A Pleasant Dorm on a Misplaced Campus

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Approximately twenty five thousand or around 15% of the population in Split, Croatiam consists of students, and if we count faculty staff in that percentage, it is almost incredible that such a large part of the population can remain so invisible within the public space and public discourse; it’s as if neither the City of Split nor the University itself fail to recognize what is an enormous and most vital potentials of the city’s development. The University enclosed within itself is, in effect, contradictio in adjecto – if it’s closed it’s not a University. The current bleak perspective which reduces Split to a mere tourist destination brings the very purpose of having a university in the city into question, however, if it’s put in a different way, strengthened, integrated, its role could be crucial from all aspects of Split urbanity. A deindustrialized Split cannot provide many palpable alternatives within its contemporary, as well as national and regional, context, but the University is certainly one of them. The existing infrastructure and teaching staff could, with necessary advancement, and should for that matter, generate a considerable cultural capital which would direct and shape the future of the city.

The university campus plan was determined in the late 1960s via the Split III project, envisioned as a continuance of the University Street (today the Ruđer Bošković Street), when Split had but a few faculties, all tied to various industries, and the space near the Visoka wasn’t crammed with unplanned housing units. Virtually nothing has been left of the hyper-atrophied Split campus, once boasting the traditional idea of faculty buildings surrounded by greenery entwined with public spaces and student-related content. According to a student of architecture, there is a lack of parks and greenery in general, architectural points are disconnectedly coasting in a network of botched roads and dusty lots hidden behind overgrown shrubbery buried under heaps of trash, in want of an urgent rethinking of the current organization. The consequences of this hapless disposition are manifesting for example in the design of the central courtyard (the slanted square) the new Student Dorms and Student Centre what is the main communication with certain faculties, and is formed as a ramp with at a 25% angle (uncomfortable and unfit for dry weather conditions, let alone when it snows again; the authors of this dormitory Emil Šverko and Neno Kezić say that their guiding idea was the ancient Greek stoa and ancient pedagogy which enhanced the importance of a sound mind in a healthy body). In addition, the square is communication-wise cut off from the Art School and the nearby Academy – in order to get near, one must jump over a wall despite the fact that the authors emphasized when the competition results came out “that they attempted to design a public space that is at the same time a communication surface between the upper and lower levels of the campus”.

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Even though it’s irrefutable that there are several good (even brilliant) structures on the campus, and even though, as Professor Darovan Tušek, states this is the most important lunge forward in terms of city construction following the 1979 Mediterranean Games, this construction, with its position, limitations and deficiencies is still inadequate in regard to the University and a 21st-century City, especially if their future is viewed within the context of an international university exchange and within the context of the significance of Split urban heritage.

Some of these deficiencies were compensated through developing a new student housing facility, by Emil Šverk and Neno Kezić whose work won the 2002 competition. A really pleasant dormitory – the rooms are in regard to size and equipment above par in terms of the usual conditions within Croatian dorms, with bathrooms and (soon to be placed) refrigerators in all rooms, perfect desks running the whole specter of the wall opposite the bed – while the capacity of student accommodation has been significantly increased (in the amount of 600 beds). At the round table discussion held October 16th, 2013, in the building of the Split-Dalmatia County on the topic of the student living, it was noted that this year, among those students requesting accommodation, only 16 students went without. Students value the closeness of the attractive meander form of the dorms and point out this close proximity for their respective faculties as its biggest advantage, while they consider the fee of 790 HRK per month fairly acceptable. Sports courts are arranged on the rooftop – another element which the students lacked – but they are not fully equipped as yet (donations are expected). Gordana Raos, the director of the student center, invites all companies to help out with donating furniture for their office premises, offering advertising, catering or summer accommodation in return.

