Ilir Gjinolli

Pristina | Date: November 22, 27, 2018 | Duration: 157 minutes

When we look at the transformations, of course we notice a historical development of the city and society. The changes that took place, in terms of economic, cultural and social, the changes inside of the society, you know, the transition from Ottoman period to premodern period is amazing in societal terms. […] [The Society] It was of a different kind, based on the concept of a muslim society, while the other with its European modernization tendencies in Kosovo were expressed, mainly through destruction. The destruction of a cell, of a societal and urban cell.

Aurela Kadriu (interviewer), Kaltrina Krasniqi (Interviewer), Donjetë Berisha (Camera)

Ilir Gjinolli was born in 1962 in Gjilan, Kosovo. In 1986, he completed his bachelor’s degree at the Department of Architecture, University of Pristina. In 2015, he defended his doctoral thesis titled “Public Spaces in Kosovo – Transformations Throughout History” at the Department of Architecture, Technical University of Graz. He is one of the founders of the Spatial Planning Institute at the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning, which he led from 2003 to 2006. Currently, Gjinolli works at the UrbanPlus architecture studio, which he founded in 2001, and teaches urban design at the Department of Architecture, University of Pristina. He lives with his family in Pristina.

Ilir Gjinolli

Part One

Aurela Kadriu: If you can introduce yourself first and tell us something about your early childhood memories? The place in which you were born, what kind of setting was that and whatever you remember from your childhood.

Ilir Gjinolli: My name is Ilir Gjinolli. I was born into an old family in Gjilan, they say that my family is the one who founded the city, the Gjinolli family. My parents were educators. My brother was a mathematics teacher while my mother was a teacher of lower grades of elementary school. The memories I have of the city I was born are mainly connected with my elementary school life, but even more with the high school because that is also the time when one forms themselves. One forms themselves in the sense that they create the first social relations that last the longest.

From my early childhood I remember that when I went to the first grade, I was determined to pick my teacher even though I remember that my teacher taught in a school that was twenty minutes away from the closest school, which was five minutes from my home. However, I decided that my teacher would be a priority over the walking…Teacher Sinan, he was someone of a great influence on my formation, especially as far as writing and reading go, which were of course developed further in the higher grades when I changed schools, that is, when I came back to the school that was closer to my house, but also in the gymnasium, in the gymnasium of Gjilan.

I remember that I was hesitant when I went to the first grade because of course it was a big change, I didn’t even go to school for two days. Since my mother was a teacher at that school, she told my father, “Ilir doesn’t want to go to school.” “Alright,” he said, “I will take him to school tomorrow. We will go together.” But then I changed my opinion and said, “No, I will go on my own.” And this is something that connects me with the beginning of my education, I mean, with the first grade in 1968.

Something else I remember from my elementary school is my class monitor when I was in higher grades who affected my formation, in the sense of orienting me towards technical sciences. I am talking about my technical drawing teacher, who insisted that the students learned the culture, I mean, he wanted to teach the technical culture of technical drawing, workshop exercise, I mean, working with models, to teach us how to work on a construction model, a model in electric technology, machinery…I mean, this had a big influence on my formation as a person who later was oriented towards technics.

Of course at school the memories also come from playing with friends and sometimes friendships are created because of what you play or what sports you like and that makes getting close to each other faster. I mean, I liked sports even though I wasn’t physically prepared to pursue it as a profession, but however games such as soccer and basketball were places when our friendships always got stronger.

In gymnasium, I was part of a classroom of students who were very close to each other, our friendship continues to this day, we often gather with my high school friends, I often go to Gjilan exactly because of my friends. For four years of gymnasium, I can say that we were the type of friends that were separated only by sleep.

Aurela Kadriu: I would like to still stay on childhood, then we can talk about gymnasium as well. How many siblings did you have?

Ilir Gjinolli: We were three children. I am the youngest in my family. My sister Teuta is an electrical engineer, my brother Agron is a civil engineer, he has been living in the United States since 1995. As a mathematics teacher, my father was a great influencer for the fact that we decided to study technical sciences, maybe because he thought that engineering is a profession that opens many doors and it is easier to find a job with it. But also for us as students in elementary and high school, it was somehow shameful for us not to know mathematics, since our father was a professor in Gjilan, he was at Normale then in the Technical High School.

My sister was six years older and my brother is two years older than me. I was always closer to my brother, because of the age and the games, and then during our studies, I joined him, we got the chance to study together for three years and we were connected to each other even after our studies because our professions were similar, I am an architect and he is a civil engineer. We were, I am still, I continue being a university teacher, he used to be but he moved to the United States in ’95, because he found himself there. No matter his attempts to return, he remained in the United States of America.

As children, we never had any kind of how to say, we didn’t fight with each other since our sister was older, but however, I remember that we didn’t fight with each other as children. Maybe the time was different as far as education goes and children fighting with each other was more common than it is today. But however, I remember that we rarely fought with each other for something or…

Of course I was the youngest one and I tried to walk in the steps of my sister and brother, especially at school or…I often received their help when I needed it, when I had problems with a certain subject. For example, I learned to play basketball from my brother, he had learned before me, then I learned by following him, hmm…What else do I remember…

I remember that I couldn’t wait for winter to come and the snow to fall. A hill was near our apartment and we had a huge wooden slide which was, in fact, nobody in the city had one like that because it was bought somewhere in Slovenia. It was a huge slide which could fit three people. Each time it snowed, we climbed to the hill, it was like a ritual of people living in that part of the city, to gather in the summit and slide down, where the bus station is currently located. This was something that I repeated until the first or second year of gymnasium. And then, I gave my slide to the children of my neighbor.

Aurela Kadriu: Who brought it to you from Slovenia?

Ilir Gjinolli: If I am not mistaken, my father bought it in Slovenia or asked someone to do it, or bought it in Skopje but it as produced in Slovenia, I am not sure.

Aurela Kadriu: Did your father travel at that time as a professor, did he get to travel?

Ilir Gjinolli: My father was politically persecuted in the ‘50s, I mean, he was politically persecuted since his studies In Belgrade and then he carried that with him even when he returned to Gjilan and started teaching. So, in 1958, when my sister was already in life, he was forced to move, actually to escape Gjilan and move to Skopje at his paternal uncle’s, together with my mother and my sister. He stayed in Skopje until 1961.

Aurela Kadriu: Why was he persecuted?

Ilir Gjinolli: He was politically persecuted during the time of Ranković, he was always under pressure. Back then there were many, how to say, situations when people got executed, a little moment of carelessness was enough for the ruling power to execute you. My father experienced such a case one evening, they called him exactly to the hill that I told you about, where we went to slide, they called him for a meeting there. My father realized that their goal was something else and he spoke to my grandfather and they moved to Skopje directly, then my mother joined them.

It was mainly because of my father’s political views, I mean right after 1950 when the elections and the first registration of population took place, there was a big struggle of Serbs to pressure the old civil families into registering as Turks. At that time my father was in Belgrade and wrote a letter to his parents saying, “If you register as Turks, do not consider me your son anymore.” Of course as the UDB functioned back then, they opened the letter and read it and they always kept it as a reason to persecute my father.

But also when he came back because the number of Albanian teachers gradually increased, I mean, there was a need to open schools, departments, high schools in Albanian. On the other hand, the pressure of the UDB aimed to discourage Albanians to pursue education. He returned to Gjilan in 1961 when Normale was opened and he worked for Normale from that time up to 1970, or ’71 if I am not mistaken, when he started working for the Qualifying Center for Production Workers, where he taught mathematics and professional practical education, it was like a crafts school, something like that.

For some time he also worked in Pristina, in the Hajvali neighborhood and at the Meto Bajraktari elementary school, if I am not mistaken, but he returned to Gjilan again. From ’77 to ’87 when he retired, he worked at the Technical School.

Aurela Kadriu: And how did it affect… You mentioned it earlier that he was also persecuted during the time of Ranković, you started school in ’68, how, did it anyhow affect you as a child?

Ilir Gjinolli: I was young, but certainly my brother and my sister weren’t able to…I don’t think they were able to understand what was going on, but also our father never expressed that at home. I only remember for example in ’73, if I am not mistaken, he was forbidden to teach for four years, exactly because of political reasons. I remember this period because he wasn’t allowed to work in education and started working for a construction enterprise until they allowed him to return to education in ’77. To be honest, we weren’t much affected by it because we were children and we didn’t understand these things. But I am sure my mother understood it, my family, his parents, my grandmother and grandfather as well as my paternal aunts and uncles.

Aurela Kadriu: What was the role of your mother in this whole situation? How do you remember your mother…

Ilir Gjinolli: My mother, my mother was how to say, like a second teacher at home. I mean, each time we faced difficulties or wanted to ask something, or eventually had any school requests, she was there to support, or explain the situation to the teacher, I am talking about myself since she was close to me [at school]. Of course, then there are other usual issues connected with parents, but however when you have a teacher at home, of course it was easier for us to overcome difficulties with homework, poem memorization and what else…I mean, it was something very pleasant for us as students.

What else can I tell you about my childhood. What my parents always had, and that we always saw as a commitment of theirs was to study, I mean, to be good students, to understand that education is a must. I remember that my father always said that education is the only way for the Albanian nation to prosper. I mean, education was a kind of life commitment and I think they left a mark on us as well, I mean, what I do and what I have been doing my whole life since ’88 until now at the University is that I have tried to…At least to transmit the knowledge that I gained, but also to open new horizons for students, I mean for them to be able to have choices. I have never been too strict, the way we are used to studying from the early times, I mean, one direction, “This is this and that’s it.”

