Upon arriving to Croatia’s capital, which we readily wax lyrical about calling it a metropolis, a chance traveler taking the west route highway is bound to pass the University Hospital, followed by a large dark warehouse in the Špansko neighborhood which also catches the eye, along with the Leclerc shopping center and the so-called Cimos building in Vrbani, which can’t be missed. That which all the aforementioned three buildings have in common, and what inevitably influences an overall first impression of Zagreb, is that they’re extensive, unfinished, never brought to any purpose, and have thus been deteriorating for years, as well as polluting the urban landscape as they’re left standing as mere reminders of multi-million investments gone pear-shaped.
*Cimos, Vrbani, Zagreb *Leclerc, Špansko; Zagreb
When that same traveler inches near Zagreb’s center, they’ll find even more instances of dead capital in space, albeit of a somewhat different “etymology” – it’s not about buildings that are unfinished, yet those that haven’t been in function for decades now, devastated by time and negligence, and as a matter of course listed as endangered industrial heritage sites. This group includes – to mention but a few of the most blatant instances – the former Badel factory next to the Kvaternik Square, the former Nada Dimić factory in Branimir Street, the French Pavilion within the Student Center, the Paromlin next to the Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall. They all share a similar fate. Let’s take the French Pavilion and the former Badel factory as an example. Both buildings are of unquestionable value and there has been talk with respect to each of them concerning renovations which are on the verge of getting off the ground. The French Pavilion met the non-fulfillment of all those promises in an advanced state of decomposition. When it was built in 1937 as a showroom for French cars, it was a construction miracle. It was the first facility where an inverted roof cone construction was applied. The portable construction provoked much suspicion regarding its endurance, and urban legend has it that the architect Bernard Lafaille, otherwise known as Le Corbusier’s student, rode his bike on the roof just to show the strength of the construction. Precisely due to the innovative construction uniqueness, but also because of the design value the French Pavilion has been a monumental protected facility dating back to 1991. However, that status hasn’t helped it in the least. The ending of the renovation of the Pavilion should have befallen on its 70th anniversary, thus, three years ago, but, alas, more years are sure to pass until it’ll be open for various cultural purposes, as was planned.
The Paromlin in the Midst of Zagreb Slums
When a few years back Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić mentioned spaces and premises which stand unused, but could readily be utilized for cultural purposes with a political will and funding, he listed the former bottling plant of Badel’s beverages on the corner of Šubić and Martić Street. Despite the Mayor being the one who holds both the political will and the funding, there has been no progress in Badel. The only thing progressing are the tree branches rearing through the factory’s roof.
However, in the fierce competition of unfinished or devastated buildings in Zagreb, the art historian Zlatko Uzelac singles out the Paromlin: “Due to not only its exceptional and inimitable zoning position, but its economic potential as well, which is thanks to that very position entirely unquestionable, the state of the evacuated complex of the Zagreb Paromlin stands in a league of its own among all evacuated, dilapidated and run-down Croatian spaces or structures. That structure, in fact a whole complex, stands in the very center of Zagreb, in a unique position traffic-wise, at a point where a future main town square was envisioned ages ago – a place that is the worst possible slum today – property of the City of Zagreb, and what’s more, there’s a seriously elaborated concept on what should be done. Still, everything’s at a standstill and there’s no hope of anything changing any time soon.”
The serious concept Uzelac is talking about refers to the ideas about a central national congress and cultural center “Paromlin – Lisinski”, which would be the 21st century driving force of the Zagreb center. In addition, many ideas with respect to the Paromlin – from commercial to cultural – have been shifted around in a revolving-door manner. The last being a month ago when the research and survey international tender offer for that location was completed. However, the final outcome is still pending, and it’s been precisely 22 years since this exceptional architectural and historically valuable complex suffered huge damages in a fire one March night in 1988. Experts from the Regional Institute for Protection of Cultural Monuments stated immediately at the scene of the fire that the Paromlin has to be preserved and restored. And from then on, no progress whatsoever has been noted, despite Milan Bandić’s 2005 statement, as the Paromlin complex is owned by the City of Zagreb: “Give us six months and we’ll restore Paromlin”. Ten times that amount of time has passed, and Paromlin is still not only an undeveloped lot but a dangerous area for strollers, just within reach of the center, at the turning point of the old and new parts of town.
