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The Old Power Station

history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1. 1. 1898 | The former Ljubljana Town Power Station was put into service

(detail)60. 's 20. century | In the 1960s of the 20th century the building stopped functioning as a power plant
In the sixties, the building stops function as a power plant.
(detail)80. 's 20. century | During the 1980s and 1990s, the abandoned building was discovered by Slovene alternetive artists
The first among these artists were the artist Ema Kugler and theatre directors Matjaž Berger and Enrique Vargas within the framework of the Exodus festival.
(detail)1988 | The building was proclamed as an example of cultural, technical and historical heritage

(detail)1998 | The first renovation
The plans for the renovation were created by the architect Matija Suhadolc.
(detail)2004 | The festive opening after the second renovation
The plans for the second renovation were created by the architect Matija Suhadolc as well.

People

Matija Suhadolc |architect
Ema Kugler |director

History

The brick building in which a rich cultural programme involving theatre, dance and other activities has been taking place over the last 25 years was originally opened on 1 January 1898 as the Ljubljana Town Power Station. Over the next one hundred and eleven years the building experienced a number of alterations. Both the building of the thermal power station and its subsequent operation experienced problems. The preparations for the first construction of this type in Ljubljana began as a consequence of the monopoly enjoyed by the Ljubljana gas plant, six years prior to the earthquake that shook Ljubljana on Easter Day in 1895, after which Ljubljana was thoroughly modernised in a number of ways. At the time when the five-member committee was deciding between continuous and alternating current, none of the members was quite aware of the importance of a suitable location. It should have a good water supply, access to coal by rail, numerous consumers, and so on. In spite of the number of bidders and advisers a series of wrong decisions was made. The coal for the furnaces had to be delivered from a remote railway station in another part of the town, which made the electricity more expensive and turned away potential new customers. After the initial enthusiasm for electric lighting in Ljubljana there came a period of logistic, technical and economic difficulties connected with the operation of the new power station. The committee and municipality tried to resolve the difficulties by modernising the equipment and through other measures. The positive result of all these weaknesses was that due to a pause in the operation of the power station in 1901 Ljubljana acquired a tram service, which became a large daytime consumer of electricity. Thus the power station was able to operate day and night without having to keep reheating the boilers, as was the case in the past.

 

The power station survived both World Wars and operated until the 1960s, when two new power stations were built on the edge of Ljubljana and the site on the corner of Kotnik and Slomšek streets was abandoned. It is only thanks to disputes about ownership that the building had not been demolished.

 

In the mid-1980s and especially during the 1990s, at the time of the rise of civil society and the approaching collapse of the socialist Yugoslavia, young alternative artists discovered its potential and filled it with various artistic content. The first among these artists were the artist Ema Kugler and theatre directors Matjaž Berger and Enrique Vargas within the framework of the Exodus festival. Professional and even wider circles were at that time becoming aware of the importance of industrial heritage.

 

On its ninetieth anniversary in 1988, the abandoned power station, which was by now known as the Old Power Station, was proclaimed as an example of cultural, technical and historical heritage. Ten years later it was renovated for the first time and in 2004 the festival Mladi levi (Young Lions) festively opened the hall that was created during the second renovation. Where electric generators once buzzed there is now a theatre auditorium with 180 seats, whilst the foyer has a museum character, displaying part of the chimney, the turbine and some measuring equipment belonging to the power station. The institute Bunker, which has been managing the building since 2004, organises there around 8 festivals per year, such as Mladi levi (Young Lions), Exponto, Exodos, Mesto žensk (Women’s Town), Gibanica etc., as well as approximately 130 other events. The building is also used by 35 different artistic groups and individuals, such as Betontanc, En Knap Group, Maska, Emanat, Vitkar, Via Negativa, Sebastijan Horvat and Tomaž Grom. In recent years theatre, modern dance, music and other productions have been taking place there, offering various cultural content. In addition, it hosts educational programmes in modern performance arts.

 

The Old Power Station is one of the rare examples of industrial architecture from the late 19th century in Slovenia that has been successfully renovated. The building’s owner, Elektro Ljubljana power supply company, and Bunker which manages the cultural programme, thus co-exist in the building for better or for worse.

 

Literature and sources:

Breda Mihelič, Stara elektrarna (Zgodnja industrijska arhitektura na Slovenskem, Vodnik po arhitekturi), Ljubljana: ZVKDS 2002, pp. 89-92

Tadej Brate, Sto let Mestne Elektrarne Ljubljanske, Ljubljana: Elektro Ljubljana 1998

Stanko Sonc, Zgodovina in razvoj povečanja mestne elektrarne ljubljanska, Ljubljana: Kronika 2, 1934, pp. 132-134

Zgodovinski arhiv Ljubljana, Reg. I, spec. fasc. 2033

 

 

Author: Bogo Zupančič

Translator: Maja Visenjak Limon

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