The Graphic Workers’ Trade Union House is a true talent fountain outpouring creative individuals in the district. We have started visiting their premises behind the renovated façade almost on regular basis to talk to some of them.
This time, we talked with the members of the young architectural collective BIRO composed of Saša Košuta, Dora Lončarić and Mario Kralj, who are all very busy architects working on various projects in our district – on Martićeva Street they designed two attractive new interiors and, in the framework of the first Design District Zagreb, they designed an urban garden on the roof of the so-call Wooden Skyscraper. BIRO frequently appears as the winner of architectural competitions and we discussed their work in different measures and realized and unrealized projects.
Rebbeca Mikulandra: We have heard from many sides that you were the first one to find your home at the trade union house but we would like to hear your story about it.
Saša Košuta: We have realized that we have been living in the district for quite some time already and since during the studies we had worked a lot at my place, this turned out to be our first office address. At some point, we became aware that we could no longer hold meetings at my mom’s so we started looking for a place. I used to take dance classes here when I was a little girl and actually, everyone I know has a story about this space: dance classes, guitar lessons or some other programme. There are many graphic artists from that period who still use the premises and they are active in many clubs, such as alpine clubs for example, and in the evenings they also organise mandolin rehearsals. Sometimes we work late in the night while they have their rehearsals so we get to listen to music; it is rather romantic, except when they constantly repeat the same song (laughter).
RM: What are some of the specific features of this district in comparison with some other parts of the city?
Dora Lončarić: Actually, I am the only member of the team who does not live here – I am an outsider – so I am able to make that comparison. I really like the fact that it is located at the city centre; it has that urban quality but milder with a lot of vegetation and its character and content are almost exclusively residential. It is a relaxed district despite the location and everything is so close. It is interesting to note that other studios we work with are also located near-by and very often our projects are developed within a walking distance.
RM: Can you tell us more about your projects?
Saša: In relation to the Design District, the refurbishment of the Ibler’s skyscraper roof terrace marked the beginning of our collaboration and that moment was closely linked to this festival.
Dora: Saša lives inside of the “Ibler”, so she has a double role in the project, both as an investor and an architect (laughter). After that, we worked for Garderoba and Vivat Wine Bar on Martićeva Street; those were some of our first projects.
Mario Kralj: Those three projects were executed. We started from Ibler Square and moved eastward and we are about to finish another very interesting project inside of the pedestrian route, just a bit to the south – it is the showroom for Price on Request, a brand created by a perspective designer, Gala Marija Vrbanić. Our projects also comprise a few collaborations in the neighbourhood, first of all, with Grupa studio and Lana Cavar. Together with them, we worked on the Garderoba project.
RM: Which creative concepts were behind those projects?
Mario: In the case of Vivat, we mostly focused on materiality, i.e. a combination of materials and colour textures and we paid less attention to the spatial concept because we wanted to preserve it as it was, without too many interventions. Cork lining was proposed as the basis and the starting point from which the story has developed.
Dora: Wine bottles served as lamps and it was kind of ready-made; everything followed wine-related topics. A combination of materials and motifs found in the world of wine resulted in an excellent atmosphere and that is the essence of a good interior. In the case of the Garderoba project, Ana Ivančić, the owner, had a very powerful idea about the way that space should function: instead of just a regular shop, she wanted a place where people would hang around and relax. She did not want it to be cluttered, something which is not usually the case in Croatia. Garderoba was designed in the spirit of the Scandinavian minimalism, with three over-dimensioned changing rooms whose colours accentuate the interior while softness of curves and textile provide it with warmth. We are getting a lot of queries to publish the story about Garderoba from abroad – we get several every week actually, and the project is about to be published in one Chinese publication. After Garderoba, we designed the interior for Señor agency inside of an abundantly dimensioned apartment in the building designed by architect Kovačić. We designed it as a series of witty spatial solutions: an endless pink enfilade, mini-plex cinema, and a soft blue room, at the same time preserving the Austro-Hungarian features.
RM: Apart from interiors, you have been designing public spaces as well.
Mario: Since the beginning, we have been focusing on public tenders and interior projects just started happening by chance, which proved as a very good direction for acquiring experience. We became well aware of small-scaled details and now we have a different perspective on all other scales. In the past two years, we worked on most of the tenders for pubic facilities, buildings and squares, and the results followed. For example, refurbishment of Ljerka Šram Street at Savica for which we won the first prize. We also won the first prize for a square in Varaždin and the second prize for the square next to the main railway station and the monument dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust in Zagreb.
Dora: We like to play with the scales. Thus, things never get boring (laughter). Every measure and scale implies a set of different challenges and problems but it is interesting that in terms of the concept, we consider all scales in the same way so we do not see a problem with switching from a large scale into a small one.
RM: How do you compare resolving problems in different scales?
Saša: Actually, it is rather difficult to assess the problem outside of the conceptual design; we simply have not had an opportunity to realize it. We tend to idealize such projects because they are still on paper, or, in other words, there is no one to oppose anything, there are no financial problems and all other things that result from one-on-one contacts with the investor, when you simply have to tailor someone’s working or living space. In that case, you find yourself in a conflict on daily basis and you have to justify yourself all the time. In that sense, it is perhaps more intensive than, let’s put it that way, when one works for public good and everything is at a standstill.
RM: In your opinion, what is the reason why these tenders never go beyond the project-planning phase?
Mario: We have a very positive experience with the city of Varaždin. Soon after we had won the contract, they contacted us and we filed in our design documentation by the end of the year. In smaller communities, there are not so many instances that have to confirm or reach a particular decision and I think that the overall process is much quicker there, and the intentions of the tender are more clearly aligned with the needs. Tenders in Zagreb remained nothing but a gesture. That is not necessarily a bad thing because discussions on designing the space were initiated and possible solutions offered. I do hope that someone will have enough energy to implement those solutions at some point in time.
Saša: It is most certainly a question of financial and political nature – those things are interrelated. Before the elections, we see a great number of tenders published but nothing ever happens with them. A lot of money is invested in those tenders but for no purpose.
I believe that the initiatives coming from the private or civil sector, as is the case with this festival, indicate that good energy coming from only a few people can result in something. We should not always rely on the municipal authorities, or the state, or the institutions and, actually, waste time on waiting and complaining that nothing functions.