Original Adidas, Vlad Nanca
Original Adidas
Vlad Nanca


Oliver Musoviќ

Cardboard Maps
Ferhat Özgür

Original Adidas
Vlad Nanca

K9 Compassion
Zlatko Kopljar

On "Kiezism"
Ingo Vetter and Annette Weisser

Cardboard Maps, Ferhat Özgür
Cardboard Maps
Ferhat Özgür


Souvenirs Made In
Lara Badurina

To Transform the Political Speech in Facts, Finally.
Carlos Garaicoa

Model City
Bik Van der Pol

Hilary Koob-Sassen


New Belgrade
The Plan of New Belgrade of 1962


New Belgrade: The Capital of No-City's-Land

New Belgrade is a modern city, built in the second half of the twentieth century, on the marshy plain bordered by the rivers Sava and Danube, stretching between the historical cities of Zemun and Belgrade.[1] The terrain of this modern development, most dramatically beheld from the position of the ancient Belgrade fortress, served for centuries as a no-man's-land between the borders of the two empires, the Ottoman and the Austrian/Austro-Hungarian.[2] Devoid of any urban structure, it fulfilled the function of a cordon sanitaire, observed and controlled as no-connection-zone between the Orient, where Belgrade, as it were, marked its end point, and the Occident, of which Zemun was the, first, even if modest and marginal, port of call. In the short period between the World Wars, with the unification of the Kingdom of Serbs Croats and Slovenes/Yugoslavia, when the river Sava ceased being a state border, various planning strategies for the urbanization of this terrain were elaborated. Common denominator of all of these, otherwise widely divergent strategies was that they primarily envisaged the new development on this site as an expansion of, already uncontrollably sprawling, city of Belgrade. When the actual construction began in 1948, albeit in the changed socio-political conditions after the Second World War, the new city was conceived upon totally different premises. Most significantly, New Belgrade carried a potent symbolic function of being conceived as a new capital city of the new Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia.

New Belgrade
The building of the Federal Executive Council 1947



The Capital Concept

The founding of the new capital city represented not only the physical intervention in a tabula rasa site, but the intervention in historical time, whereby the traumatic history had been suspended, and the beginning of a new history was re-established as a tabula rasa.[3] In that sense, New Belgrade strongly reflected an ideological construct of a new beginning, that is, of building of socialism on a clean slate in a supra-historical time constellation, and its concept related to the plans for radical modernisation and urbanisation of the country. The site itself provided good ground for the notion of a capital city of the new republic to be distinctly set apart from the historical Serbia and the city of Belgrade as the ex-crown seat of the former Yugoslav monarchy. It represented, as it were, the federal extra-territory with a potential to become a "heart of new Yugoslavia", where the new state had the opportunity to conceive its capital as the centre of administration, culture and economy.[4] It could be argued that this concept can be seen as analogous to the one formulated for the Haubstadt Berlin competition of 1957, where the issue of a "capital" was central to the planning concerns, and carried a meaning that "[t]he concept of 'capital' signifies action of politically creative determination and of shaping order."[5] Similarly, but conceived within distinctly dissimilar socio-political conditions, the initial notion of New Belgrade reflected the non-national character of the Yugoslav society and the political construct of peoples democracy.[6] In that sense, we would propose that the founding of this new city, not only demonstrated the concept of centralization, but, more importantly, the ambition of the new state for New Belgrade to take precedence over historical constellation of cities, and to became the capital of central state power belonging to no city, i.e., the capital of no-city's-land.


The Modern Concept

From the very outset, New Belgrade was planned by a number of Yugoslav architects as a modern city with the predominant function of state administration, its morphology and content being largely self-referential and not related to either of the adjacent historical cities. The first post war plan of New Belgrade, "Sketch for the regulation of Belgrade on the left bank of the river Sava", was designed in 1946, by one of the most prominent modern architects, Nikola Dobrović. The radial plan of administrative sector with some twenty buildings for the federal ministries, Presidency of the Government and the Communist Party headquarters, aimed at modernity in an abstract way and, save one faint spot marking the site of the new Federal Parliament building on the otherwise blind map of the historical city centre of Belgrade, represented an exclusively self-referential point of departure. The main centre point of the new city to which all lines converge was decisively set as a reference datum of no particular societal hierarchy, it being the new railway station. Yet, Dobrović sketched up only the party and government buildings accompanied by the residences for the foreign diplomats, while housing was, strangely enough, totally omitted from the scheme. Is it not paradoxical, that in a new socialist city the working population, the common city dwellers were left in, as Henri Lefebvre puts it, the planner's blind-spot?[7]

