PHOTOS: Yugoslavia's brutalist relics fascinate the Instagram generation

Genex Tower, also known as the Western City gate, stands in Belgrade, Serbia. The building consists of two soaring pillars, connected by an aerial bridge. The tower is one of the most significant examples of brutalism, an architectural style popular in the 1950s and 1960s, based on crude, block-like forms cast from concrete. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)

BELGRADE — Genex Tower is unmissable on the highway from the Belgrade airport to the center of the city.

Its two soaring blocks, connected by an aerial bridge and topped with a long-closed rotating restaurant resembling a space capsule, are such an unusual sight, the tower, built in 1977, has become a magnet for tourists despite years of neglect.

The tower is one of the most significant examples of brutalism — an architectural style popular in the 1950s and 1960s, based on crude, block-like forms cast from concrete.

Brutalism was popular throughout what was then the East bloc, but the former Yugoslavia made it its own, seizing on it as a way to forge a visual identity poised between East and West.

A security worker walks inside Hall 1 of the Belgrade Fair in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)

Interest in the style is soaring — particularly since a 2018 exhibition at New York Cikty's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) called “Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948-1980.”

"We have dozens of people every week interested in taking our Yugo tour around city landmarks built from the 1950s to 1980s," said Vojin Muncin, manager of the Yugotour sightseeing agency, which guides tourists around the Serbian capital in Yugos, the former Yugoslavia's once ubiquitous car.

"Genex Tower is among the most interesting sights. People see it on their way from the airport, and it immediately draws their attention."

Today one of the pillars is empty, while the other is residential. The rotating restaurant was last open in the 1990s.

Keen to capitalize on the interest, Belgrade authorities are now considering opening parts of another masterpiece of Yugoslav brutalism: the Palata Srbija government building, which is currently only open once a year.

The Museum of Contemporary Art stands in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)

BUILDING A DREAM

After World War II, socialist Yugoslavia led by Josip Broz Tito set out to reconstruct a land destroyed by fighting. Initially allied to the Soviet Union, Tito broke with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1948.

Residential blocks, hotels, civic centers and monuments made of concrete shot up across the country.

The architecture was supposed to show the power of a state between two worlds — Western democracy and the communist East, looking to forge its own path and create a socialist utopia.

But after Tito died in 1980, and economic crisis took hold, the new elites sought to distance themselves from the socialist regime, including its architecture. In 1991 the series of wars began that led to the collapse of Yugoslavia.

A crystal chandelier hangs beneath a nineteen meter dome weighing more than nine tonnes in Yugoslavia saloon inside the The Palata Srbija building, Belgrade, Serbia. The Palata Srbija building hosted former world leaders. "It is a shame to keep such a master piece away from the eyes of the public," said Sandra Tesla, curator of the building. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)

"Now enough time has passed [since Yugoslavia fell apart] and people have begun to appreciate the architecture of Yugoslavia," said Alan Braun, lecturer at Zagreb University's architecture faculty.

He said the style was oner of a kind because of its visible influence from the West, reflecting Yugoslavia's unique position.

Residential areas were planned to have enough parks, cinemas, swimming pools and even parking space.

The Palata Srbija building hosted former world leaders such as U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and Russian leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev.

The Eastern City Gate apartment buildings complex stands in the Konjarnik neighborhood in Belgrade, Serbia. Brutalism, an architectural style popular in the 1950s and 1960s, based on crude, block-like forms cast from concrete was popular throughout the eastern bloc. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)

Each of the former Yugoslav republics had its own salon with a central room called the Hall of Yugoslavia. Furniture and carpets were custom-made, and some of the most prominent artists produced paintings and mosaics.

The outside of the building is concrete, but the inside is marble. Its centerpiece is a crystal chandelier beneath a 19-meter dome weighing more than nine tons.

"It is a shame to keep such a masterpiece away from the eyes of the public," said Sandra Vesic Tesla, curator of the building.

Other examples of Yugoslav brutalism include the huge memorials commemorating the struggle against fascism by Tito's partisans, often placed in dramatic rural settings.