I have shifted my approach long time ago and I think that what I have done was somehow always based on what I inherited from my parents. My parents always paid attention to health, they always worked to take care of our health through healthy food. Money was very limited at that time, especially for those in education, so they took very good care not to spend on unnecessary things. What my father always insisted on was to spend at least fifteen days by the seaside in Ulcinj, because of the sea and sand… Such thing wasn’t that easy for that time, but my father was committed to letting us enjoy the sea thanks to his savings. To enjoy the sea more in the sense of health rather than in the sense of luxury.

Of course this left some kind of mark on our desire to travel, but however, the opportunities at that time were very limited, in the financial sense but also in the sense of the freedom of movement. What else do I remember? Or something that is…I remember that my father was the one who bought one of the first cars in Gjilan. He bought a car in 1967. A car with which we travelled to Ulcinj at that time, through Qakorr, a very difficult mountain road which hasn’t been asphalted to this day. But in 1968, we also travelled to Turkey, Izmir, even that road was very difficult at that time because of bad infrastructure.

Aurela Kadriu: You went to Izmir by car?

Ilir Gjinolli: Yes. In 1968. Of course, we took a break in Istanbul.

Aurela Kadriu: Do you remember this experience?

Ilir Gjinolli: I remember that it was a long journey, we spent around a week in Varna, Bulgaria if I am not mistaken. Then we went to Istanbul from Varna. My mother’s cousins who had moved in the ‘50s were living in Istanbul. I remember that we stayed there for four or five days and…then we went to Izmir. Izmir was around 900 kilometers from Istanbul, we went there to my father’s paternal uncles, who also moved to Turkey in the ‘50s. I remember that on the way we also stopped in Edirne and visited the mosque of Edirne, it is a big mosque about which I later learned in the faculty, the Mosque of Sultan Selim. Until that time, or until recently it was the biggest mosque, but also now it has the biggest dome among all the mosques in the world. I mean, we are speaking about the 16th century, it is a work of architect Sinan, Mimar Sinan.

Aurela Kadriu: What kind of city was Istanbul?

Ilir Gjinolli: I remember very little from Istanbul. I only remember the Galata bridge, and I remember when we went, this was in Bursa if I am not mistaken, or in Istanbul, I don’t know, crossing the sea by a boat which wasn’t suitable for cars, but as Turks improvise, they had improvised even in this. And we took the risk because otherwise we would miss the ferryboat and in order not to wait for long, we took a boat.

I have returned to Istanbul many times after that, but I remember very little from that time because I was six, but I will always remember the Galata bridge.  

Aurela Kadriu: Why do you think that the bridge is an persisting memory of yours?

Ilir Gjinolli: Somehow the bridge was a meeting point for everyone, and that is where the closed çarshia end, the Kapalıçarşı [Grand Bazaar], Masar çarşı end at Galata bridge, there is also the new Mosque, or Jeni Cami. There is a station from which you can go to the side of Karaköy and Bernoulli and on the other side there is Beyazit and Aksaray. I mean, the part where those who went from Kosovo and other Balkan countries usually settled.

So I guess this is why I remember Galata. But it was also the only existing bridge at that time because Bosphorus bridge didn’t exist at that time. The Bosphorus bridge was built in ’72, there was no other bridge upon the Golden Horn or as they call it Haliç in. The Galata bridge was the only one and it was significant because it could open in the middle so that the ship could pass through and get to the other side. I mean, maybe it is because of the story of the bridge that opens and closes why I remember it.

Aurela Kadriu: In which year did you go to gymnasium?

Ilir Gjinolli: Gymnasium? I started gymnasium in 1976 and finished in 1980.

Aurela Kadriu: How was that for you, how do you remember gymnasium?

Ilir Gjinolli: Back then the first grade of gymnasium was general, I mean, you would enroll as a student who couldn’t choose a department, you could only do that in the second year. One would either pick the natural sciences, where exact science dominated, or the social sciences where social sciences and languages dominated mostly. I went as an excellent student from the elementary school and got in without having to take the admission exams. Otherwise, students with lower grades had to take the admission exams.

I remember gymnasium, I remember a lot from that time. The school building was new when I enrolled, the Zenel Hajdini Gymnasium was opened in 1974…

Aurela Kadriu: Did it have the same name?

Ilir Gjinolli: Yes. I mean, I came to the gymnasium three years after [it was built] and it was something rare. The teaching was done in dedicated cabinets for every subject, they were equipped with teaching tools for every subject. For example, we had the cabinet of biology, chemistry, physics, technical drawing, where there was also the photography club. Then we had the cabinet of linguistics such as English, Latin and French, whoever wanted to learn French, of course. Teaching was done that way that we moved from one cabinet to the other, we didn’t have a classroom of our own until the third year if I am not mistaken, this stopped right after the first year.

But however, the school was still new and we especially were happy for the fact that we had a hall for the class of physical education which we didn’t have at the elementary school. And the days when we had physical education classes were special, we always couldn’t wait for them, because we wanted to play with friends. Of course, we couldn’t always play because there were some exercises which we didn’t like all that much, but however, it was a way to get out of the routine of sitting and listening.

Most of the teachers we had, influenced my education. For example, my class monitor who was also my technical drawing teacher, he wanted us to write and draw beautifully, he taught us photography. He made it possible for us to use the tools of the photography club in order to learn to take photographs with friends or personal ones and so on. I mean, it was an experience which wasn’t accessible for everyone.

Then there is my late physics teacher who taught us physics in a way that I still remember, I think the way he organized the class was unique. It was unique for the gymnasium and maybe for the whole Kosovo, because he tried to involve everyone in the process and ask and…I mean, he made questions that weren’t necessarily going to be graded, so it was a stress-free process. I mean, we could always give our answers in a relaxed way in order to learn the essence of physics and not learn what is how to say, very theoretical and hard to understand if not illustrated in practice. All I learned from physics, I applied in faculty, of course always connecting it with the physics that we learn in architecture such as mechanics or construction physics and so on and so on.

Our English language teacher was also good and of course, whoever wanted to learn English could learn it from him. Most of what I know from English in the systemic sense, that is, grammar and syntax, I have learned in gymnasium. I never took English language courses, but today I can speak and write without any problem. I always worked and written in English until my Ph.D. As far as the systemic sense of a language goes, I have learned all that in school. A bit in the elementary school, to be honest, but most of it in high school.

Same with the Albanian language teacher who insisted on us learning the language. To learn writing and speaking the standard language without any mistakes, but also literature…He also taught us literature which was often, for that time, not to say forbidden, but always discussible whether it was appropriate for children or not. I mean, most of the professors that we had were professors who influenced my further development.

Aurela Kadriu: What do you remember from your friendships?

Ilir Gjinolli: From friendships, my classmates were really close to each other, we always used birthdays or trips in nature to get along and create relations. And maybe it wasn’t very common at that time, but we had a mixed friendship, not only men, but also women. Of course, in a city like Gjilan which was way smaller than it is now, and in a different historical context, the ‘70s…It was different for men and women to hang out together, especially after school hours.

Even though going out to coffee shops back then was a really rare thing, but we would hang out at home or eventually go to the cinema or a party that was organized at school. For example the disco club, for some time we would go every Saturday, back at that time we also had school on Saturdays, it was a workday. I remember that we had the disco club on Saturday evening. Besides the disco club, there were of course poetry evenings, we had sports tournaments in soccer and basketball…And these all contributed to us getting closer to each other. With some of the friends we meet more often and of course this has to do with the number, because you cannot gather a big group of people together.

But in general, all of us were really comic and I guess it was because of our class monitor, who was very supportive, I mean, he asked us for discipline but he was always supportive of every kind of activity that we asked him or encouraged him to join us…So, he was a kind of friend to us. We still keep the friendship with our class monitor.

I told you our annual routine, when our friends who live abroad come to Kosovo for vacation, we always gather one summer evening to remember those times. Even though the situation has changed now, most of the friends have been qualified in different professions, but what we talk mostly about is the past, we remember the friendship and so on. Other? [Addresses the interviewer]

Aurela Kadriu: I am interested, somehow in high school one is more conscious of what they see, what surrounds them. Did you have a tendency to experience the city in a certain way from high school? How was Gjilan, how do you remember it?

Ilir Gjinolli: The road from home to school took me at least 20-25 minutes. I mean, I would start school at 7AM, that is, I had to wake up early. And it was always a routine which I still keep going with my children, first we had to have breakfast then leave home. As a child, one doesn’t like it that much but then one gets used to it and it is good because you create a food order, you know that you should eat three times a day and like that you are physically and mentally able to follow the lessons.

Walking to school took me maybe twenty minutes because I had to walk quickly and in the morning, usually the city was moving because every job in the public sector would start at 7AM back then. But going back from school would always take longer because I wasn’t in a rush to get home so we would talk and stop where the streets with friends would be divided, one would leave in the first street, the other in the second, in the end, I would always remain alone for ten or more minutes.

I experienced or learned about the city through walking. Some buildings were there during that time, some came in the meantime. I always wanted to go to movies, even when I was little but especially during gymnasium. I mean, we wouldn’t miss almost any movie. We were, besides playing we also were soccer fans, but especially handball fans when the Gjilan’s Božur competed in the second league of former Yugoslavia. I remember that I also made a flag in order to be in the middle of the fans.

