Architecture is a Social Issue

Co-founder of the non-government organization EXPEDITIO, Biljana Gligorić, as part of the current project by CAB: Women in Architecture, talks about responsibility, ethics and the role of architects in transition societies. 

On begginings

Architecture was my choice already after elementary school. I finished architecture high school and was lucky to realize the beauty of architecture at a young age. The basic reason was my love for drawing, so there was no big dilemma about my future profession. Talent for drawing, understanding of space and its qualities and the good fortune of meeting great people during my education, all defined my professional path.

In the process of my professional development a teaching assistant Ružica Božović Stamenović played an important role. Very early, during my studies, she managed to humble me enough that I didn’t become a slave of my ego but remained open minded, not scared of the later practice and didn’t give up the continuous process of self improvement and learning.

My colleagues, with whom I work, also helped me understand mutual trust and shared vision are the most important things in order to create a nice and quality business environment.

Figure 1. Part of animation that represented Expeditio at the 9th Venice Biennale in 2004, part of the exhibition Montenegrin ECO-logic Lab 

On practice approach

I believe the most important thing in any profession today is to love what you do and commit to it. That you are giving yourself to the work is something people unmistakably feel, whether they are business partners or clients. It is important to understand the purpose of an architect in the contemporary world, understand the social context and know that your actions don’t only shape  space, but you are also a social entity with certain undeniable ethical principles.

Like maybe never before, the profession of an architect today is underrated and almost humiliated, and contemporary and future generations have the task of regaining its dignity. Maybe that can be an advice, to work on yourself and become good and decent people who will put  their knowledge in service firstly to the community and the profession’s principles, and put clients and decision makers second.

On career traps

A young colleague should understand her role and the position of women in society, know that equality is not yet achieved and that it is necessary to support this goal. Only societies based on true gender equality can be progressive societies.

It’s important to avoid becoming an architect by the male model, which is neither better nor worse, but different. She should foster and cherish her female sensibility and understanding for needs that maybe the male colleagues could not recognize and spatially materialize the right way.

Figure 2. Volunteer work camp in Perast

On most important projects

My most significant professional success is succeeding in maintaining an organization and company for 16 years with my colleagues. Projects come and go, but the very fact that we are able to do what we love and make a living while doing it is a big success for me.

I believe the way we work, as well as the topics we choose, are consequence of this female principal. Often these are topics which are least treated in official activities of the architectural profession, often completely neglected such as children’s playgrounds, activating public spaces, adjusting spaces for disabled persons etc. I believe this is what makes a difference in my professional engagement and still makes us a different organization from some average architectural office.

Figure 3. First award at the art competition The city I want to live in, organized by Expeditio

On principles

There were moments where a work offer departed from some of my own principles and principles of my organization, but it is the teamwork, the loyalty to the common vision and constant attention that these situations don’t happen, all prevented any major compromises. The consistent adherence to principles that have a common rather than private interest are deeply rooted in our organization business principles and through all these years we took great care not to violate them. This is not to say there weren’t any challenges and unusual offers, but there were almost no ill minded, intentionally bad ones. And when we did make compromises, I think it was never to the detriment of our core principles.

Figure 4. A billboard as part of the Expeditio project Look around you – think about space

On activism in architecture

While working in Expedito, I understood that architecture is a social issue, that it is important to acknowledge this as well as the fact that space design is a deeply political issue. It’s neither good nor bad, it just is.

Also, we understood that the first step, before practicing architecture in a society, is the necessity to help build the society on a correct values system. We live in transitional societies which are based on completely deteriorated or wrong values which are reflected in the space itself. By self improvement,  the improvement of one’s surrounding, and consequently the improvement of society, we sometimes influence spatial design more then by doing design itself.

We have faulty laws, bad strategy, bad plans which brutally waste and destroy space. This is no longer the question of professional inability or corruption, but of ignorance and lack of vision of decision makers to perceive, imagine and plan a space in the right way.

My role is now not only the role od architect but someone who must educate on spatial values, help establish  good strategies, but also to pressure the authorities to implement the adopted plans.

I think it’s almost impossible to be an architect in a post-transition society, and not be an activist.

Figure 5.  More the 1500 participants took part in workshops, trainings, round tables, presentations and discussions organized by Expeditio

Maybe it’s necessary in all societies and I believe it’s inseparable. We can not allow to become only technicians, blind servants to the client and plans, because our work largely affects the lives of many people, much more than the work of other creative authors.

We must show responsibility to true values, existing spaces and buildings, nature and animals, in order for our actions not to disrupt the fine balance which exists in the spaces in which we act. The architect is someone who is basically a creator and visionary and his thoughts and actions must outlive him. We must be sensitive to all the wrongs in society and use our authority to fight for a better society and thus a better living environment. It’s inseparable. Each architect should serve only the common interest of the society he or she works in, the professional principles  and raise his or her voice to all attempts of trampling over these principles.

Biljana Gligorić deals with architecture in an unconventional way – since 1997, together with her faculty colleagues, she runs a small but important and influential organization Expeditio, based in Kotor, Montenegro, and promoting a sustainable approach to the city and architecture. Through numerous projects, programs, activities, gatherings and publications, this group has become an essential partner to citizens, civil society, and government and local authorities, in the process of  establishing order in the spaces of Montenegro and the region. With their principle activities and dedication, today they are a role model to all those with the desire and ambition to undertake a similar project, which is to fight for their city or profession.  


Architects, Architecture, Biljana Gligorić, Expeditio, Urban planning, Women in architecture

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