March 29, 2008

NATO TARGET: The Federal Ministry of Defense in Belgrade

The building, completed in 1963, is today Belgrade’s most famous ruin: the Federal Ministry of Defense building on the corner of Miloševa and Nemanjina streets is the work of Nikola Dobrovic. Especially the twin giant frontbuildings were heavily damaged during NATO bombings on 7th May 1999 and are scary examples of precision bombing on Kneza Milosa Street.

Dobrovic is considered Serbia’s most important modern architect although he built only one building in Belgrade towards the end of his career.
The making and building of the Federal Ministry of Defense coincided with the construction of the post-war national identity in Yugoslavia shortly after the break from Stalin in 1948. During the spring of 1954 the Yugoslav Army invited nine Yugoslav architects to compete for a new building complex. One of them was Nikola Dobrovic, already known in leftist circles of the European intellectual avant-garde for his modernist work. He was a pioneer among Yugoslavian architects in resisting the influence of tradition.

Dobrovic, an "academic" with a "liberating voice," was there to serve as proof of the recent shift in Yugoslav politics towards a pro-liberal image endorsed by the West. After the break with the Eastern Bloc was unlikely to favor a Neo-classicist variations on national identity (like e.g. the competition entrance of Josip Plecnik, an established academic from Ljubljana) especially since Stalin had already appropriated the Neo-classicist image for the communist state.

Dobrovic won with a scheme stripped of any classical representations of power. The changes and the liberalization of a transitional state such as Yugoslavia were to be shaped into a volume, not expressed as a narrative. The street front across the site had already been filled with pre-war representational buildings in a variety of academic and Neo-classical styles.

Dobrovic's proposal connected the two divided areas of the site by proposing a long and narrow volume from one end of the site to the other with a full length of 250 meters, thus keeping a space open for the street coming up the hill from the main railway station to the city and forming a symbolic gate.
By setting this volume back from the line of the crossing street, Dobrovic created a 270-meter wide field open for experiments in elevation. The void in that elevation evoked a canyon and Dobrovic imagined the void as an integral part of his new image of national identity.

Selective Bombing or NATO as architectural critics

Had NATO wished to destroy a building with more Western influences, it could not have found a better target than the Ministry of National Defense. The leveling of Vukovar, the siege of Sarajevo, and the random bombardment of Dubrovnik were believed to have been ordered from this place also referred to as the "heart of the war machine."

For NATO it was difficult to classify this building, because its presence was more represented by the void between two part of the complex and it was extremly modern looking. NATO's late decision to bomb the building, more than a month after the air attacks had started, may have been the effect of this low level of symbolism: no exposed columns, no ornamental narration of history, as might have been present in Stalinist architecture.

Would a historical looking building with colums and classical shape have been enough to remind NATO's cultural advisers of the possibility that it belongs to Culture?


Will this building now be remembered in relation to its creation or to its destruction?
The reconstruction is not planned.
Here 3 reasons why the building probably will remain a ruin:

1) Lack of money

It’s nothing unusual, in the Balkans it’s always lack of money.
But back in 1999, right after bombing, the talk from Washington indicated that most financial aid to the region will land in Kosovo, the area reported by the UN to have the least damage. In these days, we understand why!

2) Souvenir of a void as National Identity

This famous ruin in the heart of Belgrade now asks that we think of two voids in relation to each other: one created by Nikola Dobrovic within his building of the Federal Ministry of Defense and the new one created by NATO's bombs falling on the building. The dilemma is about which void to identify with, which void to remember.

3) Symbol as too much Yuogslavian

In the Balkan Symbols, Rituals Ideologies still count! People have a cultural memory.
What grows, needs time to grow, what goes down, needs time to be forgotten, but everything that existed leaves traces.
And the building of the Federal Ministry of Defense seems to be too much Yugoslavian, too much a reminder of the past, a past that represent a dark chapter of the collective memory,that is still not forgotten. Like the most of Dobrovic’s modernist works, they leave a bad feeling in the mind of Serbians.
(An italian translation related to this post can be found on bAlKaN_scapes)

About Nikola Dobrovic see an extract of „Bauwelt - He built the modern Yugoslavia“ It’s in german, but there are some interesting pictures (to download in the sidebar after the blogroll).

