When Architects Start Consenting to Everything, They Stop Being an Architect



Dimov House Dimov House, Bobovišća, Island of Brač

That specific urbanity experienced by visitors is based on not just the culture of everyday life, but on the various influences of social relations between a city’s residents. Its material heritage, if approached as the only or most important developmental resource, is reduced to a curtain of blurred lines for whose benefit its functions are modeled for. When talking about the Split city core center, similar to some other Adriatic cities, there is a certain consensus of both the professional and interested public that its survival, as well as the full potential of the entire city, depends upon retaining its residents. Alongside infrequent concrete proposals in terms of certain content, as well as transport and other kinds of regulations, there is a consistent lack of political will to systematically approach this matter. The investment pressure is currently hindered by the crisis, however, the negative consequences are already visible, and the advance notices highly concerning.
While culture is viewed through the prism of consumerism, this exploitative trend of space and heritage is bound to continue, and we interviewed Nikola Popić from the 312 Architectural Workshop, a professor at the University of Split Faculty of Civil Engineering, Architecture, and Geodesy; architect behind numerous noted houses (we featured the Kosor House here) and one of the last thousand remaining residents of Diocletian’s Palace. We talked about the role of the architect within the framework of the abovementioned transformations and possibilities of working and his own practice.


St. Lucia Cemetery in Bol (Island of Brač), authors: Nikola Popić, Ana Krstulović

How plausible is it to develop housing in the direct vicinity of the Palace or within the Palace, when presumably, with the fast pace housing premises are being transformed into tourist facilities, what are the odds these newly developed ones will serve for actual housing in lieu of tourism? It seems as if residential architecture within the city center, or just along its outskirts, is a lie in its very programming, which just extends to an architectural lie.

I hold that the Palace was preserved exclusively through residency, precisely what is actually necessary for it to survive. I’ve been living here by choice for the past twenty five years and am quite happy and content with my choice. However, the unbearable noise from the Peristil, which has become a great nuisance, does bother me during the summer; on a day-to-day basis, for months on end, I’m listening to the same repertoire, but that’s a problem that can be solved. To populate the Palace with people who want to live here, who find the Palace to be of great value, would be brilliant and I believe the City could do that.

In what way?

I hold the main problem to be a lack of consciousness in regard to the city, of those who run it, i.e. nobody cares about the Palace. From time to time someone from the city authorities will pop up out of nowhere to take pictures, but it’s as if nobody really cares about the Palace, they have no real understanding of what the Palace means. From that perspective, one shouldn’t hold much hope, everything happens on a case-to-case basis, with individual efforts, but without any real strategy. This is where one should begin.

The City detracts its various opportunities by this…

Yes, this is wrong, this notion that those who currently work within the Palace are those that find it profitable, hence the cafés, bakeries, fast-food joints, while it is virtually empty during the winter , no people milling about, just a few lights here and there visible through the odd window. It’s not that hard to bring people who would appreciate where they live. The city has enough spaces which could be guided in such a way.


Country House Country House on Brač, authors: Nikola Popić, Ana Krstulović

What structure of people would be ready and willing to accept compromises inherent to residing in the city core?

Well, artistes have always been those who are pushing boundaries, of course, along with humanists, who would easily manage life within the Palace. One could live very well within the Palace: for me it’s worth it to step out of my house into not just any city, it’s rather remarkable to take in the whole ambiance on a daily basis. We thus arrive to an apt definition of the city as defined by Louis Khan: the city is a space where a child, moving through it, can choose their future occupation. In a city, especially in a lively city such as Split used to be, a child could see numerous things that could potentially interest them later in life. That’s precisely the reason that permanent residents are so significant, and they certainly won’t stay if everything is approached in such a laissez faire manner: the city will become a mere empty shell, a ghost city. It’s nice that people are actively engaged in the city, although proposals of possible solutions are quite often too promotional, by-the-book, trendy, or, simply put, unprofessional, thus there is currently no difference whatsoever between Bol and Split. A city’s zoning regulations determine how much space can be converted for tourism purposes, but it’s already running late on that account. Time is of essence in terms of zoning laws, one must contemplate what will be going on in thirty or fifty years time. For example, what about parking? Is anyone thinking about garages? As a matter of fact, nobody is. We won the competition at the place of the former Bačvarija, we had a conceptual project five years ago, but it’s been a non-starter to this day. Last summer we submitted a plan that as yet hasn’t been reviewed in terms of a public discussion. Maybe the problem lies within the public garage that the City doesn’t have funding for. It is about 300 parking spots, out of which a hundred are for public use. The total gross surface area of the entire complex is some ten thousand square meters. What we are dealing with currently is urbanism i.e. town planning determined by allied bombing during the second World War and that has been our status quo ever since.


