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Timeless Architecture

Photo: Miran Kambič

Renowned Slovenian architects have created interesting monumental buildings encompassed by an extensive open area with a fountain in pleasant green environment. Kupola Hall was built in 1958, Jurček Pavillion in 1960, and Marmorna Hall in 1961. Other premises were finished by 1987. With the exception of Kocka Hall, all halls bear the stamp of modern functionalist architecture and are protected as architectural heritage. The complex was fully renovated in the years 2005–2009. In 2012, Pavillion Jurček was remodelled into a contemporary multi-purpose reception space with a day bistro which serves as the main entrance, the reception desk with the registration of participants and a press room. Under the pavilion and outside there is a brasserie with the concept of the catering chain Kaval Group.

The modern business beat inside the cultural pearl of functionalist architecture

Meeting planners are often unaware of being in venues which boast a remarkable architectural legacy that started with the venues being at the height of architecture in time when they were built and continued with upgrades that provide for a successful competing with the global scene today. The GR – Ljubljana Exhibition and Convention Centre (Gospodarsko razstavišče) is one of such exceptional venues that was recently included into an exhibition in Museum of Modern Arts in New York.

The GR - Ljubljana Exhibition and Convention Centre (GR), a medium-sized regional congress and fair centre, has been through decades significantly contributing to Ljubljana’s fair and congress offer. Namely, the GR’s combination of the innovative congress-event concept, the great location right in the city centre, and the quality architecture, substantially defines GR’s importance for Slovenia’s capital. This article focuses on the timeless architecture of the GR for the time has shown all the value and depth of the thinking of the architects who co-formed this impressive complex of buildings.

LJUBLJANA’S FAIR ACTIVITY

Ljubljana’s fair activity has a long and rich history. The city had been providing special rights and privileges to merchants already in the Middle Ages. In 1921, Ljubljana Grand Fair was established and in the same year it had already organised the first international fair in the Balkans. A few years later, Ljubljana Grand Fair was included among the founders of the UFI – The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry. Up until 1941, Ljubljana successfully hosted several diverse fairs and exhibitions which accelerated the trade in goods and connected Ljubljana to the world.

After WW2, in 1954, the new authority, in the name of socialist progress, decided to continue with a fair spirit comparable to other European cities, and it, thus, revived the fair activity and defined a location in today’s city centre for a new Fair. This was the time when the Socialist Authority wanted to show the world a rapid development of the economy and to establish an intertwined fair activity in the Alpe-Adria region.

GR – LJUBLJANA EXHIBITION AND CONVENTION CENTRE’S GROWTH

In 1954, Ljubljana’s open competition brought the first design of the current fairground at the GR – Ljubljana Exhibition and Convention Centre (GR). The construction was greatly accelerated by the VII. Congress of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, for which they built the legendary Hall A (Kupola Hall) in 1958. The other halls were built on the basis of the competition which was held in 1960. Hence, in 1960, Marko Šlajmer set the Jurček Pavillion by the city’s main access road, and only a year later the Hall B (Marmorna Hall) was built according to the design of Milan Mihelič. Then, in 1967, based on the urban plan for the whole area, the Hall C (Steklena Hall) was built.

GR’s architecture, protected as an architectural heritage, is a beautiful example of modern functionalist architecture and its significance is acknowledged on a global scale.

ARCHITECTURAL PEARLS OF THE GR

HALL A (KUPOLA HALL) - 1958
Every hall at the GR bears a clear authors’ signature. The Hall A (Kupola Hall), designed by architect Branko Simčič and his young colleagues Ilija Arnautović and Milan Mihelič, is perhaps the most remarkable. The Hall was designed as a bold and innovative modern multipurpose hall, the first of its kind in Yugoslavia, which enabled the organization of both concerts and sports events and congresses. Above the hall is a dome supported by four pillars and the specific structure was an example for similar halls in other Yugoslavian cities like Belgrade and Skopje. Hall A hosted exceptional events that shaped the fair, cultural and congress history of the city. Simčič, Mihelič, and Arnautović received the Prešeren Award in 1959 – the greatest award for achievements in the field of culture even in today’s Slovenia, for the thoughtful, efficient, and contemporary realisation of the architectural design of the GR complex.