March 19, 2008

NATO TARGET : Avala Tower

The TV Tower on Avala Mountain, renowned for modern architectural and structural concepts, was completely destroyed during NATO’s April 29 th attack.


The tower was constructed between 1961 and 1965 designed by Uglješa Bogdanović and Slobodan Janjić, and civil engineer Milan Krstić. It was was 202.87m high and standing on three slim legs (buried 1.4m into the mountain rock) it was the only tower that had an equilateral triangle as its cross section. From the height of 102 metres to a 135 metres there was an all glass area to which visitors could come via two quick lifts. It was a matter of prestige to have a drink at the top of the Tower, to have dinner and watch the city glittering at night. On the top of the tower there was an antenna, which was at first used for black and white television transmission. In 1971 the antenna was replaced by a new one used for colour TV transmission. It quickly became the symbol of Belgrade and a popular lookout point.


Avala Tower was destroyed on April 29, 1999 by NATO bombardment supposedly to put Radio Television of Serbia off the air. Radio Television Serbia broadcasting did not suffer as it was relying on a network of local TV stations which were obliged to relay its program throughout the whole of Serbia. A special bomb was used to destroy the tower. The blast was one of the loudest explosions heard throughout Belgrade during the NATO bombardment.


In 2004, Radio Television Serbia commenced a series of fund-raising events in order to collect money to reconstruct the building (over 1 million euros was collected through fund-raising and donations supported by politicians and celebrities). On December 21, 2006 the construction of a new Avala Tower started. An agreement regarding its construction was signed by Dušan Basara, director of the construction sector of the Ratko Mitrović Company—which will be in charge of the construction of the tower—and general director of RTS, Aleksandar Tijanić. Completion of the new tower is expected in August 2008.

Avala tower was a "proudness" symbol and a famous touristic landmark, so there was a big wish and acceptance to rebuild this unique tower.

March 15, 2008

Novi Pazar II

Most of all: Novi Pazar is a trading place!

The name "Novi Pazar" is derived ultimately from the turkish word "pazar" ("bazar" in Persian and "bazaar" in English) and Serbian word "novi" ("new" in English)

The area of Novi Pazar was occupied and administered by the Austro-Hungarians from 1878 to 1908. Then it was returned to the Ottoman Empire, which ruled this territory until it was lost to Serbia in 1912 during the first Balkan War.

Today Novi Pazar had around 85% Bosniaks (many of them declare themselves as Muslims by nationality) and around 12% Serbs.

Here another post of Novi Pazar.

March 9, 2008

Novi Pazar

Here some pictures of Novi Pazar. Situated in the Raska Area, it's surely worth a visit and it's a good starting point to visit some of the oldest Serbian-Orthodox Monasteries in the area.

An interesting office-building
The minaret-dotted skyline in the center

These long residential buildings on Avnoja boulevard show that even communist time building look a little bit quirkier in Novi Pazar.

Novi Pazar has a complicated story,
dating back over 1000 years and shared
by today's local Muslims and Serbs alike.

Candies, Nuts and Coffee: The colorful stores
in the main street and the smell
of roasted coffee wafting through the streets

The end of socialism, the outbreak of regional war and the dissolution of Yugoslavia have also left the region one of the poorest areas in Serbia. Once known for its denim production, the city now lacks any major industry.

March 4, 2008

Hotel Vrbak in Novi Pazar

Here a little excursion to the Raska region (a historical region in the south-west of Serbia, also called the region of the serbian kings, as it was already a kingdom around 1200 with Stefan Nemanja as a ruler).

Novi Pazar, a lively town in the Raska is not only an interesting spot and good place to have a a wonderful cup of coffee, but also bears one of the big gemms of Hotel Architecture in the Balkan: a retro-byzantin meets space-age design of concrete built in the 1970: The Hotel Vrbak.

In contrast to communist rational buildings for housing of that time, this Hotel, located in the full center of the city, represents the pure opposite: a festival of arches, vaults and domes, brick and stucco surfaces, symbolic ornamentation, and use of decorative mosaics!

The building consist of two connected octagonal shapes and an rectangular extension that straddels the River Raska.
Some Kiosks are attached under the building like the cabine of a zeppelin.

It has about 60 rooms, restaurant, café, aperitif bar, and a tourist agency (unfortunately there are not a lot of overnight guests, so not everything is always working, but it's still a popular spot for weddings...)