Blok 2012 – Impressions and Observations

Last week the fourth International BLOK Conference took place in Belgrade.

Organized by the company Projmetal from Belgrade, in a pleasant ambience of Hotel Zira, during the two-day conference we had a chance to hear lecturers from Serbia and abroad, and discuss interesting topics such as the Vertical City, architectural competitions as part of the practice and Architecture as a form of political activism. BLOK Conference provided an excellent platform for knowledge and ideas exchange, meetings with colleagues old and new, and professional discussions, both during the formal part of the Conference through panels and discussions, and during the informal breaks when lecturers and audience, guests and hosts alike, mingled over coffee or lunch.

First day’s topic were high-rises.  It started with a lecture from Mark Hemel, co-owner of Dutch architecture studio Information Based Architecture (IBA), whose most important project is the Canton TV tower in Guangzhou, China. The simplicity of the tower’s form and the complexity of it’s structural system and programmatic solution, illustrate  Mr. Hemel’s theory that it is necessary for Architecture and its forms to achieve global importance and effects, as a result of an integration of various aspects of Design and Planning.

Winka Dubbeldam presented the work of her New York based architecture studio Archi-Tectonics that has been working since 1994. on research and development of energy-efficiant, optimized and sustainable architectural solutions. Starting with a series of housing projects, and then through unrealized current projects, Ms. Dubbeldam showed the various possibilites of complex geometries that she implements through her practice, and illustrated the complex relations between function and form, meaning and geometry, that her projects develop.

During the presentation of glass facade systems for high rises by the American company Guardian, their representative Mr. Vladimir Lazić refered to several regional examples from Sofia, Bucharest and Prishtina to illustrate the success of these projects to secure funding even in the time of the global economic crisis.  He then asked where is the Belgrade tower, a question that the subsequent panel discussion attempted to address and answer.

Director of the Institute of Urbanism Belgrade, Žaklina Gligorijević, spoke about the potentials of Belgrade to build high rises. She presented the “Study of High Rises for Belgrade” that the Institute did after several initiatives for such projects appeared in the period from 2006 – 2008. The Study aims at defining urban parameters and criteria i facilitates the evaluation of potentials for different central and New Belgrade locations to develop such projects. For such locations as the Hotel Yugoslavia, Block 26 in New Belgrade, the Dorćol Marina and the Federal Police building, in form of striking photo-montages, the spatial effect of these initiatives was shown.

This presentation served as an introduction into the panel discussion Vertical City in which Winka Dubbeldam, Mark Hemel, prof. Ružica Božović-Stamenović, Žaklina Gligorijević and Belgrade’s city architect Dejan Vasović took part. This interesting discussion yielded several interesting facts and opinions. The city architect talked about Belgrade’s so-far negative experiences with high rises, referencing the difficulties in maintenance of housing towers, and the lack of parking in office towers. Guests form abroad suggested a defined and clear vision of Belgrade’s future development is needed before any urban restrictions can be made. Although it was concluded Belgrade has potential to, in the future, become the home of an iconic tower, the question of motivation for such a project was raised. Different European cities have dealt with the issue in different ways, and Belgrade’s city government, planners and architects should first agree on the city’s future image and vision, and then decide whether extreme high-rises are a part of that identity.

One of the lectures from the second day of the Conference also belongs to the discourse of the Vertical City. Florentine architect David Fisher, for technical reasons, appeared on the second day and presented his concept of Dynamic Architecture. In his opinion Design should be a consequence of Technology, and today’s architecture and building techniques lag behind the technological advances. As a result of his theory, he developed a series of projects for housing and mixed-use high rises whose floors rotate 360 degrees. These buildings benefit from the experiences from various fields of industry and industrial design, so that their solution would be technicaly and functionaly optimized, and energy-efficient. Time designs these buildings, says the architect, while shoowing us unrealistic and futuristic images of the new Paris, London, New York or Dubai skyline. He also announced the beginning of construction for the first dynamic tower in an undisclosed location. Some of you will remember that we had recently the chance to read about a similar project being offered to New Belgrade.

The second day we also heard to interesting lectures that both treat Architecture as a political tool. Estonian architect Veronica Valk presented her concept of Compact City she has been developing through 13 years of practice in Talin, as the co-owner of architecture studio Zizi&Yoyo. Her most important porject is, without doubt, the revitalization and densification of the Talin Waterfront. A former Sviet military zone, this space is available again, after 50 years, to the residents of Talin. Ms. Valk’s work transcends conventional architectural practices and becomes activism, similar to the New York model of the High line revitalization. She forms NGOs with the purpose of protecting and reusing existing structures and organizes festivals with the aim of attracting Talin’s residents and visitors back to the Waterfront. While critiquing Talin’s city government, Ms. Valk emphasized that sustainable development isn’t just energy-efficient building, but also the renovation and reuse of existing city structures. As an example, she cited the destiny of an old Soviet multifunctional hall whose 35000 m2 are now used as a police and military practice field, while the Municipality organizes an architectural competition for its new headquarters of a similar size on the adjoining site. Ms. Valk also noticed the parallels between Belgrade and Talin, in an unstable political climate that hinders the progress of revitalization projects and initiatives, and in a large number of abandoned and devastated city spaces that need to be rediscovered and reused.

The final lecture of this year’s conference was from the Spanish architect Alejandro Zaera-Polo who presented his research on the topic of Envelopes. Defining the Envelope as a complex and politically charged building element, he illustrated the possibilities of its manipulations and transformations through a series of projects from his own practice. For him, the Envelope is more than a facade, it is a techological, political, and ecological tool that, through its multi-layered meaning, becomes the main architectural feature of his projects.

After these inspiring lectures the BLOK 2012 Conference vas concluded, with a promise for another meeting next year. In the next two days the Conference visitors and all interested Belgrade residents had the chance to enjoy, free of charge, the Film marathon of architectural cinema that was organized with the collaboration of the Yugoslav Film Archive.

Photos:  Rade Kovač


Beograd, Blok, Conference, Zira

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