Do not throw concrete blocks! Social and Public Housing in New Belgrade and their Representations in Popular Culture


Author: Dr Jelena Prokopljevic

Abstract

This paper addresses the issue of social housing in the context of the socialist city, contemplates the differences and similarities between social housing as a concept and as an organization in different economic systems and takes into account the particularities of Yugoslav socialism. New Belgrade is the expansion of the state capital built from scratch starting from the 1950s, primarily composed of residential macrostructure. The construction process was supervised by the best Serbian architects and financed by huge state investment. However, New Belgrade has never had a positive social perception in accordance with the amount of innovation and quality of its architectural and constructive solutions. This paper analyses the presence of New Belgrade in popular culture: in films from different stages of its construction -the socialist era and the early transition period- and in lyrics and videos of pop music, with the objective to determine the main themes that have been illustrated and detect manners and consequences of those representations. It concludes that the generally negative image of the new city, generated through products of popular culture, was related to the quality of its spaces, lack of cultural content, social structure and physical appearance, and was influenced by the decay of social housing, the poor use of spaces and, finally, the lack of investment in the renewal of communal areas.

Key words: social housing, socialism, modernism, popular culture, perception

Introduction

In this paper I address the issue of social housing in the context of a socialist city having in mind the differences and similarities between social housing as a concept and as an organization in different economic systems, taking into account the particularities of Yugoslav socialism. The central theme of the text is the expanse of social housing in New Belgrade, an area built from scratch, where housing had the role of city formation in a very important part of the state capital. Although the territory, extending almost 2000 hectares, had remained for almost 70 years in a state of a permanent construction site, the decades of 1970s and 1980s saw the highest number of new homes built and inhabited.

New Belgrade was the subject of numerous architectural and urban competitions, with more or less coherent ideas about the city’s representativeness or theoretical models deriving from the Radiant City and Athens Charter. The results, but also the problems, delays and deviations appropriate to the construction process of such a large scale, were objects of criticism from multiple points of view. It has been studied from urban sociology and social psychology as well as from architectural and urban theory, coinciding with the postmodern critique of CIAM urbanism and the modern urban form. In this paper I propose to analyse the vision of New Belgrade expressed in the products of popular culture such as films for general viewing produced during the most important decades of its construction, and the presence of this part of town in pop music and videos.

The so-called dark wave of Yugoslav cinema from the late 1960s had criticized the paradigms of the new socialist society, but I believe the opinions and reasons for a certain dislike of the socialist social housing were explained more precisely in the products of mainstream culture, that in general had been subsidized and promoted by the socialist state’s cultural organizations. My intention is to introduce nuances in perception and in the artistic use of New Belgrade as a background to express certain social, political and perhaps architectural messages. The paper will explain the context of the construction of New Belgrade, especially of its central zone, initially planned as the most representative of the newly formed identity of Yugoslavia, as well as the modified population structure that followed the process. Several films as well as music videos that had New Belgrade blocks as their backdrop will be discussed in order to contextualize the cultural message within the broader socio-political trends.

The subsequent “criminalization” of New Belgrade that occurred parallel to the fall of the socialist system, the Yugoslav wars and the explosive privatization of almost the entire social housing fund, was also reflected in popular culture. I understand this process as generational continuity of the previously made criticisms and opinions, also partially due to the architectural and urban forms that facilitated imagining a kind of Balkan Bronx in New Belgrade. The period referred to in the paper, the decades of 1970s to 1990s, coincides with the point of maximum presence of social housing and the beginning of the virtual disappearance of this residential typology. My intention of relating this process through visions and expressions of popular culture, is to highlight the interdependence of social housing neighbourhoods and nature of their insertion in the collective urban imaginary.

Methodology: Historical and political context and the election of material for the analysis.

My study aims to analyse all products of popular culture that represented the space of New Belgrade during the most important period of its architectural and urban development. In order to explain the importance of the decades 1970s to 1990s, the most significant points of the social and political context will be outlined. These were the decades in which this context drastically changed, not only in New Belgrade, but also in the entire Yugoslavia, ending in a prolonged economic, political and social crises that included a severe armed conflict.

