The Kulturni dom (Cultural Centre) in Trieste, housing the Permanent Slovene Theatre represents a phenomenon among theatre buildings in the Slovene cultural space. In order to understand this one has to know the history of Slovenes in Trieste and their literally fiery theatrical history. Kulturni dom was built just under twenty years after World War 2, in 1964, as a reaction of the Slovene community to the burning down in 1920 of the Narodni dom (National Centre). National Centre by Max Fabiani was finished in 1904 and hosted a theatre, a printing house, two cafes, a hotel and housed various societies and offices. The multinational Trieste, as the most important Austro-Hungarian port, with its strong ethnically Slovene rural hinterland, working class and townspeople, was prior to World War 1 the scene of increasing conflicts between the Slovene and Italian communities, both of which strove for supremacy in the city. After the Austro-Hungarian monarchy fell apart, the Italian army (Slovenes did not have an army of their own), occupied Trieste and a large section of Slovene territory. With its militant policies it prevented the development of Slovene institutions in Trieste and further afield, whilst the existing institutions were systematically destroyed by Fascist groups. The expectations of Slovenes, who had fought on the side of the Allies, in connection with their role in Trieste at the end of World War 2 were high, but in 1954, following the London Agreement, they were not realised. Trieste was given to Italy.
The existence of Slovenes in Trieste has throughout been linked to cultural activities and the attention given to the Slovene language. Efforts towards the building of the Culture Centre began in late 1950. In February 1951 a committee was founded which began a campaign of collecting funds among Slovenes in Trieste, in Slovenia, in Yugoslavia and among Slovenes living in the USA. The first plans were created in 1951, the main plans in 1954 and the foundation stone was laid on 21 July 1957. Construction was finished just over seven years later. The building is the work of modernist Edo Mihevc born in Trieste and graduated under Jože Plečnik. His buildings show that he was well acquainted with the work of Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
Due to the small size of the plot, the building is built on 1900m2, the space was provided by its height, the balcony had very soft lines. The contact between the walls and the floor is executed in such a way that it seems as if everything is floating, which gives the impression of spaciousness and grandeur. The interior is decorated with works of art by Avgust Černigoj, Robert Hlavaty, Avrelij Lukežič, Jože Cesar and Klavdij Palčič, as well as with colourful materials, large chandeliers made from Murano glass. A walk around the theatre seems like a homage to various donors and contributors.
This is a complex and technically perfected building characterised by a non-conventional and modern approach. It encompasses an auditorium with a rotating stage, a social section and a study library with all the necessary auxiliary premises. The strictly modernist facade gives the impression of a semi-open curtain where in the open, slightly set back section there appear two pillars, rising through all the floors. In contrast to the exterior, the interior is warm and rich, whilst the auditorium is curved with soft lines. With his ambitious design the architect provided an excellent response to the issues connected with the building’s intended use, whilst the monumental modernist building was in 1960s Trieste like a breath of fresh air.