Asphalt for Progress

 

In the 1970s, asphalt was the epitome of progress. Pristina finally paved its much-despised mud roads. Tall buildings arrogantly replaced most of the old Ottoman dwellings and did away with that life for good. The 1974 Yugoslav Constitution made Kosovo an autonomous province, which called for large-scale development accompanied by new aesthetics of socialist modernism. Most institutions found homes in new buildings, all of which captured the latest architectural styles; concrete dominated the exteriors and expressed the ambitions of the working class, while marble furnished the interiors of the political cast. This walk is an exploration of architectural vocabularies and traces the beginning of Pristina’s expansion after the Second World War.

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Rilindja Media Palace

 

Pristina journalists celebrated the groundbreaking of the Rilindja Media Palace several times before construction started in the current location in 1972. At the time, it was the tallest building in the newly expanded city center. It was a multicultural coworking space for the editorial teams of the Rilindja, Jedinstvo, and Tan newspapers. Since the war of 1999, the facade and function have altered to such an extent that the building became unrecognizable to its architect Georgi Konstantinovski. However, the brutalist stylistic features are still visible on the left and right wings of the building. In line with these interventions, in 2015, a social realist statue of the Albanian national hero Ismail Qemali was added in what was previously the rose garden in front. Today, the building houses four ministries, a disco club, a coffee shop, two TV stations, two daily newspapers and a fitness center. 

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The Boro and Ramizi Palace of Youth and Sports 

 

The photograph of Adem Jashari, a hero of Kosovo’s recent history, stands tall in the front of the building renaming what was known as the Boro and Ramizi Palace of Youth and Sports, named after two Second World War Yugoslav partisans. Designed in 1974 by Živorad Janković, with its sharply rising roof with two sets of beams, it took several years to build. Boro and Ramizi quickly became one of the main recreational venues of the city for whose construction contributed Pristina residents too. Inspired by Metabolist architecture, the Boro and Ramizi megastructure celebrates both function and form; built in three stages, the first two were completed before the fall of Yugoslavia and the third one consisting of the construction of an open and a closed pool and a bridge to Grand Hotel remains unfinished to this day. The sports hall burned down in 2000 and now is used as a parking lot.

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People’s Bank

 

Erected in 1978 where the center of the old town used be, Banka Popullore [People’s Bank] designed by Milan Tomić, Milan Pavlović and Svetla Putić was a statement of new and prosperous times. Modernist in style, its transparent glass facade with horizontal khaki lines drew inspiration from western banking districts. The plateau around it, open to pedestrians, connected the building with Parliament, Central Post Office and the Institution for Social Security. Because of the suspicion that the Central Post Office was serving as a Serbian military base, the building was bombed during the NATO intervention of 1999 and, consequently, the surrounding buildings were severely damaged including Banka Popullore. Afterwards, the building underwent serious transformations and the plateau was closed to pedestrians. Today, the former bank serves as the main government building. 

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The New Gërmia Shopping Mall

 

The New Gërmia Shopping Mall is one of the few architectural projects in the city of Pristina designed by a woman. Ljiljana Raševska, in line with other iron-facade shopping malls, adorned Gërmia with an already-recognizable Yugoslav typology. Built in 1972 to represent a new state economy in full strength, it replaced the merchants that were located along the street that went from the National Theater to the former Divan Yoli Street. The escalators in the interior,  novelties at the time, were especially memorable for the younger ones. Formerly a very accessible space, today, Gërmia hardly catches your eye, mostly because of the intervention done to the exterior and function of the building.

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Kosovo Parliament Building

 

Probably among the first to be constructed after the Second World War in 1948, the building was intended to introduce a new architectural vocabulary to Pristina as an enlarged version of the Kosovo folk architecture. Failing to represent  the essential architectural qualities of that tradition, the design of the architect Bogdan Nestorović was reworked in 1962 by Juraj Neidhardt, a close collaborator of Le Corbusier. Being that the latter came from a modernist tradition, the main interventions on his part expressed that aesthetic language. Large tinted glass windows all facing the main streets were installed, the facade was changed and coated with marble, emphasizing tall pillars and their fine elegant lines. The main entrances were redesigned to create fluidity of movement, not only in the building itself but also with other surrounding buildings. Since 2008, the building has undergone many changes which did away with Neidhardt’s interventions. However, it continues to serve as the Parliament Building.