Dobrović's blueprint for the left bank was used as a basis for the major architectural competitions held in 1947, viz., the competitions for buildings of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, and the Presidency of Government of Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia. Although provided with the initial layout, the competitors were requested to develop urbanistic schemes in accord with their respective proposals for the buildings. This part of the competition resulted not in one awarded scheme, but in a general consensus over rejecting Dobrović's radial plan, and embracing a town planning concept of functional organisation of orthogonal urban structure with the two main state and party buildings as the centre pieces of the urbanistic composition. On the basis of this consensus, ground was set for the start of the construction process. The massive mobilisation of youth work brigades coming from all regions of the country provided shock force, that is, human labour force without machines, for the reclaiming of hectares of floodable marshland. Over the next three years, some 100.000 people worked on the site, and as Susan Buck-Morss would put it, "[t]he collective thrust of the shock workers gave a shock as the agents of historical change, 'bringing the time of socialism closer'."[8]

The competition programme for the two large state and party buildings asked for a "monumental and representative" architecture. The programme specified that the Central Committee building had to be the "powerful symbol of the Communist Party", and the most prominent object dominating with its height and monumentality in the "plastic urbanistic composition of New Belgrade".[9] On the other hand, the programmatic requirements for the Presidency of Government building, underplayed the symbolic aspect and made the functional organization of administrative content a priority of design. As Belgrade architect Milorad Macura, one of the awarded authors at the competition, wrote: "The building of the Presidency of Government is pure, exact architecture. In it, all qualities that make good architecture should be well balanced. By organisation it is a functional building, by structure a rational one, and from the aspect of plastic composition it has to incite such impressions in spectators that would be expected from a building of such dimensions and use".[10] An issue of monumentality was, thus, central to both buildings, albeit of differing characters. Most of the competition schemes for both buildings demonstrated a modernist orientation, implying, if not openly declaring, a decisive shift from the, then dominant, model of socialist realism and towards a new discourse of contemporary architecture appropriate for the changed socio-political and economic conditions.[11] Perhaps the most salient expression of this aim could be found in a contribution to the discussion on the current issues of Yugoslav architecture, written for the magazine Arhitektura in 1948, by its editor in chief, Zagreb architect Neven Šegvić: "Our theoretical position on the issues of architectural design has to be based on the analysis of contemporary socialist socio-economic system, on the analysis of its organization, analysis of development of its capital assets, analysis of its ideological progress. The totality of all these factors forms the foundation for the development of contemporary architectural design, which has to be the expression of its time".[12] The strong ideological content and progressivism of the text notwithstanding, this statement clearly points to the orientation away from historical styles and their emulation in the socialist-realist paradigm, and towards an invention of what was indicatively named contemporary socialist architecture. In the new society, the identity of architectural contemporaneity had to be re-invented, and, of course, it was to be done so to clearly reflect the specificity of the Yugoslav political and ideological project (i.e., self-management socialism), as compared to the rest of the socialist/communist world.

One of the first representations of this discourse to be erected in 1948-1949 in the middle of the marshland covered by sand, was the structure of the winning project for the Presidency of Government, designed by architectural team from Zagreb, Vladimir Potočnjak, Zlatko Neumann, Anton Urlich and Dragica Perak. The firm planning hierarchy of this structure, reflecting the structure of dominant political power, set in motion by the construction, represented also the first major architectural precedent in the pattern of a new city. Judging by the impact of consequential resetting of the main axis into a highly hierarchic order, I would argue that the decisive urban planning redefinition of New Belgrade came about as a consequence of the position and architectural character of this one building. Acting as the only fixed point of reference in many plans which followed, from the Outline Master Plan of New Belgrade of 1948, The Master Plan of Belgrade of 1950, The Master Plan of New Belgrade of 1957, The Plan of New Belgrade Central Zone of 1960 etc., it proved paramount for the identity of New Belgrade. The building, albeit renamed the Federal Executive Council to mirror the concomitant institutional rearrangements of Yugoslav federative socialism, had been completed by Belgrade architect Mihailo Janković, only in 1961, for the occasion of the first Conference of Non-Aligned Heads of State or Government. Its architecture of the high modernist heroic fervour and its monumental, almost classical presence in New Belgrade are, nevertheless, still captivating, even if they represent the ultimate failure of the strategy of hegemony and centralisation.

