“The ground-floor business spaces should primarily be filled with their work atmosphere, and less with cheap decoration. It will all make sense when the windows reveal the productive activity inside, not just the activities related to hospitality, exhibiting, trade… Long live work!… of all types, kinds of knowledge and skills.”
In our search for people who can talk first-hand about the rich and lively history of Martićeva street and its urban surroundings, our journey naturally led us to the renowned architect and professor Nenad Fabijanić, who has lived in the neighbourhood since he was born. Once a resident of Tomašićeva street, and today of the Vitić skyscraper, Fabijanić has observed the post-war architectural and urbanist genesis of the neighbourhood practically from the beginning, so he notices the seductive details and enticing anecdotes around every corner. We had an extensive correspondence about all of that, and we are happy to share it with you.
Nenad Fabijanić was born in Zagreb in 1951. He graduated from the Faculty of Architecture in 1974, and in 1977 he was already employed at the same faculty, at first as a teaching assistant for Prof. Neven Šegvić at the Department of Architectural Design. He achieved full professor status in 2000. Along educational work and practical architecture, he has also worked in theatre and TV scenography, exhibition design and other related activities for many years. He has been awarded for his architectural work many times, and his works have been published in many international magazines. He was the president of the Zagreb Society of Architects (DAZ) from 1994 to 1996, and since 1999 he has been the president of the Croatian Architects Association (UHA).
For start, Fabijanić remembered his adolescent days, when he collaborated with none other than Ivan Vitić, whose most famous building today houses his studio.
Nenad Fabijanić: Every conscious choice is conditioned by a combination of circumstances. The time, options and an ad in the newspaper resulted in the decision on the choice of location for my studio at 9 Laginjina street, in the Vitić skyscraper. I knew Vitić from high school days, he introduced me to my first architectural secrets. Later, I worked on my own project for some time in his bureau at 17 Ilica street. He was a man of special charm and an architect who deserved more professional respect and consideration in his later years. The present glorification of his architecture sometimes seems calculated with the motive of personal interests by his apologists.
In my memory, the immediate surroundings of Martićeva street are defined in the narrow sense by Smičiklasova, Tomašićeva, Lopašićeva, Bulićeva and Kraševa streets, and by Ratkaj passage in the Prebend complex, i.e. “Little Vatican” to the north, towards Vlaška street. Those were the names of the streets back then. It was the everyday territory of my childhood. I was born at 11 Tomašićeva street, during the grey years of the “white” Zagreb.
The marginal space of Medvešćak and the outskirts of Maksimir are represented here by Viktor Kovačić‘s Stock Exchange, a key landmark of local urbanism, and surrounded by the green slopes of Šalata, the Victims of Fascism Square with its “mosque” (which we never entered or knew anything about it), the cult gymnasiums in Križanićeva street and then unattractive factory complex around the Kvaternik square and its old market. It is a typically and clearly articulated area of blocks of houses of finely balanced height. A new architectural event is revealed every 100 m or so.
Every attempt at description nostalgically ties me to the sentimental memory of the sixties, the civilized atmosphere of the neighbourhood environment, the washed out asphalt, birches and lawns, light car traffic and the mischiefs of the children’s street guerilla. Through the open windows and from the old radios and rare gramophones you could hear the melodies of Glenn Miller, Ivo Robić, The Beatles, Bersa and… live music by courtyard singers!
I distinctly remember the neighbours and tenants, their names and characters ranging from chimney sweepers to doctors. It was a time when it was hard to differentiate between artists, professors or clerks judging by their “image”, and those people were the majority in the neighbourhood, all of them in a sort of reserved and pleasant togetherness. Us kids would greet them with “kiss your hand”, although that never actually happened. It seems to me that the time and place deserve a more serious literary work, but the only thing I can offer this time is a photograph of Tomašićeva street through the lens of the great Tošo Dabac.
