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The (Un)known Maks Fabiani
by Darinka Kladnik
Translated by Christina Strojan

“Improving your life is always desirable. It’s clear that the economy affects culture to a degree but it would be incorrect to claim that a cultural level depends solely on wealth and we cannot use this as an excuse for the sorry state of society,” wrote Maks Fabiani in his book ‘Atma, the Soul of the World’. Atma is a philosophical or religious term taken from Sanscrit, which originally stands for spirit, breath, soul and essence, the most intimate part of every human and every object in the broadest meaning of the word. Maks Fabiani reflects on this and more. He was a very interesting person and undoubtedly the greatest town planner of his time and also one of the most important architects. This year is the 140th anniversary of his birth. He was born in Kobdilj near Štanjel on the 29th of April 1865 and died in Gorica on the 14th of August 1962.

Architect and historian, Dr. Marko Pozzetto, who lives in Trieste, is well acquainted with him. He wrote several books about him and his work and he also founded the Maks Fabiani Institute, which is dedicated to preserving his legacy. He has acquired a lot of Fabiani’s written material and uncovered many things that would otherwise have been forgotten. Several years ago, at a postcard exhibition, he mentioned Fabiani’s postcards: “The originals are in the Gorica Museum, I gave them 77 postcards. That is how many I could rescue; they were given to me by his sister with the intention of public display. However, these are not all of them; some are in the National Archive in Gorica. There are supposed to be 450 of them. After Fabiani’s death they were sold for paltry money and bought by private collectors.”

Maks Fabiani painted them on pieces of cardboard which he then cut and posted. Each one also has a stamp. He did this quite often, sometimes painting two a day. We could call them his diary because he painted events that caught his attention. Some were mailed to his mistress Nerra Gatti. His first postcard was made in Rome in 1895, displaying a portrait of Plecnik, and the last one was made in 1961, which means that he had been making postcards for almost 70 years. Many of his projects were created during that time span. In Dr. Marko Pozzetto’s opinion, there are only a small number of architects who left so many of their plans and philosophical ideas for posterity. He adds: “Fabiani was a ‘border resident’, belonging to a group of people who frequently had to change citizenship, language, life style and often also their way of thinking, just because they lived in a certain area. Often these people, and especially intellectuals, simply accepted their fate, but such thoughts never crossed our architect’s mind. Scientific curiosity enabled him to live a very intense life even during the darkest times.” Fabiani lived for the first 30 years in close relationship with the most significant people in the Habsburg Empire. Later he became one of the eight resident professors for Architectural Composition in Vienna. He was considered a Viennese architect and the Austrians even named a street after him but they resented him for leaving at the peak of his glory.

At 56 he started anew in Gorica. It wasn’t easy as he was regarded as a foreigner – a Slovenian or “austriacant”, a local word meaning a supporter of the Habsburg Monarchy, – and even worse, professionally incompetent. But he would not give up; he became a civil servant and produced 92 regulation plans between 1919 and 1922. He also drew the plans for the gardens surrounding villa Ferrari in Štanjel. Those plans are not preserved and some speculate that they were never finished because of the constant reconstructions between the years 1910 and 1930. He planned the garden in sections: the first and second courtyard, the Ferrari house surroundings, the area around the pergola, the flower gardens, the panoramic pavilion, and so on. Not long ago the gardens were beautifully restored and the Fabiani walkway was constructed, beginning in Štanjel and ending in Kobdilj. Sadly, not much is left of Fabiani’s native house and even the little that is preserved is not open to the public.

The Maks Fabiani Institute wishes to get more room for a library and Fabiani’s archive. Perhaps there will even be a museum for his plans. Even the Jakopic pavilion, for which he drew the plans, is not standing any more; it was built in 1909 and demolished in 1962 despite the protests of many artists. Some of them are still striving to rebuild the pavilion, which was occasionally called ‘The Little Temple of the Muses’. For a long period of time it represented the central exhibition venue for Slovene Visual Arts in Ljubljana.

Max Fabiani made several plans for Ljubljana; his most famous work is the ‘Regulation of the Provincial Capital City Ljubljana’ from 1899. Fabiani’s Ljubljana was planned for about 100,000 inhabitants and to take ‘several decades’. A year previously, Fabiani started researching the problem of the area of Ljubljana called Bežigrad and his solutions are considered by the experts to be a work of art. He was called in after the great earthquake in Ljubljana in 1895, which shook the city to its foundations. A part of Miklošiceva Street around the former Court Square was built according to his plans. Fabiani planned some other buildings in Ljubljana – the Hribar House, the former retirement home on Japljeva Street, the Vicarage on “Gornji” or Upper Square, the famous Mladika where the Slovenian Foreign Ministry is situated, to name but a few.

Dr. Marko Pozzetto believes that Fabiani’s work should be thoroughly researched and presented. Some of the previously mentioned 92 plans are quite interesting, bold, never realized and most are completely unknown to the public as is the case with most of Maks Fabiani’s legacy. His findings are far from being out of date and certainly worth consideration.
The last chapter of ‘Atma’ talks about foreseen developments. In it Fabiani underlines: “Maybe because of his timeless need for love and peace, man is longing for an era of mutual understanding among people and an incomparably higher level of harmony than we have today. The Individual is longing for satisfaction. The wider his scope of action, the stronger is the need. The emptiness that we feel and notice has many sources. Beside the inefficiency of the mind and culture one of the reasons must be a lack of understanding and curiosity for many things. In this way we can explain the leading egoistic and pessimistic views that prevent us from understanding others and recognizing good deeds and true love.”

(Content abstracted from "Slovenija.svet" published by Slovenska izseljenska matica.)