Belgrade is one of the few cities in Europe where the newer architectural layers are clearly more awe-inspiring than the surviving structures of the historic city center. This is especially true about the municipality of New Belgrade (Нови Београд, Novi Beograd), which has, in my opinion, one of the most outstanding ensembles of Socialist Modernist architecture on the continent.
New Belgrade is a planned district on the west bank of the Sava River, across the historic center of the city. Most of the area that it covers was an unpopulated marshland until the 20th century, with the exception of the Bežanija village in the west, which was already inhabited in the Neolithic period. In the north it is bordered by Zemun, which was a separate town for most of its history and was annexed to Belgrade only in 1934. There were several projects to build a modern district between these three settlements in the interwar period. These came to fruition only after the war.
The first plans of New Belgrade were drawn in 1946. In 1948, the first plots of the marshland were drained with sand and the construction works were launched. The work was carried out not only by professional engineers and constructions workers, but also by youth work brigades and student volunteers, whose number reached 200,000 by 1950. Because the new city was conceived as a symbol of the greatness and power of the new, Socialist state, it enjoyed widespread political support and was for decades the largest construction site in Yugoslavia.
The new city was planned following the principles of the Ville Radieuse, developed by Le Corbusier in the 1930s. The area was divided into blocks (блокови, blokovi), which were built up with monumental residential and public buildings. These are mostly Brutalist in style, with reinforced concrete left exposed, although other materials such as bricks, glass and steel were used as well. Lots of them show bold and innovative forms. The blocks are separated by wide boulevards, and there are abundant green areas and entertainment facilities between the individual buildings.
Today parts of New Belgrade cater for business purposes, which explains the ongoing constructions, while other parts are predominantly residential. Like most huge city blocks in the world, it has a rather bad reputation among the general population, often being called a спаваоница (spavaonica), a district that is suitable for sleeping, and not for living. For all those that are captivated by post-war large-scale architectural experiments, however, it has become a well-known pilgrimage site and playground.
My portfolio consists of two parts. In the first part I will introduce 14 Socialist Modernist buildings in both New Belgrade and other parts of the city. The second part consists of photos of some residential blocks of New Belgrade that have caught my attention. The buildings are from between 1947 and 1989, with most being completed in the 1960s or the 1970s. Two notable structures are missing from my list: the building of the Municipality of New Belgrade (Stojan Maksimović & Branislav Jovin, 1964) and the Avala Tower (Uglješa Bogunović, Slobodan Janjić & Milan Kristić, 1965).
I took all the photos in May 2019.
You will find the locations of the mentioned sites on the map below.
Part One: Masterpieces of Socialist Modernism
1. Federal Executive Council 1 (SIV 1)
Bulevar Mihajla Pupina 2, Block 13, New Belgrade
Vladimir Potočnjak, Antun Urlich, Zlatko Neumann & Dragica Perak (original plan); Mihailo Janković (final plan); 1947-1959
The H-shaped building that stretches across the Block 13 was constructed for the Federal Executive Council, the executive body of Yugoslavia. The original plan, drawn by four Zagreb-based architects in 1947, envisaged a stripped-down Stalinist structure. The political change brought about by the Tito-Stalin Split in 1948, however, affected the way the authorities thought about the look of the building, and the new project by Mihailo Janković made a step away from Stalinism towards Modernism.
The building was one of the first public structures to be built in New Belgrade. Like elsewhere, youth work brigades from all around the country participated in its construction. Its huge dimensions and rich overall design were meant to show the power, integrity and stability of the new Yugoslavia.
The edifice covers an area of 5,500 m², with the floor space of 65,000 m², which makes it the largest structure in Serbia. Its skeleton was made of reinforced concrete, filled with bricks. The façade was covered with white Brač marble, while in the openings white metal was used.
Janković’s project placed the main entrance of the structure to the south-west, to orient it towards the new settlement. The most Modernist component is the lower body in front of the central wing, where a beautiful glass-covered hall is located.
In the central part of the building we will also find six lounges, each dedicated to one of the constituent republics of Yugoslavia. The structure also contains 13 conference rooms, 744 offices and 2 garages.
The interior was also planned by Janković, who engaged many remarkable artists in the project, to produce mosaics, reliefs, frescoes, graffiti and sculptures. These works together well represent the main trends of the mid-century Yugoslav art.
The building was envisaged as a part of a larger ensemble of public buildings, which included the Museum of the Revolution in the southeast and the Radio Television Belgrade in the west. Only the basement of the former structure survives, soon to be incorporated in the new building of the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra.
The building was also known under the name of the Palace of the Federation. Since the secession of Montenegro in 2006 its name is the Palace of Serbia.
2. May 25 Museum
Mihaila Mike Jankovića 6, Dedinje
Mihailo Janković, 1962
This museum was built by the City of Belgrade as a present to Josip Broz Tito for his 70th birthday, which was celebrated on May 25, 1962. It was the first purpose-built museum in the city, designed to exhibit presents that Tito had received. It was a truly Yugoslav building, showing influence in both exterior and interior from each of its republics (cf. Janković’s earlier SIV building).
