Aurela Kadriu: When you decided to study architecture, what was your vision of what you would do with that diploma? Why did you make that decision?
Salih Spahiu: Except being a profession, architecture is also a mission, a very important mission in one’s life. To project a building means to determine the fortune of those using it, starting from the hospital where a child is born to the kindergarten where pre-school starts, then school, university, work and other activities of cultural life, entertainment and so on.
After medicine, I believe that architecture is one of the most important missions and one of the most important professions serving humankind. This was one of my motives for deciding to study architecture, the second was that there were very few architects in Kosovo. The first Albanian architect, as you know, was the late professor Bashkim Fehmiu who died around ten years ago. He was the first Albanian architect, that is, Kosovo had no architects until ’58.
Projects that were built in Kosovo, were mainly made outside Kosovo. Professor Bashkim Fehmiu brought a new spirit, it is true that later he was joined by some other colleagues, but they were very few. The Faculty of Architecture in Kosovo, respectively in Pristina, started working in ’78-’79, it was the last one. Now there are enough architects but, how to say, the situation is not that good.
I believe this is connected with how the ruling power and laws affect the orientation of urban and architectonic development, I mean the respect and the lack of respect towards the law is reflected in the space. Here, it is unfortunately reflected negatively, and the main responsibility for this lays at the central and local power.
Aurela Kadriu: When you mention Professor Fehmiu, I know that you were very close with him. Can you tell me, when did you become friends with him?
Salih Spahiu: I met Professor Bashkim right after I graduated, in ’73. But, I had met him several times, recently, after the war he was engaged in our project at the Bureau for Urbanism and Projecting for the Memorial Complex of Adem Jashari in Prekaz. At that time, the professor established his team of various experts coming from inside the Bureau and outside of it.
Aurela Kadriu: In which year?
Salih Spahiu: Right after the war, in ’99, I mean, ’99-2000. He worked on the design of the projecting task and urbanistical plan for the Adem Jashari complex in Prekaz. At that time, I got the chance to spend so many hours with him. We talked many times about various issues, Professor was a very knowledgeable human, he had general knowledge about every field, not only architecture. He was someone who had travelled a lot around the world, met famous architects of 20th century, he met LE Corbusier, Veralto, Pier Luigi and so on. And of course, he took elements from them which he later applied in the practical life in Kosovo and Pristina.
He mainly worked in Pristina but he also made a valuable contribution to the architecture and urbanism of Kosovo. I remember his saying “Life is space and space is life.” Life and space are two inseparable elements. Through his projects, the professor paid special attention to the human life. Through urbanism and spatial planning, he tried to make the human life as dignified as possible, in the physiological sense as well as the psychological one.
Aurela Kadriu: In which year did you finish your studies in architecture?
Salih Spahiu: I finished my studies in 1973, in June, 1973 and then I started working at the bureau of Ramiz Sadik, at the Industrial Construction Combine, the so-called Industrial Construction Combine Ramiz Sadiku. I worked there for a few months, then by the invitation of my friend Rexhep Luci I started working at the Urbanistic Bureau of the City of Pristina.
Aurela Kadriu: I have one last question about your studies then we can go on to your professional life. What was your graduation thesis? Did you have a graduation thesis?
Salih Spahiu: Yes, we did. I finished my studies in June, 1973. I graduated with excellent success, the late architect and professor Zivorad Janković was my mentor. My graduation thesis was in Sarajevo. It was a complex between a few streets, a complex where business buildings and a cinema hall had to be built. The commission and the professor gave it high marks.
After my studies, I started working for the Projection Bureau of the Industrial Construction Combine Ramiz Sadiku, of course in the beginning only as a collaborator, co-designer. I had older colleagues who led the project and I was their collaborator. In 1974, the late architect Rexhep Luci invited me to start working for the Urbanistic Bureau of the City of Pristina. I accepted his invitation because I found it interesting to also deal with urbanism, I started working for the Urbanistic Bureau of the City of Pristina together with the late architect Viktor Shiroka and Esat Meka, also an architect, and some other engineers, we worked several urbanistic plans for the city of Pristina.
In 1975, I started working for the Urbanism and Projection Bureau of Kosovo, that is how it was known back then, of Kosovo, and I worked there until my retirement in 2011, for a very long time.
