“The transformation of the neighbourhood is in tune with the profile of its residents. It would not work out or be able to progress in this way in a different environment. There is a kind of reciprocity at work — people obviously want it, but they are also the ones who can achieve it.”
Vinko Penezić and Krešimir Rogina are renowned Croatian middle-generation architects, who have been working together ever since their study days at the Faculty of Architecture in Zagreb in the late seventies. Their collaboration was formalized in 1991 by the foundation of the Penezić & Rogina architectural bureau, although they had already distinguished themselves in the eighties by winning the national competition for the Mladost swimming pool and stadium project in Zagreb (1984), as well as at the Shinkenchiku and Central Glass competitions in Japan. Their relationship with Japan is a longstanding and stable one, and in 2012 it was crowned by the construction of the Japan-Croatia Friendship House in Tokamachi, which is the first structure designed by Croatian architects in that Far East country.
At home, Penezić and Rogina have constructed buildings literally everywhere. Their projects include: Srdoči kindergarten (Rijeka, 2011), Jarun kindergarten (Zagreb, 2006), churches and other sacral objects (Trnje, 1994 — 1999 and Dugave 1989, both in Zagreb; and St. Michael’s church in Dubrovnik 1987), as well as a number of other buildings. Their achievements include no less than three appearances at the Venice Biennale of Architecture, where in 2000 they represented Croatia, and in the following years took part in the central exhibition at the Biennale, following the selector’s and curator’s invitation.
Penezić and Rogina like to refer to themselves as “general practice architects”. Their work on the interior and exterior of Blok bar at the corner of Lopašićeva and Tomašićeva streets, about which you can read further below, demonstrates how in their work it is not the scale of a project that matters, but its quality. We also discussed Penezić and Rogina’s arrival to this neighbourhood, as well as its achitectural and urbanist peculiarities.
Vinko Penezić: We came here in 2006. We had worked in Hebrangova street for a long time, but we had to move. The possibility of entering this space emerged and that was it.
Krešimir Rogina: We liked the space immediately. We realized the location was very good. Hebrangova is the centre of gravity when it comes to traffic in the city centre area; a space full of tensions. The conditions are different here. The transformations started just around the time we came here.
Penezić: Yes, but at the time there was no liveliness in the domain of design and architecture that we can witness today. There were a few bureaus and that was it. Back then, as well as today, everything was centered around Martićeva street as a very interesting, unusual and complex community. The street begins practically in the centre of the city, at the ‘Exchange’, then goes through a business street phase, and finally turns into a residential neighbourhood somewhere around Fra Grge Martića square. It gives the neighbourhood a special charm because people of various profiles move around here — people with small children, artists and designers. That is the reason we liked the neighbourhood straight away.
Rogina: The transformation of the neighbourhood is in tune with the profile of its residents. It would not work out or progress this way in a different environment. There is a kind of reciprocity at work — people obviously want it, but they are also the ones who can achieve it.
Penezić: Also worth noting is that the neighbourhood is not enclosed within itself. In a way, it serves other neighbourhoods. For example, our fellow architects surely work exclusively outside of the neighbourhood. So, the neighbourhood is open, people from other parts of the city come here every day and spend a significant amount of time here.
Rogina: There is a combination of classic block building and modernist city planning with lots of greenery in the neighbourhood, — the latter can be seen in the southern part of Martićeva. There is diversity here, the architecture is not monotonous. In architectural words, it is a dynamic and civic urban tissue.
Penezić: Yes, it is a very diverse neighbourhood, rich in Zagreb and Croatian architecture masterpieces. The sequence starts with the old ‘Exchange’ building designed by the architect Viktor Kovačić, in which the Croatian National Bank is located today, and it is one of the most important local structures dating from the first half of the 20th century. There are also Vitić and Ibler skyscrapers, as well as several other houses designed by Drago Ibler, five or six of them. Long before we started working here, we would bring our foreign colleagues and friends to the neighbourhood. They were all pleasantly surprised that we had such quality architecture here after the war.
— It was precisely in this neighbourhood that Penezić and Rogina realized a small, but extremely interesting project in collaboration with Fiktiv studio — the exterior and interior decoration of Blok bar for the investors, Lužaić couple.
Rogina: The ‘obtuse angle’ between Lopašićeva and Tomašićeva had faded away. There used to be a café there, but an obscure one, and later it closed down. When the Lužaićs bought the space, they hired us, and we were uncertain about the potential bad energy of the corner. We thought about how we could make that tiny space as transparent as possible, so it would function outwards and inwards identically. We came to the idea that we could take everything that is usually placed deep inside the space and put it straight on the facade, so the service part would get its own identity in the form of a cube or block which opens up the space for people.
When we look at that corner space today, it really flows, pulls the passer-by to circumvent the cube. As architects, we are really not prone to significant corrosion of public space, but this specific portion had hardly any utilitarian purpose before our intervention. We offered Fiktiv to carry out the entire visual identity design and branding, starting from the name of the object. First guests were mostly people from the neighbourhood, naturally. Blok bar found its audience, and the dead corner suddenly came back to life.
Penezić: Blok bar is a very successful neighbourhood story, at least it was conceived that way, and the claim seems to be very close to the truth. The investors, Lužaićs, were a very important link in the story. In architecture, if you don’t have a good investor who knows what he or she wants and understands the idea you are trying to realize, it usually ends up in a fiasco. In the case of Blok bar, the investors understood our idea, they liked it and they were ready to embark on an adventure with us. Unlike the coffee shop blocks in the narrow centre of the city, in Bogovićeva street and at Cvjetni square, this space is primarily oriented towards the neighbourhood. We have managed to transform a negative corner into a place the local residents recognize as their own.
Rogina: However, there are still many empty spaces here. It would be good to boost their communication with the locals and passers-by. The transformation of the neighbourhood should proceed in the direction of what is called the high street in the USA. It signifies a profile of a street which contains a bit of everything, and in which everything is important. We could use a locksmith’s here, as well as a hardware store, for example. You cant’ find any handy stuff in the neighbourhood today; if I need something, I have to go to Bauhaus or Jankomir. The neighbourhood should not just be spruced up, it should also contain what you need. The business spaces could move towards a situation where production and trade would co-occur in front of the residents. Us architects should also join forces and actualize our own space, small or large, it doesn’t matter, where we could work together, as well as show and exhibit our work, so people could instantly see it, come inside and talk. It is important to reinforce intercommunication.