*Franch pavilion, SC, Zagreb
Maksimir – A Disgrace with an International Reputation
The perilousness of the Dinamo Stadium in Maksimir has been recently confirmed when a stairwell wall ceramic coating fell on the workers. The events surrounding the stadium in Maksimir, as we are all well aware, are one long irrational story with no easy solution in sight, the end result it being scoffed at as a sports disgrace with an international reputation. Negative, of course. That one-time harmonious stadium designed by the architect Vladimir Turina started going progressively downhill when additional adaptations were initiated thirteen years ago, and left unfinished to this day. “Experimenting” with various alterations of the stadium had started even sooner, before the Universiade. It must be noted that the Dinamo Stadium has been under precautionary protection since 1985, but that hasn’t stopped the architects and professors at the Faculty of Architecture in Zagreb Branko Kincl and Nikola Filipović to completely negate Turina’s original idea with their remodeling in the second half of the nineties. That investment cost the citizens no less than 500 million HRK, while the stadium is nevertheless nowhere near completion.
*Maksimir stadium, Zagreb
Among the structures that are, in all their incompleteness, monuments to Croatia’s political elite’s too big ambitions, Krešimir Galović, art historian and architecture critic, singles out precisely the Maksimir Stadium along with the University Hospital in Zagreb, where citizens have futilely wasted over 1100 million HRK obtained through voluntary local tax. “And while the grandiose structure of the University Hospital slowly withers away in brambles and weeds on the wrong side of the river, far from the public eye, like an ancient Amazonian city, the stadium disfigures the very city center. Developed in a synergy of megalomaniacal ambitions of the first Croatian president, arrogant extravagance of the then FC Dinamo’s (formerly Croatia’s) leadership, and the never-reached creative pinnacles of two eminent personalities of Croatian architecture, that stadium became not only the disgrace and negative symbol of a certain period, but a useless monetary burden for tax payers, who have been lavishly funding its mock existence and decline for years on end”, bitterly states Galović. He is of the opinion that there is unfortunately no remedy for the stadium. “At a certain point in time, one of the most significant and internationally acclaimed realizations of Croatian sports architecture, has been completely ruined. The only possible solution is to demolish the existent one and develop a new sports facility in memoriam of the former Turina stadium”, Galović states his opinion.
Zlatko Uzelac concurs that for the stadium in Maksimir the existing “renovation” project should be discarded and a new one created in its place, a much more appropriate and quality-based project where the stadium would be gradually developed, keeping in line with a financially feasible plan.
*University hospital, Zagreb
From Haludovo to Kupari: the Ruins
Although on a smaller scale, Zagreb could provide a few examples of its own, but if we look at Croatia as a whole, we can see that the capital city is no exception. Starting from the East, the center of Vukovar is home to a demolished building that once was a shopping center called the Nama and which was considered the most modern building in the region. It was bought a few years ago by the Mayor of Split, Željko Kerum, who promised to restore it and thus generate new jobs, but that failed to come through and the building was sold yet again. Unlike some other parts of Croatia, Vukovar has suffered terribly in the Homeland War and can therefore offer a reasonable explanation as to why the demolished buildings still stand. Yet, years have passed since the war, and the explanation is beginning to sound less convincing.