Usually the matches were on Sundays, I mean, they barely were organized on Saturdays, mainly on Sundays. We would go to a handball match early during the day, the matches would usually take place at 10AM, or later, depending on the season, and then at 2PM or 4PM we would go to watch soccer, later on also basketball. When I started playing basketball more actively, we would also go to basketball matches, even in other cities of Kosovo.

Aurela Kadriu: Were you part of any basketball team or did you just play for fun?

Ilir Gjinolli: No, I played basketball, we mainly played basketball with friends in the gymnasium but also near the school where I finished elementary school. We would always gather in the evening when students would finish school and it was a good atmosphere. For some time I played for the juniors of the team of Gjilan but then…this was when I was in the fourth year of gymnasium so when I completed school, it was the time to go to university. Before going to university, the system changed and we had to go to military service in the Yugoslav Army. So, I went to the military service right after gymnasium, I continued my studies when I came back.

Aurela Kadriu: Where did you do military service?

Ilir Gjinolli: I did it in Požarevac, a city in the northeast of Serbia, 90 kilometers from Belgrade. Otherwise, it is also the birthplace of Slobodan Milošević. I remember almost everything from that time, I especially remember the movies that I watched during that time because the goal of the soldiers is to get out of the barracks to the city, and the other goal is to go home on vacations.

Usually when we would go out, there were two cinemas in the city, they all screened movies that were new, back then all the new movies…The circulation of movies wasn’t like today, I mean, new movies would usually come from festivals, the Belgrade festival was how to say, like a collection of all the best movies in the world. First they were screened in Belgrade, then they would go to other places. Since Požarevac was near Belgrade, it means that movies which we heard about would come to Požarevac, and of course when we would go to watch them when we knew they were coming.

The Hair is one of the movies that I remember from military service, it is by Milos Forman, I don’t know if you have… [Addresses the interviewer]. That’s just one of them because there are so many movies that I cannot remember right now, but honestly movies were what kept my mood in military service because it was really…When I went to the military service, I weighed only 53 kilograms, and the exercises that we had to do weren’t all that difficult but it was something that was repeated every day and it simply was a routine that transformed into monotony.

Then impossibility of communicating with the family when you wanted was very problematic for someone as young as I was at that time, I was 18. It was also the fear, the fear of a new setting, new people, people from all around, from every category, there were people from deep villages of let’s say, Bosnia, who had no knowledge at all, and then there were those from Belgrade for example who were of course in a higher level than us, because of the development of Belgrade. I mean, a mixed society from which you were often afraid or how to say, hesitant to create friendships. I mean, there was always the group of people who were closer, for example Albanians, or maybe a Serb, or someone else who is from your country, who is closer to you.

Aurela Kadriu: What kind of cinema did Gjilan have? You also mentioned it earlier…

Ilir Gjinolli: The cinema of Gjilan was in the city center, now it is the city theater. Back then it was both, a theater and a cinema, it was the culture house, when they wanted to screen movies they would lower the curtains and when there were plays, they would be raised. It was the amateur theater of Gjilan but it always had good plays. They are still remembered.  

Aurela Kadriu: What was its name at that time?

Ilir Gjinolli: The house of culture, I don’t remember whether it has a name or not. We only referred to it as the cinema or the theater, but it was the same location. But usually there was the cinema, how to say, one movie was screened on three schedules, on Sunday there were movies starting at 10PM, then on Saturday there were movies that were screened at 3PM. Usually it was…In fact, there were two schedules, one at 5PM the other at 7PM, on Saturdays sometimes there were movies that started at 3PM. But it depended on the movies, how to say one movie came…I mean, there were three movies within one week and we knew when the next movie was coming, that is, you could plan the day. For example, this was different from Pristina because here the movies in three cinemas were screened only within one week. I mean, you had one week to watch the movie in one of the cinemas. Cinema Vllaznimi [Brotherhood], Cinema Rinia [Youth] and Cinema APJ [Yugoslav National Army]. In fact, there were four halls, Cinema Rinia had two halls, the big and the small one.

In Gjilan, there was a movie every second or maximum every third day. I guess it was because of the audience. But then there were movies for which there was a lot of interest and they lasted longer. I remember that there was a kind of festival of movies from Albania, there were around ten movies that were part of it and the hall was always full. What I also remember is that there was a lot of surveillance from the Secretariat of Internal Affairs of who was watching the movies, even though there were many people [going to the movies]. The Indian movies were very famous and very visited, there were many people going to watch them, then there were Turkish movies. I could never understand why they were attracted by the Indian and Turkish movies more than with let’s say, American or French movies.

Part Two

Aurela Kadriu: Let’s begin with your studies. Can you tell me how did you decide to study architecture and why it happened…

Ilir Gjinolli: I must’ve decided to study architecture when I was in the third year of gymnasium. When I started the second year of gymnasium, my brother enrolled in the Faculty of Civil Engineering. My brother was more talented in architecture than me, he was a great drawer and attempted, since there was no department of architecture in Pristina, he attempted to enroll in Skopje but they didn’t accept him there, I guess the main reason was because he was an Albanian from Kosovo because basically, he knew mathematics, descriptive geographic and drawing…He was talented in every way somebody studying architecture must be, he was prepared.

Then he enrolled in civil engineering when I was in the second year, so I had the chance to see what he was studying…First I decided to study civil engineering to, but then when the Department of Architecture was opened in Pristina when I was in the third year…I had the chance to see what they were working on, I came [to Pristina] with my brother for some obligations and I had already done some drawing, so my interest started changing. As far as I remember, I was in the third year of gymnasium when I was already determined to study architecture. My mathematics professor in the fourth year begged me to study mathematics because I was very good at it, I was far ahead of the others in mathematics because I would spend time studying mathematics even after school.

He begged me to study mathematics because the city needed mathematics professors and so on but I was…Even my father begged me to study mathematics but I had already decided to study architecture and that is how I chose architecture. I mean, I enrolled in 1980 after completing high school, but my generation started one year later. We started in 1981. I lived in the dormitory during my five years of studies and much of my student life is connected with the life in the dormitory. I often believe that you cannot experience the student life if you don’t live in the dormitory. For example, whenever you would open the door in the dormitory you could have a tea with someone, talk about life or share concerns or work in group, in every year.

My brother was in the fourth year of his studies when I began with mine, he was two years ahead of me, but since I also went to military service in the meantime…I mean, the difference at school was three years and I stayed in the dormitory with my brother and two of his older colleagues, as the youngest, to learn from them and also have family support and connection with my brother. I lived with my brother for three years, in the fourth and fifth year I lived with friends of my generation but they weren’t studying architecture. Those I lived with in the fourth year, one of them was studying electrical engineering and the other medicine and in the fifth year I lived with two friends who were studying electrical engineering.

The conditions at the dormitories weren’t that good at that time. Starting from the rooms, for example rooms that were planned for two persons, had three beds, that is, for three persons, plus sometimes there were those that we called illegals, or there were rooms…Rooms that were used that way. Then the comfort was limited, for example when it came to warm water or the possibility to cook in the university when we didn’t have time or didn’t want to go to the canteen. There were always struggles, struggles to save the food because there were no fridges and so on but however it was a life that most of the students went through and I think that living in a dormitory was very significant for most of them.

It was also very difficult to work [study] because there was only one work desk in a room with three beds, and for example if you studied architecture, you would occupy the desk because our profession is like that. I remember very well when we went to the university for the first time. Of course one always remembers the first day because you expect to have the first lecture. It was with Professor Kadrush Rama, my free drawing teacher, he wasn’t an architect but a painter, he is the father of architect Përparim Rama. I remember his word, “You are lucky to have chosen a creative profession.” I have always remembered this sentence, especially during my studies as a motive, that a creative profession is not the same as other professions that are usual or professions that in their work don’t…The creative aspect of which is very limited or inexistent at all.

Even though Professor Rama didn’t teach me after that, because there were two professors, but he happened to be the one who [welcomed] the first generations…We were a number of students who attended his classes in the first days…Even though he was an academic painter, he taught us about architecture. Even though it was a new faculty, since there were very few qualified staff to teach. Most of our professors came from universities of former Yugoslavia cities such as Belgrade, Sarajevo and Skopje. But those who came to teach us were famous names in former Yugoslav architecture, for example Aleksandar Radović from Belgrade was one of those people that left marks on the education of the generations of the architects. He taught drawing and graphical representation as well as in ways of expressing in architecture, but he also affected the assistants who had graduated somewhere else in former Yugoslavia but didn’t know architectonic drawing the way he explained it. He was very inspiring for us to develop in the creative sense.  

Then there was Živorad Janković from Sarajevo, the designer of very important sports buildings in former Yugoslavia, starting from the Palace of Youth and Sports, the Skenderija Palace in Sarajevo, Vojvodina in Novi Sad and Gripe in Split. He was really a professor whom I still remember and who spoke as…He was able to motivate students in various aspects in architectonic creativity, because he taught the basic subjects and he always made correlations with what was surrounding him, what he worked himself and what he saw around the world by travelling almost all of it. Or Professor Konstantinovski, a professor whose work is all over Macedonia but who also designed the Press Palace [Rilindja] which unfortunately has become ugly with the transfiguration and the new façade with contemporary materials.

Each of them had their special way of passing the knowledge. Simply, they left their marks on the generations that they taught. Maybe from today’s perspective I can say that we were lucky to have had been taught by such people, whose works are for example now in the exhibition of Yugoslav Modernism at MoMA [Museum of Modern Art] in New York…The Museum of Modern Art in New York, one of the most famous museums in the world. However, the conditions were very difficult…As far as space goes and the number of teachers and teaching assistants who assisted was limited and another important thing was that their lectures were always in Serbo-Croatian and of course, those who didn’t speak the language could hardly understand them.

