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architecture, geomancy, engeneering
Kidričeva ulica 20, 5000 Nova Gorica


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Rafut Villa, Nova Gorica, Slovenia, bulit 1912-1914, rebuilt 1928-1929


The Rafut Villa represents an invaluable garden and architectural heritage. Regrettably, however, neither the state nor the local community acknowledge its value, at least to the extent of working to prevent its inevitable decay.

Just like the architect Anton Lašcak loved to visit Kapela – now Kostanjevica – as a young man, to enjoy the very beautiful view that opens from there over Gorizia, I myself also often walk from Gorizia, past Kostanjevica to the Rafut Villa. I start my walk at the house where the architect was born, on
the corner, near the St Rocco church in the area of Gorizia called Podturn. When Lašcak was born, this part of the already multinational Gorizia was very Friulian. Later his family relocated some several hundred metres away, and that is where a plaque was unveiled in his memory upon the renovation of the house. The square near St Rocco church features a monumental stone fountain, complete with an Egyptian obelisk, which was originally planned to be implemented in the red or yellow Egyptian granite. The fountain was supposed to be the architect’s gift to his native town. It is not clear why, but the full donation never really took place, and Lašcak thus gave only the plans for its execution. The fountain today is not functional, is full of flowers instead of water, and is surrounded by cars.

I continue across Anton’s Square up to the castle of Gorizia, and underneath the castle walls I look for the remains of two villas, the renovation of which
was designed by Lašcak. The first belonged to his parents-in-law. Lašcak moved there soon after getting married. Both villas held privileged positions at the end of a narrow medieval street on the southern slope of the hill – a gorica, a term that gave the  town its name. Unfortunately, following an urban planning proposal by Max Fabiani, this part of the town – one of the oldest – was demolished in order to enable a better connection with the area of the castle hill.

Magnificent views open from the castle over the Panovec forest, which eventually runs into the Rafut hill above Rožna dolina, and the Kostanjevica ridge. On its southern slope Lašcak built his villa. Due to its extraordinary location, protected from the bora wind on the sunny side of the hill, this area had already been much praised in the past. Numerous villas are today scattered among the vineyards, gardens and olive groves which used to be featured regularly on the cartoline, or postcards, of Gorizia. To better understand the location of the villa, I climb the path to the Kapela to reach Kostanjevica, where, a good half a century after Lašcak, Zoran Mušic would walk in search of peace and solitude (a period which inspired his Gorizia sketches). The path is paved with cobblestone, and used to be the only one connecting Gorizia with the Kapela. Twice a year numerous people from Gorizia would join the procession there. The state border set after WWII severed this pilgrims’ path. On the Slovene side it turns into a narrow muddy path, unfortunately, and only a few lone specimens testify to the formerly rich grove of chestnut trees which gave the hill its name.

The hill with its medieval castle, and Kostanjevica with the chapel and the monastery, together form a recognisable entity in central Gorizia. This is also the spatial milieu which Anton Lašcak, a recognised and aable architect who built his reputation mainly in Egypt, chose as a location for his Gorizia residence.

The fairy-tale form of this unusual building, which attracts attention with its 28-metre corner tower in the shape of a minaret, is disturbed only by the chaotic urban development of Pristava at the foot of the hill. Extraordinary examples of rare exotic trees trace the contours of the whole complex, covering more than three hectares. Its three constituent parts – the villa, the park and the entrance lodge – create a comprehensive whole, a rarity in our contemporary spatial reality. By approaching the imposing entrance – the lodge, where Lašcak also organised the residence for his steward in order to facilitate the supervision of the construction – what seemed to be mysterious, fairy-tale like and inspiring slowly turns into a pale reminder of former glories. The entrance lodge, which serves as a kind of entry pavilion for the estate and announces something special, extraordinary and important, is in a very poor condition.

The disappointment upon the entry into the private park is all the greater, for I am greeted at the very beginning by numerous utility facilities. The trace of both alleys running along the unpaved park driveway is barely visible. The cobblestone-paved gutter-moulds on either side of the driveway are covered with dirt and weeds. Soon enough the park driveway intercepts a brook which comes from a spring on the estate. Lašcak built a bed for the brook, and also expanded it with a small catchment area.

The driveway, today completely demolished, continues towards the villa in hairpin turns. The walkway which starts from the first turn of the driveway
is less steep – a design which makes walking comfortable. It has a border made of concrete border stones and is paved with smaller pebble stones.
Different elements are displayed along the path, which spur our curiosity. Halfway along the path there is a pergola, now mainly overgrown with wisteria. Two stone benches stand under this structure, offering a welcome shade and resting place for visitors. Another interesting resting area is the concrete mould which served as a cast for the cupola of the tower. The mould is expanded with two benches on each side and complete with the green background resembles a grotto.

In her diploma work, the landscape architect Katarina Iskra pointed out that despite numerous calamities and shamefully negligent maintenance, the park still preserved a convincing image and experiential value. Each landscape setting requires some time to develop its mature image. The extraordinary habitus of the trees, which outgrew their foreseen proportions due to the favourable climate, makes the park particularly enchanting. The formal concept of the Rafut park is not complex, and yet the park offers a full experience in terms of senses and perception. This is enhanced by the rising terrain which does not allow the visitor to savour all the landscape elements park at once. The park is also interesting due to the exotic tree species and experiential motifs laid out »in a chrono-topical sequence. Different spaces or ambiences spur the visitor’s curiosity and a desire for further exploration. The contrasts between the shaded and sunny parts, vistas, changes of direction, open and closed spaces, pathways that disappear among rich vegetation... all of these are design principles, employed to create an interesting and attractive landscape.« In brief, with the Rafut complex Lašcak demonstrated a high degree of inventiveness regarding the efficient use of the terrain’s characteristics, for the villa is perfectly connected with the park both in terms of space and design.

