The Rog factory (also known as Factory Rog) is a squat in Ljubljana, Slovenia, occupied and open since 2006. Before that it was an abandoned building near the center of Ljubljana for 15 years, after the bike-manufacturing Rog company abandoned the building due to high logistics expenses. The building is historically best known as the factory where Rog bikes were manufactured between 1953 and 1991.
Today, the former Rog factory serves Ljubljana and the wider community as a space for alternative content which is lacking in an otherwise heavily institutionalized Slovenia. Its 7,000 square meters (75,000 sq ft) hosts many collectives and spaces: multiple gallery spaces, art studios, two skateparks (including the largest covered skatepark in Balkans), Rog Social Center for disadvantaged groups (such as migrants and refugees), various concert and clubbing venues, a bicycle repair shop, etc. Those collectives provide a rich program of social and cultural activities. All users participate directly and make decisions collectively at general assemblies.
The legal status of the use of factory spaces has been contentious from the very beginning and escalated on June 6, 2016, when construction workers entered the spaces to begin the demolition process on the order of the mayor of Ljubljana, Zoran Janković. On June 14, 2016 the local court decided to halt the demolition the buildings until the conflict is resolved through the court.
Current and past users and spaces
- Rog Social Center ("Socialni center Rog") – a socially engaged space providing safe space for many people who are marginalized in a society, to discuss and share stories, heal, and organize social changes
- Skate park Rog ("Skejt park Rog") – the first covered skate park in Slovenia, made using scrape materials by volunteer work of wider skate scene
- Concert hall, also known as "Hall of sighs" ("Koncertna dvorana" or "Dvorana vzdihljajev") - the largest club space in the factory organizing hundreds of events for alternative and non-established bands from all around the world, moreover, it holds many festivals and regular jam sessions; it is sound proofed with old mattresses from the nearby student dormitories, hence the name
- "Živko Skvotec" - students of philosophy and other social sciences and humanities who are providing a space for critical thinking, discussion and debates
- Blue corner ("Modri kot") – a space for experimentation of hybrid methods of learning, studying, and art creation, they held exercises in street political rhetoric
- "Cirkusarna" – a space for practicing of various circus and acrobatic routines, including trapeze and aerial silk
- Gallery against everything ("Galerija Kljub vsemu") – a gallery space with professional gallery lighting, and a proper toilet
- Studio Samorog – a studio space for visual arts and cosmology
- "Zelenica" – a gallery space where theoretical visual arts lectures are also held
- Football (soccer) hall ("Nogometna dvorana") – a hall for practicing indoor football (soccer), but used also for regular practices of Tai chi, Qigong, and Kung Fu
- "Društvo Gor" – hip-hop enthusiasts are managing space for breakdance practice and learning with a smaller skate park
- "Boris plac" – a small studio and exhibition space which can be converted into a multi-purpose space
- "Grafitarji" – a space managed by the graffiti collective 1107 in the second floor
- "SISTAZ plac" – a space for breakdance, music, illustration, painting, sewing, etc.
- "Atelje X" – a studio in the 3rd floor with Spanish, Ecuadorian, Finnish artists, space for visual and intermedia art
The history of the premises of the Rog factory on Trubar Street (Trubarjeva cesta) up until its occupation.
- 1871 The land is bought by Ivan Janesh, who builds a small ground-floor building to use for tanning hides.
- 1879 Janesh builds a one-story tanning workshop on the location of the previous building.
- 1884 His sons add a second story.
- 1900 The tannery is bought by Karel Pollak, who renovates and modernizes the workshop.
- 1904 Pollak encloses the area with a wall and builds a residential villa.
- 1918-19 Pollak builds an expansion to the manufacturing premises.
- 1922 Two stories are added by Pollak onto the manufacturing building, with the skeletal construction using the Hennebique system, which is rare in building construction previous to World War I. First such building in Ljubljana. The Czech architect Alois Kral also consults with Plečnik. The factory carries out business successfully.
- 1937 Pollak goes bankrupt.
- 1938 The factory is bought by Mergenthaller, the owner of a tannery in Vrhnika.
- 1945 The expropriation and nationalization of the Indus leather factory.
- 1951–53 Remodeling of the factory and the start of the production of Rog bicycles.