There were many of those [who didn’t speak the language] and on the other side it is characteristic, something even more difficult was that the lectures were shrunk within two days. We had once or twice a month intensive lectures, of course they took the time of other classes which later we had to compensate, it was problematic. Other difficulties were related to the access to literature, literature in general was limited all around Yugoslavia and I remember the library here in the center or…There were three libraries where we bought books, one here in the center where there is currently a coffee shop, now it is closed but there was a coffee shop just in front of Swiss Diamond Hotel, former Božur, I mean when books came, usually five or six copies and whoever heard that the books arrived, we would run to find the money to buy the book because you couldn’t find the book after one or two days.

In fact, since my father often bought books in Belgrade because he followed the political situation, found an opportunity to also order architectural books and he ordered them for me, I still have some of them, we are speaking about 1982. Then there were difficulties to get equipped with necessary materials such as pens, back then we drew with rapidographs, they were with ink, that is, everything was done by hand. We had difficulties finding papers on which we sketched, these are all barriers that make studying very difficult. So, when you make a comparison with nowadays when they have everything, I mean, it is an absolutely different setting for studying, I mean there are no limitations when it comes to books because you can order every book that you need and it comes to your house, or you can find it on the Internet in PDF format, I mean, the difference is very huge.

The difference is also in the communication opportunities through the Internet which don’t let you miss any new building or projects or…How to say, the virtual experience through various methods, or videos or…I mean, there are many ways. Back then the Faculty of Architecture had nine semesters, the tenth was dedicated to work on the graduation thesis. We always opposed that system and repeatedly pointed it out that the Faculty has a lot of unnecessary subjects especially subjects related to civil engineering which we…Even though we didn’t learn them very thoroughly, we often had to apply them in practice, I am talking as someone who worked in civil engineering, design and urban planning. I mean, I have tried all of them, but I can say that you almost never need to use what you learn in subjects that are related to civil engineering.

Then there was the problem of the limited number of staff because of course there were only a few architects and most of them were employed in designing or construction enterprises and somehow they came to teach at the University just to help it because they really didn’t need it financially because they were well paid and well valued in their workplaces as engineers and architects. They were well paid and had other benefits, for example they were provided with apartments because the system was socialist. I mean we are talking about the years…In the ‘70s and in the ‘80s, as soon as you finished university, especially if you got a degree from whichever technical department, you would have benefits like the furnishing of an apartment. At some point that stopped, and I didn’t get to experience it. We were still in socialism when I graduated, but the economy had experienced a decrease and there wasn’t…

Aurela Kadriu: How was it for you coming to a city like Pristina from Gjilan, because about Pristina…

Ilir Gjinolli: I knew Pristina because my maternal grandfather, uncle and aunt as well and eventually my paternal uncle lived here. I mean, I knew the city somehow, I knew the central part which we now refer to as  Mother Teresa Boulevard. I am talking about the part from the [Gërmia] shopping mall to the Grand Hotel and beyond. I also knew Ulpiana because my maternal aunt lived there and whenever I came to Pristina, I mainly stayed at hers because I am the same age as her sons and it was impossible not to spend at least one week here during the summer. I also knew the friends of my maternal aunt’s sons, I still hang out with them.

Aurela Kadriu: How do you remember that part, when you would come to Pristina for one week?

Ilir Gjinolli: It was always fun to come to Pristina, to change the city and to experience a new urban setting, new friends, to see the big city, of course. When you came from Gjilan for example, you had to go through Ferizaj because the road…The short road through Llabjan didn’t exist, but we had to go to Ferizaj and from Ferizaj to Pristina and especially, I remember the panoramic view from Veternik, which is a point from where you can see Pristina and that is something that will never leave my memory, I even have a sound memory of it…Suddenly, from asphalt you go to streets with cobblestone and the noise that the wheels of the car made is something that one always remembers as a change when you come to a new city. I mean, this is something that is registered in my memory and is there to stay.

In Pristina we had the chance to go to the cinema even when I was in primary school as well as during the secondary school, of course not like in Gjilan because the distances were bigger and as a guest you didn’t have many choices, but however, I have known about the cinemas since then. When I came here during secondary school especially, because my paternal uncle had also moved here in 1976 and of course since I was older then, I could also go to the cinema and so on…

Aurela Kadriu: In which one did you go more often?

Ilir Gjinolli: Depending on the movie. The APJ cinema as well as the Vllaznimi had poorer conditions while the Rinia, especially the big hall were really…It was also visually very convenient, also the sound system was better.

Aurela Kadriu: Where was your paternal uncle’s house?

Ilir Gjinolli: My paternal uncle lived in Bregu i Diellit, in the first collective buildings that were built. You had to walk through the former Dubrovnik street, because I don’t know how they are referring to it now, but I also know that street very well, I knew all the houses on the way up and back, I remembered how they changed in the architectural sense.

Aurela Kadriu: Since you had been in Pristina as a child and then came back as an architecture student. How did your perception of the city change? Was there any change?

Ilir Gjinolli: Yes, there was a change of course because you have a different movement trajectory, you start learning about the old city and inheritance such as the mosque, hammam and some other buildings that no longer exist. For example the bed of Vellusha became a street, when I came here the river was still open and we went there to draw the urban setting…

Aurela Kadriu: Where was it?

Ilir Gjinolli: The Vellusha flow? It flowed through the Bajram Kelmendi street, there was the river of Vellusha, the setting was covered until up there, it was how to say, half…There were only some wooden bridges to pass from one side of the river bad to the other and streets or the houses were oriented more on the other side, I mean, they only had one kapixhik to go from their houses at their neighbor’s. But the river bed was combined with greenery and…I mean, I remember that in the first and second year of my studies, we went there to draw. Then it was covered, I don’t remember very well when, maybe in ’84-’85, I don’t remember.

Aurela Kadriu: Was there any discussion around the fact that it [the river] was being covered?

Ilir Gjinolli: No there wasn’t. There wasn’t any discussion because in fact the residents were happy with the fact that it was being covered because a road was opened, but in fact it was harmful for the city, for the weather and the waters of the city. They weren’t….Prishtevka and Vellusha rivers weren’t big rivers but they gave a kind of freshness to the city, but then due to the impossibility to build the canal throughout its bed and due to the impossibility to transform it into a beautiful landscape, Prishtevka and Vellusha were covered.

Aurela Kadriu: How was the covering of rivers discussed in the circles of architects?

Ilir Gjinolli: Of course it was unacceptable. I think Prishtevka was covered in ’87, in ’86-’87, I had already graduated back then and I know…I graduated under the mentorship of Professor Bashkim Fehmiu, who is now deceased, peace be upon him, and I was also a teaching assistant for his subjects, I mean we always discussed the issues of the city. He was a kind of observer, no matter that they didn’t listen much to him, his reactions were always inspiring for us and he was the first place we went to for everything related to learning from experience because besides working in Belgrade, at that time maybe he travelled almost all around the world. I mean, he could provide us with literature and see and also discuss with great architects, he also had the chance to attend various international conferences in former Yugoslavia, he was well known and respected in former Yugoslavia.

By developing professionally, of course that you see the changes as something…Of course positive changes are important, but when it comes to negative changes, you should always look at them through a professional point of view and ask why they are happening. But there are people who could do their job better and we know that they could do their job better, that still goes on. I mean, a big part of decisions depend on the urban policies and not always…Not only here, but all around the world there are situations where those who pretend to know make the decisions but the mistakes are huge and not improvable.

So each time, every change in the city was a kind of how to say, a situation of putting things in the weigher, whether they are right or not. Is the plan complete or not? For example there has always been a question why the Youth Palace was never completed. That is, why weren’t the closed pool and opened pools as well as sports fields built in order for the project to be completed.

When you come to a big city from a small one, of course you try to learn the customs of the place you have just settled in and are living in. Even though when you stay in a dormitory for example, you are little connected to the locals but for me that wasn’t a problem because I was able to adapt to the locals as well as those who come from many countries of Kosovo. I mean, the region or the place where you come from was never really an issue for me. For me it was always important to know and have a healthy relationship with each of my colleagues, so today I have friends from all around Kosovo, from every city and place.

I never tried to how to say, only hang out with people from Gjilan or people from a certain city because one always learns from the friendship, from a certain city and their customs, for accents, by knowing people you create opportunities to go at their place and know the city through them. Their customs are often expressed in the conversation and you try to understand how it is talked about, I don’t know, for example Kapishnica, for example in Peja. Mitrovica for example, Lushta is a small river but it is in Mitrovica…There are different situations. What I want to say is that by hanging out with others, you create a sort of image for the city.

In Peja for example, when they say Ura e Zallit [The Sand Bridge], Ura e Gurit [The Stone Bridge]..They don’t say Ura e Gurit but Ura e n’Gurit, I mean, you can notice who comes from where just by the way they speak and then their interpretation makes you know the city.

Aurela Kadriu: I would like to know more in the architectural sense, how did you see this city? I mean, how did you see Pristina as an architecture student, in the physical and architectural sense, what happened?

