‘Choking on the Dirt and Sand’: Transgressive Dwelling with New Belgrade Architecture

Tijana Stevanovic

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Type: Affiliated Research Project
Program Area(s): Critical Projections


This paper is a part of my research in progress with the working title: After the Blueprint: Inhabiting the Unfinished in New Belgrade. It engages with the ideas revolving around transgression in architecture as the inevitable point of revelation for the conjunction of social and material in architecture. Other than immaterial being only an “artistic supplement added to the simple building” (Hegel in: Tschumi, 1996) I argue that the material and immaterial properties of architecture ought to contain qualities beyond their simple sum; that, what gives the means to architecture is precisely the point of the excessive gestures of the one transgressing the boundary towards the other, by that assembling a differentiated whole, though always longing for the absolute. Where the lack of modernist social subject in New Belgrade gets exposed is where material practice is allowed to grow against itself; against even and regular; measured and precise; delimiting and solid, and in a withdrawal from the visual altogether. The stage where its dismantled urban form is circulated is also where a negation of stable, undeviating subjective procreation (after the modernist beliefs) starts to be excessively uncovered, aided by the dissolution of the actors’ defined functional roles.

Dwelling in New Belgrade, (originally planned as a territory of total social property), is what maintains to be its most constitutive and contested feature, given its rapid change in the ownership concept in the last two decades. I draw upon episodes of my own dwelling/working there and in archives, as well as meetings with users, (now) owners and partakers in building practice, who all have their own take on apartment blocks’ iconic modernist architectural features and their shortcomings in the mutilated ideological context. Analysing the excessive appearance of dirt in public, or rather differentiated public space4, and even more so – its management and its persistent visual extremity, signals a transformation in both aesthetic and socio-cultural value of New Belgrade architecture. The dirt as a residue of the battleground, marks the transgression of the architectural-urban form, but returns through an invisible, social supplement, and beyond the perimeter of built walls.

Giving out, expenditure and waste is for Georges Bataille the order of the cosmological economy (Stoekl, 1985, Bataille, 1991), that keeps running even when we might think of total formal separation or absorption, and it manifests itself in spatial occurrences. In fact, there is no appropriation without the remainder. The impossibility of theorizing the inherited urban structure in question without drawing upon its lack of nourishment and care is where the subjective condition of architecture recurrently reveals itself as a central theme of my project. The invisible layer of (now lacking) maintenance seems to be the space where the absolute was presumed to be established through architecture, but the impossibility of its adjudication amongst architectural community and that of the inhabitants forces us to think of the cavities where the architectural discipline transcends its formal boundaries.

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