The decade of 1970s was characterized by the relative economic prosperity and international expansion due to the good relations that socialist Yugoslavia had with the countries of both political and economic blocs, thanks to its leading position in the Non-Aligned countries movement. These circumstances favoured the accelerated construction both in the country and abroad, with opportunities for structural, functional and formal experimentation. In 1972 the General Urban Plan for Belgrade was approved with prevision for the characteristics of urban growth in the new millennium, and was actually the last plan to recognize the urban space as a common good that is to be politically controlled and rationally planned and used. Two years later the new State Constitution was ratified, and became renowned and appreciated (but also criticized) for its decentralizing approach towards the national power. Apart from the federalization of the state, this constitution changed the employment system and decision making, emphasizing workers’ management and the existence of the market as a regulator parallel to the state dictate regarding important economic decisions. Workers’ self-managed organizations enjoyed a relative freedom to work, trade or negotiate with other companies on local, inter-republic or international level.

The 1980s were turbulent years (an introduction to a catastrophic following decade) starting with the disappearance of the ultimate guarantor of the national unity: the death of Marshal Tito in May 1980. The global crisis had inflicted a local crisis and the imposition of the Structural Adjustment Program by the International Monetary Fund required a high level of austerity in order to reduce drastically the country’s external debt. Shortages hit all sectors of society, including the construction slowdown in New Belgrade. At the same time the first laws were adopted that allowed private initiatives in small-sized companies leading to the first privatizations and criticism of the socialist economy. The 80s were also the time of great cultural opening, especially of urban centres and the emergence of alternative cultural movements critical of the official rhetoric and influenced by contemporary movements in Western Europe. The best known were Novi Val [new wave] from Zagreb and more radical NSK -Neue Slovenische Kunst [The new Slovenian art] from Ljubljana that had an impact throughout the country. In 1985 the Institute of Urbanism of Serbia published the book “Lessons of the Past” based on their study on alternative urban development in New Belgrade, a critical analysis in postmodern vein that had an important theoretical impact on subsequent planning. In parallel, the amendments to the urban legislature marked the beginning of investor’s urbanism where new partial plans were only developed as a function of available funding and not according the general urban plan or local needs.

The entire decade of the 1990s is known in Serbia as the black decade of Milosevic’s dictatorship that included the disappearance of Yugoslavia as an idea and as a legal and physical entity. The wars that took place in different parts of the country, ending with the bombing of Belgrade in 1999, led to a deep economic crisis, accompanied by social and cultural crisis – a crisis of roots and identities. Paradoxically, in this period much of the public housing in New Belgrade was privatized and yet its social perception was the worst in its history as reflected in the films produced in the following years that analysed this period.

Regarding the construction of social and public housing in New Belgrade, this period marks its point of maximum production then descent to its virtual disappearance. As the object for this analyses, all products of popular culture were used, providing that they were related to the physical space of New Belgrade and made a judgment or an evaluation of some kind. Considering the entire film or music production in Serbia in this period, films or videos with New Belgrade as their setting were few – a fact which in itself also expresses public opinion about this space. To understand the image of the new city, the presence of its different parts is analysed, as well as the relationship of the principal characters with the environment of New Belgrade and the personal and social characteristics of these characters.

Social housing in the socialist state: The particular case of Yugoslavia and Belgrade

Housing was one of the main issues in the urban development in the socialist countries. The central ideas of socialism: equality and social justice were understood, among other interpretations, as the general right to work and to proper housing, rights that addressed specific needs, although sometimes overcoming individual or familiar material possibilities. The dwelling was assumed to be a common good, in terms of production and in terms of distribution, with the state acting as protagonist in both transactions. The socialist state supplemented the civil society in decisions and initiatives related to the housing problem, making the entire housing production comparable to social housing. The decades of intense industrialization occasioned a massive housing production, not always in quantities correlated to the real needs and almost never equivalent to the purchasing power of workers. The consequences were rendered as chronic housing shortages in urban zones, poor quality of housing construction and lack of maintenance of communal areas.

