“The two basic questions were: where am I going to run and where am I going to go to the market? At the time, the fact that Maksimir was only 10 minutes away by bike, and Kvatrić was in the immediate vicinity, was virtually more important to me than the apartment building itself… Like, if that fit, then everything else would surely be OK as well.”
The designer Lana Cavar’s apartment at the very top of Vitić skyscraper in Laginjina street gives an impressive view of the entire part of Zagreb spreading towards the south from that spot. At the same time, the view from the open staircase gallery encompasses the opposite side of the world, so the tenants living on the higher floors of the complex can visually draw a full circle around their city. Living at such location seems more than appropriate for a designer who regards the modernist cultural heritage, local as well as global, as a source of continuous inspiration. Lana Cavar’s career path in design started already in the late nineties through many years of intensive collaboration with Ira Payer in their common studio, Cavarpayer, and it continued through her postgraduate education at the American Yale University and her work in New York before she returned to Croatia.
Today, Cavar simultaneously works on several fronts here, either independently or in collaboration with Narcisa Vukojević or Danielle Aubert and Natasha Chandani (who make up the CLANADA.org team), while the latest chapters of her portfolio abound in award-winning self-initiated projects such as her Thanks for the View, Mr Mies book (co-authored with Aubert and Chandani), dedicated to exploring Detroit’s Lafayette Park neighbourhood, or Excavations I: Judge a Book by its Cover and Excavations II: Production of Signs — Signs of Production (co-authored with Vukojević). The latter projects dug deep in the Croatian designer heritage from the Yugoslav period, providing the wider audience with extremely significant discoveries in the sphere of the design of dust jackets, book covers and visual identities of regional businesses. Among other things, Lana Cavar is currently taking care of design for the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb, on all levels of visual communication.
We visited her in her apartment in order to learn more about the daily life in a monument of modern architecture from the perspective of a person who is completely ‘at home’ in the area.
Lana Cavar: I have lived here since 2008. I was twenty-something when I first considered buying an apartment in this building (with my ex partner). I could not actually afford buying at the time, but I loved the building. The building is well known within the ‘creative professions’ in the context of architectural history of both Zagreb and Croatia, but I only became genuinely interested after I had seen the inside of the apartment. Later, when I was really searching for my own apartment, this one was up for sale and that was it. But I could have as well ended up somewhere else. The only important thing was that I wanted to live in the wider city centre area.
Allegedly, Ivan Vitić, the building planner, had originally conceived the apartment as his atelier, but he never ended up working in this space. As the construction of the skyscraper is actually of pretty low quality, I find it convincing that Vitić himself could have been dissatisfied with it. But regardless of the comparably low quality of construction of the building in this neighbourhood, which is home to buildings dating from before World War II, and regardless of a host of problems affecting the building (to be honest, Zagreb area is relatively unsuitable for this kind of open buildings with respect to the climate, with rain and snow flowing down the staircase in the winter), it is still a nice place for living. In Vitić skyscraper, modernism lives on in its old, ascetic luxury.
For example, there are the view and the beauty of the space itself, and I truly find the space exalting. The interesting thing is that I have always had my own workspace. When I moved into Vitić, I thought there was no chance I would leave this paradise every morning to spend the day somewhere else… So for years now, my workspace has been in my home. But I don’t think it is necessary to be a ‘design snob’ in order to enjoy this building…
When I ended up in Martićeva, the two basic questions were: where am I going to run and where am I going to go to the market? At the time, the fact that Maksimir was only 10 minutes away by bike, and Kvatrić was in the immediate vicinity, was virtually more important to me than the apartment building itself. Like, if that fit, then everything else would surely be OK as well. In Maksimir, I developed daily routines that became an inevitable life quality factor. I really wouldn’t like to live without a market and nature nearby!
During the past three to four years, the neighbourhood has really been waking up! I don’t know what the deal is, maybe the rents for commercial spaces are lower here, and the neighbourhood is located centrally in the city, so probably one thing leads to another… Those are good examples of things working out when somebody is really interested in what they are doing. What delighted me the most was the opening of Bibliofil , probably the most interesting bookshop in the city, in the somewhat depressive Bauerova street. It is as if the good spirit of the former Booksa bookshop has decided to settle across the street, at a new address.
There is no need for any panegyrics on this neighbourhood, because it (still) doesn’t look like the cool neighbourhoods of international capitals. But it is evident that the neighbourhood has a more distinct identity compared to many other neighbourhoods in the wider city centre area, and that identity continues to gradually build and improve. That is precisely what projects such as Design Destrict Zagreb should emphasize.