Yugoslavia's brutalist relics fascinate the Instagram generation

The 1977-build tower has become a magnet for tourists despite years of neglect.

November 02, 2019, 2:23 PM

Genex Tower (pictured below) is unmissable on the highway from Belgrade airport to the center of the city.

PHOTO: Genex Tower, also known as The Western City gate, stands in Belgrade, Serbia, March 1, 2019.
Genex Tower, also known as The Western City gate, stands in Belgrade, Serbia, March 1, 2019. The building consists of two soaring pillars, connected by an aerial bridge. The tower is one of the most significant examples of brutalism, an architectural style popular in the 1950s and 1960s, based on crude, block-like forms cast from concrete. "Genex tower is among the most interesting sight. People see it on their way from the airport and it immediately draws their attention," said Vojin Muncin, manager of the Yugotour sightseeing agency which guides tourists around the Serbian capital.
Marko Djurica/Reuters

It's two soaring blocks, connected by an aerial bridge and topped with a long-closed rotating restaurant resembling a space capsule, are such an unusual sight that the 1977-build tower has become a magnet for tourists despite years of neglect.

The tower is one of the most significant examples of brutalism -- an architectural-style popular in the 1950s and 1960s, which is based on crude, block-like forms cast from concrete.

PHOTO: The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija stands in Petrova Gora, Croatia, Feb. 26, 2019.
The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija stands in Petrova Gora, Croatia, Feb. 26, 2019. Examples of Yugoslav brutalism include the huge memorials commemorating the struggle against fascism, often placed in dramatic rural settings. Many of those pieces of art remain in disrepair, such as The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija.
Marko Djurica/Reuters

Brutalism was popular throughout the Eastern Bloc but the former Yugoslavia made it its own, seizing on it as a way to forge a visual identity poised between East and West.

Interest in the style is soaring, particularly since a 2018 exhibition in New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) called Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948-1980.

PHOTO: Windows face out of the building, known as the "TV building", on Block 28 neighbourhood in New Belgrade, Serbia, March 5, 2019.
Windows face out of the building, known as the "TV building", on Block 28 neighbourhood in New Belgrade, Serbia, March 5, 2019. Brutalism, an architectural style popular in the 1950s and 1960s, based on crude, block-like forms cast from concrete was popular throughout the eastern bloc.
Marko Djurica/Reuters

"We have dozens of people every week interested in taking our Yugo tour around city landmarks built from the 1950s to 1980s," said Vojin Muncin, manager of the Yugotour sightseeing agency, which guides tourists around the Serbian capital in Yugos, a once-ubiquitous car in the country.

"Genex Tower is among the most interesting sight. People see it on their way from the airport and it immediately draws their attention."

Today, one of the pillars is empty while the other is residential. The rotating restaurant was last open in the 1990s.

PHOTO: Clinical Hospital Dubrava stands in Zagreb, Croatia, Feb. 25, 2019.
Clinical Hospital Dubrava stands in Zagreb, Croatia, Feb. 25, 2019.
Marko Djurica/Reuters

Keen to capitalize on the interest, Belgrade authorities are now considering opening parts of another masterpiece of Yugoslav brutalism: the Palata Srbija government building, which is currently only open once a year.

After World War II, socialist Yugoslavia, led by Josip Broz Tito, set out to reconstruct a land destroyed by fighting. Initially allied to the Soviet Union, Tito broke with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1948.

PHOTO: The Eastern City Gate apartment buildings complex stands in the Konjarnik neighbourhood in Belgrade, Serbia, July 30, 2019.
The Eastern City Gate apartment buildings complex stands in the Konjarnik neighbourhood in Belgrade, Serbia, July 30, 2019. Brutalism, an architectural style popular in the 1950s and 1960s, based on crude, block-like forms cast from concrete was popular throughout the eastern bloc.
Marko Djurica/Reuters

Residential blocks, hotels, civic centers and monuments all made of concrete shot up across the country.

The architecture was supposed to show the power of a state between two worlds -- Western democracy and the communist East, looking to forge its own path and create a socialist utopia.

PHOTO: A formally used Yugoslav passenger aircraft sits in front of the Aeronautical Museum in Belgrade, Serbia, March 5, 2019.
A formally used Yugoslav passenger aircraft sits in front of the Aeronautical Museum in Belgrade, Serbia, March 5, 2019. After World War Two socialist Yugoslavia led by Josip Broz Tito set out to reconstruct a land destroyed by fighting. Residential blocks, hotels, civic centres and monuments all made of concrete shot up across the country.
Marko Djurica/Reuters

But after Tito died in 1980, and economic crisis took hold, the new elites sought to distance themselves from the socialist regime, including its architecture. In 1991, the series of wars began, which led to the collapse of Yugoslavia.

"Now enough time has passed (since Yugoslavia fell apart) and people have begun to appreciate the architecture of Yugoslavia," said Alan Braun, lecturer at Zagreb University's architecture faculty.

