Tragically named airplane factory that found its way to the hearts of New Belgraders
Ikarus was the first Yugoslav airplane factory, founded in 1923, in Novi Sad. As expected for an aircraft factory named after the first known air accident with a human fatality, Ikarus had suitably a bumpy start as it almost went bankrupt before it started producing planes. Neverthelss, after a bit of restructuring it started churning out military and civilian aircraft for the bold new Yugoslavia. Novi Sad was chosen as the air command of the new state with headquartered there, with many of the bombs and other weapons kept in Petrovaradin fortress.
The move to Zemun, first partial then complete, was started in 1928 due to the construction of the larger airport as well as proximity to the railway and the Danube. The move cemented Zemun as the aviation capital of Yugoslavia. The military aviation also moved its headquarters to Zemun in 1935, to the palatial Dom Vazduhoplovstva designed by Dragiaša Brašovan (and badly damaged in 1999 NATO bombing).
In 1938, the beautiful modernist HQ was designed by Franjo Jenč, a Zemun-born architect who worked on many public buildings in his home town, including the town hall and the post office. The building is crowned by a beautiful art-deco relief of Icarus, mid-flight, above the main entrance.
The WWII meant the start of destruction for Ikarus. After the Nazi attack on Yugoslavia destroyed the air force (mostly supplied by Ikarus’ planes), the factory was used to produce planes for the Nazis. This meant that it was a prime target for the Allies who destroyed the production facilities in 1944 (but spared the HQ).
After the liberation of Zemun and Belgrade, the factory was revived, and it supplied the Red Army and the Partisans with basic military equipment and was used to mend Soviet planes. After the war ended, the production and design of airplanes resumed in now-nationalised Ikarus. In 1950s the production started shifting towards civilian vehicles, as Yugoslav defence industry was shifted to Bosnia and Herzegovina and SOKO in Mostar became the main airplane factory. Ikarus was then rebranded to less glamorous Ikarbus, to reflect its new focus on producing buses.
As New Belgrade and Zemun developed Ikarus HQ building was quickly dwarfed by massive socialist apartment buildings of Blok 9a. Although a bit out of place in the new surroundings, it is much beloved by its neighbours who fought for the HQ to become a protected monument in 2015, as one of the oldest bullrings in Novi Beograd. Nevertheless, in yet another attack on architectural heritage by the city, the building’s status was revoked and it was marked for redevelopment. The indomitable New Belgraders are not letting it go without a fight, though and there is a new series of protests to protect this doomed beauty.