The visitor’s enthusiasm reaches its peak when the path leaves the dense part of the park and comes out on a clearing – at that moment the visitor sees the villa in all its might and glory. This monumental building, with a surface area of almost 800 m2 and which the architect built for himself and his family, was damaged during WWI, and then again during WWII. The exterior as we see it today is therefore only a reflection of the first reconstruction. The renovation, for which the Land Archive of Nova Gorica does not have a single document, was not based on the original plan made by Lašcak. During the renovation, the two balcony terraces with metal balustrades and a massive corner pillar on the first and second floors were closed, while the biforas with the horse-shoe arches and numerous decorative elements disappeared.

In 1951, the villa became the headquarters of the Nova Gorica Institute of Hygiene, based on the assessment of the Central Institute of Hygiene of the
Socialist Republic of Slovenia that this was by far the most suitable building in the vicinity, and one which did not require any special adaptation. Only the parts demolished during the war needed to be rebuilt, and the necessary plumbing and electricity systems installed. A building with a garage and a woodshed was later built next to the house. Built with similar materials as were used for the construction of the villa, this new building resembles the works of Lašcak, even though it is of a later date and origin.

The renovation of the villa was funded by the Central Institute of Hygiene. The institute expanded the interiors and adapted them to its own needs. All the interventions were executed very poorly, and appear as extremely rough works on an object that was built in an era of high building standards. The villa is made of visible, standard format bricks in a classical bricklaying pattern, and only the front portal is made of concrete blocks. The pre-fabricated, artificial stone units, mainly brought on the site from Egypt, were very high-quality stone-masonry products. Much the same can be said of the wooden, carved eaves. The villa was also special due to a number of state-of-the-art technological novelties, which at that time were rarely seen on Slovenian soil (such as the reinforced concrete ceiling slabs, a composite ceiling made of these slabs and hot rolled steel beams), but its façades were damaged in several places.

A similar sad destiny befell the interior. The original floorings no longer exist, and in some places one can only see the original terrazzo in a terracotta nuance, and the ceramic floor made of hexagonal ceramic tiles creating a honeycomb pattern. The same original honeycomb ceramic floor can be seen in the vestibule, in the kitchen, in the study and in the bathrooms. The remaining rooms have parquet flooring, mostly in a fish-bone pattern. The walls and ceilings were repainted several times, and the original paint can only be seen in certain fragments. All the original interior furnishing is painted white and co ered. The glazed and full, co ered doors were originally equipped with authentic door handles and backplates. None remained in the villa, and only a few specimens are kept at the Institute of Heritage Protection.

The Nova Gorica Institute of Public Health was located in the villa until 2003, when its needs were no longer met in terms of the available surface area and the requirements for laboratory activity. When the institute moved out, the villa was left to itself. In 2007, a conservation plan was drafted for the villa and entrance lodge, and a year later for the park, as there seemed to be a very realistic prospect of renovation. The Minister of Higher Education, Mojca Kucler Dolinar, raised hopes for the rehabilitation of the building when she unveiled a marble façade plaque in 2008, as a foundation stone for the renovation. Upon its completion, the villa was to become the headquarters of three institutions: EMUNI•– the Euro-Mediterranean University, the Post-Graduate Faculty of the University of Nova Gorica, and the Nova Gorica scientific-research station of the Slovene Academy of Science and Arts. The project, however, was soon abandoned, and the villa was again left to decay.

In 2015, the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport published a call to find a private investor to renovate the villa and give it an appropriate function. The municipality was also involved, for it owns more than half of the park. The renovation project was to »contribute towards the sustainable preservation of Slovene cultural and natural heritage and its values, and to increase the recognisability and attractiveness of the place and the wider region through heritage promotion.«. However, none of the participants in the call met the required criteria. In the meantime, all the windows on the ground floor were covered or built over, so as to protect the building from vandalism. It is thus now only possible to enter it through the openings on the first floor. The roof is leaking, the load-bearing construction elements of the minaret already display wide cracks, and numerous prefabricated architectural elements have been stolen.

It is an interesting fact that only the Rafut park was recognised and therefore also protected as natural heritage in 1952, whereas the villa and entrance lodge have been overlooked as heritage units for many years. It was only in 2003 that the municipality issued a decree declaring the villa, entrance lodge and park features of garden-architectural heritage. The descriptive part of this decree is as follows: »A villa, built in a neo-Islamic style, with a symbolic minaret and a monumental entrance. Surrounded by a park, designed in the style of early 20th century parks, featuring exotic plants, organic pathways, asymmetry, orthogonal plant formations. Architect A. Lašcak.«

The Rafut Villa is the only example of the neo-Islamic style in Slovenia, and at the same time one of the most beautifully preserved such cases in the wider European context. It is surrounded by a magnificent park, featuring original architectural elements and rare, exotic trees and shrubs. Today, the extraordinary trees obstruct the view of the villa. Only the entrance lodge and the tower remind us of the architectural masterpiece which blends well with the surroundings despite its unusual aesthetics. Even though this is a unique piece of garden and architectural heritage, the Slovenian authorities still do not show adequate interest in preserving the architect’s legacy. It seems that for this monument, which surpasses both geographical and cultural borders with its design and form, neither the state nor municipality are capable of recognising its meaning and value, at least to the extent of preventing its imminent decay.