Brutalist Interiors: Inside Belgrade Buildings

Brutalist Interiors: Inside Belgrade Buildings

A city of electric architectural diversity, Belgrade’s modernist structures give the Serbian capital a unique character. The gray of Belgrade’s brutalist concrete is one of the city’s architectural signatures, existing in both intricate volumetric facades and monolithic rectilinear forms. But while a plethora of architectural assessments have been conducted of the exterior qualities of Brutalist structures in Belgrade and beyond, photographic documentation of Belgrade’s Brutalist interiors is relatively sparse – something photographer Inês d’Orey has sought. to change in his last exhibition.

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Currently exhibiting at the Galeria das Salgadeiras in Lisbon, “Beograd Concrete” was born out of Inês d’Orey’s artist residency in Belgrade, where the photographer documented a wide range of Belgrade’s brutalist buildings – ranging from public buildings to offices and schools.

What emerges from these images is a striking variety of interior design approaches – sometimes in direct relation to the exterior of the structure and sometimes in what appears to be in direct contrast to it. Evidence of the latter is most clearly seen in the Commanding Palace of Serbia in New Belgrade. The H-shaped structure consists of a facade constructed from white marble, emphasizing the linear form of the building, interrupted by a combination of thinner and wider window openings.


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Palace of Serbia. Image © Inês d’Orey

One particular room deviates completely from the outdoor ambience of the Palace of Serbia – the Salon. A large hall – measuring 40 meters by 20 meters – features colorful frescoes and mosaics, a choice that seems to make the room even more monumental. However, the centerpiece of the space is placed above these works of art – a sculptural chandelier that some have called the largest in the world. Comprised of over 4,000 lights, the radial fixture is positioned with a glass dome, resulting in a geometric play of light captured in detail by d’Orey, who zooms in on intricate patterns not usually associated with the Brutalist style.

But while Belgrade can feature buildings such as the Genex Tower, the Eastern City Gate Apartments and, indeed, the Palace of Serbia, Brutalist icons can also be found in smaller-scale structures. A primary school named after Serbian teacher and writer Radoje Domanovic is modest by Brutalist standards, a two-story building that, from an aerial perspective, consists of three merged heptagonal polygons. D’orey’s photograph of this school is taken in a classroom, with a solitary chair on a tiled floor.

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Radoje Domanovic Primary School. Image © Inês d’Orey

Adjacent to the Radoje Domanovic Elementary School is the “Television Building” – a Brutalist monument of Belgrade in the form of a rectilinear block lined with capsule-shaped windows. The Elementary School features an interior design feature common to Brutalist monuments – large windows, which in the case of the school’s heptagonal layout – enclose angular views of the surrounding context.

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Radoje Domanovic Elementary School – with the “TV” building in the background. Image © Alexey Kozhenkov

While many Brutalist buildings may be singularly characterized by the “weight” of their gray concrete, large frame-like windows, as seen in the Barbican apartments, for example, often acted as a useful method of “lighting » spaces that would otherwise be overwhelmed by the coarse texture of concrete.

The other photographs in Inês d’Orey’s exhibition present further documentation of Belgrade’s Brutalist interiors – some empty, some populated with a small amount of furniture, and some illustrating rhythmic staircases.

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© Ines d’Orey

In a similar monumental style to the Palace of Serbia, the Hotel Jugoslavija along the Danube also houses a dynamic interpretation of the Brutalist interior, but with the modern renovation and refurbishment of the rooms, triggered by the NATO bombing in 1999. and subsequent privatization of the hotel. This, in a way, further layers its interiors. Spaces that have been left untouched since the Yugoslavia era feature distinctive mid-century interior design, with 1980s photographs showcasing extravagant furnishings.

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Hotel Yugoslavia – Exterior view. Image © Fred Romero under license (CC BY 2.0).

A short drive from the Hotel Jugoslavija, the multifunctional Sava Center comes into view – the largest courtroom in the country. It’s an interesting building from the outside, with a sloping curtain wall facade set in gray concrete. Opened in 1979, its interiors are very varied, perhaps due to its use as a cultural, conference and business centre.

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Meeting room – Center Sava. Image © Sava Center

Amidst large, intimate meeting rooms and high-end restaurants, Center Sava also features an “industrial” motif reminiscent of the Center Pompidou in Paris. This is most visible in the lobby, where the spacious open-plan space is wrapped in colorful tubing in a ceiling that evokes the mechanical more than the grand.

In a city full of Brutalist sights, Belgrade’s Brutalist interiors, hugely varied in execution and style, some derelict and still others in daily use, shed further light on how this architectural heritage exists in the contemporary context.

Inês d’Orey is a Portuguese artist. Born in Porto in 1977, she studied photography at the London College of Printing. Much of his artistic work focuses on the transformation of the heritage identity of the contemporary city, where the architectural object presents itself as a subject of memory, changing its meanings over time. Her main medium is photography, although she occasionally mixes it with installation and video.

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