September 12-14th Mattias, Amalia, and I attended Eclas conference, a conference in landscape architecture, which was organized in Ljubljana, Slovenia. While we presented our work within the Welfare landscape projects at the conference, we also used our stay abroad, and my experiential knowledge gained growing up in Slovenia, to visit a couple of neighbourhoods built in the 1970s.
Dr. Vladimir Brezar, an architect involved in the modernist projects of at least two neighbourhoods in Ljubljana, i.e. Štepanjsko naselje and Nove Fužine constructed between 1960s and 80s, was interviewed within the project ‘I am looking for an apartment…One hundred years of organized housing construction [own translation] which produced a podcast and an exhibition organized by Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO). In the podcast, he explains that the post-war period marked the first organized construction of neighbourhoods in Slovenia, which emerged as part of the proletarianization of cities. Industry required a large amount of labour, and due to immigration from the rural areas and other places, a question ‘How to build as many apartments as possible in the little amount of time’, emerged. As he further explains, urbanism during that time was underpinned by the idea of ‘socially concerned construction’ or ‘construction based on solidarity’ [own translation], a project that is actually quite demanding, he admits. The government tackled it, as he continues, by introducing three important instruments: 1) ‘housing dinar’ (contribution to housing payed from the salaries) 2) establishment of residential community (to regulate finances), as well as 3) tenders for professional solutions. Dr. Brezar, working for a bureau, could penetrate with his ideas in the latter.
I recognize a similarity in the ideas of neighbourhoods building in Slovenia and the so called ‘the million program’ in Sweden, which is seen as both problematic and beneficial. This is not surprising, since, as Dr. Brezar states, the ideas of a neighbourhood came from the US and mostly Sweden. Sweden inspired with the idea of a satellite city and a neighbourhood that had everything except of work place to which a transport was planned for. The Swedish government also provided a subsidy, in order to provide financially accessible housing (which was solved in Slovenia through the ‘housing dinar’ idea).
One of the negative sides of this satellite concept was, according to Dr. Brezar, the isolation of neighbourhoods from the city as well as the high buildings and their weird shape (from a birds view/plan). On the other hand, the exposed qualities of modernist neighbourhoods, which in our visit of Štepanjsko Naselje and Nove Fužine are still very visible in the generous green space. Dr. Brezar explains that in Štepanjsko naselje pleasant, empty spaces in between the buildings were established: ‘It [Štepanjsko naselje] has one main street, green, walking path (see photo below), and between buildings there are large distances, which is in my opinion, a very good urbanism. […] If you have a neighbor further away, it is merely pleasant.’ (Dr. Brezar 2021, own translation).
These spaces are according to Dr. Brezar used and appreciated, which we also observe during our walk along that main walking path. On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, as visible in the photo below, plenty of families (or children without their parents) are outside, playing on the sports fields, playgrounds, or having a walk with their dogs or family members.
While in Sweden similar modernist neighborhoods are (or are becoming) densified, these neighborhoods are not. Greenery can sometimes be used for parking though. Yet, densification is happening also in Slovenia, where standards are ‘less green space’. I assume the transformation of ‘community focused planning’ to planning where maximization of profit per square meter (leading to luxurious price), over-rides the luxury of greenery. Tajda, our guide through the neighborhood, a designer involved in the newly built projects in Slovenia comments: ‘This neighborhood can provide a good quality of life, and many families are actually moving in here, appreciating the place. Newly built apartments that I design interior for, are sold as ‘luxury’, but there is 4 meters between the buildings, how is that a luxury?’ Similarly, the interviewer in the pod teases out Dr. Brezar’s opinion of todays’ construction/building, by asking: ‘If the architecture of that time built community, or if community built architecture where public place was important, how are you commenting todays’ way of building?’ Dr. Brezar on the one hand appreciates todays’ architecture, which is better integrated in the city and where buildings are lower, but he also problematizes profit orientation, since projects driven by the promotion of the profit are not solving the housing problem: ‘This is building a city which is expensive, densifies the city, fills the space, but I don’t know how ‘social building’ is functioning, if it even exist.’ (Dr. Brezar 2021).
I would end with this important point that he makes. Perhaps more silently in Slovenia, and more outspoken in Sweden, ‘densification’ is sold as ‘needed’ due to the housing problem. However, if these apartments are price-wise luxurious, I would like to point to other types of ‘luxury’. The luxury of green space, as a space for maintaining wellbeing and social interactions, as well as the luxury of accessible housing and accessible leisure space.
Dr. Brezar Vladimir (2021). Pod: interview, available at: [https://www.buzzsprout.com/1889516/9598559]
The million program was a program for housing construction in Sweden, when building 100 000 apartments per year was made financially possible, by the government, during 1965–1975.
Neva Leposa has a PhD in Environmental Social Sciences. Her research interest lies in exploring framing, governance, and planning human-nature relations. She empirically explores outdoor recreation at seas as well as in urban places.