There is a long tradition of analysis of the Upper Town’s marginal areas, and there is a long list of architects who have dedicated their thoughts and projects to these areas: Hugo Erlich, Bruno Bauer, Ivan Zemljak, Juraj Denzler, Alfred Albini, Neven Šegvić.Only few of these architects had opportunity to build in this delicate space, and Igor Emili was among them.
The entire constructional phenomenon of the Upper Town, multilayered in its values, perceptions and valorisations, is especially sensitive in its southern segment where an appropriate solution for its many problems has still not been found.
The building by architect Igor Emili in Gradec had, at the time of its creation, the complex task of adequately defining and underlining the incoherent and incomplete southern perimeter of the historical matrix, determining itself according to the remarkably important eastern vista of Kaptol and south-eastern one of the city provocatively and neatly spreading into the distance, but also of fulfilling its own utilitarian purpose of a specific gallery, an exhibition location which has the most attractive possible exhibit in the background of its internal events – the living city in plain view.
Also, this is a project that has its origin in ‘the new era’ in relation to its architectural surroundings and in the sense of atmosphere and tendencies of future usage, it certainly determined and unavoidably transformed the earlier micro-ambience of Gradec Square and Strossmayer Promenade.
Architect Emili reacted excellently to this complex situation. In some formative aspects – especially in comparison with present tendencies of forming and approaching issues related to interpolations – one could also say anticipatorily.
In its expression, the building is exemplarily reserved, effective in terms of colour, analytically dimensioned, and prudently avoiding self-sufficiency in relation to the location. It follows the logic and tension of the gesture convincingly and consistently, and does not disturb the fragile balance of the location whatsoever.
Its almost infantile, very demure formative note and unique treatment of the walls and roof surface, soffit of the console protrusions and pedestals, in other words, consistent continuity of textural elaboration of all exterior surfaces as well as its approach to fenestration is enjoying a real flourishing of variations and interpretations within broader European production at the present time.
From many vistas, it simply looks good: for example, from Dolac, or from the western section of Jelačić Square, when one looks from ‘below’, and when its measured verticality on the Upper Town pedestal gains dramatic effect in terms of perspective.
In the immediate surroundings, it also operates to follow the general melancholic atmosphere of the environment, appreciating the precedence of the open space, oriented to the sensations of vistas. Its plasticity here seems more appropriate than necessary, and this is a logical consequence only at first sight; actually, it is the product of successful design.
Nevertheless, one cannot avoid noticing an entire series of large scale changes, from the time of its creation until today, in the access to the area as well as to themes of historical nuclei, the procedeure of their revitalization and relation to architecture.
In part due to all the above, it has not been in use for a number of years and is deteriorating systematically. This process has been further assisted by vandalism – the glass panels on the lower section are constantly being broken and destroyed with sprays, graffiti, etc. (In the immediate neighbourhood, there is an entirely unacceptable unruly catering establishment open until late at night, thus exposing the building, as well as all the urban equipment in this area of the Upper Town and nearby parks, to incessant wantonness and devastation).
The entrance has always been the building’s weak point, and it left an impression of incompleteness even at the time of its usage, thus transforming a potent connection of two levels into its own substandard lobby. Such a situation should in any case be changed.
What also represents a problem is the power sub-station which is situated within the building’s complex, and is at the moment positioned exactly at the spot of its possible connection with Strossmayer Promenade.
The very specific visual pattern of Goldoni’s façade cover – a thick layer of glass with a rib-like pattern that blurs an interesting shade of rusty purple – seems very contemporary even today.
Would it be possible to achieve a similar, or perhaps even better, effect by renovating the building or attempting its reconstruction?
In times of rapid progress of façade technologies, one should probably not have any doubts about this.
This decent volume that is solipsistically and senselessly vegetating in the shadow of a tree on Strossmayer Promenade could, like much other high-quality architecture, of course, cede this place to a future of equal or even higher quality in the form of contemporary, fluid, futuristic or some other content as well as to a possibly more appropriate, more contemporary and more comprehensive reaction to the entire complex stretch of Gradec.
It is questionable whether we can, at this particular moment, initiate and execute such an intervention and still meet high standards.
With such a restricted, but realistic starting point, it can be concluded that what we certainly do not need is a more contemporary version of more or less equal dimensions and outline.
Until a complex, broader, convincing and consequently crucial evaluation of Gradec occurs (an expected, articulated, utterly outstanding in terms of concept and clearly defined study of ‘five squares’ flow, with stress on logical ending in the accentuation of the open spoace, its descent in the direction of the walls, of Strossmayer Promenade and further on, of the very city centre, and with an indication of forming the same zone), the architecture of the former Gradec Gallery that is actually not debatable in any respect, the building by architect Igor Emilio is certainly the best choice for this space and its possible reconstruction would represent a rational move, as well as a challenging task.
Here, it is of course possible to also create a potentially drastic conversion of the interior and new usage of space in a more contemporary manner, more convenient for expected needs.