When thinking of classic alpine architectural design it is easy to bring to mind picture postcard images of the likes of Alpbach in the Austrian Tirol, where geranium-laden window boxes are framed by immaculately kept wooden edifices very much in the style found throughout Europe’s alpine regions.

Such is the dominance in mountain villages and indeed at altitude of identikit builds, which despite described in what could be an almost pejorative way are in the main far from being twee or cliched, there has in recent years been a subtle shift away from tradition as designers seek alternative solutions that harmonize with often dramatic and sensitive environments, without reverting to the past or retrofitting what is already in situ. It is fair to say that results have been mixed, with architecture being a very subjective topic where artistic impressions and even the built reality often fall into a ‘Marmite’ category.

Slovenia’s Lake Bled is an extremely popular destination and has been so with British holidaymakers since Marshal Tito grew to understand the incredible potential for mass tourism in what is now the former Yugoslavia. Bled has though suffered over the years from some appallingly designed buildings, with the worryingly-named Hotel Krim which actually translates as Crimea, and a centrally-located shopping complex instantly springing to mind. There is perhaps an irony that the Crimea is now regarded by the international community as illegally occupied territory whose authoritarian leader has his dubious designs firmly fixed on the peninsula.

Many concrete edifices with varying Brutalist characteristics did of course spring up throughout Easter Europe during the Cold War, with Tito’s arm’s length brand of Non-Aligned Communism not averse to adopting similar practical but utilitarian solutions that spoke of eschewing the bourgeois tendencies of those for whom such buildings were constructed. It was as if those with the means to vacation had to be informed that their money was welcome, but not their status in life that had enabled them to spend it in the first place.

In what is undoubtedly a break from the past and an emphatic desire to avoid what might be construed as lazy ‘go to’ default but classic designs, the proposed new-build Hotel Europa in Bled has caused controversy from the initial plans to site what is regarded by many as overbearing, incongruous, and not in line with its immediate and wider surroundings. It is though with these obvious drawbacks that the winning entry to find a ‘suitable’ design for the Hotel Europa has been chosen, despite the favoured mock-up being branded not the best design for the area, but in effect the least bad of all the submissions.

In Bled’s most recently adopted municipal spatial plan, enshrined five years ago, there is a commitment to future hotel builds being smaller than many of the large, and not always easy-on-the-eye lakeside accommodational goldmines. Furthermore, these are expected to be of a similar size to the former Hotel Europa, a 45-bed, not room, boarding house that finally succumbed to demolition in 1974 after previously being devastated by fire.

It is unlikely that a developer of such a cash cow location so close to Lake Bled’s shoreline would settle for a comparatively bijou, boutique-style hotel that might look the part, but would hardly financially exploit such a stunning and sought after location. It remains to be seen whether Bled’s municipality continues to insist that the spatial plan’s stringent demands are the only criterion for the construction of the Hotel Europa 2.0, but potentially straying from them would set a dangerous precedent in what is, at least away from the tat associated with mass tourism, an area of outstanding natural beauty.

It must be said, by me at least, that some, not all, of the competing and ultimately defeated entries were appalling, and in the main struggled to marry up design with a need to ‘harmonize with the surroundings and in no case significantly stand out from nearby hotels’, as outlined in the evaluation commission’s report. It is not obvious how the winning entry, two dark grey cubes with diagonally striated facades represents what city planners have set out to achieve.

It is simply not acceptable to permit development on the grounds of a design not being ideal, but better than the competing entries. When though a former minister of culture describes the winning design as an architectural embarrassment, there is definitely a sense that this is a story which we have not heard the last of.

Source material and further information:

STA – Slovenian Press Agency: http://www.sta.si/2873433/na-bledu-iskanje-ustreznih-resitev-za-nov-petzvezdicni-hotel

Reporter.si: https://reporter.si/clanek/slovenija/blamaza-na-bledu-to-zelijo-postaviti-v-kraju-ki-je-zascitni-znak-slovenije-838428

Slovenske Novice: http://www.slovenskenovice.si/novice/slovenija/hotel-jim-bo-vzel-pogled-na-jezero/ and http://www.slovenskenovice.si/novice/slovenija/ta-zgradba-na-bledu-buri-duhove-zupan-odgovarja-foto/

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