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Croatia Draws on Its Modernist Legacy

Rafael Moneo | 3LHD | Njiric + Arhitekti | Rusan Arhitektura | Studio UP | Radionica Arhitekture | Randic + Turato | UPI-2M | Studio ZA Arhitekturu

Croatia Draws on Its Modernist Legacy
By Michael Webb -

Croatia seems to have bobbed on the tide of history like a cork, nurturing its identity through centuries of conflict and foreign domination. A newly independent state of 4.5 million, it emerged, battered but intact, from the Yugoslav Federation and the homeland war of 1991-95. As architect Hrvoje Njiric explains, “for five centuries we took ideas from major European centers and adapted them to local conditions, allowing us to create our own little world. Because we were unaligned and peripheral, there was a burst of imagination, ambition, and talent.” That helps explain the remarkable legacy of modernism, especially in Zagreb, the capital and by far the largest city. Stjepan Planic designed landmark office buildings and several villas in the 1930s, and, in the late 1950s, Ivan Vitic created the muscular Zagreb Fair Pavilion, a sleek glass HQ for the communist party, and the innovative National Bank residential block. Nikola Dobrovic brought high modernism from Prague to Dubrovnik in the 1930s, and the hovering white cube of the Museum of History in Sarajevo was designed by three Croatian architects in 1963. These are standouts in a rich architectural culture that was interrupted but never extinguished by war, political and economic crises. Socialism had many positive features. Tito was himself a Croat and was able to suppress the toxic nationalism that fissured the prewar federation and destroyed the second. “We enjoyed certain freedoms and opportunities, and could always travel abroad, even in the ‘50s and ‘60s when the Soviet bloc was sealed off,” says Alan Plestina, a founder of UPI 2M. “Public buildings were errected without waiting to secure permissions and funding”. There were advantages to being small and isolated geographically, with only one major architecture school. Shared standards and values protected Croatia from the extremes of crass development and post-modern fads that afflicted other countries. As Plestina notes, “The ten-year delay of war and...

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