After his death in 1980, Tito was buried in the nearby winter garden. Today, his mausoleum, known as the House of Flowers, is an active pilgrimage site. The both structures now operate as parts of the Museum of Yugoslavia.
3. Residential Tower Karaburma
Mije Kovačevića 9, Bogoslovija
Rista Šekerinski, 1963
The Residential Tower Karaburma, commonly known as the Toblerone Building, is one of the most elegant Brutalist structures in Belgrade. It attracted a lot of (mostly negative) attention after its completion in 1963, because of it being the only high-rise in the neighbourhood and because of the triangular spikes protruding from all its façades.
The building offered a higher level of comfort than many other residential blocks in the city. Its architect was part of the team that designed the Block 45 in New Belgrade.
4. Museum of Contemporary Art
Ušće 10, Block 15, New Belgrade
Ivan Antić & Ivanka Raspopović, 1960-1965
The Museum of Contemporary Art was established under the name of the Modern Gallery in 1958. It moved to the current building in the Ušće Park in 1965. The building was designed by Ivan Antić and Ivanka Raspopović. It is considered to be their masterpiece and one of the most outstanding examples of the post-war Yugoslav architecture in general.
The structure consists of a big rectangular lower mass and six truncated cuboids that make up the upper levels. The cuboids are rotated at an angle of 45° with respect to the lower mass and their upper corners are cut off. The lower mass shows an abundant use of glass, while the cuboids display large surfaces of walls made of white marble. The incised corners of the cuboids are also covered by glass, ensuring the access of daylight into the upper exhibition spaces. The interior has no internal partitions, guiding the visitor smoothly through half-floors and intermediate levels.
The building was renovated in 2007-2017. Raspopović, who was still alive at the start of the renovation, suggested that the glass of the incised surfaces of the cuboids be replaced by panels of a darker shade, to make the building change its tone according to the weather conditions and to make it better interact with the nearby Ušće Tower. The renovation was, however, criticised for the use of too much concrete in the access paths leading to the museum.
5. Hotel Jugoslavija
Bulevar Nikole Tesle 3, New Belgrade
Lavoslav Horvat, Mladen Kauzlarić & Kazimir Ostrogović, 1947-1949 (original plan); Lavoslav Horvat, 1960-1967 (final plan); Ivan Antić, Mirko Jovanović, Vladeta Maksimović & Milorad Pantović, until 1969 (interiors); Branislav Jovin, since 1968 (landscaping)
The Hotel Jugoslavija stands not far from the old Zemun railway station (1883). It was the last stop on the territory of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, before the train crossed the Sava and entered Belgrade in the Kingdom of Serbia. The station operated until 1970, a year after the hotel was opened.
According to the initial concept, the hotel was to be named Hotel Belgrade. The original plan was drawn in 1947 by three Zagreb-based architects: Lavoslav Horvat, Mladen Kauzlarić and Kazimir Ostrogović. The construction was launched soon after, but halted already two years later, as a consequence of the political and economic crisis that ensued from the Tito-Stalin Split. The work resumed only in the 1960s, following the modified plan by Lavoslav Horvat. As was common in large-scale projects in Yugoslavia, youth work brigades were engaged in the construction. The long period of time that it took to complete the hotel made some call it the Tower of Babel of Belgrade.
The Hotel Jugoslavija was the largest and the most modern hotel in the country. It hosted many famous guests in its heyday.
In the 1990s the section of the Danube behind the hotel was a known spot of Belgrade’s nightlife, with a number of floating clubs anchored along the bank, some run by the criminal element. The hotel was hit by two missiles during the NATO bombings in 1999. It was soon repaired and later modernised, with some elements remaining as they originally were, while others being changed beyond recognition.
6. Institute of Urban Planning
Corner of Bulevar despota Stefana & Palmotićeva
Branislav Jovin, 1967-1970
The main mass of this building hovers above the ground. The entrance area under it is made up of a series of steps and platforms, which are flanked on both sides by green areas. The long rows of windows on the sides are protected from the sun by strong protrusions. The massive upper floor protrudes as well, with its high roof parapets and bold frames around the small windows.
7. Pionir Hall & Pionir Ice Hall
Čarlija Čaplina 39, Bogoslovija
Ljiljana & Dragoljub Bakić, 1972-1973 (Pionir Hall) & 1977-1978 (Pionir Ice Hall)
The Pionir Hall is a sports arena built to host the European Amateur Boxing Championships, which were held in Belgrade in 1973. It is one of the best examples of Postmodernist architecture in the city. Its architects fought against the rigid principles of Modernism and sought, instead, to express the spirit of sports, using repeated elements, layers and various materials and colours. It is now named after Aleksandar Nikolić, the father of Yugoslav basketball.
An ice hall was added to the complex in 1977. It is similar in style, but simpler.
8. May 25 Sports Center
Tadeuša Košćuška 63, Dorćol
Ivan Antić, 1973-1975
The May 25 Sports Center is located along the Danube, not far from the spot where the Sava flows into it. It was built to host the first World Aquatics Championships, which were held in Belgrade in 1973. It was named after the Youth Day, which was celebrated in Yugoslavia on Tito’s birthday on May 25 every year.
