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Alessio Princic, Architect

Claudia Persi Haines

A lean-featured, intense man of few words, he prefers to express himself by drawing, rather than in talking, or writing. To describe his ideas, he enters the blank page unhesitatingly, with decisive strokes, always favouring the pen over the pencil. He shuns the ornamental use of intellectual justifications; of facile, decorative gestures and quotations. As well, he rejects the notions of homologation, of architecture as a celebration of the architect-as-a-maker, and of architecture-as-fashion.

He studied in two countries, from each learning ways of ‘doing’ architecture and being an architect. What he learnt as an apprentice, by collaborating with Valle and Marconi -two architects that he liked and respected -was determinant in his formative years. Now he has his own apprentice-collaborators with whom to share projects and ideas. He tends to foster their independence, and urges them to participate in national and international competitions.

As a professional, he is very hard to please. An exacting task master with his collaborators -yet first demanding a lot from himself- he supervises a project painstakingly, at all stages, from beginning to end. His direct involvement can be detected in his concern for the practical aspects of the work he is entrusted with; in his approach to the materials; in his meticulous attention to details.

The forms he designs are rigorous, clear-cut; he privileges a purity of lines that is deceitfully simple. The spaces he creates, in fact, are not the work of a minimalist; hey are warm, and welcoming. By entering them, one feels a sense of ease, and well-being. That is due to his choice of materials, and of textures that stimulate all sensorial perceptions; to his use of light and of a vast range of rich colours, all elements that blend in a sort of homogeneous, harmonious language. A language, however, that is not necessarily spoken in his other projects. This because he considers each of his sites unique, a space that he enters at first just to understand its meaning and its potential. Only later does he speculate on ways to adapt it to the use and functions of the elements that will live in it, outside of it, and around; on ways to respond to those particular needs by experimenting, inventing, changing, trying out, and trying again. A process that is different for each site, and each project. The general impression, however, is that his projects bear an imprint of sorts, and can be recognized, unmistakably, as his work.

What they all share -be they public or private buildings, restorations, designs of interiors, or of urban sites- is, on the one hand, the architect’s interest and respect for the nature, history and meaning of each of the spaces he works on. On the other, it’s the architect’s concern for the particular needs of their users, so that they take possession of a space and make it their own, whether they happen to work or live inside it; whether they live within its environment and enjoy it from outside.

The Perfection of the Craft

Andrej Hrausky

Of Slovenian origin, Alessio Princic was born and lives in Udine, a town not far from the border.   Because of combining different culturesin his work, Alessio Princic cannot be easily classified in any of them in particular. He works too far from Rome, or Milan, to be considered an Italian architect; in Ljubljana he is not thought of as a Slovenian architect, although he cannot be said to represent Northern Italian contemporary architecture, because his strong Slovenian roots and education make him ‘think differently’.  Knowing him well, I believe that Princic doesn’t take this question too seriously. What he cares about is his architecture, and this is far more important.  

The more practically oriented Faculty of Architecture in Ljubljana was certainly a good complement to Alessio Princic’s studies at the Facoltà di Architettura in Venice. After graduating from both Faculties in 1982, Princic started to work at Federico Marconi’s studio in Udine; it was there that he developed two of the characteristics that are so important in his own architecture. The first is the extraordinary meticulousness in, and devotion for, his work, and consequently his perseverance in drawing a detail over and over until he achieves the final, purified form he is looking for. The second is a feeling for light, unusual in Mediterranean architecture. If the former qualities remind us of Loos  and of the Central European tradition, the feeling for light stems from the North. It is a legacy from Federico Marconi, the most important Italian student of Alvar Aalto, the great Finnish architect. It was at Marconi’s studio that Princic got his Scandinavian experience. 

Precision and a concern for lighting are typical of all Princic’s works: the Samassa Housein Udine (1990-93); the De Nardo House at Pagnacco; the restoration of the Pantarotto House ( ex-Nicoletti ) in Udine (1992-95) where Princic had to face the task of dealing with the existing building designed by Gino Valle. What is, in this case, the relationship between old and new? Can there be a fruitful dialogue between, a famous, older architect and an architect of the newer generation?   The answer can be found in what I believe to be the qualities that a building must have in order to survive in time. Architecture is not a disposable item that consumers throw away when it’s no longer fashionable, as they do with everything else, from cars to computers. Architecture lasts for decades and centuries after the client, the architect and the user are gone. Architecture therefore must respond to uses and users of future times whose taste and needs we are unable to predict today. In order to cope with such unknown, future situations, architecture must possess true and lasting qualities, relying on the qualities of the craft rather than on ephemeral sensations. The quality that is constantly present in the history of architecture, no matter the style, is the ability an architect has to master proportions, masses, materials, details, technology, the use of light. Rather than Gothic, or Baroque, or Modern architecture, what we have is either GOOD, or BAD architecture. And architecture—as Peter Zumthor said—“must seduce”. Gino Valle’s building, having the lasting quality of good architecture, has survived;

Alessio Princic, having learnt the lesson, was able to restore it, by paying respect to an older master without giving up any of his clients’ needs, nor his own integrity and attitude to perfection  and modernity.

The restoration of the Klavora House in Soca (1998-99) was further restricted by the regulations that protect this Alpine environment. As well, in restoring the Jesenko Houseat Vrhnika, Princic had to submit to local bylaws concerning volume size, roof shape and façade. In both cases Princic adopted a rational, minimalist architectural language. He had fewer limitations when he designed the Filiput House at Mariano del Friuli (1997-99) where he used minimalism in construction, thereby giving the building a light, almost fragile look.

The Union Brewerey façade in Ljbljana is a special case among Princic’s works. The façade is reduced to an architectural skin that covers what we don’t want to see. Here the Modernist statement that architecture is much more than a few centimetres deep could be questioned.   It is the skin that makes people beautiful, by covering all the organs, muscles and bones that we wouldn’t want to see. The Union Brewery skin is deliberately elegant (no wrinkles!) and is also used as a projection screen. Here architecture becomes part of an art project.

In comparing the Brewery façade to the Clocchiatti Hotel (2002-05) one finds exactly the opposite approach. From the outer skin to the inner ambiance, where one feels comfortable and relaxed. With its repertoire of materials, colours, light, water, views, trees, the place not only allows for all the hotel visitors’ activities, but also stimulates them.

Unique in its own way is also the bell tower at Sant’Andrea di Pasiano (2003-06). Its strategic position along the street makes it act both as a landmark for the small town and as a guardian of the space in front of the church. n this case Princic tried to find a modern answer for the old-time concept of a campanile, and found it in a series of Corten boxes that he put one above the other: contemporary form and material to approach a traditional building.

Alessio Princic doesn’t force his own style on everything he builds; he solves different problems with different answers. What all his solutions have in common, however, is the evident skilfulness of his craft and his devotion to architecture.