However, there were conceptual differences between social housing and socialist public housing. The distribution of socialist housing was directly related to employment, and located in relative proximity to the workplace. These characteristics were the basis of social homogenization around work, creating at the same time a very heterogeneous neighbourhoods in terms of cultural and educational level or ethnic origin, a very interesting solution for multi-ethnic states and their capital cities. Only a small part of the residential production was actually intended for unemployed persons and in the case of Belgrade mostly covered the housing needs of members of Roma ethnicity.

Despite the intention of promoting equality, the distribution of housing, its exterior appearance, quality and location depended on the evaluation score of every worker’s personal situation and depended on their educational level, responsibility within the company, individual origin and on their particular family structure. It was just at this point that social differences grew because the proximity to management structures meant the authorization to a bigger and better located houses. The particularity of Yugoslav socialism is summarised in the theory of self-management of economic resources and profits. Starting from the 1950s this organisational model brought the decentralization of the responsibilities for housing provisions from the state to state owned companies. The system was consolidated in 1960s and companies acted as real-estate developers and owners of housing funds destined to the necessities of their workers. It is estimated that the companies spent around 4% of their annual profits on housing construction (Petrović, 2001, 218). The company was responsible for building and distributing homes in processes that were not always transparent and that depended on one’s position on the political scale or on personal contacts, prompting the increase of corruption (Tsenkova, 2009). One of the changes in housing policy introduced in 1974 was the so called “solidarity fund” for employees of low-profit copanies but it never exceeded 5% of newly built houses.

These general characteristics of socialist housing policy generated a chain of problems in use and in social perception of publicly owned housing that found its reflection in popular culture. On the one hand, the mass production and the creation of new districts linked to industrialization and to the general policy of eliminating differences between urban and rural areas, caused massive migration towards urban centres, changing the structure of the urban population and creating the chronic problem of homelessness and coexistence. At the same time, the universally distributed accommodation had problems of construction quality, finish and maintenance. Furthermore, the centralized distribution, depending on the state ministry or on the owner-enterprise, made individual choice of lodging or location impossible, complicating even more the process of adaptation of new inhabitants and the acceptance of new homes in terms of the personal environment. The relationship between the individual and their vital space was often frustrated by the lack of intimacy in poor sized and/or inadequately located residences.

The period of economic transition led to the rapid re-establishment of the market economy and massive privatization of the public housing fund was an essential part of the process. The socialist legacy of the right of usufruct of a property, gave advantages to the dwellers to acquire houses at prices around 30% below their market value, according to 1990 data (Petrović, 2001, 222). Nevertheless, during the period of hyperinflation, between 1992 and 1993, when the loss of monetary value was estimated at 100% every 16 hours, this process became an instant give-away privatization. As a result 95% of housing was privatized in Belgrade before 1995, creating the phenomenon of super-home-ownership, similar to other former socialist countries (Mandič, 2010). Housing ownership represented a kind of safety net in front of growing uncertainties in the market economy and was the subject of a variety of individual actions –to reform or to enlarge the interior space- often operating on the margins of urban regulations.

New Belgrade: intentions and realizations

New Belgrade is today the most populated district in Belgrade. It is the fastest growing, with more construction activity -even during the years of economic crisis- than any other district where many local and foreign companies are interested in establishing their headquarters. Its population is about 220,000 inhabitants, and according to the latest statistics, has the biggest number of infants in the capital. New Belgrade has been intensively built since 1948, its urban form and conception belong to the architecture and urbanism developed in socialist Yugoslavia, although there were some previous ideas as well as the built area of the Old Fair that date from the pre-revolutionary years.

Although the predominant construction in New Belgrade is now residential, this was not its original idea. In late 1946 three competitions were held to design the most emblematic buildings of the new city: the Communist Party headquarters, the seat of the state government and a representative hotel. The proposals were to also include general idea of the new city. The new capital of the state was intended to be built separated from the historic centre of Belgrade, on the swampy terrain between the Sava and the Danube rivers. As a political project, New Belgrade included the pretention of having a central role in the Balkan Federation imagined at the time by political leaders of Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. The competition projects for all three buildings reflected different influences and the city schemes had different formal relations with the historical centre, attending especially the core of political representation, where the public space for civic and residential use had only residual functions. Since almost all participants in the competitions were founders of the Yugoslav pre-war modern architecture most planning proposals echoed the Athens Charter, with the Slovene Edvard Ravnikar’s project translating the Radiant City.