Aurela Kadriu: Can we talk more about the Urbanistic Bureau of Pristina, of the Municipality of Pristina. What kind of projects did you work on at that time?
Salih Spahiu: When I was there, we worked on something in the completion of the urbanistic plan of Ulpiana, then we also worked in these buildings that you are in now and that are now called Qafa, I mean, we worked on it urbanistically. We worked on other plans of the local level that were important to that time, but at that time we also searched for different locations for various buildings that were important for that time.
The project of the revitalization and conversation of the old Çarshia was also made at that time, my colleague Esat Meka worked on it. I am talking about the old Çarshia of Pristina. But unfortunately, many projects remained unrealized because of various political, economic and cultural reasons. Architecture and urbanism require willingness and good political support in order for things to move forward. We didn’t always receive that here.
Aurela Kadriu: When was the primary plan of Ulpiana made, since you said that you finalized it?
Salih Spahiu: The primary plan of Ulpiana was made in the ‘60s but we completed it with a few buildings. The Srem street as it was called back then, now it is called George Bush, if I am not mistaken, near the Faculty of Philosophy. We worked there and we also worked in some other buildings when there were special opportunities to add more buildings. When we speak about Ulpiana, I must say that to me, Ulpiana represents one of the most successful neighborhoods of the city. Ulpiana, Dardania and Kodra e Diellit [Sunny Hill]. I mention this because nowadays a lot is talked about European norms and standards, I don’t agree with that at all.
We can say that progress has been made when it comes to [construction] materials, but as far as concept goes, I can say that the new neighborhoods are far more behind than Ulpiana, Kodra e Diellit and so on. I can mention here some neighborhoods in Pristina which you know very well, for example the neighborhood near Hotel Sirius, behind it, you have seen how the situation is there in the urbanistic sense. One does not have to be an architect or an urbanist in order to be able to assess that. Then Kalabria, Mat…There are several neighborhoods that are a great urbanistic failure. Of course, the architects who didn’t raise their voices as much as they should’ve about the situation in the city of Pristina and in Kosovo in general are also responsible.
When I was working for the Bureau of Urbanism and Projecting which was later called the Bureau for Conclusion and Engineering, I worked on different projects of different nature and destination. I would like to mention the buildings of the Post and Telecommunications in Vushtrri, Kaçanik, Viti and Dragash. Then the building of Kosova Film for which I was also awarded with the first prize of the Kosovo Association of Applicative Artists and later on I also received the Borba Award for Architecture in Kosovo when the building was finished. Of course, I also competed with other buildings in the federative level of former Yugoslavia, I received this award in 1988. Later on, I received an award for creativity from the back then Kosovo BVI of Culture.
I can say that I projected the building of Kosova Film thanks to our late writer Azem Shkreli who was the director of Kosova Film and thanks to the director of the Bureau of Engineers, the late Vehbi Orana, I received great support of both of them during the whole process. The building has its own specifics, but as you know, currently the headquarters of KFOR for Kosovo are situated in the building of Kosova Film.
Aurela Kadriu: We will return to Kosova Film again, and I would also like to talk about the building of the shopping mall. But I wanted to ask you about Dardania, Kodra e Diellit and Ulpiana. Ulpiana is older, in the ‘60s, but Dardania and Kodra e Diellit are somehow neighborhoods that mark the beginnings of collective inhabiting in Pristina, besides Ulpiana. Were you part of the working group in the process of planning these neighborhoods?
Salih Spahiu: No I wasn’t, because as you know Dardania was projected in Zagreb by authors from Zagreb, I have had the chance to meet them, Dardania was projected in the ‘70s. But, I think that in the urbanistic sense, it is a successful neighborhood and when we look at the time distance, Ulpiana as well as Kodra e Diellit and Dardania were urbanistically designed in Zagreb. Then the buildings were mainly designed outside Kosovo, mainly in Belgrade and Zagreb, most of the buildings. The shopping mall located in Kodra e Diellit is a project of myself and my colleague Hamdi Binakaj.