The Northern Adriatic, or more specifically, the once elite tourist resort Haludovo in Malinska on the Island of Krk, can’t offer a similar explanation for years of inactivity of this complex situated on the beach. And not just any beach – it’s on an island which boasts full capacity every summer. Since it became a privately-owned business in 1996, Haludovo has been changing owners and progressively becoming more of a ruin. The devastation continued until everything that had any value whatsoever had been taken away from this complex which was considered one of the most luxurious buildings designed by the architect Boris Magaš. It’s hard to believe that during the 1970s Penthouse bunnies cavorted around this place and people spent so much money and drank so much champagne that the locals were shocked by their decadence. Niether Haludovo nor the enormous tourist resort in Kupari near Dubrovnik have opening dates as yet. Situated in the beautiful Zupski Bay, this complex was built in the 1950s under the YNA (Yugoslav National Army) management, and boasts 200 acres of land right on the beach, six hotels, annexes and Tito’s former villa. The 1989 data provides the following impressive numbers: one million overnights and 400 full-time and 800 part-time employees. When the war came, the place was occupied by the very army which once spent its summers here, leaving it destroyed and pillaged when it finally left. Until this day, Kupari hasn’t been privatized, meaning restoration is a long way off, as is regional economic prosperity.
Red Tape Hinders Viable Projects
What are unfinished or run-down buildings the result of? What do they point towards? Is it simply about the fact that Croatia isn’t a country of a high living standard and it doesn’t have money for attending to everything that should be attended to, or is this about setting priorities, about inarticulate spatial policies? In providing answers to those questions, Zlatko Uzelac immediately eliminates the money issue and says that for the most part it isn’t a lack of money issue, rather the resistance towards accepting creative ideas. “Most often it’s about an adverse relationship constellation, about various mental blockades and thwarters situated at key points. In some cities the domination of the mediocrity network has taken on endemic proportions”, Uzelac thus explains why certain significant city locations aren’t being renovated. However, on the other hand Krešimir Galović, states it’s highly impossible to talk about regulated spatial policies: “One is under the impression that real estate agencies are the spokesperson on spatial policy, along with the criminal scene under the guise of construction entrepreneurship and other various interest groups and lobbies, while the profession has the least say of all. Space has in Croatia become a mere market commodity, mercilessly used and ruined, hence serving the interests of the minority which like to term themselves entrepreneurial.”
*Haludovo – interior of the entrance hall, Malinska, Krk
And why don’t these entrepreneurs, that is, proprietors of unfinished or devastated structures such as Haludovo make a commitment, even a legal one, to finish their facility in a reasonable amount of time or, conversely, sell it to someone who’s ready to invest and thus contribute to the development of the local community? Uzelac holds that it’s possible to bring a series of indirect regulations and incentives, as other countries don’t have any direct way of making people such as Haludovo’s owner to renovate their complexes. “In any case, the main current problem isn’t private owners, but the state itself, as in the Kupara case and many other similar complexes which stand in a tragic state due to administrative incompetence and state policies. The administrative tortures through which investors have to go through, especially with hotel complexes on the coast, but currently in regard to almost every other investment are getting worse by the minute. The heavy and galloping bureaucratization of the whole system is the prime hindrance, which especially targets new and creative ideas. Croatia has a whole collection of brilliant zoning and architectural projects, especially in tourism, which, alas, will never be realized, and have thus caused investors to back out aghast”, states Uzelac.
However, on the other hand, Uzelac estimates that the citizens’ general awareness with respect to zoning, to town value, the town environment, and the importance of the common good in cities has lately been on the increase. “Until recently numerous ecologically active citizens’ associations were in existence, but now at last the number of civil society organizations is on the increase, oriented toward towns and fighting for renovation of the commonweal as central topics of city life”, says Uzelac. That means that changes could well be initiated from the “bottom-up”, since the “top-down” approach, stemming from the position of the authorities, isn’t moving in the direction of the common good. That kind of practice is well-known to urban history; self-organized citizens are responsible for numerous city parks, common areas or individual structures. If nothing else, the completion of the University Hospital is in the common good’s best interests, as the Hospital is imagined as a first-rate medical center where Zagreb hospitals that work in inadequate conditions are supposed to move. If it weren’t so, politicians wouldn’t continue to mention the University Hospital during the course of the pre-election period, slating it among projects that will be completed precisely under their mandate. And that roundabout has been swirling for twenty years running.