Sava Center: The Life of a Yugoslav Glass Castle

During the 43-year life, 10 million visitors passed through 120,000 square meters, 8,000 gatherings and 20,000 manifestations were held.

Often put in the background, the Yugoslav socialist architectural tradition and its progressive achievements in the century behind us, not only changed the construction technology but through its sharp, at first glance cold architecture, in just a few decades influenced the way of life making it what today we consider it ‘modern’.

Shaped in regular shapes cast in ‘concrete molds’, cubic geometries of correctly arranged multi-storey buildings – New Belgrade, although often called a concrete dormitory, in itself, represents a masterpiece of Yugoslav architecture.

Examples of good practice of modern blocks of cities in which we live owe much to the decades-long period of construction behind which stand the innovative ideas of Yugoslav architects, urban planners and engineers. Brutalist utopia with residential and renowned apartments, congress and cinema halls, shopping malls, supermarkets and newsagents, it formed New Belgrade, and with it a new way of life in the city.

Sava Center today; Photo: sahraguate / Flickr

Nominated for an Oscar for Architecture

Talking about New Belgrade, and even in professional circles, Sava Center is often bypassed as a topic. Behind the long existence of this facility is a multitude of recorded data, films, stories and anecdotes. There is a lot to be said about its importance – nominated for the 1978 Pritzker Prize, which is considered the Oscar of architecture, a forty-year tradition that has accompanied more than 10 million visitors, but also the fact that 43 years after its construction – the House of Friendship, still the largest congress center of the former state.

With its grandiose size, futuristic design and content, Belgrade glass castle it began the era of business life of the former state. In addition, decades ago, culture began from the great hall of the Sava Center, spreading through the air straight through the portal to the streets of Belgrade. Little by little, the role of the ‘congressional capital’ evolved into the epicenter of cultural life.

Four decades after it was built, the Sava Center, in all its specificity it has never been thoroughly reconstructed. The debut of congress tourism and ‘trendsetter’ culture becomes neglected over time, fading with all the spotlights that are constantly on.

Corner of the Sava Center today; Photo: sahraguate / Flickr

The Sava Center project was completed in a month, while the construction of the first phase – performed in 11 months.

In March 1976, in the office of the chief designer of the Directorate for Construction of Belgrade, and today a famous architect, Stojan Maksimovic, a request has arrived for the construction of a space where the Conference on European Security and Cooperation (CSCE) will be held next year. Such an international event could not be supported by the then conference halls and business premises, so it was necessary to build a modern, separate facility – a congress center from 50,000 square meters which would be located at the place where the Belgrade Opera has been planned for a long time.

The Sava Center project was completed in a month, while the construction of the first phase – performed in 11 months. The next phase involved the construction of accompanying hotel accommodation. Completely constructed complex that counts over 120,000 square meters, was built over a period of two years.

Congratulations to the builders

During the ceremonial opening of the Sava Center, President Tito May 1977, said: “This beautiful facility, which will serve us both for international gatherings and for our internal meetings, shows the high ability of our builders. This means that everything that is created in other highly developed countries can be built in our country. Congratulations to the builders of this facility, which will serve the good, not only of Belgrade, but also of our entire community. “

It really was like that, Sava Center is with its size, organization and various contents continued to serve for more than 40 years, even in significantly worsened physical condition and reduced capacity.

Opening of the Sava Center in 1978; Source Facebook Page ‘Old pictures of New Belgrade

Modern times – modern architecture

The Sava Center as a whole was a significant piece of architecture of that time and a modern architectural endeavor whose goal was the representativeness of Yugoslav society. By name Home of friendship there were three objects physically and formally integrated into one whole – main congress building, concert hall i Intercontinental hotel. Organic structure and playful layout connected into a unique harmonious whole with the then, most modern built-in materials, technology and aesthetics. In a skilful way, with an architectural trick, objects of different content are connected into a compact whole, leaving them different enough in their specifics, and yet so as to gain the impression of a unique complex.

Sava Center complex from the air; Source site of Sava Center

It is a seemingly spontaneous combination of visible constructive elements skillfully imposed on the visitor as a hint of the range of technology.

We recognize the Sava Center by large sloping glass surfaces of endless facades. However, he is much more than that. It is a seemingly spontaneous combination of visible constructive elements skillfully imposed on the visitor as a hint of modern life and the reach of technology – a three-dimensional lattice in the role of an ornament in the foyers, modernist decorated machine channels as witnesses of modern technologies, spacious halls and corridors with only a few pillars, large spans – significant heights, floating gallery spaces, bare concrete surfaces, carefully designed inscriptions and graphics, as well as many other larger and smaller thoughtful details, are all that makes up the Glass Castle. Individually specific, and interconnected into a harmonious whole.

We recognize the Sava Center by the large sloping glass surfaces of the endless facades; Photo: sahraguate / Flickr

We recognize the Sava Center by the large sloping glass surfaces of the endless facades.

The hall of the Sava Center is characterized by the most diverse, at that time, modern – technical, lighting, acoustic and spatial elements that were to be contained in one concert-congress hall. Having received criticism about insufficiently good acoustic properties, the architect Maksimović he jokingly regretted that they had ‘stolen’ 15 meters intended for the hall for which he fought hard.

In addition to commercial and public spaces, the Sava Center project consists of a handful of smaller conference rooms, exclusive premises, offices for rent and administration, as well as an integrated shopping center with shops for rent. As such, today it can be characterized as a multifunctional center – a modernist town in a small.

Interior detail; Photo: sahraguate / Flickr

Witness of culture for 43 years

The life of the Sava Center begins with anticipation in 1978 with the aforementioned international conference of the CSCE, and continues to this day. In a 43-year life, 120,000 square meters have passed 10 million visitors, was held 8,000 sets, 20,000 events to 1,600,000 visitors. The congress and concert hall became the first home of the Fest, a famous international film festival. Opera and pop singers, philharmonic orchestras, world ballet and dance ensembles, as well as many other authors and artists were on the stage. Countless conferences, lectures, business and political meetings and press conferences were held.

From key political to key cultural moments, Sava Center has hosted several generations at full capacity.

Distinctive interior of Sava Center; Photo: sahraguate / Flickr

The end of the Sava Center or a new beginning?

While we are looking for the culprit in the collapse of one of, immodestly speaking, the greatest works of Yugoslav construction, Sava Center got a new owner who will take responsibility for its preservation and maintenance with a plan of investment and revitalization. It is not the first time that the collapse of this building is trying to be solved, but short-term – instant solutions have not borne fruit, and the Sava Center has continued to decline.

Last year, it was sold at a public auction for the third time, with the condition that the purpose of the center does not change and to continuously invest in it in the next five years. Relying on the experience of not so famous attempts to revitalize important buildings in our history, there is a justified doubt about the future of this building. However, this opportunity can also mean the rebirth of Belgrade’s, now, cult place.

When you are already here…

Source: Gradnja by

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