PHOTO: A carpet lies inside the Serbia saloon, in The Palata Srbija building in Belgrade, Serbia, July 1, 2019.
A carpet lies inside the Serbia saloon, in The Palata Srbija building in Belgrade, Serbia, July 1, 2019. The Palata Srbija building hosted former world leaders. Each of the former Yugoslav republics had its own salon with a central room called the hall of Yugoslavia. Furniture and carpets were custom made and some of the most prominent artists produced paintings and mosaics. "It is a shame to keep such a master piece away from the eyes of the public," said Sandra Tesla, curator of the building.
Marko Djurica/Reuters

He said the style was unique because of its visible influence from the West, reflecting Yugoslavia's unique position.

Residential areas were planned to have enough parks, cinemas, swimming pools and even parking space.

PHOTO: A couple walks in front of the war memorial monument "Battle of Sutjeska" in Tjentiste, Bosnia and Herzegovina, June 16, 2019.
A couple walks in front of the war memorial monument "Battle of Sutjeska" in Tjentiste, Bosnia and Herzegovina, June 16, 2019. Examples of Yugoslav brutalism include the huge memorials commemorating the struggle against fascism, often placed in dramatic rural settings. Many of those pieces of art remain in disrepair, however, the Tjentiste memorial, commemorating the killing of 7,000 people by the Nazis was renovated last year.
Marko Djurica/Reuters

The Palata Srbija building hosted former world leaders such as U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and Russian leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev.

Each of the former Yugoslav republics had its own salon with a central room called the hall of Yugoslavia. Furniture and carpets were custom made and some of the most prominent artists produced paintings and mosaics.

PHOTO: A crystal chandelier hangs beneath a nineteen meter dome weighing more than nine tonnes in Yugoslavia saloon inside the The Palata Srbija building, Belgrade, Serbia, July 1, 2019.
A crystal chandelier hangs beneath a nineteen meter dome weighing more than nine tonnes in Yugoslavia saloon inside the The Palata Srbija building, Belgrade, Serbia, July 1, 2019. The Palata Srbija building hosted former world leaders. "It is a shame to keep such a master piece away from the eyes of the public," said Sandra Tesla, curator of the building.
Marko Djurica/Reuters

The outside of the building is concrete, but the inside is marble. Its centerpiece is a crystal chandelier beneath a 19-meter dome weighing more than 9 tons.

"It is a shame to keep such a master piece away from the eyes of the public," said Sandra Vesic Tesla, curator of the building.

PHOTO: Chairs line up inside the Yugoslavia Saloon, inside The Palata Srbija building in Belgrade, Serbia, July 1, 2019.
Chairs line up inside the Yugoslavia Saloon, inside The Palata Srbija building in Belgrade, Serbia, July 1, 2019. The Palata Srbija building hosted former world leaders. Each of the former Yugoslav republics had its own salon with a central room called the hall of Yugoslavia. Furniture and carpets were custom made and some of the most prominent artists produced paintings and mosaics. "It is a shame to keep such a master piece away from the eyes of the public," said Sandra Tesla, curator of the building.
Marko Djurica/Reuters

Other examples of Yugoslav brutalism include the huge memorials commemorating the struggle against fascism by Tito's partisans, often placed in dramatic rural settings.

Many of those pieces of art remain in disrepair, such as the monument to the uprising against fascism in Petrova Gora in Croatia. However, the Tjentiste memorial, commemorating the killing of 7,000 people by the Nazis, was renovated last year.

PHOTO: Miodrag Zivkovic, 91, architect of the "Battle of Sutjeska" memorial monument, poses for a picture with the original maquette in his home in Belgrade, Serbia, Feb. 27, 2019.
Miodrag Zivkovic, 91, architect of the "Battle of Sutjeska" memorial monument, poses for a picture with the original maquette in his home in Belgrade, Serbia, Feb. 27, 2019. Zivkovic, the sculptor of the 19 meter-high concrete Tjentiste memorial was among the first artists in the former Yugoslavia to use concrete. "It is stable material, resembling stone but it is easier to work with," he said. "For every project back in those days there was a national contest, and artists from all over the country had the opportunity to apply, and that competition produced quality."
Marko Djurica/Reuters

Miodrag Zivkovic, the 91-year-old sculptor of the 19 meter-high concrete Tjentiste memorial, was among the first artists in the former Yugoslavia to use concrete.

"It is stable material, resembling stone but it is easier to work with," he said. "For every project back in those days there was a national contest, and artists from all over the country had the opportunity to apply, and that competition produced quality."

PHOTO: Karaburma Housing Tower, also known as the "Toblerone" building, stands in the Karaburma district in Belgrade, Serbia, March 5, 2019.
Karaburma Housing Tower, also known as the "Toblerone" building, stands in the Karaburma district in Belgrade, Serbia, March 5, 2019. Brutalism, an architectural style popular in the 1950s and 1960s, based on crude, block-like forms cast from concrete was popular throughout the eastern bloc.
Marko Djurica/Reuters

Reporting by Ivana Sekularac for Reuters.

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