Maša Milovac is an independent designer whose portfolio comprises a host of successful, often self-initiated projects that emerged as a result of her professional engagement within the Manufakturist collective or her independent work.
Maša is primarily a product designer. However, she also practices interior design, visual communications design as well as design research in the broadest sense. Since 2017, Maša Milovac has been acting as the head of the Management Board of the Croatian Designers’ Association, the umbrella association of professional designers, where she has continued what has already become a longstanding tradition of young female leadership. We had the opportunity to talk about various forms of collaboration inside of the design community, Design District project but also about the place she usually has coffee at (and how that also makes a form of collaboration) at her new office inside of the Graphic Workers’ Trade Union House (TN: Dom sindikata grafičara).
Rebbeca Mikulandra: You took part in the London Design Biennale, representing Croatia and your curator concept speculated design that takes shape through collaboration. Can you tell us a few words about the way you see the role and development of the so-called micro locations in the context of collaborative projects, i.e. about the Graphic Workers’ Trade Union House, your present professional location, which is an example of a spontaneous meeting point of freelancers?
Maša Milovac: Of course, there are some similarities. In the framework of that project, I was interested in utopia as a topic so that the idea about connecting random designers who have not been collaborating before and test their flexibility and compatibility in an artificial way resulted in that kind of thinking. This kind of a project was developed for the Biennale and we strived to produce something new. In our particular case, we gathered spontaneously and above all, I believe that the Biro team of architects were the first ones to “snoop” the space – and I was overjoyed. I had no idea that such a complex even existed.
RM: Have you managed to obtain some kind of collaboration out of that so far?
MM: Not yet. At the time being, we are all inside of our own space but I think that is natural. Actually, yes – I am mistaken! We organised a party together and we all made an enormous effort so I believe that if we take on something serious and project-like, we could really make it work.
RM: In terms of creative collaborations, visibility of designers on the scene and the exchange of opinions, how do you see actual gathering of creative persons inside of a particular space as opposed to virtual meeting points?
MM: I think that the most important thing is to share similar interests, principles and values. So far, I have been collaborating on a number of projects and with persons I have never seen in person. However, if everything is well organised and if the collaboration works, and this presupposes mutual agreement and understanding, I think it can be done. Personally, I prefer in-person communication because the medium that separates you from the person on the other side implies a conditioned kind of communication and depends on a good Internet connection or the quality of applications used and very verbal forms of communication. I find that non-verbal part very interesting in terms of sharing experience and habits. When you spend every day with certain people, you can learn a lot and I believe that contributes to success.
In the framework of my activities for the CDA, I attend meetings of the Management Committee and meetings are now more present in my life as opposed to my independent creation processes and that is why I appreciate them more. I used to prefer collaborations and today I see that I miss my own space.
RM: How did you come up with the idea to move to this neighbourhood?
MM: At the moment, I live near Tvornica, on Ljudevit Posavski Street, across SUVAG. I have been living there for 4 or 5 years, even before the initiation of the Design District. At the time when I was searching for a place to live in Zagreb, I gravitated to this neighbourhood because it has good energy, a good vibe and it is neither a business area nor a residential neighbourhood. Rather, it is a combination of all those elements and it seems to me that there are many young people who are now moving to the neighbourhood. As a project, Design District recognises and promotes design in a recognizable way but it does not only recognise design; it also recognises the culture of living and a direction for the development of both the neighbourhood and the city. That energy around the festival that happens every single time is something really beautiful and such positive vibes happened to me before, on similar events organised by Ira Payer, at the time when she was in the CDA, and I relate that to the quality of her work.
RM: Among other things, you work as an interior designer. Which interiors in the neighbourhood are special to you? Where do you go to have coffee? Are your routines related to design as the main criterion or do you chose your spots unburdened by that, as many other designers do?