- 1991 Due to large logistic expenses the management of the Rog factory decides to abandon production on Trubar Street and combine all manufacturing activities in the industrial zone on Airport Street (Letališka cesta).
- 1992 The process of re-zoning of the space is triggered, anticipating industrial production. It has a sound professional basis and includes a proposal aimed at protecting the manufacturing building by the Ljubljanica River.
- 1994 City of Ljubljana (Department of Urbanism) carries out a construction test by tender. The process of denationalization begins. The production of bicycles at this location is abandoned.
- 1995 The international Euroculture conference, Rehabilitation of Urban Areas, the evaluation of architectural heritage is organized by the City of Ljubljana. The Rog factory is dealt with as a sample model. The participants of the workshop suggest that the old factory should be protected and put in use for public programs (studios, ballet school, craft workshops, library, etc.).
- 1997 Presentation of the Rog factory at the international meeting Water and Industrial Heritage in Venice.
- 1998 The city council approves the site terms PUP CI 5/6 Rog, under which the old Rog factory is protected. The area is also intended for public programs.
- 2000 The research project regarding cultural sites within the city (by Peace Institute for the City of Ljubljana): the Rog factory is proposed for visual arts, dance, music, theater. Break 21, 4th International Festival of Young Artists (May) and 17th Biennial of Industrial Design (October) are held in the premises of the factory.
- 2001 The Rog factory on Trubar Street is bought by the LB-Hypo bank. The denationalizing process is over. Within the framework of the urban survey for the preparation of a new spatial plan for the City of Ljubljana, Borut Burger uses the Rog factory as an example of a decrepit part of the city center, and proposes that MOL spearhead an initiative for revitalizing this area.
- 2002 The City of Ljubljana purchases the Rog factory on Trubar Street (a leasing contract with LB Hypo). Discussion of renovation dies down in 2003.
Occupation and opening to the public
The bicycle factory operated until 1991, when the whole place was rather abruptly abandoned. In 2002 the Municipality of Ljubljana bought the entire industrial complex.
In the following years, revitalization of the area was much discussed, and the main factory building (being the first steel and concrete building in Slovenia) became protected as a cultural heritage site in 1998. Yet, aside from two large scale exhibitions held on the premises (Break 21, the International Festival of Young Artists, and the 17th Biennial of Industrial Design), nothing really substantial happened until 2006, when an informal interdisciplinary group decided to take the initiative into their own hands.
In 2006 a coalition of individuals, group TEMP, Faculty of Architecture of University of Ljubljana, and ČKŽ prepared a two-week festival to showcase potential uses of space. During the festival, a broader community of artists, lecturers, and other potential users of the space would be involved. After everything was prepared, a day before the announced start of the festival, municipality decided to not allow the festival to happen. The community decided that despite this they will proceed with planned activities and instead of just two weeks they will occupy the spaces until the municipality finds the better use of space. Consequentially, the whole spaces of former factory have been open to the public for "with the intent to carry out non-profit, non-established activities on its premises":
It is not a classic occupation of space, but a temporary alteration of its purposes. The 7000 square meter large factory – owned by the City of Ljubljana (MOL) – has already been left to decay for 15 years. As long as MOL doesn't develop and begin implementing a clear strategy to solve the problem of these empty premises, we self-initiatively wish to open it to all individuals and groups engaged in the non-profit sector, for the realization of independent production of cultural and social content [sic].
... in the premises of the abandoned Rog factory we wish to develop a different way of action, based on temporality and day activities, and hope to include and satisfy the needs of the local community surrounding it. For that purpose we have started the cleaning and technical renovations of the completely neglected and until now dysfunctional space. We think that a self-initiated and self-organized joint action is urgently necessary in a climate of intolerance and passivity, where one or two phone calls are able to paralyze an initiative carried out voluntarily for the benefit of the local community.
The main initial idea for the use of space was for it to become a daily production center to fulfill the needs of the wider community for studios, manufacturing spaces, cultural and social spaces, and practice spaces for bands, dances, actors and everyone else. The space has been organized as a public and open space where anyone can come and start participating, a "covered public park".
The first festival in Rog was the Politically Incorrect Film Festival (PIFF) in May 2006, followed by the user-organized Rog Festival. In June the Open Rog final exhibition of the World of Art curatorial course was organized by SCCA-Ljubljana. Later that year the Bunker Institute also presented some of its events there.