The structure contains an indoor swimming pool, a sauna, a restaurant and a bowling hall, as well as outdoor sports grounds. The highlights of the complex include the swimming pool, which is covered by a huge concrete shell structure, and the pyramid-shaped restaurant supported by a cantilever.
Today the sports center is named after Milan Muškatirović, a well-known Yugoslav water polo goalkeeper.
9. Federal Executive Council 3 (SIV 3)
Omladinskih brigada 1, Block 31, New Belgrade
Ljupko Ćurčić, 1975
This edifice was one among the several in New Belgrade built for the Federal Executive Council of Yugoslavia. It now hosts the Belgrade Stock Exchange. It is most remarkable for the abundant use of orange glass on its façades.
10. Eastern City Gate
Vera Ćirković (architect) & Milutin Jerotijević (civil engineer), 1973-1976
These three large residential buildings represent a symbolic gate to Belgrade upon the entrance from the east. They are also known as Rudo, after a city in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Dragoljub Mićović, the architect who supervised their construction, was born.
The buildings are all 85 m tall. Each of them stands on a long and narrow three-storey structure, supporting the triangular-shaped main volume which recedes gradually by 4-storey units. They all have 28 floors and 190 flats. They are placed in a circle so that it always appears that one is between the other two.
11. Sava Center
Milentija Popovića 9, Block 19, New Belgrade
Stojan Maksimović, 1976-1979
The Sava Center is a conference, culture and business center built to host the follow-up meeting of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), which took place in Helsinki in 1975. Its first block was opened before the CSCE summit (October 1977 to March 1978), followed by two more blocks in 1978 and 1979. It covered almost half of Block 19, and as such was the largest structure of its kind in Yugoslavia and one of the largest in Europe.
The building caters for various functions. The most important space is the Blue Hall, named after its 3,672 blue seats placed on two levels. It is a dynamic space: it is possible to change its look by altering the stage set-up and the placement of the seats. The complex also contains 15 conference halls, exhibition areas, restaurants, bars, shops and offices.
The lobby and the corridors are remarkable for their exposed elements and stark colour contrasts.
The Sava Center forms a whole with the other structures of Blocks 19 and 20. These were developed later and followed the glass-and-steel style of the Sava Center. The first one of them was the Hotel Beograd InterContinental (now the Crowne Plaza Belgrade), which was connected to the Sava Center via an underground corridor.
12. Western City Gate
Narodnih heroja, Block 33, New Belgrade
Mihajlo Mitrović, 1971-1980
Like the Rudo towers in the east, the Western City Gate functions as a symbolic gate that greets visitors upon their arrival to Belgrade from the west. It is located on the road leading from the Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport to the city.
The building is essentially a complex of two towers connected by a bridge and with a restaurant on the top. The whole structure is 154 m tall, making it one of the tallest in Belgrade. The higher tower (30 floors) is residential, while the smaller one (26 floors) contains offices. The smaller tower was owned by the leading Yugoslav firm of trade, the Genex, or the General Export Company, which is why the structure is often called the Genex Tower. The bridge that connects the towers has two floors. The restaurant on the top was originally planned as revolving, but it never functioned as such.
The edifice has been widely criticised since its construction. It is, nevertheless, one of the most iconic structures in Belgrade and considered to be one of the very best examples of Brutalism of the 1970s in Serbia and perhaps the whole world. It also shows elements of Constructivism, Structuralism and Postmodernism.
Today, the office tower is empty, while the residential tower is still home to people.
13. Military Medical Academy
Crnotravska 17, Banjica
Josip Osojnik (architect) & Slobodan Nikolić (engineer), 1973-1981
The Military Medical Academy of the University of Defence is a military hospital and an educational center for medical personnel. It is the largest hospital building in Serbia and is considered by many to be the best medical institution in the country.
In terms of architecture, the building of the Military Medical Academy is an absolute masterpiece. Its most remarkable elements are the four inward-curved wings surrounding the upper parts of the central tower-looking mass. When seen from above, these together look like they form a huge cross (c.f., the Red Cross). The lower mass is long and with a strong horizontal emphasis, which contributes to the overall dynamic look of the building.
14. Aeronautical Museum
Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport, Surčin
Ivan Štraus, 1969-1989
The Yugoslav Aeronautical Museum was founded in 1957. After the new airport was opened on the Surčin plateau in 1962, there were plans to construct a new building for the museum on the airport grounds. The idea of the building was proposed by Ivan Štraus, a Bosnian architect, in 1969. The construction started soon, but for various reasons it took years before the building was completed and the museum could move in. It was ceremonially opened in 1989.
The building has a very unusual look. It is essentially a simple torus mounted on a circular base structure. The base contains spaces for administrative and technical functions of the museum, while in the torus are exhibition spaces. The façade of the torus is made up of small triangular glass panels, which creates and interesting light effect and blurs the boundary between the exhibition space and the outside area.