A Memory of Home
”If one type of house is extinguished, the race that created it will also be extinguished”, warned Spengler. Old Serbian house building contains the keys to understanding life and the world, a whole philosophy and faith. The influence of architecture on people is far-reaching. This is exactly where it was seen, even at the end of the 1960s, that we were losing our way forward and idea, that we were wandering. Despite everything done to prevent it from happening, modern houses in the spirit of Serbian architectural heritage are springing up all over Serbia today. Beautiful, exemplary. One does not return to tradition, but starts from it. The exhibition of photographer Stanko Kostić, a permanent associate of the ”National Review” was a striking testimony to all of this

By: Bane Velimirović
Photo: Stanko Kostić

”A man builds a house once, then it builds him forever.” The way and forms of construction in one nation and one culture are not accidental, they are the result of millennial crystallizations. If we compare the houses of different climates in depth, we will find that the characters of people and the soul of the houses are identical. Therefore, Spengler was right: ’If one type of house is extinguished, the race that created it will also be extinguished.’ The value of a traditional Serbian house is that it was born out of necessity, it is simple, humane and beautiful. It is in harmony with nature and the environment. It is not for advertising, for prestige, for spite. It was born from life and dedicated to life.”
This is how, through the pen of our editor, way back in 2007, the architect Prof. Dr. Božidar Petrović (1922–2012), a great Serbian architect spoke. He designed the first covered stadiums, a thermal power plant and a national university, an entire settlement in the largest fjord in the Mediterranean and house complexes on Kopaonik, he taught at the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Belgrade, headed the Institute of Architecture and Urbanism, but he remained best known for his understanding of the archetype of old Serbian and Balkan houses. For creative effort to preserve and transpose that deep code into the modern era, into the life of today’s man and generation. For the wise desire to preserve the identity of the Serbian people and its countries in architectural forms as well.
”I started designing the first houses that represent reminiscence of heritage around 1970”, Boža Petrović told us. ”Even then it was clear that the situation was not good, that we were losing our way and our idea, that we were wandering. The house is a mirror of the people who live in it. Psychologically, socially, materially, spiritually. The influence of architecture on people is enormous and far-reaching. Just then, at the end of the 1960s, massive construction of unseemly houses began in Serbia. Our once lovely settlements, created to the measure of man and community, in harmony with nature and the environment, have become terrifying warehouses of houses. The space of Serbia was left to a hybrid petty-bourgeois element, a chaos of values and styles, a flood of kitsch that gushed in all directions. This spirit of incongruence and impurity – people from the countryside pushed to the cities, or guest workers who then en masse went to Western Europe – opened up space for many ’wrong mergers’ and wrong identifications, for imitation without understanding. If you add to that the essential absence of the state, whose representatives were concerned only with ensuring that no one whispers against the government, then it will be completely clear how come there are the supposedly alpine houses in Šumadija, Krajina houses in Vojvodina, an alley shore of the Ibarska highway, the unfortunate Kaludjerica, that monstrous pile of buildings a few kilometers from the center of Belgrade. Or, on the other hand, how could the construction of an iron factory happen, how could any massive construction happen in the area of Grocka and Smederevo, that by far the best fruit-growing area in Europe and extraordinary vineyards. Everyone, from the Academy, the state, the government, professional associations, and even my faculty, disinterestedly observed what was happening. We succumbed to insanity, a climate of alienation and inferiority, which, even then, tarnished our identity and obscured our self-worth. The only way was: to clear away that fog that covered the spark of common sense and the priceless treasure of our heritage. Aware that there was nothing to wait for, I set out on that path.”