JURČEK PAVILLION – 1960
Jurček is renowned for its typical mushroom-like steel-concrete structure wrapped into a full glass envelope. Since 2014, the Pavillion works as a reception hall with a reception desk, cash registers and a café. Below the Pavillion and in summer months on the platform next, a restaurant offers catering services for various business occasions.

HALL B (MARMORNA HALL) - 1961 
Hall B (Marmorna Hall) is designed in a modern way, and the airfoil-shaped roof gives it a special touch. The special features of the hall are extremely high ceilings, especially appreciated by the organisers of more demanding events. The hall was thoroughly updated in 2005 and today, due to its spaciousness and functionality, represents one of the most in demand congress halls in Ljubljana.

HALL C (STEKLENA HALL) –1967
The Steklena Hall (Hall C) is is considered to be one of the most prominent examples of the structural architectural solution in former Yugoslavia, and at the same time the monumental design of the expanding architecture. It is a complex of several types of elements and four identical units, the centre of which is an interesting mushroom octagonal roof. The mushroom shaped units can be combined hassle-free into new units for which architect Milan Mihelič predicted organic expansion. The flexibility of such spaces also creates excitement in the profession today. With the distance of time, this part of the GR can be regarded as exceptional architecture, completely in the spirit with the times and is still aesthetic and mature today.

STEKLENA HALL IN MOMA, NEW YORK
The significance of Steklena Hall has been recently confirmed with an exhibition in MoMA (Museum of Modern Arts), New York – Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948-1980 which presents architects and designers from former Yugoslavia, including Slovenia as a part of Yugoslavia at the time. Among highlights, the Steklena Hall of the GR – Ljubljana Exhibition and Convention Centre is shown as an extraordinary work of architect Milan Mihelič.

Milan Mihelič
Milan Mihelič is one of the most important Slovenian architects of the 20th century. He is considered an important representative of the Ljubljana School of Architecture. He relied primarily on modernism and functionalism. Among Slovenian architects he is considered a master of construction what is especially evident in his architecture at the GR. In addition to the architecture, he also designed posters for various fairs and events at the exhibition site. His reflection on the flexibility of the fairgrounds and congress spaces and the possibilities of adapting to different requirements is still considered to be innovative and extremely advanced today. The importance of his contribution to Slovenian architecture was also recognized by the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts which gave him its membership.

TIMELESS ARCHITECTURE
GR’s architecture, protected as an architectural heritage, is a beautiful example of modern functionalist architecture and its significance is acknowledged on a global scale. Architects from all over the world have already taken educational trips to Ljubljana to see the GR’s Halls. Steel and concrete construction with the basic pillar-dominated construction and variegated superstructure, a top-class combination of wood and marble, and a number of other details typical for the Yugoslav version of modern functionalism in architecture, undoubtedly convinced the Stiching RTC Europe Foundation organiser to bring its annual event, BILT EUR, for those who design, build, operate and maintain built environment, to Ljubljana’s GR in October 2018.

“Intrigued by the first glimpse of GR with its impressive concrete slabs encompassing the upper level above the main entrance highlighting the futuristic approach of socialistic modern architecture, the GR in its structure compels and welcomes myriads of possibilities in how an event in any shape or form can be designed within its space or in compartition. The elaborate use of window panels throughout this architectural highlight provides everyone with an airy feel and a perception of being part of the surrounding lively city atmosphere.” (Silvia Taurer, BILT, Region Manager)

The GR - Exhibition and Convention Centre provides over 12,000 m2 of covered exhibition areas. The recent renovations preserved the architectural innovation of the fair halls and were carried out with a sense for detail and with the respect for the outstanding work of architects from the period of Slovenian modernism. GR’s outstanding architectural legacy is combined with the up-to-date features like daylight in most of the halls, the VIP parking, exterior surfaces providing for outdoor events, and an outdoor exhibition space. The magic of GR stands in the fact that it enables to combine a plenary session, exhibition, social event, and smaller working groups at the same time for its 20 halls can accept between 15 and all the way to more than 2000 guests. The GR’s location in the heart of the city and a few minutes walk to Ljubljana’s Old Town, additionally confirm the venue as a significant partner in Ljubljana’s rich and successful past, present and future fair and congress activities.