The main issue since the very beginning, preventing the planned use of spaces as production spaces, has been a lack of basic infrastructure: electricity, water, toilets. While water and toilets have been fixed by Rog users, the electricity is possible only through the use of portable electric generators. During the filming of the movie Kakor v nebesih, tako na zemlji by Franci Slak, the needed electric infrastructure was installed. Despite now satisfying all regulatory requirements, the municipality, the owner of the premises, has not given the necessary allowance for permanently connecting the spaces to the electrical grid. As a consequence, to this day the only source of electricity in the Rog factory is through the use of electric generators, the use of which is more expensive and cumbersome than the connection to the grid would be. Furthermore, not all spaces and collectives have access to electric generators which limits their use of spaces. As a consequence, use of spaces shifted from mere production spaces, used by individuals and groups for their own needs, to more consumer-oriented presentation and performance spaces which were able to cover the costs through donations by visitors.
Initially, the occupation was described as the first temporary use of empty spaces in Slovenia, hopping to open a path for bringing this practice to Slovenia. The idea was to show that temporary use of empty spaces is a useful public policy approach to address the problem of abandoned buildings in modern cities which benefits both the city and the people. Instead of a normal lease which requires from a landowner to maintain the property, a temporary use is a middle-ground approach where users do not have so many tenant rights, but on the other hand they do not have to pay for the use. If temporary use of empty spaces would become a common practice, as a consequence of, it was argued, the city would have much less empty and unused buildings, especially in a city center.
When Zoran Janković became a mayor of Ljubljana in the fall of 2006, a temporary use was negotiated with the users of the Rog factory and a plan was made to legalize it. Temporary users were meeting with city representatives throughout whole 2007, preparing the contract which would establish temporary use at the Rog factory premises and clear conditions under which temporary users would vacant the spaces (municipality would have to find a better use of space, start actively working towards it, and have financing for it). The contract would also allow users to connect the factory to the electrical grid. When the contract was finalized, Mayor Zoran Janković decided not to sign the contract, claiming that the municipality's Head of Cultural and Research Activities Jerneja Batič had overstepped her powers, deposing her, despite making a contract with temporary users being her explicit mandate. As a consequence, temporary use has never been legalized. Moreover, temporary users understood that action as a nullification of prior temporary use agreements, making occupation a traditional squat and them users of the space.
In Ljubljana's candidature for European Capital of Culture 2012, the Municipality of Ljubljana included an idea for larger renovation of the broader Rog factory part of the city as part of the program, but did not win the candidature.
In 2010, the Municipality of Ljubljana participated in the Central European project A Second Chance: From Industrial Use to Creative Impulse, joining the cities of Nuremberg (former AEG factory), Leipzig (HALLE 14 of the former Cotton Spinning Mill), Venice (the Arsenale), and Kraków (the tram depot in the St. Lawrence district). The project aimed to develop innovative strategies and concepts to upgrade the former industrial site into a key cultural hub in the city.
During this process the municipality further developed plans to renovate the spaces and turn them into a hub for contemporary art and creative industries. The main building is to be transformed into the Rog Contemporary Arts Center with a production center, exhibition spaces, studios and artist-in-residence programmes, art shops, educational spaces, etc. Nevertheless, Rog users have been active for ten years, since the municipality have not been able to attract private funding to actualize the above plans. The public discussion on the proposed development project has also brought serious criticism. Many of current users would not be able to remain in the renovated center.
Despite not obtaining private partnership funding to start with the renovation process, the municipality decided to start with construction and on June 6, 2016 construction workers entered the space with an excavator. The workers were confronted by users and conflict escalated into violence and clash with security guards. Through this action they established a construction site preventing their construction permit to expire. Rog users are claiming that municipality would just demolish buildings and establish a new construction pit in Ljubljana, without progressing into renovation due to lack of funding. Such construction pit would again make the space abandoned and it is unclear for how many more years it would stay like that. As a consequence, users are claiming that the conditions of them leaving have not been fulfilled, especially because the legal contract have never been made to formalize the conditions, so temporary use never got into the effect. Moreover, since 2006, when the first informal arrangement was made, the Rog factory has shown that there is a need for such alternative and grass-root space in the city, and circumstances changed. Replacing the active and live organism of the Rog factory with an institutionalized new contemporary arts center would prevent many current collectives to continue with their work.
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