 

Fig 1: Edvard Ravnikar's proposal for New Belgrade urban plan, 1947.

Fig 1: Edvard Ravnikar’s proposal for New Belgrade urban plan, 1947.

 

The beginning of construction of the first housing blocks and the building for the Federal Government belonged to the Socialist Realist ideology and aesthetics, with a large popular mobilization in the form of voluntary youth brigades. The new city, symbol of the reunited country, with a new political system and new social values was being built. The works officially started on April 11th, 1948 without a definite urban plan. Then in 1948 only the initial project was approved, in 1950 the master plan of Belgrade and in 1959 the competition for the central zone was decided. From then on different blocks would be developed, according to detailed plans. During the early years of construction of New Belgrade this collective project was depicted as an heroic work – an entire city, built on virgin soil recovered from the marshes between the Sava and Danube rivers. The youth brigades came from across the country and worked on the basis of competition and exceeding productivity in the Stakhanovite style. The film Dogodilo se na današnji dan [It happened on a day like this], directed by Miroslav Lekić in 1987 reproduces Belgrade from 1963 and mentions the social pressure on young people to enlist in these youth brigades, as well as their opposition for either political or aesthetical reasons.

The initial urban plan developed in 1948 by the team of Nikola Dobović, at the time city architect,defined the public and representative centre in the following manner:

“In New Belgrade, perpendicular to the national highway, two parallel representative avenues are envisaged, each one 180m wide. One of them connects the train station with government building on the bank of the Danube and the other with the Communist Party building, at the confluence of the Sava into the Danube. The same direction as the highway and the railway station has the projected Danube-Sava canal. In the processional avenue leading to the Party building a great plaza for demonstrations is proposed. From this square views open to the main objects of New Belgrade: the Government and Party buildings, new Parliament house, House of Trade Union and the amphitheatre of the river Sava. At the encounter of the main transit routes -the national highway and the diagonals- we preview a square in front of the House of the Trade Union whose size permits the simultaneous gathering of 400,000 demonstrators.” (Dobrović, 1948)

Fig 2: Basic urban plan for New Belgrad central zone. Institute for Urbanism of Serbia, leading architect: Nikola Dobrović, 1948.

Fig 2: Basic urban plan for New Belgrade central zone. Institute for Urbanism of Serbia, leading architect: Nikola Dobrović, 1948.

 

The master plan of Belgrade, approved in 1950 set the construction of New Belgrade as the state priority, determining it as a zone of urban expansion that would constitute almost 25% of the metropolitan area and 21% of its population. The structure of uses was distributed as follows: 10% for administration, culture and education, 20% for industry, 30% housing and 40% for green areas and transit infrastructure (Mandić, 1951). The 6 blocks surrounding the central axis between the government building and the railway station – later to be converted into 9- were subject of an urban competition in 1958 that resulted in a joint solution between two ex-aequo winning teams. The 6 lateral blocks that conformed the ensemble were defined as residential; their definite forms were later decided in partial competitions, while the three central blocks, initially designed as a metropolitan centre with cultural and commercial character, were never built according to this plan. The representative axis of New Belgrade remained under construction for decades, ending up with one residential block, one with a multifunctional sports and spectacle hall and the third with a mix of housing, offices and an orthodox church.

Fig 3: Resulting project of two winning proposals for the New Belgrade centra zone, Institute or Urbanism of Serbia, architects: Aleksandar Djordjević, Leonid Lenarčić, Milutin Glavički, Uroš Martinović, 1959.

Fig 3: Resulting project of two winning proposals for the New Belgrade central zone, Institute or Urbanism of Serbia, architects: Aleksandar Djordjević, Leonid Lenarčić, Milutin Glavički, Uroš Martinović, 1959.

