Opening the Void

student Andraž Keršič
project Renovation of the Franciscan Convent, Ljubljana, Slovenia


In the middle of the crowded city centre of Ljubljana stand a church and a convent. With time, the convent and the church became an island, isolated in the fabric of the city. Neighbouring streets, impoverished by market oriented programmes create a junkspace, despite all the important town institutions in the area. Two long streets that surround the site are only accessible from either end. A small passage - also a shopping gallery, and the main entrance to the Town theatre connect them in the middle.
Constrained by the streets, the city block in question remains a closed, inaccessible non-space. It was once a baroque garden with a promenade, hidden behind the walls of the Augustine convent. First, there was a small hill that one could barely notice. It disappeared under the church and the convent and got embraced by the houses along both streets. What role can a convent with this central position in the historical city have today? How to ensure the survival of a calm programme with few users and extreme maintenance costs?
Jože Plečnik dealt with the arrangements of the convent’s broader surroundings in the period between the world wars. His student, Edvard Ravnikar proposed connecting different green squares in 1957 by demolishing several large built masses (including the convent) to enhance the view of the town dominants. With the newly proposed connection, the path from Trnovo, which runs by the French Revolution Square, Vegova street, and crosses Congress square, now continues through the South Square and Čopova street to the former cloistered garden, and further north.
The baroque melt the borders between different disciplines into a unified expression of a masterpiece. In Ljubljana of that time, over 14 churches were either built or completely renovated. Seven convents were active in the city till 1780s. Their enclosed walled gardens were eventually changed into open public spaces. After WW2, Plečnik renovated the Convent of the Holy Cross in the 1950s. By segmenting the formerly enclosed private courts into: an open air theatre, the School of design, a quiet elevated park along Zois street, an elevated garden and a children’s playground on Emonska street, he answered the needs of many different users and revived the whole city quarter. Ravnikar designed the Republic Square after 1960 on the nationalised Ursulines convent garden. He opened the space completely by removing the wall surrounding the plot, grading privacy and scale of the open public spaces by placing new buildings along and opposite to the existing ones.