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Toward a Concrete Utopia: MoMA Explores the Yugoslav Architecture

  • Monument to the Battle of the Sutjeska, 1965-71 on view at Toward a Concrete Utopia
  • Yugoslav Pavilion at Expo 58, 1958
  • Telecommunications Center, 1968-81
  • Revolution Square (today Republic Square), 1960-74
  • National and University Library of Kosovo, 1971–82
  • Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija, 1979–81
  • Monument to the Ilinden Uprising, 1970-73
  • Jasenovac Memorial, 1959–66
  • International Trade Fair, 1973-77
  • Braće Borozan building block in Split 3, 1970–79
  • Belgrade Master Plan, 1949-50
  • Apartment Building on Laginjina Street, 1957–62
July 10, 2018
A philosophy graduate interested in theory, politics and art. Alias of Jelena Martinović.

Although part of a larger cultural phenomenon, the Yugoslav architecture remains unique in the context of design approaches in Europe and beyond. A manifestation of the radical pluralism, hybridity, and idealism that characterized the Yugoslav state itself, it represents the most important architectural heritage of the 20ht century in the former Yugoslav countries.

This remarkable body of work has sparked recurrent international interest, yet a rigorous interpretative study never materialized in the United States until now. A major new survey of the architecture of Socialist Yugoslavia will soon be on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Titled Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980, it will bring together more than 400 drawings, models, photographs and film reels drawn from an array of municipal archives, family-held collections, and museum across the Balkan region. For the first time, the remarkable creations of Yugoslavia’s leading architects will be introduced to the international audience.

Hotel Adriatic II, 1970–71 on view at Toward a Concrete Utopia
Branko Žnidarec, Hotel Adriatic II, 1970–71, Opatija, Croatia. Exterior view. Photo: Valentin Jeck, 2016, commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art

Post-War Yugoslavia and Its Complexities

Re-established by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia led by Josip Broz Tito and Yugoslav Partisans who were the largest anti-fascist resistance movement in occupied Europe, post-war Yugoslavia was a country with great sociopolitical complexity. Initially founded on the Soviet model in 1945, it broke with Stalin’s politics only three years later, reforming its political system as a specific version of “humane”, decentralized and democratized socialism.

Situated between the capitalist West and the socialist East, the country evaded the simple Cold War dichotomy. In 1961, Tito became the leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, which did not relate to any major power bloc and “advocated tolerance and peaceful coexistence between the rival systems”, further spearheading a “third way”.

At the same time, the government undertook rapid modernization at home with a range of building efforts with an aim to grow the economy, improve the daily lives of Yugoslav citizens, and engage with the diverse cultures in the region. The country also advanced urbanization and building efforts beyond its borders, most notably in other Non-Aligned countries in Africa and the Middle East.

Welcoming the arrival of socialism as a chance to “redress the ills of life in capitalism,” Yugoslav modernist architecture changed the housing policy to reject the institution of investors. In 1956, the country defined the “Right to Residence”, enabling the working man one of the most important conditions of life – a roof over one’s head.

Podgorica Hotel, 1964-67, S2 Office Tower, 1972-78 on view at MoMA in 2018 and 2019
Left: Svetlana Kana Radević, Podgorica Hotel, 1964-67, Podgorica, Montenegro. Exterior view of the balconies. Photo: Valentin Jeck, 2016, commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art / Right: Milan Mihelič, S2 Office Tower, 1972-78, Ljubljana, Slovenia. Photo: Valentin Jeck, 2016, commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art

The Uniqueness of Yugoslav Architecture

Responding to the intricacies of their environment, Yugoslavia’s architects developed a unique postwar architecture both in line with and distinct from greater modernist approaches elsewhere. Designing everything from International Style skyscrapers to Brutalists “social condensers”, architects produced a veritable “parallel universe” of modern architecture during the 45 years of the country’s existence, responding to the very essence of what Yugoslavia was. It is a significant yet thus-far understudied body of modernist architecture, whose forward-thinking contributions still resonate today.

These impressive structures reveal the complexity and variation within postwar modernism in general. With multiple distillations and adaptations of ideas in socialist Yugoslavia, the sources and products of architectural modernism were truly diverse. They also reveal how everyone came together to create and use spaces in Yugoslavia.

However, Yugoslavia’s architecture from the socialist era remains little-explored, which makes Toward a Concrete Utopia at MoMA all the more relevant and timely. Due to the lack of public support and maintenance, many of these structures are now in danger, making it necessary to draw the public’s attention to these achievements before it is too late.