A formally used Yugoslav passenger aircraft sits in front of the Aeronautical Museum in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)

Many of those pieces of art remain in disrepair, such as the monument to the uprising against fascism in Petrova Gora in Croatia. However, the Tjentiste memorial, commemorating the killing of 7,000 people by the Nazis was renovated last year.

Miodrag Zivkovic, the 91-year-old sculptor of the 19-meter-high concrete Tjentiste memorial was among the first artists in the former Yugoslavia to use concrete.

"It is stable material, resembling stone, but it is easier to work with," he said.

"For every project back in those days, there was a national contest, and artists from all over the country had the opportunity to apply, and that competition produced quality." (Reuters)

Photography by Marko Djurica/Reuters

Writing by Ivana Sekularac, Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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Clinical Hospital Dubrava stands in Zagreb, Croatia. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)
The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija stands in Petrova Gora, Croatia. Examples of Yugoslav brutalism include the huge memorials commemorating the struggle against fascism, often placed in dramatic rural settings. Many of those pieces of art remain in disrepair, such as the Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)
Chairs inside the Yugoslavia salon, within the Palata Srbija building in Belgrade, Serbia. The Palata Srbija building hosted former world leaders. Each of the former Yugoslav republics had its own salon with a central room called the Hall of Yugoslavia. Furniture and carpets were custom-made, and some of the most prominent artists produced paintings and mosaics. "It is a shame to keep such a masterpiece away from the eyes of the public," said Sandra Tesla, curator of the building. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)
Karaburma Housing Tower, also known as the "Toblerone" building, stands in the Karaburma district in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)
A staircase within the Great Hall inside the Palata Srbija building in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)
The Milan Gale Muskatirovic Sports Centre in Belgrade. After World War II, socialist Yugoslavia led by Josip Broz Tito set out to reconstruct a land destroyed by fighting. Residential blocks, hotels, civic centers and monuments made of concrete shot up across the country. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)
Windows face out of the structure known as the "TV building," on Block 28 neighborhood in New Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)
A staircase inside the Block 11 apartment neighborhood in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)
A chandelier hangs from the top of the Croatia salon inside the Palata Srbija building in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)
A dated Volkswagen Golf car drives past Block 61 in an apartment neighborhood in New Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)
A couple walk in front of the war memorial monument "Battle of Sutjeska" in Tjentiste, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Examples of Yugoslav brutalism include the huge memorials commemorating the struggle against fascism, often placed in dramatic rural settings. Many of those pieces of art remain in disrepair; however, the Tjentiste memorial, commemorating the killing of 7,000 people by the Nazis was renovated last year. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)
A carpet inside the Serbia salon, in the Palata Srbija building in Belgrade. The Palata Srbija building hosted former world leaders. Each of the former Yugoslav republics had its own salon with a central room called the Hall of Yugoslavia. Furniture and carpets were custom-made, and some of the most prominent artists produced paintings and mosaics. "It is a shame to keep such a masterpiece away from the eyes of the public," said Sandra Tesla, curator of the building. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)
A door leads into the Yugoslavia salon, inside the Palata Srbija building in Belgrade, Serbia. The Palata Srbija building hosted former world leaders. Each of the former Yugoslav republics had its own salon with a central room called the Hall of Yugoslavia. "It is a shame to keep such a masterpiece away from the eyes of the public," said Sandra Tesla, curator of the building. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)
Garage doors outside Block 23 in an apartment neighborhood in New Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)
Laundry hangs out to dry inside the Block 23 apartment neighborhood in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)
Miodrag Zivkovic, 91, architect of the "Battle of Sutjeska" memorial monument, with the original maquette in his home in Belgrade, Serbia. Zivkovic, the sculptor of the 19-meter-high concrete Tjentiste memorial was among the first artists in the former Yugoslavia to use concrete. "It is stable material, resembling stone, but it is easier to work with," he said. "For every project back in those days there was a national contest, and artists from all over the country had the opportunity to apply, and that competition produced quality." (Photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)

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