Ilir Gjinolli: As a student of course you start to get to know the city through architecture, you learn about the most important buildings, buildings that you don’t find in other cities of Kosovo and when you come to the capital, you try to compare your capital with capitals of other countries. The first comparison is done with the closest capital, which is Skopje and then Belgrade and so on. I mean, it is a matter of being close geographically as well as a matter of the communication frequency, because we went to Skopje more often than we went to Zagreb. For example, I went to Zagreb for the first time during my master’s studies. I was 26, I couldn’t go earlier, because it was more important for me to go to the seaside somewhere in Yugoslavia before going to Zagreb.

Aurela Kadriu: Were you close with Professor Fehmiu?

Ilir Gjinolli: I was a teaching assistant for Professor Fehmiu’s classes for three years, but then during the ‘90s when he retired, we had a close friendship. All of us who were teaching assistants for his classes and were part of the department always thought of ways to maintain a closer contact because of his experience and advices. Usually during the ‘90s we would at least meet once a week or once in two weeks at a…At some coffee shop, usually Elida, also other coffee shops, but mainly Elida. We would meet to have a coffee and discuss about what we were doing in the back then houses of the University, I am talking about the ‘90s. But until he retired, I mean, we worked together in the Faculty for three years…I graduated under his mentorship and then I was his assistant for three years, from ‘88 to ‘91.

Aurela Kadriu: Do you know anything about his projects…

Ilir Gjinolli: We learned about his projects also through conversations and in the meantime we also learned about things that we didn’t know. This is how to say…The professor barely spoke about his work, only when he compared what he had designed with what had actually been done. He was mainly very critical of what was happening and how the back then ruling power, but also those who came later didn’t have a sense or were not educated to value what an architect is able to do. We see some results of Professor Bashkim even today, for example the creation of three main neighborhood of the city, planned as Ulpiana, Dardania and Bregu i Diellit, they are a work of, or they were designed by Bashkim Fehmiu in the ‘60s.

Then the University Center [Campus] is a contribution…The transformation of a military barrack into a university campus is something…You barely see such examples in the world, I mean, from an extreme to another. It is a pity that it was never completed the way he envisioned it to be, but I guess the financial situation was very limited back then and that is why many projects changed. In the ‘70s for example you have the flourishing of institutional buildings that characterized the Autonomy, or today’s state, because Autonomy back then meant the state. We have the Press Palace, National Library, we have the Technical Faculty, we have the Radio Palace…What else is important? The building of the Assembly was built in the ‘69s but was completed in the ‘70s. Then there is the Central Bank, where the Common Bank of Kosovo used to be and where the Government is currently located, there is the Shopping Mall [Gërmia], I mean these are all buildings that were constructed within a ten-fifteen-year period of time and now, 20 years after the war we don’t have any building of that level worth mentioning. We are not even able to decide upon the location of a concert hall, even though we have the money and everything, I mean, we are not able to think of a solution.

You have seen how much we have struggled to reconstruct a stadium, that was a process that lasted for one year or more, not to mention other failed buildings such as the transfiguration of Grand and the Press Palace, I mean, this is all a result of politics. It is a result of politics not in the sense that they had certain agendas, but it is a result of ignorance and not accepting of the fact that they don’t know, I mean, it is like when you try to prove someone that you know something but in fact you don’t and the result is always something unacceptable or something that cannot be a positive result. If you don’t know or are not qualified, you are not able to recognize someone’s competency regarding a certain field…

Aurela Kadriu: Earlier we talked, you said that you would divide the transformation of the city in three stages…

Ilir Gjinolli: Yes, you are asking about what I have seen?

Aurela Kadriu: Yes, what you have seen.

Ilir Gjinolli: For example, when I was in the first year of my studies, I experienced the opening of the big hall, of the small hall of the Youth Palace. We went together with Professor Janković to the ceremonial opening. Of course that was an event that one always remembers. Then in the second year, if I am not mistaken, when I was in the second year of my studies, the Technical Faculty was opened for the first time, because in the first year we were here in the building after the Ministry of Education, all the technical faculties were there. It was very tight, the situation with space was very bad, but in the second year the Technical Faculty was opened there and the architecture one remained where it is today, where the Technical Faculty used to be, three departments moved up there, I mean, I remember that.

Then when I was in the second year, no I think this was in the first year when I came here, Dormitory Number Five was opened, I mean, I remember this too. In 1983 the National Library was opened and this was also…Or, yes, yes, it was in 1983 as far as I remember. Then there was a chance to use the literature or study at the library, I mean, it is still very visited by people, mainly by students who struggle to find a free spot to read, study or whatever. I mean, these changes…Then I remember the buildings such as the building of KEDS, the building of EximKos which have also been transfigured, I mean, I remember them as buildings that were opened during the time I was a student.

There was not much development after I graduated. When did I graduate? In ‘86, from that time up to ‘91 there was no development. Mainly the buildings in Dardania and Bregu i Diellit were being built, I also witnessed the construction of these neighborhoods, since when I moved here, that is, in ‘81 until it was completed, I saw how it gradually completed. Even though they haven’t been completed in total because the recreational part of the public space always remained uncompleted, some paths and that was it. Except Ulpiana, Ulpiana also had the sports fields, kindergartens and schools.

There was little construction in the ‘90s, from ‘91 to ‘99. There was more degradation. The degradation began because of corruption, they took the permits of course the permits were only given for resident houses but also those houses, when they were built without a plan, they affected the development of the city. Back then there was no investment because there were no jobs, I mean, people had to do something and somehow…However, I have worked in construction in the ‘90s a little and I have discovered the city by moving from one neighborhood to another one, I learned about some parts when I built my own house in ‘91 – ‘92, I mean, regarding the equipment with materials with…The communication with construction workers who were mainly from the neighborhood of Kodra e Trimave [The Brave’s Hill] or the road that takes you to Keçekollë.

This is how I learned the city from a different role and what happened in the city in fact only happened in these parts and mainly in the private houses because on the other side we had the modern part where there were buildings or houses, for example those in Aktash, they didn’t experience any change, because they were mainly houses that were part of the plan. The expansion of the city began in the direction of Matiqan and in the direction of Podujevo, always without a plan, always getting a piece of land and improvising, So, there was nothing important from ‘90 to ‘99. After ‘99, the general goal was to build as much as possible, to find the place to build and this is how this came…It started with private houses, then with buildings and gradually it grew and continues growing.

Often we don’t understand why so many buildings are needed, but looks like the market is such that people find real estate as the best way to invest. When you hear certain types of data like for example a few days ago I heard that there are 3 billion and 200 thousands euros saved in commercial banks, I mean, one instantly asks whether people don’t know where to invest money? I mean, and it is understandable…Those who consider or are engaged in creative professions such as computer sciences, arts and what else, where the benefit is relatively good and when they want to become independent, I mean, to move out of their parents’ house and look for their own, I mean there’s…How to say, there is a diversity of those who buy apartments but on the other hand the number of buildings doesn’t match the population increase, I mean, it is always, how to say, simply something that I cannot understand, I mean, deep research has to take place in order to define some parameters that lead to this development.

Maybe it is also a matter that there are so many construction workers who want jobs and there are many companies that offer materials who also want to work and they regenerate these construction processes. But on the other hand you don’t see development in the public sector, for example until recently we didn’t have…Or the initiative to build schools and kindergartens in Pristina has just started, I mean, pre-school education is an important part of life quality, as well as secondary school and university, then there is health, how well distributed is the health service, it shouldn’t all be concentrated at the University Clinical Center, then how many buildings of sports, recreation and culture are there as free activities, I mean, there is a lot to do in that regard. We cannot build a concert hall, with all the struggle. There has been a struggle to build the concert hall. Then there are the stadium and sports fields. The sports fields have started to come to the surface recently, but it is a problem of land, I mean, the land has been occupied and now it is difficult to find.

I am not going to talk about the quality of architecture because it is…For example, when it comes to the construction of the new building, the quality is increasing because it has to do with the competition and the lessons you learn on the way. But when you look at the public buildings, there is a situation that we cannot be proud of and it is mainly because of what I said earlier that the politicians try to put their own interest above the public interest. I mean, every call here was biased, starting from the flag we have today and on, I mean, to the buildings of schools, kindergartens and every public construction. The competition has been neglected, those who had connections got the job and the result is what we see today not only in Pristina but in all the cities.

[This part of the interview was conducted on November 27, 2018]

Part Three

Aurela Kadriu: Last time, you told me that you came to Pristina for your studies and stayed in the dormitory but then there is a moment after your studies when you decided to stay here. I would like to start with that story, why did you decide to stay in Pristina and what was the first neighborhood in which you settled in Pristina?

Ilir Gjinolli: After my studies, I decided to stay in Pristina because first, I wanted to work for the University after the results as one of the best students. Of course, working for the University was something that helped you progress sooner in your profession as soon as education goes, for example if you were working for the University and enrolled for a master’s or Ph.D. somewhere abroad, you were automatically given a scholarship by the Provincial Secretariat of Education. There was an office of international relations. But in fact, for two years I worked in a designing enterprise, designing bureau, UnKos, a project where I gained experience in design. While I was there, I got to design projects of different levels, from small ones to big projects for the time. What I learned while working there was the connection with the practice, that is, the process from signing the contract to handing over the project, communication with other collaborators in the project and other stages such as the design of structure and electrical installation, water installation, canal and I mean, all kinds of things which we hadn’t learned at school but which I think we should have in order to be able to coordinate the project because usually the architect is the one who coordinates the project, the architect is the one who brings all of the stages together in a totality.