 

The character of buildings and the consideration of the residential area varied widely between 1970s with the socialist construction boom and the 2000s when the main part of new construction was designed to densify the urban fabric. Among architects, New Belgrade is still considered the great work of Yugoslav modernism, which followed the guidelines of scientific urbanism of the city of light, air and green space. New Belgrade was also a large scale experiment in new housing solutions, new materials and prefabricated building systems, as well as new architectural forms always thought of as a part of a complex and not as a single building. Like in other socialist countries, the standardization of housing typology and the prefabrication of the maximum number of elements was sought. The predominant prefabricated structural system in New Belgrade had been developed at the Institute of Materials of Serbia (IMS), according to designs of engineer Branko Žeželj. The system of prestressed concrete pillars and beams, developed since 1957 and expanded in the Institute to include structural and enclosure walls, stairs, bathroom or kitchen elements, was widely used in residential construction in Yugoslavia and also exported to non-aligned countries (Dimitrijević, 2000).

The main advantage of IMS-Žeželj system was its openness and a great flexibility it provided for the interior and exterior design; as V. Kulić (2012) argued, allowing the application of the Le Corbusier’s 5 points of modern architecture in the massive construction of social housing. The system has been used since the 1960s in complexes of diverse configuration and appearance allowing, together with the different developers and builders, a big formal variety between macro blocks. In the popular culture the blocks of New Belgrade were personified in terms of their forms, as Televizorke [the television buildings, for the form of their windows], Mercedes (three skyscrapers whose ground floor plan resembles the Mercedes logo), Stepenice [stairs], or in terms of as 6 kaplara [6 corporals for army skyscrapers] or Pandur [policeman] for a housing building of the national police.

Fig 4: Housing in blocks 61, 62 and 63 by architects Darko and Milenija Marušić, 1971-1973

Fig 4: Housing in blocks 61, 62 and 63 by architects Darko and Milenija Marušić, 1971-1973

The state construction of social housing in New Belgrade was always based on competitions, which allowed the affirmation of a new generation of architects and urban planners. Apart from  structure and materials, the optimal interior layout was researched in parallel with the development of regulations related to residential areas. The architects Darko and Milenija Marušić, designers of 61, 62 and 63 blocks built between 1971 and 1973 spoke about the influence of the Mies van der Rohe’s fluid space in the design of new housing, about creating flexible spaces that allowed attaching or detaching rooms, about circular schemes of internal communications and about the organization of interior space according to the biological day-night rhythm, as essential elements of
housing in Belgrade (Andjelković, 2013). Flexible housing peaked in block 19a by Lojanica, Cagić and Jovanović architects, built between 1975 and 1981. The prefabricated structure, the use of the same grid in the whole structure and demountable partitions made the housing units of this bloc adaptable to the changing lives of the inhabitants (Lujak, 2010).

Fig 5: Housing in block 23 by architects Aleksandar Stjepanović, Božidar Janković, Branislav Karadžić, 1974.

Fig 5: Housing in block 23 by architects Aleksandar Stjepanović, Božidar Janković, Branislav Karadžić, 1974.

 

The public image of New Belgrade

Contrary to the magnitude of state investment in the construction of New Belgrade and despite the powerful rhetorical content of building the new socialist city based on collective effort, this neighbourhood has had relatively little presence in Yugoslav cultural production. During the first couple of years of its construction, New Belgrade filled newspapers and news, but during the 1960s the only two films located in the area were Čudna devojka [A Strange Girl] and Gorki deo reke [The Bitter Part of the River], both by the director Živojin Jovanović and both with a neutral opinion about the new construction. It was not until the second half of the 1970s and the early 1980s when the first considerations of New Belgrade were formulated in the field of popular culture. Possibly the best known and most severe criticism was expressed by the hard rock group called Riblja Čorba, entitled Neću da živim u bloku 65 [I don’t want to live in the Block 65] recorded on their 1982 album Buvlja pijaca [The Flee Market]. The band famous for their lyrics critical of the regime, painted a dark grey neighbourhood with problems of juvenile alcoholism, violent gangs of newcomers, empty streets already by 9 pm and an unnatural environment without trees to stop the wind between skyscrapers adorned only with concrete and asphalt.