The competition projects for the building of the Central Committee, on the other hand, stirred up much discussion over the issues of symbolism which deferred the decision on building. It was not until the mid 1960s, that the Party got its seat in New Belgrade, and then it was subject to changed conditions of the concept of de-centralisation. Accordingly renamed The Building of Social-Political Organisations, and designed, also, by Mihailo Janković, the 24-storey tower was a simple aluminium and glass clad International style administrative type building of anonymous character void of any symbolism save the one of contemporaneity. The tower was damaged in the NATO air strikes of 1999, and is presently being reconstructed into an commercial and business office space and re-clad to acquire a look deemed appropriate for the new owners and the contemporaneity of market economy. As the cladding progresses from the bottom up, the tower's concrete skeletal structure being exposed in its splendour on the upper half, Belgrade silently witnesses fast and easy remake of this, once striking, statement of the socialist epoch which marks the gateway to New Belgrade.

But, what happened to the concept of the capital city, when we know today that the two monumental and representative buildings were the only reification of this idea? In fact, by 1950, the whole process of planning and construction of New Belgrade abruptly stopped as a consequence of the political and economic crisis arising from the break-up of Yugoslavia with the Soviet Union and the Eastern block. When New Belgrade was eventually, largely realized, in the 1960s and 1970s, it was not as the complex centre of the Federation, but as a city of another predominant function, that of housing.

New Belgrade
Apartment interior 1960



The Reality Check

In the planning and construction of New Belgrade from the 1960s, appropriation of modernism, notwithstanding its socialist name tag, was largely marked by the CIAM's concept of functional city, and primarily Le Corbusier's ideas of a city as an idealised image of a new social model. The dogmatic rigorousness of the Charter of Athens was additionally burdened and inhibited by the political and ideological limitations of a socialist/communist monostructure. The 1960 Plan of New Belgrade Central Zone clearly demonstrates this narrative of inhibited modernity. The Plan proposed a strict segregation of centre comprising of three squares extending over the length of some 1,2km, of "broad but humane, bright, lively and usable ambient" – manifestation square, the central one, and the railway station square – from the six housing mega-blocks of soleil, espace, verdure character on each side of the central spine.[13] The total a-contextuality of the design of both public and commercial buildings in the centre and that of the housing blocks, followed the international paradigm of pure and simple articulation of primary geometric forms aiming at creating a new context, which is to say, new reality, new values and new urban symbols, appropriate to the idealised picture of the new social order. The housing blocks were constructed consecutively over the next two decades, their programmatic and urbanistic layouts largely following the Plan, while the architectural expression differed according to changes in design paradigms of the time. Further away from the central zone, at the edges of the new city, particularly along the bank of the river Sava, even more massive development took place. Huge housing estates, comprising of parallel linear buildings of cascading composition, simply referred to as "the blocks", were built for tens of thousands of inhabitants, as a monumental showcase of industrialisation of construction of flats.

However, while the concurrent crisis of CIAM and its dissolution were marked by the serious re-examination of the basic issues of the functional city, a dogmatically modernist destruction of traditional urban matrix continued in historical centre of Belgrade, in parallel with the strict zoning in New Belgrade. With the change of political course towards de-centralization, which commenced in the mid 1950s, the central zone with the planned public and state buildings and the three squares were never realised. We would propose, that it is the inversion of the plan in reality, the actual omission of government and party buildings and massive housing construction in New Belgrade that succeeded in expressing the presupposition for the construction of a new socialist city. Where New Belgrade succeeds most perfectly, as Tafuri and Dal Co wrote of the Stalinallee in East Berlin, is in inverting "the logical manner in which a bourgeois city expands by introducing into the heart of the metropolis the residence as a decisive factor."[14]