I actually lived at my maternal grandmother’s during my first year in Pristina. The house was my maternal uncle’s, but since he was living and working in Turkey, we lived at my grandmother’s together with my brother. My parents moved here in around 1987 because they both retired. They moved to Pristina and then we lived at my paternal uncle’s in Taslixhe. My uncle had a seperate entrance and we lived there until 1993 when we built our own house, when we basically made it livable because we couldn’t complete it for a very short time. This is how we moved from Gjilan to Pristina.

The total detachment from Gjilan happened when we sold my parents’ apartment in 1996, that is, when there was no longer, how to say, a place where you could you without thinking twice, for example, to meet your friends and then stay at your home. In the ‘90s, it was a bit difficult to think about a solution of a place to live because we had to work privately and then the university was in houses, so we had to combine in order to survive or complete the house, or at least make it liveable.

Aurela Kadriu: What kind of neighborhood was Taslixhe when you moved?

Ilir Gjinolli: Taslixhe was a neighborhood planned during the ‘60s and my uncle’s house where I lived at that time was built maybe in ‘65-’70, I am not sure. Then it was adapted with another entrance, not very practical to live but it was, how to say like a beginning in Pristina and then we bought the land in the upper part, in Taslixhe Four and we started building the house, my brother…We built the house in ‘91 then we were expelled from work and we built as much as we could with the money we had left, but the situation was very difficult to be able to move in right away.

In 1993 we made it ready to live in, we did the required installations, we completed three rooms and of course, we bought the necessary furniture. At that time, together with my brother we did various private jobs, mainly in construction and less in design, because there was no work but we also worked for the Faculty. I started working as a teaching assistant at the Faculty in 1988, then from 1992 I also started lecturing some trusted classes, but this was my status until after the war. After the war, in 2002 I got employed at the Ministry, a kind of support was needed to establish the system of planning in the government, the sector of spatial planning, and with the advice of some of my friends, I started working for the Ministry where I stayed for around four years and a half. At that time, I established the Institute for Spatial Planning, I was one of the founders of the Institute for Spatial Planning that designed the spatial plan of Kosovo for the first time in the post-war Kosovo. In 2006, I returned to my private office Urban Plus, but I also kept working for the Faculty with a honorarium. I mean, since 2004, I am still working as an affiliated professor even though I have completed my Ph.D. and have all the necessary qualifications, but there is an article of the Statute of the University that says that you cannot become a professor if you are older than 50, this is a problem that I have been dealing with these times, in order to achieve my right to become a regular professor at the Faculty.

In other words, after the war there were many opportunities to work on different things in the private sector, in the public sector and with international organizations. I have also tried for international organizations for some time before the war and after the war, but I considered it a very narrow field for my skills and opportunities, I mean, in the sense of creativity it was not very acceptable for me. So, I worked shortly in 1999, I mean, in 1998 then after the war for three months and that is when my work for international organizations came to its end. What I can specify about that short time is that I had the chance to see the war directly, I mean, how it developed and the consequences. I mean, in ‘98 I often saw people fighting from close to the front line and I saw the destructions. Right after the war, the destruction was in large scale in cities like Gjakova and Peja and, to some extent, Mitrovica, not to talk at all about the villages because they burned them all unless they couldn’t reach them. It was a kind of policy of theirs to get the people from the villages leave Kosovo, I mean, to destroy the agricultural base of the development of a society.

Aurela Kadriu: What was your position in these organizations?

Ilir Gjinolli: We worked on the evaluation of the damage and preparation of the specification for material distribution and monitoring of work in some cases of houses’ reconstruction. Mainly of houses, but there were also some annex buildings like stables or small magazines that were important for the family economy, but mainly houses.  

Aurela Kadriu: How did they expel you from the Faculty in the ‘90s?

Ilir Gjinolli: In ‘91 (laughs). This is a interesting story. The admission exam would usually take place in June or early July…Since in 1990-1991, Serbia had revoked the Assembly and had changed the prerogative from Kosovo to Kosovo and Metohija, that is, the Socialist Province of Kosovo and Metohija in ‘89 and in the ‘90s the changes that were carried also to the institutions took place. When the maturant graduated in 1991, there was already a kind of Government of Kosovo. The diplomas were stamped with the stamp Republic of Kosovo, if I am not mistaken, and this is how the problem was created because Serbs didn’t want to allow the students to take the admission exam with diplomas that were signed by the Republic of Kosovo…I am not sure whether it was Republic or the Autonomous Socialist Province of Kosovo.

I remember that we heard that there would be attempts to interrupt the exam, but we agreed that we all should go and hold the exam until the end. In the beginning, the dean who was a Serb, together with some representatives from the police came and wanted to interrupt the process but we wouldn’t get out of the room, no matter the pressure. What was interesting, if…Back then the faculties taught in two languages, Albanian and Serbian. We usually held the admission exams together and in the end a joint Serbian-Albanian commision would be created to evaluate the exams. Usually, part of the commission would be the professor of free drawing, from the Serbian side there was professor Goran Đorđević. Goran’s mother was Albanian, Ditare Dukagjini, but Goran was one of the avant-garde artists in former Yugoslavia and when it came to the point that we had to agree for the exam, that is, in order to have the commission, the Albanian members wanted to make sure that they will have three members and notified Goran that it could happen that they would cancel and if he thought that he couldn’t be part of it, or if he didn’t want to be part of it, he could let someone else be.

“No,” he said, he accepted, “It is not a problem, I will do the evaluation and sign the evaluation paper.” I mean, he was that open and so not influenced by politics that in the end, all of the exams were evaluated and signed by him, which was the reason why he was expelled from the Faculty in the end as well. In fact, those who were part of the commission who evaluated and organized the exam were the first who got expelled in July, and the rest were expelled gradually until November. I was expelled on November 11, 1991 and the main excuse was that…We were filed a request to teach in Serbian and…They knew that we wouldn’t accept teaching in Serbian because there were teachers who taught in Serbian and we didn’t feel comfortable to take the responsibility of teaching in Serbian because it always has a different background. So, in the end we were expelled mainly because we didn’t stay at the Faculty the whole days and I mean, they found the time when we weren’t there and three times of not being there were enough to…In fact, they expelled all of us, I mean, all the Albanian teachers. Only one [Albanian] remained, if I am not mistaken.

But then immediately in the beginning of 1992, the University decided to continue and we gathered and organized to continue teaching in three houses in the Arbëria neighborhood. Houses and garages. I remember that we went twice and worked together with the handymen, carpenters, we prepared the desks and the spaces that we were going to use. And for some time…How many years did that go on for? From ‘92 to September ‘98, there was an agreement between Serbs and Albanians, they agreed that one part of the buildings should be returned to the Albanian university, and we went to the Technical Faculty in September, ‘98.

But the other years, when one or two years passed, we got the impression that we would always be there no matter that we basically only went there to teach, I mean, we had no offices or any place to have a coffee, besides the coffee shops that were here [refers to Qafa neighborhood], from Amadeus to Qafa. A place where you could meet your colleagues or spend free time between classes when there were such situations. The conditions were very bad, especially during the winter, it was very cold, without any kind of previous preparation of the space, for example, during the night like cleaning or warming up, or warming it up in the morning, but somehow we stood strong, we overcame that.

Aurela Kadriu: Where were you during the war?

Ilir Gjinolli: I was in Pristina. During the war, I was in Pristina with my mother and my wife together with two children were in Presheva, because my wife is from there and she went there together with our children the day the bombings began. Even though we attempted to flee since March 31, if I am not mistaken. We stayed at the border until April 7, and suddenly they forced us to return. And ever since I returned, I never attempted to move until the end of the war.

Aurela Kadriu: Why did you decide to stay?

Ilir Gjinolli: We decided to stay because it was very difficult to move. In Taslixhe there were not so many, how to say…There weren’t so many people but also the police and the army didn’t come there that much, only in certain cases for example I had a neighbor, the late Avdyl Rama who was one of the closest collaborators of President Rugova and he was under big pressure because the police would come to his house every evening and take him to the residency of the President in order to convince him to negotiate with Serbia. In the meantime, we would find out through conversations about what was happening there. But there was no pressure towards other people and there weren’t so many people there. There was robbery that took place also in my house, how to say, I found the soldiers stealing but it was very difficult to object that situation.

But there was no repression. I remember they only came once, and they came when it [the war] was almost over, they wanted to force people into giving them money, because it was almost the end of the war, but I didn’t happen to be at home. During the war for as long as I stayed home, I went out in the city almost every day. I walked from there to the center, I mean, I walked to the post office where my sister was living and on the way I would stop at Dukagjin Hasimja’s, who is my colleague who was living in Ulpiana and luckily he had an open telephone connection which we used to communicate, mainly with my brother in America and my wife in Presheva. But I would walk that road almost every day, I mean from 10AM to 1PM which was also the time most of the people would go out to buy food or something else, I mean, the situation was a little bit better than, let’s say, in the evening and in the morning when it was more dangerous.

Pristina had it easier because it looks like there were no paramilitary units here and there were only regular army units, maybe this was the reason why there was not so much repression. After April 7 and 8, after the bombing of the post office there was no large scale repression. There was here and there but not massively, the way it was, let’s say in Mitrovica or Gjakova, Peja or even Ferizaj.

Aurela Kadriu: What did you continue doing after the war? When did you go to Graz?

