“In order for good energy to flow, the crucial element is not even quality architecture in the aesthetic sense, but valuable and meaningful content to fill it.”
The architect Silvije Novak is one of the founders and partners in the internationally renowned Zagreb based 3LHD studio, along with Tanja Grozdanić Begović, Saša Begović and Marko Dabrović. They have been working together ever since 1994, before they graduated from the Faculty of Architecture in Zagreb, and with time they have built a strong and stable national and international reputation, thanks to numerous interesting and award winning projects and realizations. Their first work that gained widespread acceptance abroad (but also at home) was the project of the construction of the Croatian Veterans Bridge in Rijeka (1997— 2001), which has been awarded the most important global award for young, aspiring architects byThe Architectural Review magazine. Last year’s retrospective exhibition 3LHD: Interactions at Zagreb Museum of Contemporary Art, where they presented their entire opus, stands out among recent projects. They represented Croatia at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2010. We talked to Silvije Novak about the specificities of life in the Ibler skyscraper, a recently renovated modern architecture monument, as well as about the virtues and flaws of the neighbourhood he lives in.
Silvije Novak: I came to this neighbourhood with a clear desire to live in this building, the Ibler skyscraper. I wasn’t as attracted to the neighbourhood itself as to the skyscraper. However, I personally find the neighbourhood fitting, primarily because it is practical. Firstly, the location suits me because it’s near to our architectural office in the eastern part of the city, and secondly, I am still in the central part of the city, i.e. at the centre’s periphery, at the edge of the biggest city hustle. I was interested in living in the Ibler skyscraper because of everything you can see around you. The apartment has a natural, classic light, there are many glass surfaces and it simply gives a feeling of openness, considering the rather small surface area. It is something I consider extremely valuable in architecture.
I hardly intervened in the pre-existing condition of the apartment; I mostly tried to make the things that hadn’t originally been there fit into the whole. I think the apartment best functions that way, bearing in mind that it was designed for two people, which is also a flaw if more people want or need to live in that space. However, living in the centre of the city is a big advantage, but on higher floors. Life flows beneath us, the everyday city hustle, and the height ensures peace and quiet.
Many Zagreb neighbourhoods consist of good modern architecture, Martićeva is not exclusive in that sense. The street and its surroundings are marked by four or five iconic buildings, but there are also other quality houses here, while the whole neighbourhood possesses a number of micro-ambiances that are very interesting as a part of the general city matrix. Martićeva itself is a sort of a vertical in this part of the city, there is also the very specific corner of Lopašićeva and Tomašićeva streets, where Blok bar is located… Those are all positive deviations within the city norm, including the Vitić skyscraper, i.e. the whole residential complex. It all makes up the urbanist foundation of the neighbourhood that has always been quite monofunctional. It used to be the car parts neighbourhood, then it became the bicycle neighbourhood, now it is turning more and more into a space of architecture and design, as well as culture in general.
But this neighbourhood has a big flaw and misfortune. A precedent in the history of Zagreb urbanism happened here in the nineties. A space that was designated as a public park surface suddenly changed its purpose and Importanne Galleria sprung on that location. A park was supposed to occupy the space, it was intended for that purpose, but it was regrettably never fulfilled. So a shopping centre was built there. It could be said that it was an urbanist crime of the kind that never happened here before or after that — that a public space of that size was privatized in that way. Cities are not made up of buildings — they are made up of correctly sized public spaces: streets, squares, avenues… The arrangement of empty spaces is what shapes a quality urban matrix. That is what makes this neighbourhood specific, because there are no big empty spaces here. Up to the mid-nineties, the northern neighbourhoods of Medvešćak and Šalata had a wide entrance to the centre, which doesn’t exist today. On the other hand, Zagreb’s courtyards, doorways and inner parts of residential blocks are generally still not active enough. In the doorway of 63 Vlaška street, where the Karijola pizza parlour, Mali bar and other establishments are located, good energy has started flowing spontaneously, but that is still an exception. In order for that energy to become common, the crucial element is not even quality architecture in the aesthetic sense, but valuable and meaningful content to fill it.