The petition, the key initiator of which is the organization DOCOMOMO Slovakia, dedicated to the mapping and protection of modernist architecture, was announced only a week ago, but during that time it has already received relatively massive support. So far, almost 7,000 people have signed it. The undersigned experts and activists in it ask the Ministry of Culture, the mayor, the mayor and the director of the Monuments Office to refuse permission for the redevelopment of Istropolis until the procedure for its declaration of a monument is completed, support for the declaration, creation of a space for dialogue and discussion on restoration. Istropolis and a comprehensive solution for the protection of modern architecture in Slovakia.
They justify their efforts with the allegedly immense architectural and social value of the complex, which is allegedly an icon of Bratislava. They call it a world-class building with excellent spatial composition, a number of integrated works of art and great cultural value. All this comes at a time when, according to DOCOMOMO, brutalist architecture in Europe is experiencing a "revival". According to the petitioners, the remediation of Istropolis would also have negative environmental effects, as they would unnecessarily replace a functional building. The declaration as NKP does not mean the inviolability of the complex.
At the end of the call, the authors suggest that the development of Bratislava brings an end to its uniqueness - as a result of the development, buildings such as PKO, Kablovka, the Cvernovky complex, Stein and others were demolished. The protection of Istropolis is to be said "stop the disappearance of the city". The petition is associated with massive sharing on social networks.
Naturally, the developer Immocap, which owns most of the original complex with a plan for its massive redevelopment, did not remain silent. The bought Istropolis (with the exception of the House of Technology) in 2017 when they have been preparing a vision of new development. The original buildings underwent an audit, on the basis of which it came to the conclusion that the maintenance of Istropolis was not realistic. In the international architectural competition, the company, therefore, selected a design from the KCAP office, which, although Istropolis removes it, preserves its cultural function and better connects it with others, which is to make Nový Istropolis the heart of one of Bratislava's subcentres.
"In a democratic society that respects the rights of owners, it is not fair to exert, retroactively, four years after the sale of real estate, to exert social pressure to reclassify the building as a national cultural monument - ignoring the fact that until the purchase of the House of Trade Union building. Neither the city nor the theorists of architecture showed any interest in increasing, buying or protecting it," writes the developer. No objection was allegedly raised against the sale and it was carried out in a legitimate manner.
Immocap points out that he nevertheless expressed his willingness to cooperate with DOCOMOMO. "A meeting was held with the representatives of DOCOMOMO, who initiated the petition, back in 2020, at which we proposed cooperation and synergy on any issues related to the New Istropolis project," says the developer. "Instead of a fair discussion, DOCOMOMO enforces its will through petition through social pressure."
The developer adds that this is an incorrect activity for unilaterally influencing public opinion - activists do not give a true picture when they conceal certain information. Immocap points out that this is not only interference with property rights, but also with intellectual property rights to the building of the House of Trade Unions at its disposal. He oversees his reaction with a rhetorical question - "Who is ready to take responsibility for the future of Istropolis?"
In its extensive response, Immocap analyzes point by point the petitioners' arguments. In the first, it deals with its status as the owner of the complex and recalls that it is its legitimate right to dispose of its property - especially if no objections were raised at the time of the sale. The sale competition was announced by the Single Property Fund and supervised by the consulting company PWC Slovensko. The investor adds that his goal was not to destroy values and functions but to promote them.
For this reason, the developer considers it incorrect that his project is related to past losses, such as PKO or Kablovka. The circumstances of the sale were different and the nature of the development is also different. For example, the investor plans to preserve and reinstall valuable works of art, claiming that he is going beyond his owner's responsibilities.
According to Immocap, the second important fact is the absence of monument protection at the time of the sale. "Before the acquisition of Istropolis, Immocap carried out a detailed survey of the monument protection of Istropolis. We carried out a detailed examination of all professional literature available at the time, and no source, nor professional publications of architectural historians who call for monument protection of the building, evaluated the significance of the building, as currently presented in the petition by DOCOMOMO, "writes Martin Šramko, general Director of Immocap.
In addition, the petitioners' claim that Istropolis is in the process of being considered a monument should be incorrect. The aim is to create an impression of the ongoing proceedings, but according to the developer, the administrative proceedings at the Monuments Office have not yet begun. He starts the proceedings on his own initiative (since 2018), but as the investor points out, according to his analysis, Istropolis does not meet several basic requirements for this procedure to be initiated.