Bačvarija Designing the Northwest part of the city district Lučac “ex Bačvarija”, authors: Nikola Popić, Ana Krstulović

The blueprints contain a circle of garages around the center…

Actually, there’s seven, eight plans of various levels that are slowing the whole process down, as when one is changed, the rest of them also have to be changed, and on and on it goes. With all the measures being introduced, constant legal reforms, town planning has been rendered impossible in today’s world, and there will not be any progress until the country gets its act together completely. In the US, for example, in South Carolina, only single-level town planning exists – a master plan. The circle of garages is necessary as cars are literally choking us, and not only in the center. If it weren’t for the crisis and weakening of purchasing power, the state of things would be catastrophic.

Numerous laws, numerous zoning levels – especially incomplete ones, such the current one in terms of granting concessions of public beaches – is all of this actually generating corruption?

The first thought of anyone looking at zoning laws and regulations is how to find loopholes. On the other hand, those who weren’t following the rules have now been rewarded with legalization. It makes one wonder what it’s all for in the end, as if one is doing a completely senseless job… Residents of the Island of Brač, for example, the majority of them, are significantly raising their living standard by selling land and real estate. They have no time to wait for the country to stabilize itself, they want a higher standard of living now and have opted to deal with it now using their own subsystem. When anything is scheduled for development, the majority just want to know if their land is in line with building regulations and permits, they’re not interested in anything else. For any possible zoning-related consequences the architect is held liable, not the seller.

Brač is indeed large, but still restricted. There won’t be anything to do trade with for a while now.

Define ‘a while’? I’ve been listening to this for the past thirty years. There are many more construction sites that can be further developed, but there’s nothing one can do right now.

You’re currently working on spatial planning in Sutivan on Brač. Could you tell us something about that?

The Sutivan municipality is led by very young people who are fed up with the developmental model €xm2, rapid monetary turnovers where space ultimately suffered, while all parties of such dealings – land or apartment sellers – were content. Although the majority has been determined by the county zoning laws, while municipal planning has yet to embrace this, there is still a strong desire to define a clear developmental strategy in which, if it were to succeed, residents would also have to be prepared to take an active interest, and, of course, accept it. The residents of Sutivan have to know what awaits them if they’re planning the new tourist season, does it bring anything of value and does it serve the best interests of all – otherwise, what is it all for? Naturally, making a “wish list” is not a viable option. In the introductory part of the Plan formulation, the Strategy for Developmental of Sutivan shall be discussed in several instances before being finally accepted, as town planning cannot and must not be carried out solely by architects. A special part of the story are the Regulations for implementation of the plan where contemporary construction based on tradition will attempt to be enabled, as opposed to its imitation in manifestation.


Kosor House Kosor House in Bol on the Island of Brač

How much influence do architects even have in spatial planning?

