ARCHITECTURAL MODERNISM IN SERBIA

Architectural modernism 

The term ³architectural modernism´ nowadays generally denotes the breach with traditional forms and techniques of construction. Modern architecture appeared in Serbia at the time when the greater part of cult buildings and cult competition projects of the European architectural avant-guarde had already been completed. The birth and development of modern architecture in Serbia was a complex process and it can be followed on different levels, through numerous events of varying intensity and significance. 

It comprised cross-influences of the intellectual circle of artistic avant-garde around the journal ³Zenit´, the return from abroad of the first post war generation of Serbian architects from studies and specializations abroad, the work of foreign architects who had decided, for different reasons, to spend a part of their lives in Yugoslavia, study and monograph exhibitions of architectural artworks of foreign artists organized within international cultural exchange programs or by avant-garde movements as an aspect of their struggle for the acceptance of new tendencies in the visual world. 

During the early, formative period of Serbian architectural modernism, in the attempts to liberate the spirit in order to percieve the new visual world of artistic avant-garde, painting and sculpture exhibitions were as important as those of architectural achievements.

Belgrade after World War I 

After World War I Belgrade offered a strange social picture. Educated citizens had different cultural needs and different criteria, moving from villages and small towns to Belgrade as the biggest cultural center with an accelerating urbanization. Immediately after World War I, Belgrade had about 120.000 inhabitants; in 1931 the number rose to 260.000 and before the beginning of World War II there were 320.000 people living in the city.

³Zenit´ 

The first event in creating a radically new modern movement in Serbia was in 1923, when editorial board of art magazine ³Zenit´ moved to Belgrade. They were the first to publish in their journal some of the most important avant-garde architectural achievements of Tatlin, Loos, Mendelsohn, Theo van Doesburg and Cornelius van Eesteren and texts which introduced Le Corbusier and Melnikov. Owing the fonder of ³Zenit´ Ljubomir Micich, the citizens of Belgrade were the first time able to see works of unconventional art.

Group of Architects of Modernist Orientation 

On November 12, 1928, in Belgrade was founded the Group of Architects of Modernist Orientation. Cofounders of the group were: Milan Zlokovich, Branislav Kojich, Jan Dubovy and Dushan Babich. All four of them had either studied abroad or completed specialized courses outside Yugoslavia. Milan Zlokovich studied in Graz; between 1921 and 1923 he was in Paris at L´Ecole Superieure des Arts et Metiers. In the period between 1918 and 1921 Kojich studied and graduated at L`Ecole Centrale des Arts et Manufactures. Jan Dubovy studied in Prague, and Dushan Babich earned his diploma in Viena. 

The Group was established in order to fight for the principles of modern architecture and rational building through projects, executed buildings and public presentations at exhibitions and lectures and through publication of projects. Besides the founders of the Group, were: Dragisha Brashovan, Petar and Branko Krstich and Momchilo Belobrk. Dragisha Brashovan´s association with the group was percieved as a great victory for architectural modernism. 

The group organized few exhibitions: The First Salon of Architecture (1929), the First Yugoslav Salon of Contemporary Architecture (1931) and the Second Yugoslav Salon of Contemporary Architecture (1933). The Group exhibited in Prague in 1930-s.

Milan Zlokovic

Branislav Kojic

Jan Dubovy

Dusan Babic 

The Group was dissolved in February 1934, after barely five years since the founding. It was concluded that the goal of the Group has been achieved and it could no longer serve the needs of contemporary architecture.