First of all, the monument value is perceived as the sum of several values, and in addition to the architectural values, others must be considered - which Istropolis should be missing. In 2009, architectural historians (also members of DOCOMOMO) were to identify 31 significant works of modern architecture, where the potential for monument protection was to be explored. Istropolis was missing among them. The minimum historical gap of 50 years has not passed since the completion of the House of Trade Unions, and as a result of its construction, the rare Berchtold Palace has disappeared. Last but not least, the building does not meet the condition of sustainability of monument protection with regard to the form of its ownership - unlike publicly owned buildings, such as the Crematorium, Slovak Radio, etc.
Immocap adds that the House of Trade Unions was built as "the Congress Palace of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and the Revolutionary Trade Union Movement (ROH), which insensitively disrupted urban planning, which was characteristic of public buildings of a totalitarian state." It is therefore insufficient to talk about extraordinary social value. conceals the circumstances of the formation of the complex. He considers it a paradox to include Istropolis in the list of city landmarks, where it is together with Berchtold's Palace - which disappeared due to Istropolis.
In conclusion, Immocap adds that the building is economically and ecologically unsustainable, thus opposing the ecological argumentation in the petition. The results of the survey in the building revealed 83 tons of asbestos and other harmful substances. Their removal would be disproportionately expensive in the case of reconstruction. The building is expensive now. "Like the previous owner of the Unified Property Fund of trade unions, Immocap consistently incurs an operating loss of at least EUR 250,000 per year during the operation of the House of Trade Unions," says the current owner.
Today's layout of the complex does not allow its profitable operation and return on investment. This was to be confirmed by the architectural competition, as well as the lack of interest of the city or the state to buy the building before 2017.
The architecture of New Istropolis should refer to the original Istropolis. Source: Immocap
What about Istropolis?
The current situation leads the developer to serious questions about the liability for any damage he will suffer if Istropolis still declares himself to be an NKP. "If the state or city, in the current atmosphere of redefining the social value of the House of Trade Unions complex, is interested in preserving the Istropolis building in its original form, it is necessary to declare openly and unequivocally - who will be materially responsible for the consequences of the DOCOMOMO initiative?"
Immocap asks the state, the city and the DOCOMOMO organization if it is willing to take over Istropolis in the new circumstances and then invest in its reconstruction. This clearly indicates that unless a significant land conversion associated with remediation is possible, development becomes commercially unattractive. Then it is possible to revive Istropolis only with the help of public budgets. The responsibility - financial - would thus have to be borne by the general public, certainly not by a private investor. However, this also applies only in the case of repurchase of the complex.
Unfortunately, neither the capital nor the city district is so rich, and the investment of the state in which the Ministry of Culture has the smallest budget of all the ministries is also questionable. The idea of a kind of public collection is naive. The future of Istropolis in its current form is thus questionable under any circumstances, but there is almost certainly no alternative in which it will be completely revitalized and then the cultural program will be implemented here as in the past. The Barbican Centre's argument in London is absolutely misleading, which is clear from a more detailed look at its owner and operating model.
The future of Istropolis could thus be further decay - exactly contrary to public expectations. "According to a survey by the Ipsos agency from January 2021, Bratislava residents perceive Trnavské mýto as one of the three most important areas in the capital suitable for revitalization. As many as 79% of them are interested in the Trnava toll being modernized, "says Martin Šramko from Immocap. Although it can be argued that this is a private survey, it cannot be denied that Trnavské mýto is an enormously neglected part of Bratislava, even at its low standards.
Istropolis undoubtedly has several extraordinary values, especially in the case of the architecture of the cultural center and its interior design. However, the monumentality of the building is not only the cause of the uniqueness of the area but also its unsustainability. A city of different importance and size than Bratislava would perhaps be able to find the strength to find Istropolis with its objective disadvantages - low flexibility of operation, extraordinary (even exaggerated) generosity and poor commercial usability (without disrupting its current form) - use and gradually revitalize or to maintain. However, since the Slovak capital has not become a city of millions, it cannot dare to face such a challenge.
Based on the materials presented so far, the new Istropolis acts as a decent replacement. The project is covered by a major international architectural office and experts on cultural and congress centers corresponds to current ideas about sustainable urbanism, will clearly revitalize the site and transfer to the new building links to the original Istropolis - re-installed works of art and architecture is inspired by Istropolis. In it, Bratislava can acquire a quality contemporary cultural and social center at the European level.
If a valuable object is lost, it is appropriate to ask if the new value will be higher. The new Istropolis has this potential. Unlike the monument of the time, to a certain extent self-serving, it is supposed to be a highly functional whole, which is to be the focus of city life. And it is this - a unique position in the life and functioning of the city in conjunction with quality architecture - that should be what defines the iconic work. Bratislava should not make the mistake of throwing a chance at a real icon.