Actually, the image of New Belgrade transmitted in movies or music lyrics was rarely positive. The new wave of the 1970s contained criticism of the system from both social and aesthetical points of view, a criticism formulated at a time of certain ideological openness and freedom of expression. Block 28, with the buildings known as televizorke, by the architect Ilija Arnautović (1968-1971) appears as a setting for the video for the song Pogled u BB [A View to a Better Future] by the Zagreb based band Haustor. With the rhetorical background of building a better future exemplified in public and social housing of New Belgrade, the song refers to the consumerist and hypocritical turn that the society was taking at the beginning of the 1980s, and to the supposed heroes of socialism that abused the system benefits for personal enrichment. The same rhetorical background was used tangentially in the known TV series Grlom u Jagode, directed by Srdjan Karanović in1976 that addressed the daily life, thoughts and concerns of a group of Belgrade teenagers during the 1960s. Although the site of the story was not New Belgrade, each episode ended with the protagonist Bane symbolically crossing the bridge over the Sava River, supposedly towards the real, grown-up life and a better future. Across the river the recently built apartment blocks of New Belgrade could be glanced.

Fig 6: screenshots from the video Haustor: Pogled u BB, 1981

Fig 6: screenshots from the video Haustor: Pogled u BB, 1981

 

The problems of New Belgrade as a new urban centre emphasized in the films of the 1970s and 1980s referred to its changing population structure, inadequate housing and lack of facilities for a satisfactory social and cultural life. Dietrich Neumann argued that film was a reflection, or an observation of architecture and the contemporary city, that uses architectural scenes to build  environments or emphasise situations and, in reverse, directors seem to express an opinion about the city itself and about its respective buildings. (Angelero, 2014) The construction of New Belgrade and of other residential quarters was parallel with the industrialization of the capital suburbs and with the restructuring of the central administration; the overture of numerous work places, facilitated a large migration towards the capital, causing a chronic homelessness and a significant change in the social structure. As a consequence, there was a generalized opinion that almost all New Belgrade inhabitants were newcomers, and therefore were often despised for their lack of urban culture.

The picture Šta Radis večeras [What are you doing tonight] by three young directors: Baljak, Markov and Velinović, describes the lives of three teenage friends from the Block 70 in New Belgrade. Coming from middle class working families the boys didn’t have access to the latest fashion and urban events, therefore they didn’t have access to elegant parties in the old city and were socially labelled as losers. Apart from highlighting the class differences, the film also talks about the poor cultural and social life offered in the district: there is only an anodyne bar in the centre of  microrayon. Instead, there are large parklands on the bank of the Sava and huge unordered open spaces, so long walks and sports activities were the few things young people could do in the public space. Almost the only film that presented New Belgrade with a positive air, as a city of youth, of light, air and lots of free space was Lude godine [The Crazy Years]. The protagonist, Boba, a high school teenager lives with his parents, of provincial background, in Block 70, while his girlfriend Marija lives in the old city. The cultural difference between the two families is represented in
the interior decoration of their houses, in the type of buildings where they live and in their professional and daily activities. The New Belgrade family belongs to the working class, in fact Boba’s father is a temporary worker in Germany, while the old-centre family are the high-level intellectuals. The first family lives in a wide sunny apartment on the top floor of one of the new skyscrapers, while the latter occupies the ground floor of an old house with a few neighbours in the centre. The couple usually meet in the middle of the bridge over the Sava, between the two cities, but their romantic walks always head towards the new part.

Fig 7: screenshots from the film Lude godine, 1977.

Fig 7: screenshots from the film Lude godine, 1977.

Certainly New Belgrade was perceived as the city of youth and some legendary Yugoslav post punk bands were linked to this area. This was the case of the groups EKV or Disciplina Kičme, representatives of the new wave and post punk in Yugoslavia. Their beginnings date back to Limunovo drvo group whose first concert was held in 1978 in the open space of block 45. The first album that Discipline Kičme released in 1983 contained the legendary song “Do not!” that spoke of New Belgrade concrete in repeated minimalist lyrics: “Do not throw concrete blocks from the top
of your house. Cause you can hit some limousines, limousines and Human Beings.” The song was reissued by the international version of the band in 1996 and expresses the superhuman scale of buildings, the car-oriented urban structure and the concrete brut as the main visual feature of New Belgrade.

Fig 8: Limunovo drvo: concert, 1978. Disciplina Kicme: screenshot from the video Do Not! 1996.

Fig 8: Limunovo drvo: concert, 1978. Disciplina Kicme: screenshot from the video Do Not! 1996.

