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Bogdan Bogdanović

Faculty of Architecture, University of Belgrade

Belgrade, Serbia

by Vladimir Kulić

THE UNIVERSITY OF BELGRADE was a hotspot for the 1968 revolt in Yugoslavia. The students protested against the perceived betrayal of socialism and demanded further economic and political democratization, sending shock waves through society. Despite limited results, the protests set the tone for a series of subsequent reforms at the Faculty of Architecture.

The driving force and chief ideologue of the reform was Bogdan Bogdanović (1922-2010), one of Yugoslavia’s most prominent architects at the time, known for his innovative war memorials and influential writings. Following a stay in the United States, Bogdanović was elected Dean of the Faculty of Architecture in 1970, which provided a decisive boost to the reform efforts. The reform was conducted through close collaborations between representatives of the faculty, student body, and practicing architects and was widely publicized in the media. The goal was to encourage the profession to consider the totality of the “human environment” and to instill models for team work and interdisciplinary collaboration, especially within the social sciences and humanities. Another aim of the reform was to dissolve traditional academic hierarchies between professors and students in favor of collaboration in the true spirit of self-management, the governing system of Yugoslav socialism. Traditional classrooms were reorganized into “boxes” for team work for students to appropriate and organize on their own.

The resulting “New School”, in existence from 1971 to1973, generated as much excitement as opposition. The paradox was that it did not oppose the political system at all, but instead took its proclaimed values seriously—perhaps too much so—while endangering the established positions and methods of the more conservative teaching cadre. The demise of the New School was as swift as its rise, but it produced a number of lasting effects, such as greater flexibility within the curriculum, emphasis on the study of the urban environment, as well as continued attempts to integrate the teachings of various disciplines within the school.

Following this defeat, Bogdanović shifted his pedagogical efforts to his Summer School, an elective course on the “philosophy of architecture” which ran from 1976 to 1990 at his studio in the village of Mali Popović. Similar to the New School, the emphasis was on team work and Bogdanović served the role of a catalyst of knowledge, rather than a traditional tutor. Relieved of the need to respond to the pragmatic needs of the profession, the Summer School pushed radical methodology even further, functioning as an unlikely hybrid of an urban design workshop, an art performance, and group therapy. The group gathered on weekends during the spring semester as a team, where participants began by inventing a fictitious civilization through its founding myths—sometimes down to the alphabet and musical instruments—as the basis for the design of a city. The process was radical in the sense that it pointed to deeply rooted links between culture and the built environment, which conditioned the development of successful urban environments.

Drawing from a wide range of intellectual foundations, from anthropology to game theory, Bogdanović’s Summer School offered a “postmodern” view of the city in the sense that it rejected the rational roles that architecture and urban planning were assigned in the socialist modernization of Yugoslavia. At the same time, it was an original achievement in its own right, independent of influential postmodern theories in the West at the time. The school embodied a strong ludic dimension, which could be traced back to Bogdanović’s formative experiences with Surrealism that borrowed from a particular lineage of left wing avant-garde culture that was otherwise unfamiliar to the field of architecture and urbanism. The resulting vision was simultaneously intellectual and populist, but resistant to commercial exploitation; concerned with communal meaning, but open-ended and uninterested in codifying a language; rooted in history, without attempting to revive any particular tradition; playful and improvisational, while remaining serious in its concerns about the totality of the human environment.

Radical Pedagogies