Top 4 Brutalist Masterpieces You Can Only See in Belgrade, Serbia
The term ‘’Brutalism’’ is derived from the term ‘’Nybrutalism’’, which was first introduced to the world by Swedish architect Hans Asplund in 1950. He used the term to describe ‘’Vila Goth’’, a modern brick home designed by his fellow architects Bengt Edman and Lennart Holm.
The style gained traction after Reyner Banham, an architectural critic, wrote an essay that associated the style with the French phrases béton brut (“raw concrete”) and art brut (raw art). Unlike the decorative style of the ’40s, brutalist buildings were designed to be minimalistic constructions that displayed raw building materials and structural elements. This style features exposed concrete or brick, with angular geometry and a mostly monochrome color palette.
Brutalist architecture played a huge role in many post-war reconstruction projects, particularly in post-war Yugoslavia. Struggling to rebuild the country and its industry, Yugoslav architects were faced with challenges such as lack of materials, technology, and political intrusions.
Yugoslavia had a leading role in the ‘’Non-Aligned Movement’, and was also faced with a great challenge of balancing between the East and the West. In this path towards modernity, an architectural expression was needed to demonstrate power and progress, and at the same time, be available in technology and material.
Consequently, from the 60s until the 80s, an astonishing amount of buildings were built in brutalist style all across the country including public buildings, schools, hospitals, factories, hotels, war monuments, etc. Naturally, when it comes to brutalist architecture and art, Belgrade, the former state’s capital, is a city full of experiments and dreamy architecture. If you’re in love with architecture, book a Belgrade private architecture tour, and let them take you on a journey through time, where you will experience brutalist Belgrade, which was once a great socialist utopia.
Here are top 4 brutalist masterpieces you can only see in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.
Western City Gate
Located in the municipality of New Belgrade, the western city gate, also known as Genex Tower, is a 36-story skyscraper that is considered a prime example of brutalist architecture in Serbia.
The tower was designed by renowned architect Mihajlo Mitrović in the late 1960s. Interestingly, Mitrović was initially given the task of designing a 12-floor building which was supposed to accommodate the head offices of the local community of Sutjeska, on ‘’Narodnih Heroja’’street.
However, Mitrović suggested two much taller buildings that would serve as recognizable symbols of the state’s capital. Consequently, many disputes and disagreements soon followed. Nevertheless, Mitrović was persistent in his idea, and the construction of the western city gate began in 1971. The building stands 117,76 m tall, however, the two towers are not the same height. The residential tower has 30 floors, while the business tower has 26. They are connected by a two-story bridge on the 26 floors, with a revolving restaurant on top.
Belgrade’s western gate is truly the embodiment of Reyner Banham’s New Brutalism. It is a structure defined by its function. From the exterior service shafts to its restaurant on top, there are 30 floors of bare concrete, with no effort to disguise the materials from which this masterpiece was built. The Genex Tower stayed true to social-philosophical theories surrounding Brutalism; a utopia where architecture isn’t absorbed by individuals, but it is a framework that can create a more ethical way of inhabiting.
Head towards the bank of river Sava, and on Block 19 you will find Sava Centar, an architectural masterpiece that looks like a relic from a retro-future civilization. Sava Centar was designed by architect Stojan Maksimović and was constructed between 1976 and May 1977.
This brutalist giant features a total of 15 conference halls, a 4000-seat theatre, and a handful of bars, offices, and restaurants. Ever since it opened, Sava Centar has hosted more than 3500 events and has welcomed millions of visitors.
Sava Centar was initially built to host the second conference of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 1977. Namely, after the first conference in 1975 in Helsinki, the president of Yugoslavia Josip Broz Tito accepted to host the next summit in Belgrade. However, Belgrade didn’t have a congressional facility that could host such a large number of delegates, and so building a new object was necessary.
Interestingly, Stojan Maksimović had just one month to submit the project. He spent most of his time either in his office in complete seclusion or traveled to cities such as Paris, Copenhagen, Helsinki, and The Hague to examine existing buildings of this type.
Sava Centar attracted international attention, due to its design and speed as it was finished. When the inaugural Pritzker Architecture Prize was awarded in 1979, Sava Centar was among the nominated designs. Critics and the press commended the structure naming it ‘’spaceship’’, ‘’glass garden’’, ‘’beauty on the Sava’’, and ‘’ concrete ship of peace’’.
On the left bank of the Sava river, you will find the urban neighborhoods of New Belgrade also known as ‘’Blokovi’’. The construction of this complex of brutalist buildings began in 1948, and it is a symbol of Yugoslav no-nonsense functional architecture.
When you walk along the Sava riverside paths, your eyes will immediately be drawn to the brutalist architecture of Block 23. The housing complex of block 23 was designed by Aleksandar Stjepanović, Božidar Janković and Branislav Karadzić. The block features a good number of 17-story residential towers with incredibly complex facades.
Although brutalist style prevailed at that time, the design of block 23 successfully avoided the stripped, rigged rules of the style. For instance, windows and loggias are ornamented with concrete bars, and facades are divided vertically with vertical dividing lines protruding above the gables. Consequently, critics labeled the architecture of Block 23 as ‘’ Brutalist Baroque’’.
The blocks of New Belgrade are a great example of a planned city with a great focus on shared space and labor. These concrete neighborhoods were typically packed with kindergarten, to maximize the efficiency of childcare, while parents were at work. The blocks were designed according to various concepts and types, therefore, most blocks have different forms of urban space. Because of this, the blocks of New Belgrade remain the best example of a fully-functional socialist utopia.
Another great example of brutalist architecture is Belgrade’s Avala Tower. Located in the Avala Mountains in the periphery of Belgrade, this masterpiece was the only tower in the world to have an equilateral triangle as its cross-section, and one of the few towers that were not perched on the ground, but stood on its legs.
The tower weighs 4000 tons and stands tall at 205 m and is surmounted with a TV antenna that was used to transmit black and white television. In 1971, the old antenna was replaced by a new one and the first emitting of Belgrade’s Second Program in color began on 31 December the same year.
Sadly, the tower was destroyed by NATO Bombardment on 29 April 1999. However, in 2005 construction works began, and Avala Tower once again stood proud by 23 October 2009.
Interestingly, Avala Tower was the fifth tallest self-supporting construction in the world. At the end of this high-risk project, there wasn’t a single worker-related death or injury, which was pretty surprising for a project of that size.