Boža Petrović completed his journey, told his story. And through one of Spengler’s sentences, he left us a terrible warning: ”If one type of house is extinguished, the race that created it will also be extinguished.”
Among those who followed Boža Petrović, among those who understood the depth of his message, two examples stand out, two rigors. One is the perseverance and consistency of the engineer Slavoljub Zakić in the domain of designing and building in the spirit of old Serbian architecture, as well as propagating that idea, the other is the documentary-artistic testimony of the master of photography, Stanko Kostić. It was the latter, photographer Stanko Kostić, who recently brought us back to the heart of things with a large exhibition of Serbian National Builders. By hand, Made to Measure in the Belgrade Gallery of Science and Technology SANU.
”Ova This exhibition is, in fact, a record of folk builders, their spirituality transferred to the creation called a house, of the fairy-tale world of the village that disappears before the pseudo-modernist conception of life”, writes Kostić. ”This is an attempt to shed light on the psychology of the folk builder, his ability to survive in nature, not destroying that nature but sharing good and evil with it. From her gifts – wood, mud, chaff, stone – the folk builder built houses not to show taming superiority but love and understanding. In such houses, with skillful hands and generational experience, victories over fears and hopes for survival are embedded. In such houses, the householder founded a family, gave birth, married and gave in marriage, welcomed grandchildren, went to wars and returned, buried the deceased, and himself grew old with dignity, rejoiced and grieved...”
Kostić arrives in the most remote corners of Serbia and its people, from Pešter and Uvac to Old Mountain, Homolje and Negotinska Krajina. He also goes into almost dead villages, to remote houses from which the smoke has not been wafting for a long time, but they impressively bear witness, both with their beauty and stability, to the skill of the folk builders. House bear witness, Stanko Kostić also bears witness. His photographs are like plein air canvases and a scout’s report, made through an overhanging fence, an untrimmed canopy, a pumpkin hung under the eaves, through an alley curved like a sabre. We find him in Ždrelo and Knežica and Melnica near Petrovac, in Tulba near Požarevac, in Milatovac and Laznica near Žagubica, in Štubik and Brestovac near Negotin, in Ljubis on Zlatibor, in Gornja Crnuća and Brezna near Gornji Milanovac, in Dobri Potok near Krupanj, in Gornji Račnik near Jagodina, in Struganik near Mionica, in Ilin near Boljevac, in Cvetke near Kraljevo, in Topli Dol near Pirot, in Borač near Knić, in Vranić near Barajevo, in Kalna and Ravna near Knjaževac, in Jasikovo near Majdanpek, in Vučje near Leskovac, in Ceremošnja near Kučevo. And who knows where else.


Although most of them are in bad condition, those houses are patterns and a key to understanding the life that was born and unfolded there, and the sign of an entire philosophy, a deeply rooted worldview.
”... Stanko saw in those houses what we would call an intimate reality...” Boža Petrović wrote at one time, standing in front of Kostić’s exhibition. ”For him, a house with its rooms is as much a material as a spiritual creation, a spiritual space. He wants to convey to us the beauty and warmth of an architecture that, like his photos, was realized through a great desire for the beautiful and human. (...) With his searches and his generosity, he reveals to us the spiritual contents of those modest, but, as he says, large houses. He manages to hold us, running headlong, for a moment and point out the values that will not be there tomorrow. Because we no longer have the wisdom or power to save those dilapidated, abandoned and ravaged houses from complete destruction. They will languish for a little while longer, and then they will only remain in Stanko’s photos...”
The professor spoke in order to warn and shake, in order not to prevent his warnings to come true. To some extent, he succeeded, primarily with the houses he designed himself. It was not his idea that a modern man should live in a house from the 19th century, in a way not adapted to his needs. The professor’s houses, all of them, are furnished with the most modern equipment, built from the best modern materials. The spirit of heritage in them is expressed in other ways.
”I am not returning to heritage and tradition, but I start from them. If heritage represents the proven experience of previous generations, why should I ignore it?” he said.
That is why there are still new houses throughout Serbia built according to his designs and in his spirit. Beautiful, exemplary. Stanko Kostić knows that too. That is why the special part and the final chapter of his exhibition, the point actually, is entitled New as Old. A small overview of modern houses successfully built in the spirit of folk construction. That is why, through Kostić’s photographs, we arrive in front of new houses in the Pirot part of the Nišava Valley, in Lunjevica and Ostrovica near Gornji Milanovac, in several villages around Ljig... Everything is visible: it is new, it is better, and it is ours.


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