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Centar (excerpt)

Ivan Markovic

A 70s concrete building in Belgrade recounts the story of an architectural era.


Full-length film by Ivan Marković, "Sava Centar" is a love letter to a disappearing building in Serbia: the Sava Centar. Here presented with an excerpt, the video documents the massive congress center built in New Belgrade, designed by Stojan Maksimović and built in 1977 after Yugoslavia parted from the Eastern Bloc, to host conferences such as that of World Bank, Interpol, as well as the Non-Aligned Movement.

"My fascination and attachment to Sava Centar go back for as long as I can remember. Growing up in Belgrade in the 90s, I found it the most puzzling and impressive building in the city, even if it had already started showing signs of aging. The idea of filming it, however, came much later and after I already stopped living in Serbia. The news that Sava Centar will be privatized and turned into a commercial object, most likely a shopping mall, spurred an urge document it before it disappears."

Initially, Marković wanted to develop a series of photo-books, monographic documentation of the work of several architects who created during socialism, planning to document more projects by Stojan Maksimović, the architect of Sava Centar. "During the development of the project, I realized that the work would be stronger if it stood alone, not as a part of a series," commented Marković, who also adds: "On a larger scale, the disregard of architectural merit for this building is indicative of a general negligence towards the architectural and cultural heritage of socialist Yugoslavia".

To him Sava Centar could be read a centerpiece in the plateau of New Belgrade - built from the ground up from the 1950s on, was the biggest construction site of the former SFRY - that also presents a further step towards contemporary architecture. Together with other similar concrete buildings of New Belgrade, these developments were a living monument, a new architecture as a stage for the new society, that today remains a lasting trace the ideology gone by.

In the film, Marković documents the life of the building and the people working in it: the gigantic construction needs a lot of maintenance to be kept in place. In the film we witness the complexity of cleaners, gardener, guardians preserving and protecting a space that looks empty, not waiting for anything to happen. A surreal experience which Marković is particularly able not to transform in a peeping show, not yielding to the current craze for socialist futuristic ruins.

He cleverly notes that "this internet hype for "spomeniks" and brutalist buildings from Yugoslavia reveals a critically decontextualised view. They are described as bizarre, fascinating objects "from outer space", thus completely ignoring their historical and ideological significance as monuments to resistance to WWII fascism, or architectural models for an egalitarian society. Although this attention is nonetheless significant and potentially beneficial, it simultaneously draws a very alienating and exoticized image of Yugoslavia."

"Today, the urban developments in Belgrade mirror the current ideology: In the increasingly right-wing capitalist climate of today's Serbia, the urban landscape of Belgrade is changed by newly built orthodox churches and usually cheap attempts at buildings that should communicate economic progress and luxury," comments Marković, referring to the construction of a of the "Belgrade Waterfront", a megalomaniac project symptomatic of these new developments, on the opposite bank of the Sava river from "Sava Centar".

Able to stand in-between positions, without conceding to one over the other, but with a strong political conscience, "Sava Centar" is a fundamental piece in the recognition of "spomeniks", building a real connection with the building through images.

(Story by Sara Marzullo, The Architecture Player)

Authors icon Credits

Architect: Stojan Maksimović
Mentioned project: Sava Centar (1977)
Project location: Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade 2018
Duration: 3'02"