This study demonstrates that, in this case, modernist functionalist planning was not abandoned because it produced “inhumane” or “unlivable” neighborhoods, an interpretation that gained currency among scholars and practitioners in the late 1960s and 1970s and has never been seriously challenged, but because it lost the support of decision makers. Unlike in Western Europe, where this loss of support condemned modernist settlements to decline, however, the dynamics of housing provision in Yugoslavia ensured that these neighborhoods would remain popular and vibrant.
This study also aims at enriching our understanding of the social history of Yugoslavia by investigating how this idiosyncratic socialist regime functioned in practice. Specifically, it shows how decisions were made and implemented by state authorities, and it demonstrates the surprising degree of leverage that ordinary citizens had to challenge these decisions. It also explores the practi-cal implications of Yugoslavia’s “in-between” political economy—specifically, the economic reforms undertaken in the mid-1960s for the Yugoslav social-ist project, in which a collectivist state-led political and economic model was replaced by one that was more individualistic and consumer driven. Finally, it describes the various spaces and places brought into being by the socialist system, both intentionally and unintentionally.
It approaches these questions through the analysis of a variety of primary sources. Archival materials proved a particularly invaluable and relatively untapped resource, providing not only the state’s perspective on Yugoslavia’s problems and needs, through the numerous reports and meeting minutes of decision-making bodies, but also people’s grievances and requests, through the minutes of neighborhood meetings and requests for housing. The Belgrade municipal archives and archival materials kept by Belgrade’s Town Planning Institute were particularly useful. Studies and conference materials from consultative bodies and research institutes, such as the Standing Commission of Yugoslav Cities and the Yugoslav Institute for Urbanism and Housing, provide telling data and a window on the concerns of practitioners and social scientists in Yugoslavia. Newspapers reported on both the successes and the failures in urban planning and construction, as well as popular opinion of these efforts. Professional journals documented the architects’ and planners’ evolving understanding of planning and were a rich source of information on particular projects. And finally, interviews with planners provided personal testimony of what it was like to participate in the great modernist project in Belgrade.
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The modernist project in Belgrade was a local interpretation of a much broader urban planning trend. The vision embodied in the city’s first social-ist master plan, in 1950, reflected a general consensus about urban planning that had crystallized in the European community of modernist architects by the early 1930s. A significant contingent of European architects embracing a modernist aesthetic and approach to decorating had come together in 1928 to form the International Congress for Modern Home Design (CIAM) to tackle major social problems by changing the built environment. After first focusing on how to provide affordable and humane housing to workers by designing a “minimal existence dwelling,” they turned their attention to the problems of overcrowding and disorganization in European cities.4 The first years of CIAM had been marked by a conflict between those who believed that the organiza-tion should take an explicitly political stance, following the lead of the Soviet Union, and those who believed it would be most effective if it remained apolit-ical. By 1933 events seemed to vindicate the latter, as the Soviet Union adopted an increasingly ambivalent stance toward modernism, and Italian modernist architects had begun to work for Mussolini’s fascist state. Consequently, at its
During a cruise from Marseilles to Athens and back again held in 1933, contingents from eighteen different countries, including Yugoslavia, which was represented by Croatian architect Ernest Weissmann, debated the opti-mal organization of space in cities in the modern age. While there was some disagreement on certain aspects—with some participants advocating a concentrated, high-rise urban form and others looking to low- and medium-rise satellite cities—and while not all of the congress participants believed that sufficient analysis had been done to warrant the formulation of principles, a gen-eral consensus did emerge from the meetings. The participants agreed on the importance of separating different urban functions, conceptualized as dwell-ing, working, leisure, and circulation. They also endorsed the separation of dif-ferent types of traffic and its banishment from residential areas, as well as the provision of collective services to housing districts. Several groups also saw high-rise construction as an effective way to bring greenery into the city, al-though this particular conclusion was contested by some. Private ownership of buildings and land speculation were identified as obstacles to good planning. 5 In spite of general agreement on these issues, there were sufficient differences of opinion that participants were not able to agree on concrete resolutions at the end of the congress. While the areas of agreement were distilled by a team of CIAM members into a series of affirmations (constatations), an official statement of the CIAM’s position on the functional city was never published.6
These affirmations (constatations) were taken up by Le Corbusier, expanded upon, and published as the Athens Charter in 1943. While Le Corbusier un-deniably added some of his own personal views, which were not necessarily representative of the modernist movement as a whole, this document still provides a useful summary of the principal preoccupations and prescriptions of pre-Second World War modernist urbanism, which was so influential in shaping Belgrade’s first postwar master plan.