Another important theme in movies about New Belgrade was the housing. Not so much the quality or the disposition or materials, but its size or the dissimulated homelessness, affecting especially the young generation forced to share home with their families. The protagonist of the film Rad na odredjeno vreme [The Part Time Job] is a young schoolteacher who has no steady job and no family; therefore he is not entitled to a proper house according to the housing distribution regulations. He temporarily shares a one bedroom flat with a sister, her husband and his sister in the expressive and spectacular block 23. For the lack of space he sleeps in the dining room while his brother-in-law who works the night shift sleeps during the day in the same bed his sister uses at night.

Fig 9: Screenshots from the film Rad na odredjeno vreme, 1980.

Fig 9: Screenshots from the film Rad na odredjeno vreme, 1980.

The socialist system, in crisis since the 1980s, experienced the increasingly rapid de-collectivization of the housing stock, resulting in self-managed solutions to renew or expand one’s home,  although it still officially belonged to the public domain. This ability to respond to the system inspired the unpublished text of Henry Lefebvre on New Belgrade, written as part of the entrance to the International Competition for the New Belgrade Urban Structure Improvement in 1986 by the French architects Serge Renaudie and Pierre Guilbaud, and discovered by the architectural historian from the Architecture School of Belgrade University, Ljiljana Blagojević. “Because of self-management, a place is sketched between the citizen and the citadin, and Yugoslavia is today (1986) perhaps one of the rare countries country to be reliable to pose the problem of a New Urban.” (Bitter, 2009)

This “new urban” had different forms and typologies in New Belgrade, not always legal and not always pleasant, following the relatively negative image of the city inherited from the previous epoch. The transition period, convoluted in Yugoslavia by the destruction of the common state, brought the final destruction of the public image and the “criminalization” of public housing blocks. Especially blocks 61, 62 and 63 by the Marušić architects were presented as a city ghetto. The movie Apsolutnih 100 [The Absolute 100] directed by Srdan Golubović in 2001, locates there the lives of two elite-athletes marked by the Balkans’ wars, drug addiction and criminal environment, ending up in the exile of one and suicide of the other. Through carefully studied photography and static shots, the film explores the expressiveness and architectural plasticity of multiple repeated architectural elements. The same scenario and a story even more related to youth criminality and ghetto culture, distinguish the film 1 na 1 [1 on 1] directed by Mladen Matičević in 2002. The film shows the physical deterioration of the housing and semi-public intermediate spaces, vertical and horizontal communications between homes and buildings that remain poorly maintained as a legacy of public housing system in which these areas were considered no-one’s property.

Fig 10: screenshot from the film Apsolutnih 100, 2001.

Fig 10: screenshot from the film Apsolutnih 100, 2001.

 

Conclusions

New Belgrade started as a city of great ideas that developed important architectural and urban projects during its construction process, although public and social housing with un-urbanized green areas ended up being its predominant use. The new city was being built at a rapid rhythm between 1960 and 1980, in order to fulfil the chronic shortage of 50,000 housing units throughout Belgrade. Its urbanistic basis was the principles of the Athens Charter and microrayon organization which arranged the residential complexes around small neighbourhood centres with shops, services, centres of elementary education and health.

The study of the image of New Belgrade expressed in mass culture, especially in cinematography, highlights the criticism of this collective work of highest national and political level. Given that the cultural production was, at the time, also subsidized by the state, whose control institutions decided the suitability of each work for the general public in the sense of quality or kitsch, this criticism was in a sense a self-criticism. Perhaps it was an unintended criticism that in fact highlighted the independence (for good and for bad) of Yugoslav architecture with respect to different opinions and dictates. Although the features and architectural quality was not, mostly, the object of discussion, it was treated tangentially through other problems generated by housing policy, urban planning and specific problems in the construction process.

The main complaints were oriented towards the lack of public spaces for socio-cultural activities, the super-human urban scale of New Belgrade, the inflexibility of internal and external building structures, housing shortage, space and limitations for improving the dwelling according to individual criteria. The problems were exacerbated by the altered social structure from mass immigration to the capital in parallel with the industrialization and massive construction of residential neighbourhoods. The particular form of investing in construction -through state-owned companies- and distributing housing for their employees, caused homogenization around work and created a particular cultural stratum of the population particularly highlighted in the blocks built with funds from the federal army.

