MONITORING and organising the Slovak architects who emigrated from Slovakia during the last century is the aim of a project that Štefan Šlachta has had in mind for decades. He plans to introduce it to the public in 2004, in the form of a catalogue, and later as a book.
"The purpose of this project is to get to know these people and their works," said the president of the Slovak Architects Society (SAS).
The first time he started working on it was in early 1970. It was a couple years after the massive emigration of 1968, caused by the Russian troops' invasion of Czechoslovakia that intended to reinforce the weakening communist system. During the still-existing strict communist regime of the 1970s, though, the project naturally failed.
"Those who emigrated at that time were mainly my contemporaries. I was in contact with them, and there was a chance that I could get information about them - where they are and what they do. Obviously it was impossible to do it then, as those people were considered to be [the state's] traitors. I was naive to think that I could do it then," said Šlachta, for whom the attempt meant losing a place in various commissions and councils in which he worked at that time.
After the communist regime fell in 1989, the SAS published a so-called "exile" section, devoted to Slovak architects working abroad, in its Projekt magazine. The issue encouraged Šlachta to get back to the idea, but it was not until this year that he started gathering the names and addresses of these architects for his work again.
Named Slovak Exile Architecture of the 20th Century, the project intends to cover all the waves of emigration that took place during the last century.
"Obviously, the emigration in 1968 was not the only one. Emigrants first started to leave this country in the period between the wars, then again after 1948 [when communism started].
"We are also thinking of adding another, fourth chapter [to the project] - people who left after 1989. Of course, that emigration cannot really be considered forced fleeing, but lots of successful people left the country right after that year [when the borders opened to the West]," Šlachta said.
Up to this day, Šlachta has collected around 200 names, most of them with addresses. He assumes that it is about 50 percent of all the emigrant architects.
"I'm sure that there are many people, especially younger ones, scattered around the world, and about whom I have no information. I would be very happy if these people contacted me, or the SAS, because my intention is to make this project as complete as it can be," he said.
The research has proved that most of these architects fled to the USA and nearby Austria. Those living in the neighbouring Czech Republic, however, are excluded from the project, as "there are too many of them, and the [mutual] contacts work well".
Among the 200 names Šlachta managed to collect are the Hudec brothers from Banská Bystrica, who worked on designs of the first skyscrapers in China. There is also Štefan Hornyanszky from Bratislava, who designed the Children's Hospital in Bergen, Norway, which was a gift from the Swedish king to Norway after the second world war; and František Bubenko, who cooperated with Minoru Jamasaki, the designer of the New York Twin Towers, and now lives in Houston, Texas, and works on several-storey buildings.
"I was surprised when I found out about six Jewish people who left Slovakia for Israel and started working there. Or when I learnt about Viera Benická-Larsson, who got married in Stockholm, Sweden. With her husband, she worked on the research of traditional architecture in Africa, which she has captured in several series of stamps."
But more then being surprised, Šlachta says, he is pleased with the successes that these people, most of whom he knew as students, have achieved abroad.
Spolok architektov Slovenska, (Slovak Architects Society)
Panská 15, 811 01 Bratislava 1
Tel: 00421/2/5443-1078, Fax: 00421/2/5443-5744
20. Oct 2003 at 0:00