Ilir Gjinolli: I went to Graz relatively late. I first went to Graz in ‘98, I mean, early September, late August, I went there to apply for my Ph.D. studies but they didn’t accept me then. Then there were a lot of obligations after the war, so I forgot about or left my Ph.D. studies aside because the problem was that my children were also little and I had to take care of the income. The situation right after the war was very difficult because of the electricity and the house was not complete. I had to take care of some other things before deciding to start with my Ph.D. studies. I enrolled in my Ph.D. studies in 2007 and it took me some time to complete it because it was self-financed and when it is like that, you must work and study at the same time. So, it took me some time but however, I completed it in 2016, I defended it in the beginning of 2016 but in fact, I completed it in 2015.

Aurela Kadriu: What was the subject?

Ilir Gjinolli: I handled the subject of public space in Kosovo, its transformation since the beginnings of the Ottoman city in Kosovo, I mean, I looked at the period from which we know the cities in their current form. Not before the Ottoman period because those are practically remains that can be called archaeology, for example something more…I started with Kosovo but then I analysed beyond the Western Balkans, that is, Albania and Macedonia for example. In Kosovo you have the Prizren Castle which was inhabited until the late 19th century, early 20th century, but now there is no life with which we can document how it is, that is why I have considered it to be an object of study for archaeology.

Even though in Berat people still live in the castle, same in Gjirokastër. I mean, they don’t live but the castles are very close to the city and they have always been considered as part of the city. There are some structures within the city of Elbasan as well, there are some houses but it is hard to tell which part or which castle belongs to the city because there is a kind of fortress inside the city and that is the only one that is left from the Ottoman Empire in Elbasan. The others are all from medieval times. So, I spoke about public space from times which can be traced and measured, that can be explained from what we see as inheritance but also through documents, literature and other documents. The transformation from the period of Ottoman Empire to the, how to say, pre-modern time, as I named the period from 1912 until the beginning of World War II and then the period of modernism or the period of socialism from ‘45 to 1991, then the liberal time from ‘91 to ‘99, that is, until the war, and then the period after the war, the newest period after the war which is the time from ‘99 and on. I spoke about these transformations.

When we look at the transformation, of course we see the historical development of the city and society in the economic sense as well as in the cultural and social sense. The changes that have taken place within the society, I mean, the transformation from the Ottoman period to the pre-modern one is enormous in the social sense. For example, the social structures that created a kind of background out of which the public life came as well as the space where the public life takes place, the public space. It was different, based on an Islamic society, on the other hand the tendency for a modern European society in Kosovo was mainly manifested with destruction. Destruction of the base of a society and the base of urban construction because of the exile of many families and because of the destruction that took place, I am talking about the construction that was done by the Yugoslav state, about schools and collective buildings, the opening of other roads. I mean, they destroyed the base. In Kosovo and Macedonia this came late because in Serbia for example most of the city was destroyed completely. You cannot find any Ottoman traces in any city of Serbia except of a very small fragment in Vranje. Other cities have…Basically, the entire Ottoman structure was erased.

Part Four

Aurela Kadriu: How does the transformation of public space take place, I mean, if we look at it in the space of Pristina?

Ilir Gjinolli: The public space during the Ottoman period usually took place in çarshia or bazaar as they refer to it in Albania. Çarshia is a social product of the Ottoman society. In the Ottoman society, the vakıf are known as foundations to which those who were in power contributed, I mean, those who had the opportunities would contribute, such as those who were rich, I mean, it starts from the Sultan and below. I mean, we are talking about Kosovo, we are mainly speaking about vakıf that were created by the beyler or Pasha. And then of course they also received help from the Sultan, but mainly it was known who was the founder.

When the vakıf were established, the vakıf aimed to also build some social structures in the city, for example the hammam, madrassa, mosque, of course, first the mosque because there would be no vakıf if there was no mosque in the first place…

Aurela Kadriu: These are built in…Where exactly? In this part…

Ilir Gjinolli: Yes. These are all in the old part of the city or the old core of the city. The first mosque is the Çarshi Mosque, this is right behind the traffic lights. Then there is the Mosque of Sultan Mehmet, the one that is also known as The Great Mosque. The mosque that is in between was built in around 1800 and something, The Mosque of Jashar Pasha. I mean, the vakıf was obliged to build social structures, the hammam, the han or Karavan Sarai, imaret, imaret was like a people’s kitchen where the poor would go to eat. Part of social constructions was also the library.

Also in the çarshia, then the çarshia was left to the guilds. Guilds were craftsmen associations. The craftsmen associations were, how to say, a kind of authority controlling the work and quality as well as the services and prices of the members of one craft. For example, the tinsmiths, there were the tinsmiths or leather workers, who were famous at that time, I mean, there were many crafts. Each of these crafts had one side of çarshi in disposal, that is, they had their shops. Each of the shops, which were rented, paid the rent to the vakıf. The vakıf used that money for maintenance but also for construction.

I mean, a chain of public social life was created which was also a kind of order, how to say, that…It is like nowadays when we speak about taxes that are used to build schools, infrastructure and so on…In the Ottoman period, this was done through the vakıf and through guilds. This is the reason why the çarshia were…One of the reasons why the çarshia were destroyed.

After 1912, the guilds were split and they were no longer institutionalized in the society of the Yugoslav monarchy, because they weren’t accepted. Same happened with the vakıf. Even though the vakıf continued to function illegally, I cannot say that they were interrupted, but however, when it is not institutionalized, you cannot make it mandatory for people to give or act according to a certain rule.

Then there came other rules, the tax and some others. In this way, the guilds lost their influence, so did the vakıf, and gradually, in order not to lose their property, the vakıf either gave them away or sold them…In most of the cases, the properties were bought by those who were inhabiting the city, that is, those who rented. Sometimes, they were bought by the Serbs, since they came here and bought the properties for a cheap price from those who exiled to Turkey.

What was the worst that happened is that the split of the vakıf made impossible the maintenance and renovation of the çarshia, and this is why it was destroyed. Then came the socialist system that destroyed all of them because they wanted to show a new progressive society, to say conditionally. I mean, it was more than one, more than…Often it is difficult to define whether it was ignorance or they really had a goal. However, the çarshia as such, we can see the çarshia in Gjakova and Peja that still function.

But what was good in Gjakova and Peja was that they bought it on time and never became submissive to how to say, the pressure to leave. So they saved, they saved the çarshia as well as the crafts. Because, for example, with the death of çarshia, the crafts died as well. This happened in Pristina for example, in Gjakova…In fact not in Gjakova, it happened in Prizren in a smaller scale, because they replaced them with new construction after 1912, the terzi çarshia. In Mitrovica yes, it was destroyed in Mitrovica, there are no traces of it at all. A big part of it was destroyed in Peja, but a part has remained, the small çarshia that is still active, that one remained. I mean, it was saved in a way.

But all that thanks to some smart people who bought the shops and maintained them. When they bought the shops, they saved, I mean, they maintained them and…Except in Gjakova, there was a lot of destruction during the war and there was a need for serious reconstruction. In fact, the çarshia of Gjakova was reconstructed once in the ‘80s, I mean, every house and building was treated for reconstruction and in 1988-’89, the renovation was completed.

After the war, after it was burned, a massive reconstruction took place but luckily they built it the way it used to be. I mean, they were very eager to save what was burned and they considered that they should save it the way it was. So, the public life in the Ottoman city took place in the çarshia. In çarshia there were coffee shops, mejhane, restaurants where those who worked would meet, those who were members of a guild, their families. In the literature it is often described that in the coffee shops, that is, in mejhane and other tea shops were often held theater plays, where children went to watch them. But I cannot know whether that’s true for Kosovo, because we couldn’t find anything written to prove it. But, from the texts of foreign authors, it is said that by the end of the 18th century, in the early 19th century these activities were found in the Ottoman Empire.

Other public structures were panagjyret…They were like today’s fairs. They were organized in the countryside of the city where traders of the regions gathered and besides trading, a kind of social life would take place there, that is, singing, discussion and leisure time. They were held once a year, and they travelled to different cities. For example, the one of Gjilan was known as well as the ones of Ohrid and Elbasan.

Mejdan were other public spaces. They were open spaces for praying. Besides the mosque, when there were too many people praying in the mosque and there was not enough space to fit them all, a flat public space, like a kind of a square was used, it was called mejdan. In today’s Turkish language, mejdan means square. And of course there were smaller public spaces like public taps or public wells where people would take water, they always had places to rest, to sit, to spend time and people would meet there. Often the young ones would meet there too and that is where love would also start when it was not done through a contract. Especially in the cities.

Aurela Kadriu: How does it transform later? Especially with modernism in Pristina?

Ilir Gjinolli: Modernism has a different approach towards public spaces because first politically, through public space, the state aims to transmit the message that they dedicate all their work to the people, I mean, they have to transmit that to the people. And this is why bigger squares are needed, squares that can gather more people, where meetings [English] of people can be organized to practically protest what the state is doing.

Squares that were built during socialism or the modernist time are mainly squares that are not surrounded by buildings, that is what makes it distinct in the world. Wherever construction under modernist rules took place, from the ‘30s to let’s say, the ‘90s, every square that was built was at least free in two sides. I mean, it wasn’t surrounded by buildings but it always was a space serving to a bigger building, to a more monumental building, but at the same time it was a square.

The gathering in the square was mainly something organized by the state, it was not that people gathered spontaneously because of some certain event. I mean, when there is nothing in the square, basically it doesn’t attract people. That is why every time a coffee shop is put somewhere, or a space that communicates with the ground floor, the opportunity for people to gather around the events that are taking place inside is created, but gradually it also takes place out in the public space. So, this is what you don’t find in the beginning in the modernist squares, or in modernist public spaces.

