Apartment/Atelier in the Laginjina Building of Ivan Vitić
Transformation as Confirmation of Continuity
To intervene, even in the interior of the most popular architectural icon, is a daring act, potentially exposed to possible critical reactions. An intervention into the substance of a valuable heritage can also become an inspirational dialogue as is the one Nenad Fabijanić engaged in by remodelling one apartment in a prominent building of Croatian high modernism—Vitić's residential building in Laginjina Street in Zagreb. At the beginning of Fabijanić's architectural journey, Ivo Vitić was his role model and mentor in their friendly relationship, and, besides the artists Ivo Šebalj and Josip Vaništa, he was, without any doubt, a person that influenced the formation of Fabijanić's personal creativity.
However radical Fabijanić's intervention may be, it confirms the potential of Vitić's architecture, its persistence and relevance that has not been lost to this day. Apart from the avant-garde kinetic façade, the Laginjina project also has other, innovative qualities: the gallery typology is optimized by delevelling of the access gallery by ceiling height in relation to the apartments, thus making the gallery windows fully functional and ensuring the privacy of the spaces of the apartment oriented towards the gallery. Furthermore, the span of over 7 meters freed the interior from the supporting walls.
It is this possibility of creating a free plan (plan libre) that Fabijanić's intervention is based on—the kind of transformation that only confirms the far-reaching impact of Vitić's design ideas. Here, the change confirms the continuity. Another virtue of Vitić's solution—dividing walls as lightweight panels, separated from ceilings and walls by transom windows—finds in the new interior its continuation in the modified form of built-in cabinets made of light maple with transom windows and doors of sandblasted glass throughout the height of the room.
By defining the primary spatial elements, Fabijanić creates a framework and a background for specific possibilities of being. However, this basic definition does not have many similarities with the original state of the basically equipped apartment for the modest middle layer of a socialist society; instead, it is the definition of space determined by the beauty of reflection and preciousness of the materials as well as the skill of their application. Not by chance, we are thinking of Zumthor's words, In the context of an architectural object, materials can assume a poetic quality. The dark tone of the stained, lacquered walnut floor is a contrast to the light maple of the dividing walls that find their parallel in the surface of the opposing longitudinal wall finished in stucco lustro technique, executed in such a way to resemble polished marble. Then, there is a material dear to the architect, a stone in a dark variant as Nero Assoluto and a light one as Biancone; furthermore, wood, domestic and exotic—walnut, maple, rosewood, wenge, used for primary spatial factors as well as for solitary objects. All these materials are only revived by light, natural or artificial, directed by the author. Through the two-way orientation of the entire space, the north and the south light mix, with the south light being filtered through translucent sliding panels. It is these opaque panels—the substitute curtains—that separate the atelier from the outside world, making it the oasis of the author's very private background for life. This background, perhaps both a museum and a cabinet of curiosities (Wunderkammer), is filled with artefacts of masters of the modern movement and contemporary design, the artist's friends, but also with his own art design objects. Of course, the atelier is read not only as an artistic biography of Nenad Fabijanić but also as scenery of an intimate theatre. The white, hand-embroidered bed cover from the island of Pag belongs to the entirely personal memory of the author, the delicate glass goblets and bottles made for the Rogaška glass factory are kept in the showcases, and the recent Fabijanić's artistic realizations are also exhibited—Pedestals shown at the retrospective of Josip Vaništa and Fabijanić's personal exhibition at Zagreb's Josip Račić Gallery.
There is a strong presence of Ivan Šebalj with works from various periods—an artist with whom the architect not only worked but also maintained a close relationship full of respect from the student to the teacher, metaphorically speaking. The large-format dark and pasty oil paintings strongly affect the ultimately aestheticized atmosphere of the atelier. In this work as well, Nenad Fabijanić, famous as the master of detail, presents himself also as an architect inventor in some Plečnikian sense. These details clearly meet the conditions of the appropriateness to the material, as well as the rules of craftsmanship, but they are far more than that—they are actually the tools of beautiful reflection. For example, a dual character of the floor is achieved, partly by dividing it from the verticals with stone strips to make the floor surface appear like a carpet. This freeing of the floor plane is one of the processes that make the layered and ambivalent whole in which the floor is not a floor, the wall is not a wall, and the ceiling is dematerialized by the reflexes of light.
However personalized a project the studio in Laginjina Street may be, it could also house among its walls completely different artefacts, perhaps less unusual and less precious, because, as the architect says, I demonstrated the principles and my approach to interior design and wanted to create a minimalistic spatial attraction for myself. But the interior of the atelier, as it is presented to us, is unthinkable without the personality of its author. Its atmosphere full of memory and association also manifests its architectural credo.