We were ranked first from the open call for that buildings. In the context there were many different offices from Belgrade, Zagreb and Skopje but we were trusted to design the main building. Unfortunately, the building faced many shortages during construction because it was constructed right after the war and those who currently use the building with their work have contributed to the worsening of its condition and looks. For example, the terraces of the coffee shops and so on are improvisation that were made later and weren’t part of our project. Another floor was added because the investor invested because the building was lower. An annex project was added to the part of the building that is facing the main road…So, there were some changes in the architectonic sense of the word compared to the way we made it. But those changes only affected negatively the whole concept which we imagined when we worked on the initial project for the open call.
Aurela Kadriu: When the call was opened, what was the vision of designing a shopping mall, what was the vision of the call but also yours when you designed it? What did you want to do through that shopping mall, what did you want to bring to the city through it?
Salih Spahiu: Every call aims to get the best architectonic and functional solution, this was the goal of that call too. The projecting task came from the needs of the trading network of that time in Pristina. Of course, Gërmia and Vocari bought the building. First they were interested in opening their shops there and compare their products with those who were part of their trading network. Later after the war, some changes were made as I told you earlier, some changes were made that only worsened, how to say, the concept. They degraded the initial concept of the shopping mall.
The shopping mall is situated exactly where it was supposed to be according to urbanists. The location of the shopping mall is exactly where the urban planning of Kodra e Diellit has designed it to be. Of course, the layers and patterns are a result of what we worked on later as an concept idea, but later also as a main concept, but we always based our work on what was required by the detailed urban plan of the neighborhood of Kodra e Diellit.
Aurela Kadriu: I find the color very interesting and some…I always thought about some aesthetic decisions in that building. Can you tell me about that part? The thought process before designing it?
Salih Spahiu: As you know, shopping malls are mainly pretty isolated buildings because of their destination and because the space should be used maximally. We wanted the natural light to dominate, as you know and see, there are lightning lines but in the zenital overview, as we call it, they go through the communicative parts of the building and indirectly light the shops and other parts of the building.
The facade is a modicular and industrial one, as it is usually in this kind of buildings, how to say…The closed part of the façade dominates in this kind of buildings, which gives you space to play with layers, which are a result of plastic which we wanted to achieve in the whole building. Since the building is very high, some avoidances were made in the façade as well as in its layers, some avoidances which make you lose the sense of the height in the visual aspect, the height of the building. The building is around 136 meters high if I am not mistaken.
Aurela Kadriu: In which year was it completed?
Salih Spahiu: The building was completed in ’87. We won the competition in ’87, then we made the main project and the inauguration took place in 2001, right after the war, in 2001.
Aurela Kadriu: Did it ever manage to have the same function before the war, even if minimally?
Salih Spahiu: The building wasn’t complete before the war.
Aurela Kadriu: And it was also not used?
Salih Spahiu: It wasn’t used. It was complete in 2001, right after the war. It was completed by the Pristina Housing Enterprise and some changes were made without our consent and of course they degraded the initial concept. But nobody takes responsibility for that here in Kosovo. In Kosovo, the author is not valued enough.
Aurela Kadriu: Was there any calls for Kosova Film?
Salih Spahiu: No. I won the project for Kosova Film thanks to my professional references, I mean, I was entrusted with the project by Azem Shkreli, the former director of Kosova Film and from inside the Bureau, I was given the project by the director Vehbi Orana. I believe that I finished the project. The project and the construction were successfully finished, that is why I also received some awards which I told you earlier about it. So, the building was how to say, previously ordered, there was no call. This was a project ordered by the investor, and the investors themselves picked me to do it.
Aurela Kadriu: What was the vision? I would really like to know because earlier you mentioned that putting a building on a certain space, determines the lives of the people. That is why I am interested to know the vision behind putting these buildings on the space. The vision of Kosova Film in that space, but also what did Kosova Film aim to bring by existing there?
Salih Spahiu: As you know, Kosova Film is a sole building in that space, it was sole at that time…It is exactly that fact and the land’s configuration that were inspiring elements for me to make such a concept. The building was pretty long treated in the sense of its functions and specific technology that this kind of buildings have, and since it was lonely, I went with long layers and a gradation that is compatible with the ground, with the location of the building itself. That is the first time I used the so called lanterns or lightning lines, then I also used them in the shopping center together with the colleague that I mentioned, Hamdi.