Some spaces that came with modernism are important, for example recreation and sports spaces, I mean, they thought about people’s health. Or the parks, green spaces inside resident areas. For example if you go to Ulpiana, the construction scale in relation to the free space, is how to say, very positive in the sense of the relation with green spaces, or playgrounds, sports and recreation spaces. I mean, we find enough fields, enough games for the residents. There are also schools, that is, in this context socialism thought about the public life, in the sense of creating the conditions for a healthier life. We are always talking about a healthy and controlled public space, which basically overcame the borders of democracy and freedom.

Now, it was [practiced] differently in different states, but we are talking more about Kosovo, because if we talk about Albania, there was a completely different situation there. But what is important about Kosovo and especially Pristina is that the period of modernism is characterized by, how to say, the birth of architecture and urbanism as professions. I mean, in Kosovo there was never planning before that. For example, the first architect, professor Bashkim Fehmiu graduated in 1958. Then came the others, professor Suada Mekuli and others in a row. They only managed to open the Faculty of Architecture in 1978, the school where architects and urbanists get educations.

And this is also the time when the institutions are founded, when Kosovo gains autonomy in ‘74, that is also the time when some extraordinary buildings are built, in the sense of structure but also architecture, because the most famous architects of Yugoslavia worked on them. Such examples are the Press Palace [Rilindja], the Sports Palace [Palace of Youth and Sports – Boro and Ramizi], the Technical Faculty, the Radio Palace, the building of the Assembly…

Aurela Kadriu: What do they represent to you?

Ilir Gjinolli: I also wrote about it in the book, in the exhibition that we made we wanted to tell that the period was…How to say, the period of the beginning of the architecture as a profession but also architecture as an expression of a new state that is just starting its development. I mean, besides its people and governance, the way, the democratic system, a state also shows its identity with the development in the sense of arts and culture and especially architecture that is an art dedicated to everyone, an art that you don’t have to go to a museum to experience. Or go to the cinema, or to the concerts hall to experience the music, you can experience architecture wherever you are. Same goes for the city.

I mean, as a result of the development of a city, the architecture and urbanism show its development in the cultural sense. If we compare today, in 2018, the end of 2018 and look at what we have built for 19 years, compared to what we have built in the years, let’s say, from the ‘60s to the ‘90s…Even though the conditions and finances are way better, we haven’t managed to repeat any of the buildings that were built at that time. This is of course because of the lack of knowledge. It is not the lack of money nor the lack of commitment, but the lack of knowledge. Of course you make mistakes when you don’t know about something, but especially when you don’t know and think you know, I mean, that is the most dangerous moment, because when you don’t know but still want to know, then you can still engage, or are able to engage someone who knows. I mean, today we can see the results of that.

The period of the ‘70s and the ‘80s is more productive when we talk about the development of architecture in Kosovo, and that is where we can read the state of Kosovo. Not only in Pristina, but in most of the cities. I mean, there’s also the industrialization…A few days ago there was an article that there were 17 thousand employees in the industry in ‘79 in Gjilan. I mean, that’s…We can criticize the socialist economy as a planned economy, as not efficient as we want, but however, it operated in the narrow Yugoslav market, which counted twenty million [people], I mean, had there been an opening of the trading in the region and beyond, I don’t think the economy would fall so quickly. No matter the ethnic tensions that could be a cause…

But however, we are speaking about a period where, after what we see in terms of construction, such as resident buildings or social, cultural buildings…Today, we are not able to build a concerts hall, and the demand is for it to have 600 seats when in fact in Gjakova there is the Culture House, which fulfills the criteria in the acoustic sense, it has everything, it has 700 seats. I mean, it was built, I mean, it was opened in 1978 if I am not mistaken and took around three years to built, from ‘75 to ‘78. I mean, at that time such a building could be built, today in the 21th century, you cannot even build a concerts hall. Then it is even in the capital, where the support from the donors is always open, all you need is to bring in the support to put it in the right location and the right time.

As far as public space goes during the ‘90s, there is not much to say.  The public space was transferred from outside to inside, in coffee shops. The coffee shop was a place where people gathered, discussed and spent their free time. Very rarely did they gather in parks, mainly in coffee shops. This was obvious in Pristina for example, because it changed completely. The public life was transferred from the center here, from Mother Teresa square, a part of it in Kurriz and the other in Qafa. And since the direction from Qafa to Arbëria, Dragodan, was more, how to say, the faculty, social spaces and resident houses around, it was a new line that gave life to this part of the city.

For some time, I never went there because I lived in Taslixhe and from Taslixhe I came straight here, when I needed to stop to Qafa I did, so I went to Kurriz very rarely. And it wasn’t preferable to go out at night at that time, we would mainly go out during the day. Of course there was also Elida, which was a meeting point in the center, in the Palace of Youth and Sports which was the only one, there were no other coffee shops. It [Elida] was always full because it was a point frequented by so many people.

Aurela Kadriu: Why did you have that kind of connection with Elida? What does it represent for your generation? Why did you spend a lot of time at Elida?

Ilir Gjinolli: Yes. Why did we spend a lot of time? The Palace of Youth and Sports had the trading part and it was in the city center. There was no trading in any other part, there was the Shopping Mall [Gërmia] and the Palace of Youth, I mean, these two buildings. During the ‘90s, the Shopping Mall failed completely because it was being transformed from social to private ownership. In the Palace of Youth there were mainly private stores, or they just did transform into private ones in the meantime.

The Elida pastry shop was there ever since the Palace of Youth and Sports was opened, it was there, I remember that we went there during my studies but also after my studies, it was a place where we went to have coffee, good coffee and sweets. It also had a more or less attractive interior, but also a good position. Even now it is the same, it’s good. I mean, it is not connected to a high number of stores but however, it fulfills…Of course there are more coffee shops there now, but it still has its prestige. And they didn’t change the quality, they kept the same quality, they kept the same ice cream, of course.

Aurela Kadriu: How is your life now?

Ilir Gjinolli: (Laughs) My life is, it is still spread out in many activities. Besides this office where I work together with two colleagues who used to be my students, one of which is also a teaching assistant at the faculty and three other younger architects…A part of my life takes place as an affiliated professor in the public university and as a regular professor teaching master’s classes at AAB University. These are basically three jobs, but I do most of it here in…In fact, I think that I have nothing to show to my students if I don’t work.

They often don’t know how to transmit knowledge, even from the research that they conduct which is often theoretical research, which for a creative profession such as architecture…Of course, research is important, but it is important when you are creative as an architect, when you are able to create, to design building or plan every scale, depending on how much you learn. I mean, I don’t consider that only theory and theoretical research are enough. Of course they are important and there are no projects in architecture or urbanism that can be done without a previous research, I mean, even if just a little, research is necessary. The research is multidimensional, but however, it is led by an idea.

But if you don’t transmit your experience as a designer, I am talking about the valuable experience not all sorts of experiences…It is difficult to say that you have prepared a student to be able to create. Another thing that I do with a lot of pleasure is collaboration, especially the international collaboration which has been like a tradition of the University of Pristina since after the war. Each year we have workshops [English] with some foreign university. Since I have had these connections before, I mean, I am familiar to other universities, so I am the leader of the CEEPUS program for the Faculty of Architecture and Civil Engineering, which is part of the Department of Architecture.

I have led a program of Erasmus+, a program that was basically designed for 15 students to complete their Master’s studies in Rotterdam, Holland. I mean, it wasn’t only designed for one semester, but it was within the University of Rotterdam, a program to prepare the students methodologically and practically at a location in Rotterdam, to handle a certain topic, the program was very successful. According to the words of the professors of the institute there, they admitted that the result doesn’t differ at all from their students’, that is, the students who were of a European range of the quality of studies.

So whatever they do at the university, they do out of their own will. It is unfortunate that an article which is in fact contradictory with the Constitution and two other laws, the labour law and the law against discrimination, that puts age as a first criteria above all qualities that a teacher should have, including experience, references, abilities and obvious results, measurable results. But however, that is something that can be sorted.

Aurela Kadriu: If you don’t have anything to add, I would just like to thank you for the time.

Ilir Gjinolli: When you look at your life in retrospective…You realize that it is always good to document it somehow, be it through a diary or…However, for example there is the chance to write about many things and…

Aurela Kadriu: We were talking about how you can still write…

Ilir Gjinolli: Yes, but I am telling you that there are many things I can go back to even through photographs and other documents which I have written, I can exactly recall. I have an ability to memorize dates, historical events and I connect them with other events that are not directly connected to me, but they are dates that are marked, and this is how I remember things and I can go back and write about them. However, I remember that during the war, when he was my neighbor, he still is my neighbor, Professor Halil Turku, the university professor teaching at the Faculty of Mathematics…And he was writing the diary, he would write everyday about what was happening during the war. He has the war diary. For some moment, I said, “Can you hide the computer somewhere because they can come at any time and take your computer and then everything you have written will go to waste.” And he respected my opinion, he hid the computer and that’s how the diary survived, but unfortunately he hasn’t published it yet. I mean, maybe it is a 15–minute-thing per day to start writing about what has happened during the day and that will remain as a living history. What we are doing today with the camera is a retrospective taking place in two years, of course, it would be valuable if there was something written and you refer to it with dates, you refer to it with events.

Aurela Kadriu: Thank you very much!

Ilir Gjinolli: You are welcome!

Aurela Kadriu: Thank you very much!

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