With a MoMA exhibition of Yugoslav-era brutalist architecture coming up in the summer, countless photos of Spomenici (aka WWII monuments) making weird architecture listicles and the never-ending appeal of mid-century architecture, it seems like a high time for Serbia to start preserving its Socialist-era architectural heritage, including its peculiar interiors.
Although there have been some notable public efforts recently, like reconstruction of Belgrade’s Museum of Contemporary art and the Palace of Justice, there have also been many missteps.
Most notable is that the The Great Hall of 1950s Dom Sindikata (House of Unions), went through a revamp that not only got rid of its stylish wooden interior, but also of its name as it now named Kombank hall, deleting its socialist origins. During the reconstruction, there were also fears that the new management will also get rid of a monumental painting by Petar Lubarda, but although it still does not appear in the glitzy renders, it will apparently be kept.
Outside of the public institutions the situation is much worse, due to economic pressures which force old owners to sell their neat restaurants and shops. Furthermore restitution of nationalised property, means that lot of formerly architecturally iconic places, like Graficki Kolektiv Gallery or Srpska Kafana, changed owners are now facing uncertain futures as there are no protections imposed by the law on what the new owners can do with them.
Thus, old zinc bars and carefully designed interiors of socialist-era restaurants are giving way to places which show little sense of geography, era or taste – places that could be equally at ease in a place soaked with history or a new development in the suburbs, in Belgrade or Brisbane.
A few years ago makeover of Hotel Moskva’s cafe wanted to make an elegant modernist marble-clad interior more palatial by adding tacky looking neo-baroque ornaments which made it look cheaper and very jumbled More recently, Cuburska Lipa, a restaurant of unique design, which had a beautiful lime tree growing through it, was torn down and replaced with an anonymous, ugly block of flats.
Quaint old shops are being “upgraded”, as things that made the interesting and atmospheric are replaced by cheaply designed interiors lit by cold led-lights and protected from the elements by ghastly white PVC doors and windows.
Given that the new building boom is changing Belgrade, and too often for the worse, here is my homage to these wonderful interiors which were the backdrop to my growing -up, from sports centres to hairdressing salons.
May you never disappear.
Tasmajdan and Milan Gale Muskatirovic (25 Maj) pools
Zlata, DJ, Hotel Bristol
Prolece, Botanicka Basta, Polet, Ima Dana, Cuburska Lipa
Divna hair salon, Rancco/Beko shop, Joca’s tailor parlous