Dragisa Brasovan

Petar and Branko Krstic

Momcilo Belobrk

Djordje Tabakovic

Triumph of Modern movement in Serbia 

The first great success of architectural modernism in Serbia was the triumph of a modernistically conceived projects in its extremely radical variant ± Nikola Dobrovich´s International competition entry for the Terazije Plateau in Belgrade, in 1930. It happened only three years after the jury of the international competition for the League of Nations Building in Geneva (1927) agreed to discuss a modernist project, the work of Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret; this was the first time in the history of architecture that a modernist project considered for the first prize, causing a public scandal

Dobrovic: Terazije Plateau in Belgrade

Modernism and traditional architecture 

Architectural Modernism in Serbia, however, was not part of an avant-garde, as in those countries where it orininated, but contained its basic elements. The causes should be looked for in the current social climate, profound conservativism and the education, as well as the social status of Serbian architects. Unlike European avant-guarde representatives, Serbian architects belonged to the upper middle classes. 

They were educated as architects in conservative schools, such as Viennese Akademie der bildenden Kuenste. A specific problem these well-to-do people did not want to raise was the fact that in their country participation in the artistic avant-garde was understood as propagation of Russian Soviet interests. 

For Serbian architects, architectural modernism was not a breach with the past and an instrument for creating a new social order. They were satisfied with the existing social and political order. Modern architecture in Serbia, within the Kingdom of Yugoslavia as in the neighboring kingdoms of Greece and Romania, did not gradually ³emerge out of geniune social needs and painstaking struggles and experiments of architects and artists. It was imposed by a part of the intellectual elite who wanted a faster modernization of living and behaved as its obvious symbol.´ 

For them, Modernism was part of the ideology of Europeanization. Loss of commissions and therefore an imperiled income, made even the founders of the Group of Architects of Modernist Orientation, Milan Zlokovich and Branislav Kojich, accept requests for traditional academic and even very conservative works.

Nikola Dobrovic 

The early 1930´s were of crucial importance for the Serbian architectural modernism. Creative individuals were pressed between tradition and avant-garde, between successful Modernist attempts and doubts about the utility of those efforts; some even deliberated about giving up and reverting to the old visual system. In those aesthetically unstable times, only one Serbian architect, who came from outside beyond the mainstream of the Serbian architectural scene, propagated an unyielding faith in Modernism. 

He was so firm in his convictions that he was ready to risk losing a job or abandon it if prevented from implementing the principles of modern architecture in his own way. This man was Nikola Dobrovich. Hi studied architecture in Budapest and Prague. His visual world was radically different from the visual world of the members of the Group of Architects of Modernist Orientation.

Dobrovich stepped onto the Belgrade architectural scene when he was only 33 years old, with a sensational triumph at the competition of Terazije Plateau. But, few years later, economic crisis that came to Europe from America prevented the realization of his projects in Belgrade, and he returned to his small studio in Prague. In 1934, he moved to Dubrovnik, Croatia. In the magazine ³Het Bouwbedrijf´, Theo van Doesburg wrote about Dobrovich as a supporter of the new in architecture, a champion of the extreme left of architectural avant-garde, influenced by Zenitism.

Period after the World War II 

When the communists came to power after the World War II, the professional careers of the fathers of Serbian architectural modernism were all about finished. They ended their creative work although most of them were only just over fourty. They could not get accustomed to the ideological and visual world of Socialist Realism. 

With some exceptions, they retained respectable social positions; some of them became university professors, members of the Serbian Acadeny of Sciences and Arts, indulged in scholarly research, wrote books, but there was no creative building they were fit for. Unable to understand the new age, even when some of them did build, they made professionally immaculate but cold and uninventive houses that did not reveal a single trace of their former ambition or skill. 

A comparison with universally known architects can bring one closer to understand the dimensions of these creative and personal looses. It is hard to imagine what place in the history of architecture would have Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe or Le Corbusier had stopped their creative development at the age of fourty-two or fourty-three, as was the case with Branislav Kojich and Milan Zlokovich. 

The only one from that generation of Serbian architects whose creativity survived the World War II and the arrival of the communists was Nikola Dobrovich. Between 1954 and 1963 he built in Belgrade his masterpiece ± the Ministry of Defence Headquarters.

Dobrovic: New Belgrade plan

Ministry of Defence Headquarters

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