Brownfield in Banjaluka

Brownfields in the city of Banjaluka and their relevance for its’ urban history and memory.

The brownfield sites found across the City of Banja Luka are devastated and disused industries and military bases, run-down and abandoned public facilities, like hospitals, prisons, schools, cultural centres, neighbourhood centres, etc., residential buildings, as well as abandoned railway facilities and utility infrastructure, even neglected green areas. Industry had been the most important branch of economy in Bosnia-Herzegovina (1960’s through 1990’s). The city and region of Banja Luka, including the towns of Mrkonjić Grad and Prijedor, were rapidly industrialised. A class of factory workers formed from the rural populations traditionally inhabiting the area around the city and the local countryside. Banja Luka’s population now mainly consisted of factory workers, the military, and their families. New neighbourhoods and housing developments were built to accommodate these two new categories of city-dwellers, complete with all the amenities, to provide socialist standards of living (‘Pentagon’ block; Borik, Mejdan and Starcevica neighbourhoods; etc.). This process occurred simultaneously with another historic process, the construction of military facilities and ranges in Banja Luka’s rural surroundings and of barracks in the city.

Banja Luka’s plants and factories, mostly brownfields today, were planned, designed and constructed adhering to high technical, technological, sanitary, functional and architectural standards. However, they were inadequately maintained, and rules and regulations were progressively disregarded. Back in the 1970’s, environmental protection codes were not as strict as today (e.g., anti-pollution regulations); on the other hand, industries were intentionally enclosed in vast stretches of vegetation, which served both as buffer zones and recreational grounds. Industries that needed to discharge wastewater were located in an industrial zone along the River Vrbas, in the downstream direction, to the east and northeast of and away from the city centre. Industries which did not produce air pollution or wastewater, like Rudi Čajavec and Kosmos, were not located in an industrial zone but in the city.

Part of Rudi Čajavec Industries was owned by the Army (a total of five plants), but people perceived it as a true city plant: it was an enterprise consisting of twenty-four manufacturing departments. The plant employed the people living in its immediate and wider surroundings; the workers mainly came to work by bicycle, and the plant had all the amenities and services they needed during the day. Both the workers and the rest of the city identified with the plant. Banja Luka was known across Yugoslavia for its Čajavec Industries; its existence made people feel secure and protected. Čajavec has a history of its own, which is a part of the city history, comprising numerous personal, group and collective histories of its former employees.

Čajavec Industries was a special enclosure within the city, its physical layout and buildings typical of the industrial and commercial architecture of that period. Even today, it is visually very effective, especially in contrast to the adjacent residential and other buildings. It is located in an area adjoining the city core, along one of the city’s main thoroughfares, so people perceive it as a town within the city – as integrated in it, not separate or isolated. It used to have all the archetypal symbolic characteristics of urban space: several entrances, fences and walls, a network of streets, different kinds of buildings, and common open spaces. In the last few years, its grounds and facilities have been used daily for purposes different from the original ones at the time when the plant still worked (commerce, sport and recreation, health, utilities, design, consulting, catering, entertainment, higher education, etc.). This has made it an area of social convergence, turning the authentic buildings of the plant, which are in different condition but nonetheless share characteristics of the International Style, into material and non-material witnesses of an era at its end…

The communicative potential of this site has transcended the weaknesses and limitations that have marked its destiny in the last twenty years. Together with its immediate surroundings, it is a special part of the city’s urban landscape thanks to the energy it has accumulated since the late 19th century, when the first Banja Luka brickyard was built in its vicinity, at a site which is still called the same toponym – the Pascolo Brickyard. The entrepreneurial and industrial spirit, which has characterised this area over a long period of Banja Luka’s urban development, has made it special as a city site, and the time during which it played an active role in the life of the city makes it a major episode in the city’s history.

This leads to the conclusion that the preservation, maintenance and re-affirmation of the authentic spirit, visual recognisability and spatial completeness of this brownfield are becoming urgent. The diversity of this area, its qualities and neglected potential, synthesised into a clearly articulated, unique segment of the city’s urban landscape, entitle us to consider it a special entity or element of the cultural landscape, of special interest for industrial archaeology, which should ensure the kind of treatment this outstanding place deserves thanks to its identity, and help to preserve its integrity as one of Banja Luka’s cultural, social and spatial peculiarities. Its regeneration would create room for the reintroduction of some common but neglected and hidden values and meanings into our environment.

The author of the text is Dijana Simonović, M.Sc. from the Faculty of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy (AGF), University of Banjaluka. She is also the author of the monograph “Landscape cities: comparison of development of urban identity of Banja Luka and Graz” (2010), published by AGF.

Dijana held a lecture on this subject at the workshop on urban regeneration of brownfield location Rudi Čajavec Industry in Banja Luka at the AGF (10th April 2013th).

Photos by Bojana Radić, AGF student.


Brownfield, Building heritage, Urban design

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