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The rooms are in regard to size and equipment above par in terms of the usual conditions within Croatian dorms

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Every floor has several classrooms, although the tender does not anticipate a larger common area for student activities, and students are disgruntled about this

The dorm doesn’t have a cafeteria for the time being, for which an additional 8 million HRK (without VAT) is required, meaning that the three existent cafeterias on Campus, already on overload, have been burdened with preparation of 600 meals. The second problem, according to Šverko, is that the competition did not anticipate larger closed premises for student activities: premises of some two hundred square meters where students would listen to lectures, watch movies, set up exhibitions, hold public discussions or jointly study and work – are missing. Although every floor has several classrooms of some twenty square meters, with spacious built-in balconies, their function is somewhat different, while the interviewed students have already expressed regret in regard to the fact that the glass wall facing the hall is an interference for their studying, and everything is under lock and key due to attempts of several students to hold (inappropriate) parties on said. Upon moving in, students spend most of their time in the lobby where the reception is. Valentina Perišić, a student of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, which is still awaiting its building on Campus, and is currently operating from five different locations, says that it’s “easy to accuse students of passivity, whereas in reality they have no space in which to be active” and goes on to add that they need a space to organize public discussions, debates, student symposiums (for which a large interest exists), humanitarian actions, exhibitions, poetry evenings, stand-up comedy evenings and such. Gordana Raos concurs with her that the Campus requires a small movie theater or a hall for cultural events and gatherings, but holds that it will all be possible to realize within one of those incomplete buildings – the three faculties that are also awaiting equipment. In lieu of such content, although not anticipated in the competition – a polyvalent hall of some eighty square meters intended for “spiritual activities” found its place among the new student dorms, with the purpose of serving as a chapel for praying or hall for lectures and spiritual gatherings, and will be taken care of by the Office of Youth Ministry. The authors Šverko and Kezić (as stated in the book “Architectural Competitions in Split 1996-2005” by Darovan Tušek, DAS/FGAG) called the slanted square the Exchange Plaza and envisioned it as a “debate square” for student socializing, however, the practical development of that idea still hasn’t taken hold as yet.

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The slanted central area has been envisioned as a “debate square”, but for the time being students aren’t hanging out much there

Commercial content of great importance to students which are set to move into the ground floor shortly are facilities such as the pharmacy, bank, Xerox shop (although every faculty has at least one) and a café-patisserie where the Student center will have coffee and cake on commercial offer. However, with raising the price of accommodation, as well as that in cafeterias and limiting the rights of the content of the daily meal, this type of social gathering would soon become an inaccessible luxury, from the most common – enjoying a coffee break in the café – to going to a concert, the movies or the theater, a sports game or excursion. Bas this type of collective behavior is equally important for education as it is for regular attendance of lectures, seminars and workshops, the University, if it desires to educate intellectuals, must find a way to help them realize their needs within the given circumstances.

The University, as a physical and symbolic place, where the total amount of knowledge should serve publicly, loses its traditional prerogatives and becomes something of a factory where “useful, efficient products” are manufactured, tiles, while not necessarily knowledge. Society should thus, if it wants to stay civil, “help in re-establishing the university as a democratic agora where both students and professors gather in order to talk and learn and discuss what it means to be an active citizen in a democratic society.” (Badley). On the other hand, the city of Split, that should search for its future through the development of creative industries based on the existent educational and scientific infrastructure, as it can only profit from facilitating discussions and offering real support.

The ghettoization of students and professors on Campus is simply harmful for the city, while there are currently minimal procedures and actions which could be undertaken in order to guide the population towards a dead city core in winter with empty museums and galleries, theaters… The mere (at the students’ request) reopening of the cafeteria in the city center would put an end to the ghastly wasteland that are Split streets outside the tourist season, as it would facilitate spending. It should also be kept in mind that raising the student living standard will also attract more foreign student to Split, yet another generator of consumption.

Meanwhile, a part of the academic community has been finding paths to the world of life (as interpreted by Husserl and Gadamer, “the world as it is displayed on its daily basis”) hence one-evening exhibitions are being held every Tuesday on the premises of the Split Gallery for the second year running by students of the Art Academy in Split, set up by future curators from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (the “Fast Forward program”). The youth from the “Activist” organization have recently initiated a free library entitle the “Open Box” within the Youth Center where workshops and various programs are planned on being held. Hence, there is both the will and the knowledge for creating programs and volunteer for their realization. It is now up to the City and the University to support and sustain them. For their own benefit.

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Photographs: Diana Magdić and Helije Vuco