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Bankkos 

 

Designed by Shefqet Mullafazliu and Svetomir Popović in 1970, the building of Bankkos offices were organised into a two-wing structure. Built at the intersection that connects three main streets of the city, its butterfly plan allows pedestrians to have clear views regardless where they stand. This approach was applauded by the architectural community, who considered this solution innovative for its time. Constructed from a locally sourced green marble, the facade was the most characteristic feature of the building. The building served as a bank until 1999, and, in subsequent years, it was privatized but poorly maintained. In 2016, the architectural studio Tiki Design headed by the architect Adriatik Bytyqi intervened in its facade and interior, accommodating what is a department store today. 

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Grand Hotel

 

Where Grand Hotel stands today, in the eyes of old Pristina residents, was the end of the city. Taking this view as a point of departure, the visionary architect Bashkim Fehmiu and his colleagues Dragan Kovačević and Miša Jevremović reimagined the end of the city as the new center. Built in 1978, the Grand Hotel is one of the most highly esteemed architectural projects to date. The building’s appearance projected power and progress, while each aspect of the interior was tailor-made. Giving a luxurious touch, the hotel became a meeting point of owners of political and cultural capital. The large amount of local modernist art commissioned to adorn the Grand Hotel’s interiors energized the art market managed by state-subsidized art associations. Some of the works bought in this period still furnish the interiors. Today, the building’s architectural identity remains intact, but its 2008 privatization has left a visible trace on its left wing. 

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Radio Pristina 

 

Designed by Oton Gaspari in 1966, Radio Pristina was a large-scale example of Brutalist architecture standing tall in the city center. The building was constructed to house one of the oldest and most important cultural institutions in the country, which started broadcasting in 1945. Apart from its still functional broadcast studios, the building contains a large recording studio used by musicians of Kosovo of all ages and nationalities. Today, the building is one of the few that hasn’t changed its function or form. However, the recording studio and its archive never opened again after being shut down in 1990. The building’s original facade was effaced in 2019.

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The National and University Library of Kosovo

 

The building of the National and University Library of Kosovo inspires polarizing opinions: it is either the ugliest building or among the most unique buildings. Completed in 1982, hand-in-hand with the university campus, every aesthetic decision on the exterior and interior was carefully made by its architect Andrija Mutnjaković. By incorporating cube-and-dome module, Mutnjaković aimed to communicate with the dominant architectural style which up to that point was sacral. The building belongs to the new regionalism movement, which is known to draw from regional architectural elements, assimilating them into the modernist style. The library is not only home to books but also plants that receive natural light through the ninety-nine plexiglass domes.

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Philology Faculty

 

Similar to liberal arts schools, when the Department of Philology was founded in 1960, it was part of the philosophy program. They became two separate programs in 1989. Though to this day not much is known about the architectural history of the building, the design bears a striking resemblance to Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, an example of early modern European architecture. The most impressive aspect of the building is the main entrance. Supporting the hovering volume of second floor with multiple vertical columns and aided by a lightweight concrete roof, the entrance is a semi-outdoor space with an integrated garden for students to socialize and relax. The building as a whole hosts many departments, from languages to mathematics, though they have their own separate entrances, they are linked by corridors, interlocking spaces and staircases. 

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Albanological Institute

 

The foundation of the University of Pristina campus called for a building to meet the needs of researchers and scholars of Albanian language and culture. The Albanological Institute of Kosovo was founded in 1953 and shut down temporarily after two years. Reorganized in structure, the Institute’s researchers moved into the current building in 1977. Its architect Miodrag Pecić paid close attention to how natural light enters the space throughout all seasons. The design of the building in many ways is informed by its function: sloped walls along the entire facade are meant to protect the interior from sunlight, creating a pleasant environment for the scholars. The facade of white mortar, considered a simple material in architectural terms, creates elegant geometric lines which transcend the building’s sole utilitarian purpose. 

