Role-playing in Architecture

Žaklina Gligorijević, a renowned urban planner, shares with us her experiences of different roles an architect can play in his/her career. This is another in the series of texts within the project by CAB: Women in Architecture.

On Beginnings and Curiosity

Back in high school, I wanted to practice interior design; I had some practical skills and eventually decided to study architecture. Dealing with different aspects of urban space in urbanism courses of Belgrade Faculty of Architecture surprised me and made me curious about context, sociology, urban reconstruction and various and complex planning issues.

I was lucky to get to work on real plans and projects at the very beginning of my career: in Faculty of Architecture, and planning institutions like CEP, Centre for Urban Development Planning or Urban Planning Institute of Belgrade. I could compare the advantages and differences of both planning in public and private sector and learn about different aspects of urbanism: creativity, public debates, legal demands or obstacles, field work, different cities, landscapes and cultures… Working also on competitions and architectural design projects, I had to accept the wonders of procedure and the necessity to compromise as a hard part of professional growing-up. It seems that each new project has spurred new ambition, and it has been the case still.

Figure 1. ISOCARP Congress, Perm, Russia, 2012 

I believe curiosity led me through different areas of architecture and urbanism, but the changing market conditions also forced us architects to master skills and knowledge of both disciplines. What kept me in this business was perseverance and faith that our professional engagement could improve the reality. As time passes, I have found out that patience and understanding of various interests or priorities of different stakeholders became crucial for the success of projects.

On Advices

Arm yourself with knowledge and patience, as challenging times are ahead for our profession: the world is accelerating, technology is advancing, all that you though you knew today, will be obsolete tomorrow. So be most patient in practice and hasty in constant pursuit for new knowledge and skills.

The first advice, or at least the first that intrigued me for years, I got from my professor Ranko Radović at my final year of studies. He asked us what our passion in urbanism was. He argued that there would be no outstanding results without the passion involved. At that time, as a worried student, I mainly wondered what my obligations were – not my passions. It was years later, as I gathered some experience and professional self esteem, to undertake new projects with joy and found his message to be true: professional passion is a motor that constantly keeps one going farther and requires more and better achievements.

Figure 2. Creative Barcelona in Belgrade

The other challenge, if not advice, came from my professor Kayden, who was teaching relation of design, law, and policy on Harvard GSD. In a debate on beauty, quality design through rules, regulation and laws in urbanism, he opposed the thesis that the beauty of the architecture or design is (only) in the eye of the beholder, and gave an argument for professionals to appraise and value design; he stated that there must be a reason why so many generations have studied and graduated from the Graduate School of Design… Ten years later, I still miss this kind of theoretical challenges, in times when creating zoning or urban design rules in plans has been considered a routine, understood, especially by non-professionals as rigid and as an obstacle for development instead as the framework, the guideline for realization of quality architectural solutions. Regulation of urban space seems especially simple to other professions: three parameters, mathematical formulas, piece of cake. There are skills and knowledge needed to compose an efficient and quality urban plan, a higher degree of understanding and education, a value added to just architectural design.

On Career Traps

Like in other professions, it is important for an ambitious woman not to neglect other aspects of life, family, friends, hobbies and pleasures, as the price of dedicated professional success. To enjoy in your work is a must! Too many worries and efforts on things we cannot influence bring only wrinkles and enemies. Luckily, architectural education provides a spectrum of opportunities for creative and fulfilling jobs, so fatigue or monotony caused by modest achievements of your everyday work can be cured through participation in design competitions, studies or related artistic disciplines.

On Most Important Work

Authorship is less important in urban and strategic planning I think, than successful management or careful synthesis, especially for accomplishments in big, important, long projects. Female principle in complex projects is to manage and lead with restrained vanity and personal promotion, all in service of the task before you. Those are female qualities. It does not apply to academic work or competitions, as creativity within given limits and a personal attitude bring success and great personal fulfillment. For all my big projects it took a lot of patience, preparations, diplomacy, coordination with numerous authors, stakeholders, professionals, creative individuals, complicated procedures, short deadlines, limited resources and different, opposing interests. Some of those I completed myself, some were finalized by others, some as a result of great team work, some were signed by other authors or managers, but in all, with no exception, I invested personal and professional engagement, skills and experience gained in the various roles played: of a design engineer, urban planner, team leader, organizer or director.