In New Belgrade, the specificity of the housing function followed the ideological premise that a place of residence/apartment in socialism is not only a commodity, but that it is its use value which defines it. It reflected another socio-political construct of the right to a residence as a universal right to the common public good, and related to the ideal of the just distribution, i.e. the ideal of free apartment, and free social services for all.[15] As a consequence, New Belgrade was realized as a city in the public/common property, and, over a long period, a city with no internal economic dynamics. Depending entirely on the state (administrative) intervention, it was totally cut off from the conditions of its own reproduction. Instead of harbouring otherwise much needed vital urban functions, the centre of New Belgrade, thus, remained an economic, social and physical void. Failing to integrate collective social housing into a coherent urban space, it actually became an empty field of disjunction. Today, in the conditions of contemporary change of socio-political paradigms, the unfinished open plan of New Belgrade is being rapidly filled by what is simplistically understood to have been lacking in the socialist epoch, namely, commercial and business development on the one side and orthodox churches on the other.


The Crisis Non-Concept

It could be argued that the principal failure of New Belgrade is its functional reduction, more precisely, its failure to develop as a complex spatio-urban structure of multiple functions, which has consequently put strain on the social life and movement of the community. As Henri Lefebvre, and architects Serge Renaudie and Pierre Guilbaud formulated it in their critique of New Belgrade, "the separation and isolation of normally linked activities engenders a sclerosis of each element, and the functionalism of the whole", which further, "prevents solidarity and sociability and compromises the development of the individual and the collectivity".[16] The issue of re-functionalisation, thus, becomes central in the contemporary discussion on the future of New Belgrade. Could it, then, be argued that, paradoxically, the main resource of New Belgrade is that it is dysfunctional, and that its main potential for the contemporary re-functionalisation is that it is an "unfinished" modernist project?

The most obvious questions which could be posed with regard to this are: How will the "filling of the void" deal with the concept of the modern city?; What new/contemporary strategies of conquering the empty space can be invented?; How will new development affect the open plan of the modern city? And, perhaps, most importantly, what new concepts are investigated and set for what is actually being designed and constructed now?

What is seen on site of New Belgrade, is persistent, street by street, block by block advancement of new development. On the one side, the open non-private space of community, that notoriously not-cared for common space of the housing blocks is rapidly being consumed by the commercial drive of the private capital expanding its boundaries into the green areas in public/social property. The common ground of the secular city is being partitioned off for consecration of sites where urbanisation means de-secularisation. The public space of a large manifestation square is divided into building plots, one of them being fenced off and marked by a wooden cross stuck in the heap of sand, presumably anticipating the construction of the new church, now only notified by a sanctified site. On the other side, what was deemed the failure of the mega housing blocks, segregation of the housing function, lack of central urban functions, alienation, lack of identity etc., is not being addressed at all. Instead, the events as from the beginning of 1990s brought in spatial disorder and unplanned physical development, grossly reproducing an emerging societal anomy and other turmoil of the "primitive postsocialist/communist capitalism". The blocks are left to decay while being cordoned off by the entropic development of notorious grey economy shanty town. Where the presumed failure of the architectural and urbanistic solutions could have been put to test of modernity outside definite political situations, is in the rethinking of the critical concepts addressing the problems of a modern city. But, we are not seeing any critical concepts being discussed, we are witnessing what can be called the crisis of non-concept.

I would argue that New Belgrade is now a city at war with itself, and its central zone is its main battlefield. Where the battle rages most vehemently is between a number of particular interests, now competing for supremacy and for the status of new, legitimate public interests. In terms of tactics, it is the strategy of imposing sanctions and isolation on the ethos of modernism, while the simplified and commercialised traditionalist understanding of urbanism perimeter block counterattacks with force of retribution. Demarcation lines are being established. First and foremost, a clear demarcation line is in force between the era of social idealism, planning, and modernisation, however imposed and hegemonistic its narrative was, and the new era driven by the forces of the market economy, privatisation, and denigration of planning. The other, more visible one is put between the physical structures representing them. A potential force field in the centre of metropolis is turning into a field of denial today. It is no more a no-man's-land, nor a common ground, but a land split by new boundaries. The modern city of New Belgrade, planned with great hopes, even if upon some false premises, and built in the reality of existence minimum, is consequently ending up as an unfinished modernist project ripped apart before it was put to test of contemporary condition of modernity.

