Untold Stories

Reinforced Beauties

Visitors are usually enchanted by the colorful Zagreb’s city center - the charming Upper town or the buildings full of fantastic details in the Lower Town. If they have a limited stay in Zagreb, they often miss out on a different kind of admirable architecture.

Some of the greatest architectural achievements of Zagreb are in fact made of - reinforced concrete. I’m bringing you a very limited selection of the famous representatives of this material, hoping you will give them, and their reinforced cousins a chance, and try to see beyond its grey.

Super Andrija

When visitors approach Zagreb from the direction of the airport, the first part of the town that welcomes them is the area of Novi Zagreb. This part, on the south bank of the river Sava, is indeed new (novi) as its name fairly states.  It was built in the second half of the 20th century. It was carefully planned, it’s full of friendly neighborhoods, children’s playgrounds and green surfaces. However, as you approach Zagreb, all you see are grey beehives made out of cold and distant concrete.

 Hundreds of people call this giant their home

Let me take you to one of them. Meet Super Andrija (Super Andrew), or simply Superica, a single building with 300 apartments. In Croatia, that’s huge. There are cities in Croatia with fewer inhabitants. This massive building gets more and more terrifyingly impressive as you approach it.  The name of it? We don’t know the origin. Was it colloquially named after one of its early residents or after one of its builders from the 1970s? There are several versions of the story of its name origin. We can’t tell for sure, but we do know - it’s Superimpressive!

 A look up at this huge naked concrete structure when you’re at the very bottom of it makes your head spin

Super Andrija is not the biggest apartment block in Zagreb, but it’s the one with the most massive appearance. The biggest one is home to more than 5000 people. It has a well-deserved nickname: Mamutica (She-Mammoth - as we refer to buildings in the female gender). However, the Mammoth girl is designed surprisingly humanly. It looks like a neighborhood, not as a single building, as its parts are well-intended.  

As you can see, many of the distinguished buildings in the city have nicknames. Do you really give nicknames to something distant and cold?

Pavilion no 40

As always, nothing is simple in Zagreb and everything has layers of character. So do the buildings made out of concrete. The concrete is not associated with “brutalist” architecture here in Zagreb.

If you wish to see how imaginative you can get with the reinforced concrete as a material, come to the Zagreb Fair. Many pavilions of the fair have a great architectural value because of their boldness in the use of the material.

Italian Pavilion or Pavilion 15: the bold design and enchanting patterns of upside-down pyramids made of light concrete will make you rethink any prejudice you might have about concrete as a construction material

Probably the most incredible example is the Pavilion no 40, also known as the Vitić Pavilion. It’s named after the famous local architect Ivan Vitić, who was supported by the team of construction engeneers led by Kruno Tonković. Today, this pavilion is the home to an ice-skating rink and a popular place of training for many ice sports. This is one of the most important pieces of Croatian 1950s architecture that can easily be compared with other important examples of suspended construction in the world. In this case, steel and concrete made the 90 m wavy suspended roof possible and gave the building an artistic playful touch.

The massive wave-like rooftop is made out of reinforced concrete. The technique used might remind you of supsended bridges

 The Vitić Pavilion: close-up

The Archives

Back in 1911, the construction of the glorious building of the National and University Library and the National State Archives began. Today, the library found a new home, and the Archives have the building all by themselves.

And what a building! Young architect Rudolf Lubinsky put his signature on the project that would become one of the most distinguished examples of the late art-nouveau architecture in this part of Europe. From the outside, you can enjoy the allegoric reliefs and details. To truly appreciate its glory, you should enter, though. Try to contact the Archives in advance and arrange a tour of the building

People aren’t even aware that the building was constructed in what was then an innovative  material: reinforced concrete. You do want the home of your nation’s treasure to be as fireproof as can be, don’t you?

Many experts consider the Archives to be the most important monument of architecture in Zagreb

One of the numerous stunning details


Endurance and protection

Just last year, Zagreb was struck by a rather strong earthquake. That’s when all the Zagrebers started appreciating the structures made out of reinforced concrete. Their safety, endurance, and life-protective nature were all of the sudden in the first plan and the apartment buildings made of concrete became more wanted than ever.

All of the sudden, it’s hard to spot the grey and the cold. We now feel their protective warmth and see the colors of life in them.

Imagine how many families and human destinies are there in Super Andrija alone

Image credit: Iva Silla     

Author: Iva Silla