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Life in the High-Rise: For the past ten days I had led a tour group around the monuments of Yugoslavia: Now we had come full circle, finishing up back in Belgrade at Hotel Jugoslavija. I had first laid eyes on the Genex Tower several years before, from a taxi coming out of the airport.
It had looked like some kind of star cruiser, perched up on end amongst the jostling blocks of Novi Beograd. Rather I was interested to learn how it felt, the way it worked, the rhythm of its day-to-day proceedings. I wanted to try using the Genex Tower for the job it was built to do.
What follows is an account of my three days spent in the Genex Tower… and a meditation on the psychosocial dimensions of Brutalist architecture. The larger high-rise, at 30 storeys, is divided into residential properties. The smaller storey tower was designed for commercial office use.
Each tower features two cylindrical service shafts, positioned at either end of these reinforced concrete skeleton structures, and at the 26th floor the towers are connected by a two-storey bridge. View from the bedroom: The name of the building refers to its location, positioned on the main road between Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport and the city centre.
Officially, it was a symbolic gateway welcoming visitors to Belgrade; but it must have served equally well as propaganda, a poster for Yugoslav power and prosperity.
Genex thrived due to this ability to deal freely with partners in both the East and the West. In those years the Soviet Union operated a largely barter-based system of foreign trade with its fellow socialist nations. The disintegration of the USSR was a fatal blow, however: At the end ofthe Genex Group boasted a turnover in excess of four billion dollars … but eight years later, by Aprilthe company had its telephone lines and electricity cut off over unpaid bills and was facing bankruptcy settlements.
It was an ignoble end for a business empire which, for 46 years, had become synonymous with Yugoslav commerce. Meanwhile, life continued in the other half: A pigeon surveys the street level plaza, in the shadow of 30 storeys of raw concrete. Brutalism, as it was originally defined, represented new ideas in both design and social philosophy.
It emerged almost as a protest against the frivolous forms of much early 20th century and late imperial architecture, a socialist critique which valued function over form.
Brutalism was about pride in efficiency. Lift and service shafts, stairwells and corridors, would often extend outside the main body of a building, so that function itself became an explicit feature of the view. Nevertheless, the basic forms, spaces, and appearances must be logical.
Celebrated architectural critic Reyner Banham proposed a three-point definition for this style in a essay titled The New Brutalism: Memorability as an Image; 2.
Clear exhibition of Structure; and 3. The style advertises function, rather than wealth. But such definitions say nothing of the lived experience. Relational Monumentality and the Urban Politics of Brutalist Architecture has proved an illuminating roadmap through the history and philosophy of the Brutalist movement.The Exclusion Zone.
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