"Published in Stadtbauwelt 163, Berlin 2004. www.bauwelt.de"



[1] The Municipality of New Belgrade, established in 1952, today covers the area of some 4.000ha with population of 236.898 inhabitants. See: www.novibeograd.org.yu

[2] The border between Austria and the Ottoman Turkey was established on the rivers Sava and Danube with the Belgrade Peace Treaty of 1739.

[3] Yet, if we agree with Walter Benjamin's words that "[t]here is never a document of culture that is not simultaneously a document of barbarism", then we will clearly see the falseness of the premise that New Belgrade started of the tabula rasa. The ideological underpinning of the construction aimed to erase not only the historical trauma of separation, but the recent trauma of war which left an indelible scar on the supposedly virgin site, where traces of the Judenlager Semlin concentration camp, the place of the "final solution of the Jewish question in Serbia", and the Anhaltslager Semlin, made the tabula rasa condition utterly untenable. The most pertinent issue here, thus, follows Giorgio Agamben thesis that "… it is not the city but rather the camp that is the fundamental biopolitical paradigm", which is at the very centre of New Belgrade. Cf. Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and bare Life, translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1998), p. 166.

[4] Edvard Ravnikar, "Veliki Beograd" [Greater Belgrade], Obzornik (Ljubljana), no. 11-12 (1947), p. 454.

[5] Cont.: "… [S]tructural expression [of a capital] therefore reaches beyond our own times and has a permanent transcedental meaning for our civilisation. Creation of a capital for tomorrow's society is still without precedent. The complexion of the new capital will at any rate not be that of nationalist governmental power. Rather will it be dominated by the ideas of democracy and international collaboration on equal footing. Here the aspirations of the individual must find expression as much as the order of the community." Hauptstadt Berlin. Planungsgrundlagen für den städtebaulichen Ideenwettbewerb. Herausgegeben 1957 vom Bundesminister für Wohnungsbau, Bonn, und vom Senator für Bau- und Wohnungswesen, Berlin, p. 12.

[6] An imortant distinction of the first three post-war years in relation to the later period of socialism is that, in the period 1945-1948, Yugoslavia was developed as people's democracy.

[7] Cf. Anri Lefevr [Henri Lefebvre], Urbana revolucija [Urban Revolution] (Belgrade: Nolit, 1974).

[8] Susan Buck-Morss, Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West (Cambridge, Mass. and London, England: The MIT Press, 2000), p. 111.

[9] "Uslovi konkursa za zgradu Centralnog komiteta Komunističke partije Jugoslavije" [The Competition Requirements for the Building of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia], Tehnika (Belgrade), no. 11-12 (1946), p. 339.

[10] Milorad Macura, "Problematika naše arhitekture u svetlu konkursa za zgradu Pretsedništva vlade FNRJ" [Problematic of Our Architecture in the Light of the Competition for the Building of the Presidency of Government of FPRY], Arhitektura (Zagreb), no. 3 (1947), p. 10.

[11] This course was definitely endorsed at the First Conference of Architects and Urban Planners of Yugoslavia, held in Dubrovnik in 1950.

[12] Neven Šegvić, "Napomene redakcije uz članak prof. B. Maksimovića »Ka diskusiji o aktuelnim problemima naše arhitekture«" [Editorial Comments on the Article by Prof B. Maksimović »Towards a Discussion on Current Issues of Our Architecture«], Arhitektura (Zagreb), no. 8-10 (1948), p. 80.

[13] Aleksandar Đorđević "Urbanističko rešenje centralnog dela Novog Beograda" [Planning of New Belgrade Central Area], Arhitektura urbanizam (Belgrade), no. 2, 1960, p. 4.

[14] Manfredo Tafuri and Francesco Dal Co, Architettura Contemporanea (Venezia: Electa Editrice, 1976), p. 332.

[15] In the legal sense, it meant that "the right to a residence is the basic legal institute by which the working man is provided with one of the most important conditions of life". See: "Zaključci Prvog opštejugoslovenskog savetovanja o stambenoj izgradnji i stanovanju" [Conclusions of the First Yugoslav Conference on Housing and Dwelling], Komuna (Belgrade), no. 3 (1956), p. 5.

[16] Serge Renaudie, Pierre Guilbaud and Henri Lefebvre, International Competition for the New Belgrade Urban Structure Improvement, Competition Report, 1986, p. 5.


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