Book Review: Formula New Ljubljana

Formula New Ljubljana by Sadar Vuga Arhitekti

The Formulas in the title of this monograph of the Slovenian architects' Sadar Vuga Arhitekti are formal gestures that the firm uses towards adding a 21st-century layer to the rapidly-changing city of Ljubljana, to establish a new kind of social interaction, and a means of communicating architecturally without relying on strictly architectural typologies or vocabulary. Within the pages of this book, 15 formulas are applied to 26 projects, meaning the formulas are used on multiple designs and therefore take on numerous characteristics. One example, an executed project, is 2004's Condominium Trnovski Pristan, the first condominium in Ljubljana, in which the firm applied the "Blown-Up Window" formula, and the distinction between interior and exterior space, and supported and supporting elements is blurred.
The condominium and the remaining 25 projects show a preference for novelty, in which the formulas play a large part. This novelty, though, is refined over time as the formulas are used on various projects, some unbuilt and some completed, and the formal maneuvers become inhabited offices, apartments, stores, and so forth. A concern for the social element in the end product is evident within these pages, even though the book presents the projects as generated by form-giving formulas. Given the apparent lack of compatibility between these two areas -- the formal and the social -- much of their work is criticized for its novelty and often not understood by the public.
A good example of this, and one that illustrates the architect's appreciation of the social, is actually two projects: the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Slovenia (their first project, started in 1995 and completed in 1999) and a new VIP room atop the same building only five years later. The latter picks up on the occupants "softening" of the former with plants -- at desks, in corridors, outside -- so rather than continue with the same formula of their original design, the architects responded to the new layer of green with a VIP room nicknamed the Panoramic Garden for the abundance of green supplied by the architects.
What the office's formulas also accomplish is a unique monograph. Unlike a strictly chronological presentation of projects, this book takes a similar presentation and makes the formulas a layer on top of the projects. The list of the 15 formulas begins the book, each referencing the appropriate projects using them; each project then references the formula that generated its form. This makes for a book that can be read in numerous ways, though the documentation of each design helps make this book an outstanding example of an architectural monograph, as photos and drawings are accompanied by diagrams and text with a personal honesty missing from other monographs that veer towards the dry and objective. Lastly, the well-executed graphic design, a weaving composition of horizontal lines, helps tie the book together without overwhelming or distracting from the content.