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2008, iss. 9, pp. 75-88
On soc-realism and Belgrade architecture and its conflicting interpretations
In comparison with pre war periods of more recent architecture of the capital city, as well as the phenomenon of agitprop culture, soc-realism in national literature, painting, sculpture and photography, the development of soc-realism as the style of the earliest domestic postwar architecture has received only modest historiography interest. Interpretations given in few survey articles, short chapters of monographies, essays and encyclopedic entries, provide a meager account of the development of this rather specific style, manifested in numerous examples both in Belgrade and in Serbia. In addition, due to the lack of comprehensive scientific interpretation and pronounced bias in scholarly literature, dominant views concerning it are largely conflicting. It is true that some initial studies have dealt with the main examples of Belgrade socrealism such as the House of Trade Unions Federal SIA, Central Prison, apartment blocks over North Boulevard, along Cvijićeva, Dalmatinska and Draža Pavlović Streets, as well as workers estates at the far periphery of the city; however, they failed to account for their programmatic assumptions, potential aesthetic models and even the basic chronology of appearance. Moreover, sources testifying about the architecture of the soc-realistic epoch in Serbian culture have not been precisely registered, systematically collected and critically analyzed. Therefore it is hardly surprising that studies so far lack solid interpretation based on original material and precise chronology. Apart from inertia and long standing censure of the critical assessment of architectural - urbanistic undertakings of the period of soc-realism in a repressive, one party society pronounced relativism in the interpretation of its manifestations was primarily affected by the view held by leading postwar architects that soc-realism hardly ever existed in our society. Having gained recognition in the period following the soc-realistic period, that is, during the period of authorship architecture of higher standard, most protagonists of soc-realism sought to minimize their own role in the early postwar culture, in an effort to alleviate the judgment of history concerning their participation in that extremely ideologized artistic period. Some architects inclined towards historiography who do attribute a certain amount of importance to the period of socrealism, tend to draw euphemistic conclusion that it represented only a short-lived deviation from the 'correct' modernistic course, which only 'grazed' our architectural environment, that is, that our architects only 'encountered', but never accepted it. However, numerous specific structures and published programmatic attitudes confirm the views held by the second third of the interpreters that soc-realism indeed was a wide spread form of our early postwar architectural culture. In spite of the efforts of judges inclined to deny its existence or relativise its achievements, sources testify that Serbian soc-realism had its history, theory and practice, both realized and unrealized projects, loud followers and silent opposition. In addition, its eight year long history shows that it was not exclusively retrogressive and stark, and that it does not deserve to be censured a priori - especially before systematic research has been carried out by experts. Few initial contributions on the architecture of domestic soc-realism, written with scholarly ambitions, decidedly recognize its legitimacy and seek to shed some light and impose chronological order on it. However, due to favoritism towards creatively more emancipated periods of the development of Serbian architecture, the minority of unbiased reviewers has still not undertaken multi layered assessment of domestic soc-realism, based on planned institutionally organized studies. On the basis of the investigations conducted so far on realized and unrealized projects, it could be concluded that in morphologically-structural terms Serbian soc-realism developed in two parallel directions - international (partially envisaged following the model of monumental propagandized architecture of states with similar political orientation) and national (Yugoslavian rather than Serbian). The first line of development led to architecture in keeping with new socioideological requirements. The second line, coming to prominence in the architecture of collective apartment blocks shared the same social dimension, but exhibited pronounced national stylistic characteristics, in part latching on to the ideas of interwar folklorism. If in terms of morphology Serbian soc-realism was the continuation of prewar tendencies (as rightly noticed by most reviewers), by its intention, as well as the concept of interior and exterior design, it was in line with ideological and propaganda requirements of an one party establishment. Both types of soc-realistic buildings present characteristic elements - monotonous emphasis of wall masses with roughly profiled openings, static uniform silhouette of bare, box shaped blocks, the distribution of volume in free space (attempts to introduce long prospects like those in the SSSR, expanding the space around the buildings wherever possible for the needs of public mass events), the reduction of craft produced façade elements, emphasis on symmetry and entrance corpuses (understood as the main motifs of centralized composition), the use of protruding eaves over the entrances and top floors, predominance of hipped roofs, the reduction of spatial capacity of individual rooms, poor quality of auxiliary rooms, piling of rhetoric decoration of interiors and exteriors (relief, heraldic panels, inscriptions, drawings, slogans, full sculpture and similar). Modernistic starkness of monochromatic wall masses as well as academic hierarchy of the prominent parts of the composition, with occasional pictorial folklore and polychromes were the hallmark of this hybrid architecture. In terms of composition, it is often ungainly and cumbersome visually and psychologically alienated, unappealingly gray and nondescript almost uniform, except when created by inspired architects, such as Dragiša Brašovan. In terms of character and the intensity of manifestation, domestic soc-realism can be divided into moderate and extreme. The first was marked with a certain amount of creativity within available programmes and modest technical methods, while the other was oriented towards creatively minimalist, schematized and propagandist architecture.
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article language: Serbian
document type: Historical Item
published in SCIndeks: 14/01/2009