One can obtain much more money through quality architecture, however, money obtained from caricature construction is safe and fast. The house I designed, surface area 170 m2, in which 150.000.00 Euros had been invested, was sold for Euros. Another house, with a surface area of 84 m2, has allegedly been sold for 500.000.00 Euros. Design mimics certain elements of times gone by – stone hollow tiles (it’s a well-known fact that traditional covering is made from stone panels), glued stone… I’m horrified by what they’re doing with stone – going against its very logic. An “L-shaped” stone house with 2cm glued-on stone tiles from stem to stern is not a stone house, just a mere caricature of one.
For example, there was a regulation in the Dubrovnik Statute that a new house cannot take the sun away from an existent one, and Ivo Radić has been applying this rule Centuries later when designing his building on Cankar Poljana. In today’s world, you can’t expect an investor to sacrifice two dearly-paid floors of his land for his neighbors. Today designing is preconditioned by laws and injunctions, what is completely wrong. As far as the profession is concerned, it cannot change the paradigm as it has no continuity, interruptions are the constant, this war, that war, everything is constantly being built anew. All knowledge from people’s minds and archives of large Spilt-based architectural studios aren’t conveyed and carried on as with their shutdowns, there was nobody to leave them to, and some that do come into certain documents and/or knowledge are loath to share. I admit that my first instinct when I inherited Ivo Radić’s archive was to store my treasure away, however, I immediately felt ashamed of myself: that was a common good meant to be shared with people.

The central part of Kaštel Gomilica, a project entitled New Center of Kaštel Gomilica should be an active area providing utilization both in summer and winter, for both active beach goers and those just looking for peace lounging about on the beach, on the walkway or in the square without necessarily using its commercial content.

What is the role of the conservator who asks for stone, as opposed to the one who asks for stone hollow tiles?

They are not in charge of all the spaces. Our plans are full of various injunctions and limitations, and those injunctions, in effect, make it impossible for quality architects to design. You cannot prevent all things amiss in terms of town planning. If someone is a poor architect, that person is bound to design a poorly constructed house, no matter the circumstances. There are also young architects who manage to convince their community, investors and conservators that for example, a concrete roof should be built, but for something like that to come about, a great deal of effort and passion for architecture is required. When a person in a studio, authorized for granting approval, without merely pushing their own agenda – as such persons exist – rather those who understand architecture, see that enthusiasm, such designing will not be declined.

How come established, experienced architects cannot manage to do that?

Some architects lose that enthusiasm and passion, they just stop fighting, accept an “anything goes” mindset, i.e. every proposal and complaint of the investor, and they have to think about their employees’ salaries. There is no place left for quality architecture here. One should always make the best house one can in any given moment. When an architect starts consenting to everything and anything, they stop being an architect. In some things, one must persevere until the bitter end, do everything in one’s power for the best interests of the space. If you don’t care what you’re doing, why even do it in the first place? If you’ve been working for a long time on a project, you take care of every little detail, of course you make less money, much less than those that design a house per day. That said, it comes down to the personal choice of every person.


Project of Villas in the tourist settlement Bijaka in Milna on Brač

Your project regarding Villas in Bijaka on Milna…

The Villas in Bijaka on Milna are just part of a project that we jointly did with the London-based studio ‘6A architects’ headed by architect Tom Emerson, then a professor at the University of Cambridge, and now at the ETH in Zurich. That was a brilliant collaboration, as well as the collaboration with the investor Gavin Emerson, who, enchanted with Brač, bought a house near Milna. We finished the design in 2009, urban planning was started, but hasn’t been completed to this day and construction hasn’t started despite the considerable intent and desire of the investor, the County of Milna, bank guarantees… Don’t ask who’s at fault.
After our joint work on the designing and planning part of the project, my studio obtained the job of designing 12 Villas where, among others, movie stars are anticipated to stay – summer festivals were also in the works as the investor is a movie producer. I invited six of my undergraduate fourth-year students: Andro Banovac, Ana Krstulović, Mislav Kuzmanić, Marin Miljak, Luka Mužinić and Luči Plosnić to jointly do the designs. The concept is based on Dalmatian Renaissance summer residences, especially the Dubrovnik-based ones, designed at a time when the “Dalmatian intellectual elite participated in the cultural civilization creation of communication of the time”. We envisioned a garden enclosed with dry wall where the Villas are just comfortable getaways (but architecture nevertheless), awnings, which serve to overcome various climatic (dis)advantages, completely open towards all sides and in constant entwinement with the external area. Simultaneously modest (according to construction elements) and luxurious (dovetailing with the external area).