Megablocks - Adaption to new Realities

Students: Jiajia Zhang, Jovanka Rakic
Location: Group work in Belgrade
Date: July, 2006
Type: Research project, student work

The case study will compare two specific and radical mass-housing types in Belgrade dating from the late '60s - ‘megablocks’ and the late '70s – ‘islands in the green’. An example of megablocks, the Block 45, is located in New Belgrade on Sava river, while the concept of ‘islands in the green’ is visible in the housing area of Banjica, located in the southeastern area of the city.
Built in late '60s and early '70s as ‘neighborhoods’ for 20.000 people each, the megablocks determine the character of New Belgrade at least as much as the area of the New Belgrade Center. Compared to similar developments in other European countries, their architectural quality is remarkably high. A wide variety of public spaces have been designed with care. Block 45 is an example of modernist mass urbanism with special attention given to segregation of traffic and the quality of public space. It has been built on the river Sava embankment in the south. In the cruciform public space between the blocks, different complexes public functions are positioned, such as community centers and primary schools.
The megablocks are nowadays also subject to radical changes in ownership and use –even if this is not always visible at first sight. The present day use of the megablocks is very different from the original intentions. Since the early '90s, flats have been sold individually, the original inhabitants have moved out and original functions of buildings have changed. There is however no concept for the maintenance of the whole. Striking is also an example of Block 70, basically a copy of Block 45 that has turned in to a Chinatown. It seems that the blocks are still very popular with their inhabitants, but resented by architects and other officials.
The ‘islands in the green’ (with the focus on the housing complex of Banjica,) are literally dense, high-rise housing complexes that originally stood in green surroundings. They were a consequence of the 1971 general plan of Belgrade. At present, all f their green surroundings have been colonized by small-scale seemingly rural or suburban ‘wild’ developments. Here too, the apartments were sold as individual units. What is interesting about these blocks is that they aesthetically or stylistically announce the individualization processes and postmodernism to come, while at the same time they were realized in the ‘old’ collective system and with industrial construction techniques. Here we find the strange situation that the city of the past looks like science fiction and the new city looks like a rural society in the Middle Ages.
In the core of this case study is the basic question that connects all of the 70 million mass-housing apartments constructed all over former Eastern Europe: how does the mass-housing typology of modernism based on equality and homogeneity perform at present, in the society of individualism and difference? Are these areas slowly eroding toward an inevitable erasure or are they adapting to new realities?

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