Vjenceslav Richter (1917-2002) was one of the greatest Croatian architects of his generation. He established a strong international reputation as the designer of national pavilions at international exhibitions. The retrospective The World as a Pavilion. Vjenceslav Richter runs until 21 July at BOZAR. The Pavilion as a place where art and architecture, but also spatiality and lightness, radicalism and transience go hand in hand. A brief encounter with Richter in five facts.
1. The ideal city
From 1954, Richter began to focus on designing his ideal city. The autonomous city with time as a linchpin. Because like so many of his modernist contemporaries, he went in search of ways to reduce people’s journey times to the absolute minimum. In this pyramidal, self-contained city you take the lift from your apartment to your place of work. A visionary example of architecture for the coronavirus era?
2. A villa for Tito
Richter’s activities gradually evolved from city planning into purely architectural work. After the Second World War, architects throughout Europe started work on major construction projects, encouraged by the respective governments. Cities were being rebuilt and affordable housing for the masses became the norm. Strangely enough, you can count the major commissions Richter took on one hand. He did however design Villa Zagorje with Kazimir Ostrogović in 1963-65 for the Communist leader of Yugoslavia, Tito.
3. Success at EXPO 58
“An almost unearthly, ingenious architectural thinking […] The distressing sensation that this architecture became so intense and pure architecture because for a moment it almost does not seem to want to be architecture anymore.” – K.N. Elno
Richter designed villas and museums, but mainly... pavilions. Halfway through the exhibition, you will bump into a model of the national pavilion he developed for the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, one of his most successful designs. Richter’s original idea was to suspend the pavilion from a 70-metre-high column, an unearthly architecture that would herald the possibilities of the new era - including space travel. Much to Richter’s chagrin the column turned out to be too expensive, a setback the architect considered as his greatest disappointment for the rest of his life. However, even without column the pavilion received praise in both the national and international press, and even today, Richter’s structure exhibits lightness and openness above all else. The Pavilion was later moved to Wevelgem, where it is now used as a school building.
4. Architect or artist?
In the ‘60s, the Brazilian artist Almir Mavignier brought the New Tendencies movement to Zagreb. This group of artists introduced a new art form suited to the new normal of information and mass production. Richter took the ideas of the New Tendencies group and created works in which movement and audience participation played a central role. His Reliefmeter is a response to Umberto Eco’s concept of the Opera Aperta: the viewer must finish the sculpture in a different way each time by interacting with the artwork.
5. Furniture design
'Object—that is everything!... architecture, painting, sculpture, all of it is object!” – Vjenceslav Richter
Architects and artists like Le Corbusier and El Lissitzky were great influences on Richter. He was also inspired to create furniture designs by the likes of Isamu Noguchi and Roberto Mango. The furniture was often used to furnish pavilions or museums, always resulting in a refined aesthetic and functionality.
You can step into the world – and pavilions - of Vjenceslav Richter until 21 July at the Centre for Fine Arts.