Cover of Architecture of Bosnia and the Way to Modernity, 1957, Šerefudin White Mosque, 1969–79
Left: Dušan Grabrijan and Juraj Neidhardt, Cover of Architecture of Bosnia and the Way to Modernity, 1957. Collage, 14 x 14 9/16 in. (36 x 37 cm). Private archive of Juraj Neidhardt / Right: Zlatko Ugljen, Šerefudin White Mosque, 1969–79, Visoko, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Interior view. Photo: Valentin Jeck, 2016, commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art

Toward a Concrete Utopia – Highlights

This major showcase at MoMA will address the themes of large-scale urbanization, technological experimentation and its application in everyday life, consumerism, monuments and memorialization, and the global reach of Yugoslav architecture. The audience will have a unique chance to get acquainted with masterpieces of the period created by renowned Yugoslav architects such as Bogdan Bogdanović, Juraj Neidhardt, Svetlana Kana Radević, Edvard Ravnikar, Vjenceslav Richter, and Milica Šterić, among others.

Examining the unique range of forms and modes of production and the distinct yet multifaceted character of Yugoslav architecture, the exhibition will present iconic designs such as the sculptural interior of the White Mosque in rural Bosnia, the post-earthquake reconstruction of the city of Skopje based on Kenzo Tange’s Metabolist design, and the new town of New Belgrade with its expressive large-scale housing blocks and civic buildings.

Exhibition poster for the retrospective of architect Janko Konstantinov, 1984
Exhibition poster for the retrospective of architect Janko Konstantinov, 1984. Collage diazotype and tracing paper. Personal archive of Jovan Ivanovski

Yugoslav Architecture at MoMA

The exhibition Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980 will be on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from July 15th, 2018 until January 13th, 2019.

It will be accompanied by one of the first in-depth publications to showcase this important and thus-far understudied body of modernist architecture. The catalog will include scholarly essays, new photographs by Valentin Jeck commissioned for the exhibition, and archival reproductions.

The show is organized by Martino Stierli, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art, and Vladimir Kulić, guest curator, with Anna Kats, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art.

 Editors’ Tip: Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980

Published in conjunction with a major exhibition on the architectural production of Yugoslavia between 1948 and 1980, this is the first publication to showcase an understudied but important body of modernist architecture. Featuring new scholarship and previously unpublished archival materials, this richly illustrated publication sheds light on key ideological concepts of Yugoslav architecture, urbanism and society by delving into the exceptional projects and key figures of the era, among them Bogdan Bogdanovic, Zoran Bojovic, Drago Galic, Janko Konstantinov, Georgi Konstantinovski, Niko Kralj, Boris Magaš, Juraj Neidhardt, Jože Plecnik, Svetlana Kana Radevic, Edvard Ravnikar, Vjenceslav Richter, Milica Šteric, Ivan Štraus and Zlatko Ugljen.

Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980

Featured images: Miodrag Živković and Đorđe Zloković, Monument to the Battle of the Sutjeska, 1965-71, Tjentište, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo: Valentin Jeck, 2016, commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art; Vjenceslav Richter, Yugoslav Pavilion at Expo 58, 1958, Brussels, Belgium. Archive of Yugoslavia; Janko Konstantinov, Telecommunications Center, 1968-81, Skopje, Macedonia. View of the Southwestern Block façade. Photo: Valentin Jeck, 2016, commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art; Edvard Ravnikar, Revolution Square (today Republic Square), 1960-74, Ljubljana, Slovenia. Photo: Valentin Jeck, 2016, commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art; Andrija Mutnjaković, National and University Library of Kosovo, 1971–82, Prishtina, Kosovo. Exterior view. Photo: Valentin Jeck, 2016, commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art; Berislav Šerbetić and Vojin Bakić, Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija, 1979–81, Petrova Gora, Croatia. Exterior view. Photo: Valentin Jeck, 2016, commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art; Jordan and Iskra Grabul, Monument to the Ilinden Uprising, 1970-73, Kruševo, Macedonia. Photo: Valentin Jeck, 2016, commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art; Bogdan Bogdanović, Jasenovac Memorial, 1959–66, Jasenovac, Croatia. Photo: Valentin Jeck, 2016, commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art; Zoran Bojović for Energoprojekt, International Trade Fair, 1973-77, Lagos, Nigeria. Plan of external traffic connections and internal circulation, 1973. Felt tip pen on tracing paper mounted on cardboard, 27 9/16 x 39 3/8 in. (70 x 100 cm). Personal archive of Zoran Bojović; Dinko Kovačić and Mihajlo Zorić. Braće Borozan building block in Split 3, 1970–79, Split, Croatia. Exterior view. Photo: Valentin Jeck, 2016, commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art; Urban Planning Institute of Belgrade, Belgrade Master Plan, 1949-50, Belgrade, Serbia. Plan 1:10000, 1951. Ink and tempera on diazotype, 64 9/16 x 9 3/4 in. (164 x 233 cm). Urban Planning Institute of Belgrade.; Ivan Vitić, Apartment Building on Laginjina Street, 1957–62, Zagreb, Croatia. Perspective drawing, 1960. Tempera, pencil, and ink on paper, 27 15/16 × 39 3/8″ (71 × 100 cm). Ivan Vitić Archive, Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts. All images courtesy of MoMA, New York.