Although the difference between public housing and social housing in the socialist countries, especially in Yugoslavia was blurry, the decline of its popular appreciation was becoming visible and became particularly pronounced since 1980s, coinciding with the introduction of the first measures of economic liberalization and private initiative. The cultural characterization of the residential blocks makes the process evident with extreme criminalization of some areas of the city in the early 1990s. The image of New Belgrade residential blocks embedded in movies is a double mirror reflecting a part of its urban reality and projecting an image that stains the general perception not only of existing spaces but of the actual residential urban structure and architectural typology in general. The negative view of social and public housing and its virtual disappearance from New Belgrade were also consequences of this delusion coming from the representation and perception of mass culture products.

 

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Dobrivojević, Ivana. “Housing Construction”. They Never Had it Better? Modernization of Everyday Life in Socialist Yugoslavia. Museum of Yugoslav History. Belgrade. 2014. pp 46.

Dobrović, Nikola, “Izgradnja Novog Beograda”, [Construction of New Belgrade] Jugoslavija-SSSR, 32, Belgrade, 1948, pp 8-15

Kulić, Vladimir, Maroje Mrduljaš, Wolfgang Thaler, Modernism In-between. The mediatory architectures of socialist Yugoslavia, Jovis Verlag GmbH, Berlin, 2012

Mandič, Srna, “The changing role of housing assets in post-socialist countries”,Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, June 2010, V. 25, Issue 2, pp 213-226, web. 10-12-2014.

Mandić, Stanko. “Organizacija i namena površina gradske teritorije”, Beograd. Generalni urbanistički plan 1950, [“Organization and the use of spaces of the city territory”, Belgrade. General Urban Plan 1950] Izvršni odbor N.O. Beograd, 1951, pp. 71-86

Lujak, Mihailo, “Spatialization of Social Process vs Singular Object of Architecture”, Spatium, international Review, 23, 2010, University of Belgrade, pp. 38-45.

Petrović,Mina, “Post-Socialist Housing Policy Transformation in Yugoslavia and Belgrade”, International Journal of Housing Policy, 1:2, 2001, pp. 211-231 web. 15-10-2014

Prokopljevic, Jelena. “Arquitectura, Representación e Ideología. Análisis de proyectos para Nueva Belgrado, 1947-1959“ Diss. UPC Barcelona, 2006. Print.

Tsenkova, Sasha, Housing Policy Reforms in Post Socialist Europe. Lost in transition, Physica-Verlag, Heildeberg, 2009

Film:

Čudna Devojka [The Strange Girl] (Živojin Jovanović, 1962)

Gorki deo Reke [The Bitter Part of the River](Živojin Jovanović, 1965)

Grlom u Jagode (Srdjan Karanović, 1976)

Lude godine [The Crazy Years] (Zoran Čalić, 1977)

Rad na odredjeno vreme [The Part Time Job] (Milan Jelić, 1980)

Dogodilo se na današ nji dan  [It happened on a day like this] (Miroslav Lekić, 1987)

Šta radiš večeras [What are you doing tonight] (Janko Baljak, Ivan Markov y Predrag Velinović, 1988)

Apsolutnih 100 [The Absolute 100] (Srdan Golubović, 2001)

1 na 1 [1 on 1] (Mladen Matičević, 2002)

Music videos:

Pogled u BB (Haustor, 1981)

Neću da živim u Bloku 65 [I don’t want to live in the Block 65] (Riblja Čorba, 1982)

Do not! (Disciplina Kičme, 1996)

 

About the Author

Dr Jelena Prokopljevic is an architect and researcher in the field of socialist architecture and urbanism. Graduated at the University of Belgrade (1998). PhD at the Polytechnic University of Barcelona (2006); thesis: “Architecture, Representation and Ideology. Analysis of New Belgrade projects 1947-1959”. Book on North Korean architecture published in Sevilla, Spain 2012. Collaborations with CCCB, URBS, Autonoma University Barcelona, Korean Pavilion – Venice Biennale 2014.

Designed by Chris Orchard