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King Tomislav Square in Opuzen

Year: 2007-2009, 
Location: Opuzen, Croatia
Investor: City of Opuzen
Area: 2925 m2
Photographer: Miro  Martinić
Project type: Public spaces, Realized

Previous state

Public spaces and buildings constitute the most noticeable and distinctive majority of the world’s archaeological corpus, and their maintenance level is still a relevant indicator of a society’s civilizational level. During the design process, the architect had to consider the historical significance of this region, which was at its peak in Roman times, when the Narona settlement (near today’s Opuzen) obtained the status of colonia. In the everyday life of a Mediterranean town, the central square/piazza serves as the salon­ – the living room of the community – and, in this sense, Opuzen’s piazza stands out among Dalmatian squares. Especially surprising is its size in relation to the size of the town itself. Before the river Neretva’s melioration in 1885 (which is memorialized by an obelisk in the park by the river), this small town had many river tributaries and canals, and the piazza was the only place where it was possible to walk freely. The melioration was carried out during Austrian rule, when quays were built on the Neretva and the Mala Neretva. Around 1900, two of the town’s most important buildings – the municipal building and St. Stephen’s Church – were also built on the piazza, both in a historicist neo-renaissance style.

The Opuzen piazza, like any true Mediterranean piazza, is a stage for everyday rituals. Keeping this fact in mind, the architect transformed this lively urban organism retaining almost all its traditional flows and public uses. His intention was to highlight the square’s outstanding features while removing its “formative disadvantages by introducing spatial and content-related correctors.” The method he used to achieve this speak to a continuity of his opus since some interventions resemble other works executed in Pag and Umag. The need to restore the decrepit infrastructure triggered the idea of renovation and new square design.

Description of the intervention

Although in this region remnants of Roman palaces and monuments were frequently built into the walls of village houses, many valuable monuments were nonetheless preserved. Therefore, in the new design, the presentation of Roman artifacts as identification factors was used as a leitmotif. A white stone wall with protrusions, a narrow aperture, and a curved segment were built to showcase several stone monuments. Thus, the torso of Emperor Tiberius hovers over a base slanted in perspective, while a Corinthian capital is placed in a curved wall niche, turned upside down so that the inscription mentioning the church’s donor Anđelo Vidović can be read. This wall simultaneously functions as a divider and a corrector of space. During the 1970s, a bank building was built on the square, opposite the church. The building’s outlines and proportions were entirely out of sync with its surroundings, and it was decorated with inelegant stone elements. The wall does not attempt to hide it; instead, it strives to reduce the disharmony and the vulgar dichotomy between the bank and the church. The wall with the stone elements is an introductory (or final) chord of a composition that does not contain “too many notes,” but rather “exactly as many as are necessary.” 

Evaluation

The design of the piazza emphasizes its most original and striking features: spatiality and depth. Orthogonal strips branch out from the piazza’s axis, or vertebra, executed in the form of a gutter made of grey ground Brač stone (known as “the green Adriatic type”). The strips are made of the same stone and vary in length so that – in the manner of classical baroque designs – they enhance the impression of perspective and therefore the length of the piazza. At the end of each tongue, a square of cast Plexiglas is inserted, which creates a dark amber effect but is, in fact, a cover for floor illumination. The arrangement of lights focuses on floor spotlights, which cast light on the more prominent buildings and archaeological objects. There are two striking tendencies in Fabijanić’s work method: one, he aspires towards craft perfection, which he usually manages to achieve thanks to close contact and collaboration with his contractors; and two, he has both the desire and the capability to act as a sculptor. The two tendencies are most prominent in the design of the gutter and of the bench located on the smaller piazza next to the church’s apse. The gutter looks like a delicately formed bas-relief with slashes similar to those seen in Lucio Fontana’s paintings. The extremely organic form of the bench is almost peeled off a 7.5-metre-long monolith of grey Brač stone from a quarry in Pučišća. Stone-carving masters from Pučišća made this bench as well as all the other parts of the redesigned square. The bench is a fish-like object whose forms grow out of the stone’s body and flow over in soft folds. It looks like it has come from a different world and landed next to an olive tree standing in the small square, which is a more intimate off-stage of Opuzen’s everyday life. What immediately sets this project apart is the fact that the author never seeks inspiration or refuge in the extravaganza of new and sophisticated technological materials. Instead, he chooses to use the language of indigenous stone by refining it with optical illusions, creating a story that connects past and present, day and night, gaze and touch.