The building of Kosova Film was motivating but also challenging to be concepted because of its very particular functions. Such as the sound hall that is part of the building because of the acoustic conditions in which the synchronizing of the films is done, then there were the cinemas, the magazine where film reels were kept, then the administrative and social part. I merged all those functions and made it possible for each of them to have their own integrity in the sense of…but again, they connect to each other very organically.
You can beautifully see the city of Pristina from the building of Kosova Film, and I decided to use ochre in the façade, if you remember Kodak that produced film reels, its package was…And I connected the destination of the building with the façade color. Façade is made out of armored polyester which is a material that wasn’t used in Kosovo up to then, it was first used in this building. I had first seen it in Slovenia, in Ljubljana, and I immediately got in touch with the producers of that material. I gave the modul and the form of the façade and they did other elements.
They worked on other elements of the façade. The whole façade is air conditioned, it is a modular façade that was put in a metallic net that was previously put in the outer walls of the building.
Aurela Kadriu: When you mentioned ochre, I got reminded of the green color of the shopping mall, was that the initial color, or was it…
Salih Spahiu: No, that was not its initial color. The current color is a decision of the investor, without consulting us.
Aurela Kadriu: What colors…
Salih Spahiu: They were different, they were sweeter colors, color of the dust was dominant, with a lighter and darker nuances, but the investor…
Aurela Kadriu: Like cocoa?
Salih Spahiu: Yes, exactly like that. But the investor brought those floor ceramics and put them without asking us. It must’ve been because of the price or some other reason, I don’t know. What I want to say is that authors face various problems in Kosovo, because the authorship is not valued enough.
Aurela Kadriu: It seems interesting because when I think back, I mean, I am too young and I don’t remember the city like that, but when I think back as we speak about Dardania, Bregu i Diellit and Ulpiana, the dominant colors are that of concrete and blocks, very rough colors, but when you speak about the shopping center that it was supposed to have the color of the dust, kind of a brown color and Kosova Film which was ocher, these are pretty light colors…
Salih Spahiu: I forgot to tell you something else about Kosova Film, the background of the Kosova Film is full of green pines and the fact that I decided to pick that color was strongly connected to the function of the object but it also corresponded so well with the green background and the building could be viewed by so many points in the city. The color would pick one’s eye from many points of the city, the point was to give it a color that corresponds with the function of the building but also so the building could be viewed by many points of the city.
Aurela Kadriu: What about the shopping mall, why did you decide to give it the color of the dust?
Salih Spahiu: We thought of them as warmer colors, as colors that are…the current color is a cold color, turquoise is a cold color, in its background there are some buildings with red blocks…
Aurela Kadriu: The color inside is yellow…
Salih Spahiu: Yes,…
Aurela Kadriu: Was that the color that you imagined?
Salih Spahiu: Yes. Many things were respected inside when it comes to colors, but our decisions weren’t respected when it comes to function.
Aurela Kadriu: Is that the color that was supposed to be used outside as well?
Salih Spahiu: No, the one that was supposed to be used outside was different, it was a chocolate color, cocoa, it had nuances that showed the plastic of the building and that would not make you lose the sense of the height of the building.
Aurela Kadriu: Let’s once again go back to Sarajevo, because I forgot, when you showed me the photographs you told me that you made visits to Italy…
Salih Spahiu: Yes. As architecture students, we went to Italy when we were in the senior year, when we were seniors. We visited some buildings and famous centers for the history of architecture such as Venecia, Fireze, Rome, Padova and so on. That was an excursion organized by the University and during that trip that lasted for ten days we spent some days with our professors. Of course, at that time, the professors who were with us spoke about the development of the cities in Italy and the architecture of the time when it was constructed and so on. Besides Italy, we often went to the Adriatic Riviera to see the hotels, that was in the subject of Hotel and Social and Public Buildings Design…During that time we visited some buildings especially in the countryside of Dubrovnik, that is, these were professional trips, the professor or the teaching assistant of the subject would always join us and talk to us about the functions.
This is how the practical and theoretical sides were completed, we also saw in Prague how a hotel looks for example and its functions, how they are determined and so on. We connected that with what we learned during our studies.