to remove and what to keep.