Looking at it “retro” and from a distance, it is a special and immeasurable ambient scene of the city life and characters, rare even for Zagreb. The generations that grew up here in that way, and then temporarily moved to the “Western world” or to Zapruđe, are now back again, drawn by their heritage or the power of the place of their youth. I find today’s substantial and programmatic restoration of neighbourhood life immanent to the younger and always ambitious circle of new people completely understandable, it has reason and sense.
From the seventh floor of the Vitić “skyscraper”, I see the neighbourhood in the same way as the early-morning magpies that protest with special motivation against the number of parked cars at night in their own way, or those who circle the streets in search for a place to rest. “Vitić” dances the “danse macabre” to that noise, rhythm and lights, and even takes its clothes off.
The urban culture and care for communal space and communication is at a very low level, maybe the lowest yet, so I look at the current ideas, changes and events of the new revitalised substantial atmosphere affirmatively and with fondness. The older, tired residents, full of different experiences, accept all changes resignedly, and among the younger ones I encounter more or less successful acquaintances or former students. Here, as well as in other places, I also occasionally run into one of the always loud lüftbremzer. Except for the fact that I know this neighbourhood environment very well and that I occasionally belong to it, being in it doesn’t affect my professional life in any way. During my work retreats, I look at the changing scenes of Medvednica or the night and day of southern Zagreb. Just so.
This part of the city has belonged to me as well as to the others continually since my early childhood. This is where I am located (when I can’t be at a better place), so this ambience and life only serve as a comparison to other, better or worse environments. So, the neighbourhood does not affect my “development” as a civilized citizen and neighbour. I have long appropriated the street, entrances, staircases and “good day”.
— Talking about the current direction of the development of the neighbourhood, Fabijanić highlights what he considers valuable among the neighbourhood “novelties”, but also points out that the evolution of activities in Martićeva must develop organically, with a focus on the concrete production of objects and contents.
Nenad Fabijanić: I think affirmatively, and I have written commendably about Blok bar. It is a great place with an idea and formative reflection by Penezić and Rogina, as a proof that architecture belongs only to architects. I don’t have any spare time, so it’s been long since I have practiced the life of a passionate participant in public events, the usually casual lazy rituals. I don’t go to cafes to have coffee and I don’t buy newspapers any more. As far as cafes and other kinds of interiors go, I know and see what amount of the decorative collages from the middle pages of our daily newspapers forms the taste and new interior design.
A recognizable form of architectural typology is present in this part of the city. The first type is a series of multiple housing units with business and commercial spaces on the ground floor, which enables constant changes and redesign, while the other type are residential buildings with high ground floor, which do not have to offer anything new. It is fortunate that nobody lives in basement apartments any more. The apartments should belong to the tenants, with as few offices on top floors as possible. It is time for the whole architectural fund to be renovated according to clear criteria and using new technological methods (no styrofoam!). Until then, it needs to be maintained and swept (everybody needs to put their own house in order). That is enough for peaceful neighbourly coexistence.
The ground-floor business spaces should primarily be filled with their work atmosphere, and less with cheap decoration. It will all make sense when the windows reveal the productive activity inside, not just the activities related to hospitality, exhibiting, trade… Long live WORK!… of all types, kinds of knowledge and skills. We all use the streets, squares and parks. This is where we should, as opposed to our intimate spheres, adjust to the life in community and to the communal benefit by nurturing urban communication and culture. That is evident from the existing activated spaces, e.g. books are not only written, but also actively promoted and read, but design is unfortunately still more talked about than produced. I am sure it will get better with a desire for a change of conditions and interests.
The life of this neighbourhood, but also of the whole city, will be much more attractive and nicer when young, ambitious people with suitable professional education take over the care and management of the city district from the inconsiderate municipal administration.
— When asked to describe the neighbourhood in one short sentence, our interlocutor responded with a quote by Slobodan Vuličević: “Looking at people, chickens think: Those damned fowls!”