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Kosovafilm

 

Kosovafilm was strategically built in the periphery with the aim of expanding the cultural infrastructure of the time with the construction of a film city. Being on top of the Arbëria neighborhood enabled Kosovafilm to have a grand panoramic view of Pristina but also keep a distance from it. The building’s outward appearance was designed to harmonize with the surrounding nature. In order to convey the purpose of the building, the architect Salih Spahiu chose ocher to resemble the colors of the iconic American Kodak Company. Completed in 1987, it served  the film community only briefly before it was shut down for almost a decade by the Milosević regime. Since 1999, it has been a KFOR military base and is closed to film professionals and visitors. Inspired by Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, Spahiu is one of the few examples of local architects who has domesticated modernist architectural vocabularies and helped define Kosovar architectural thought. 

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Bank of Ljubljana

 

In the image of Bauhaus, the Slovenian Bank of Ljubljana with round-shaped features made out of glass and steel, is among the last significant architectural projects completed in the center of the city before the collapse of Yugoslavia. Designed by Zoran Zakić in 1984, with its continuous windows and reflective surfaces, the building represents a wave in modernist architecture which parted ways with exposed béton brut. The Bank of Ljubljana was a Slovenian investment in Kosovo, meeting the demands for economic equality in post-1981 demonstrations. 

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Central Bank

 

In line with Metabolist principles of interconnected larger structures, the Central Bank was meant to spatially communicate with Hotel Grand through the green landscape and a common plateau. Designed by Halid Muhasilović in 1976, its distinguished modernist features along with other buildings surrounding it make up the contours of the main streets of the new modern city. The exterior of the Central Bank remains quite untouched apart from some small interventions in its main entrance. The building was formerly known as the SDKSlužba Društvenog Knjigovođstva [State Bookkeeping Service]. 

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The Faculty of Technical Sciences 

 

The newly founded University of Pristina was unable to house all university departments on campus in the center. Alternatively, the Faculty of Technical Sciences was built on the other end of the city. Designed in 1972, the building’s exposed béton brut was a statement by its architect Edvard Radnikar, a student of Le Corbusier, who thereby contributed to the expansion of the stylistic presence of brutalism in the city. Alterations to the building’s facade took place in 2017, as well as protests opposing the act. The building has kept most of its primary functions, but is no longer brutalist in style.

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The National Gallery of Kosovo

 

Situated on a former military base of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the building hosting the National Gallery of Kosovo has had several tenants. Upon the renovation of the facade with locally sourced stone bricks in 1982-83 by the renowned Kosovo-born interior designer and architect Agush Beqiri, the building was turned into the Museum of Revolution of the Peoples of Kosovo and Metohija. This was one of the first attempts to repurpose it as an exhibition space. Under the Milosević regime in 1995, Pristina Gallery of Arts located in Boro and Ramiz was moved here. Founded in 1979, the Gallery of Arts has collected over nine-hundred works of art by visual artists who were educated in Yugoslav centers and were part of modernist movements. With Kosovo’s independence in 2008, the Pristina Art Gallery became the National Gallery of Kosovo.

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Hotel Božur 

 

Named after poppy flowers that according to the legend grew from the blood of the fallen soldiers at the Battle of Kosovo, the construction of Kosovski Božur designed by Boris Pozdnyakov in 1954 marks the beginning of the urban modern city. Adorned with marble mosaics of warriors and crest-like ornaments on the balconies, the building became an important landmark in no time. After the 1999 war, the hotel was given another historically loaded name, Illyria, but people still refer to it as Božur, even though no traces of the original can be found today. The privatization in 2006 and the reconstruction of the hotel divorced the building entirely from its socialist heritage. The blue glass facade with seemingly elegant lines and the neoclassical treatment of arched windows and pillars turned the building into a stylistic pastiche. The transition of the hotel from human to monumental scale architecture invited another name change: into that of the Swiss Diamond Hotel. 

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