Figure 3. Perast Urban Project

My serious professional challenges were plans for protected heritage areas, like the Urban Project for Perast (Kotor Municipality, Montenegro), or new generation strategic plans, like Master Plan for Kraljevo 2000, changes to the Belgrade Master Plan 2021/2, City of Belgrade Development Strategy, Belgrade High-rise Study and a set of spatial and urban plans for Belgrade in the last four years, etc. I am especially proud of ten years organization of the Komunikacije conference, where I met excellent people and gathered skills to participate or organize international conferences, events and seminars.

Figure 4. Belgrade Master Plan 2021/2

The most challenging task, in terms of meeting my own professional principles and the expectations of investors was leadership of the team that worked on Changes to the Belgrade Master Plan and the organization and work on plans for Belgrade under the Law on Planning and Construction from 2009. The great achievement of the whole team of Belgrade Urban Planning Institute was the planning process for ten plans of general regulation of the building area of the city.

On Personal Development and Influences

Working experience in different environments, different cities and on different topics helps one understanding mechanisms of urban management and design. Individual architectural works participate in forming the quality of urban spaces, but it’s not guaranteed by the most beautiful and attractive buildings. It is interesting that subaltern architecture, complying with common regulation, created the quality of many favorable urban cores of European cities. Compared to my perception of architecture before, I now believe that understanding and creation of architecture in context has been one of the greatest challenges for our profession!

Rich experience and different roles of an architect involved in planning processes enable better understanding of the so-called big picture, the overall process of urban genesis, from planning ideas, decision making and the overall feasibility for their implementation. Both successful and unsuccessful projects, accepted and rejected proposals, small and large projects and constant decision making that was changing my goals during the planning process, have been all the lessons for professional maturity. I have been lucky to meet and exchange thoughts with some of the greatest architectural names of today, city architects, leaders of greatest urban planning institutes worldwide, and professors from prestigious architecture and urban planning schools. Each of those encounters, their advices and comments, as well as every city I visited or learned about, influenced my choices and altered, calibrated my goals. I understand that many great ideas remain on paper and have not been not worth grieving for, but that doesn’t mean I gave up good ideas. I just try to set realistic, achievable goals, so I can reach them more often.

On the Role of Urban Planner and Other Roles

The mediation of different interests is the greatest challenge for an urban planner: to coordinate in the best possible way the interests of governments, investors, profession and citizens. The best way to understand different interests is to try yourself in as many roles, as I have, luckily, managed during my 25 years of practice. On master studies at great planning schools, like Harvard GSD, this changing roles is a part of learning process at courses on large, e.g. public-private projects. Negotiating and mediating skills are gained through teamwork, where each participant takes one of the roles: once you are a lawyer, next time the representative of the government, economist, architect, developer, urban planner, you protect the heritage, representing neighborhood, etc. This kind of education helps and eases the demanding communication needed in all urban plans.

Figure 5. Exhibition of the European Prize for Urban Public Space 2008

To be successful in this role, one needs the knowledge, open-mindedness and the capacity to understand, consider and accept the arguments of all involved parties, to search for agreement, enable compromise or insist on an issue, all depending on the project and location. One of my most important criteria for advocacy and decision making is whether the projects are feasible for realization.

Žaklina Gligorijević, M.Sc. is definitely a well-known name in Serbian urban planning. As an architect-planner or organizer-manager, she was directly involved in preparation of plans that shaped Belgrade and other cities the way they look, or might look today, or provided the framework for their development in the future. Her public appearances have been always noted, representing Belgrade Urban Planning Institute, or earlier Centre for Urban Development Planning, always underlining, besides direct involvement in practice, her experience gained through post-graduate studies in the United States.


Architects, Architecture, Beograd, Perast, Urban planning, Women in architecture, Žaklina Gligorijević

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