MM: We have coffee at Program and it is a great place because we all know each other. We love the waiters and in the morning we have a feeling as if we are having coffee at home. We often hold our meetings there, too. We find the interior to be very nice because it is totally relaxed and without any pretentions to be some kind of extra fancy interior. Finally in Zagreb we see that interiors are taking a step forward distancing themselves from those classic rattan chairs. I think that’s great. I also like the interior in our lobby; it is rather specific and it has not been changed considerably in comparison to its original outlook. Grupa studio’s showroom is also great and they have really put some effort in it. Those interiors are not necessarily spaces that underwent architectural treatment but they are still very cosy ambiences. For me, that is the main criterion of success: it doesn’t depend only on the project but rather on what a person intends to do there and how will it feel. Blok bar has a very interesting concept and that was the first place that I started frequenting. Maybe that was the first turning point. I love Garderoba shop designed by architects from Biro who share the space with us at the Graphic Workers’ Trade Union House.
RM: Which exteriors do you like in the neighbourhood?
MM: In our city, it is very problematic to move around. Garbage, garbage cans, traffic signs, and pollution everywhere that people don’t even notice anymore. So many cars parked on sidewalks, containers standing on every crossroad… It indicates social unawareness and pedestrians are completely discriminated. There are pedestrian zones and that is why I like them: one next to Booksa on Martićeva Street is a very pleasant one. There are also parks such as the one next to Biankinijeva Street. That one is really cute. Bauerova Street is pretty rough, very busy and always congested. That is something that can really annoy a person and I see it all over the city. It is by no means something characteristic for this neighbourhood but it is definitely the problem of the city.
RM: Which findings and positive reactions from the development of foreign “creative neighbourhoods” would you apply in this case (if you maybe know of some examples from London or Milan and “districts” there)? Do you think that there is a possibility to find a clear common goal in Zagreb focusing on the development of design or the community with the support of design?
MM: I have been following the situation in Milan since college and I have been there 7 times on the occasion of the Milan Design Week. Promotion of design there took a different shape but there is an obvious link to our “district” and I am happy about that. Milan stands as a global representative case and ever since I started going there the focus changed and moved to another, new district or a new zone. There were certain classical zones that always reoccur but there were also the new ones and they would attract something fresh, young and innovative in terms of design. I am not sure that Zagreb has reached that level but I find the practice of that motion very good because it can put the focus to another part of the city, a different area and point out the problems found there.
There is another thing that might not be so visible in other districts, i.e. Milan is based on the collaboration between the community, designers and visitors. One mostly sees material collaboration in the lease of premises. I have seen better stuff here in only a couple of workshops on the topic of urbanism, examination of local community’s positions and so on. For that reason, I believe that this Design District might be a very good model for other neighbourhoods in Zagreb.
RM: Which neighbourhood would you select for the next similar project?
MM: Zagreb is very specific because it is a very widespread city; we have this division into the east and the west and then the north and the south. I am interested to see whether it is possible to organise something similar in another part of the city, whether to cross the river and how to make this particular model an example for other neighbourhoods. In that sense, Novi Zagreb definitely makes an interesting area; I think it is entirely different from this northern part of the city, or the city overhanging the river. Trnje, Savica and the line along Vukovarska Street are exceptionally interesting due to their architectural heritage. The area towards the river seems suitable no matter how much they are being ignored mainly since there has not been any idea on how to overcome that obstacle.
RM: In terms of long-term vision for neighbourhoods, should the change come from the top, from someone with an idea, or is it something that should be created spontaneously on the level of the community?
MM: What we see in all neighbourhoods is the situation where there are no contemporary and well-equipped spaces, which could serve to the local community. They seem to be stuck in time. I am not under the impression that problems and needs of the local community are being examined at all. In the present-day Zagreb, there are more inhabitants during daytime than later on in the evening. I don’t find evening or nightlife of the city that interesting and I don’t have a feeling that something is going on. The model that happens in Milan and, I believe, some other cities, is such that the quality of life remains and that is something that the city has even after one leaves a particular district. That is something that should come purely from the practice but also from the dialogue with those on the “top” level. They are in service of the city and the local community and that is why this should imply a dialogue on equal footing. We all know that is not the case but these kinds of changes are key since they indicate that civil society and local communities are those who can bring change.
RM: What is the role of the creative community in all that?
MM: Its role is to find the way to put it in practice. Necessarily, they are not the only drivers of change but maybe they can see the change quicker and, maybe, they also have a vision. They can test it and it is part of their job. With their professional engagement, I believe that the change would come easier and it would be visible. That is why it is crucial to involve designers in strategic planning.