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News Archive

Report on 'Protecting Heritage Amidst Urban Development'

A joint Hungarian and Serbian seminar under the title of “Protecting Heritage Amidst Urban Development” was held in Subotica, Serbia, on 27 and 28 May 2011. The organisers of the seminar were the László Teleki Foundation and the National Office of Cultural Heritage in Hungary in cooperation with the Municipality of Subotica, CSO “Urbis” and “Authentic Vojvodina”. The seminar was realised with the sponsorship of the Hungarian National Cultural Fund and the Deputy State Secretariat Responsible for Hungarian Communities Abroad of the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice. Following is a report on the seminar from INTBAU members Viktorija Aladzic and Ildikó Deák.

                   Former theatre building in Subotica, demolished in 2007.

Subotica – Szabadka is a town situated in the northernmost part of the Republic of Serbia with a population of about 100,000 inhabitants. Prior to the First World War it constituted part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and it was the third largest and most developed city in Hungary after Budapest and Szeged. Subotica, having no access to a river route, experienced its first dynamic economic development just after it had been connected to the railway network when a railway line was built there in 1869. Shortly afterwards an unprecedented prosperity followed, which resulted in the construction of many private and public buildings, palaces and multi-storey apartment buildings designed in the most fashionable architectural styles prevailing in Europe at that time. The prosperity lasted for roughly the first two decades of the 20th century. This was the time when the current architectural fabric of the town, along with its large parks, broad roads and alleys, was established.

Today, the inner parts of Subotica still maintain the architectural features it acquired 100 years ago and can boast of a vast built heritage dating from the age of prosperity. The uniquely rich Art Nouveau legacy, made up of well over 100 buildings, provides the most characteristic feature of the town. The Town Hall (Picture 1), the Raichle Palace (Picture 2), the Synagogue (Picture 3) and other emblematic sites with their richly decorated and undulating walls rank Subotica among the most outstanding Art Nouveau cities in Europe.

  
Picture 1                                                                Picture 2

                                                                          Picture 3

Despite its outstanding value, Subotica’s 19th and 20th century heritage, similarly to other parts of Vojvodina in Serbia, is not properly appreciated. Over the course of the past few years several valuable buildings have been demolished or rebuilt. Following fierce protests and a campaign conducted against the demolition of the emblematic theatre building, located right in the heart of the protected city centre and listed as a cultural monument of great importance, this theatre was demolished in 2007 to give way to the construction of a colossal concrete structure intended to serve as the new theatre building (Picture 4).

                                                                           Picture 4
                                             
In the spring of 2011, it was publicly admitted that the financial resources for the continuation of the construction works had expired, and the works had to be suspended. As a result, right in middle of the protected zone of the city centre, next to the finely restored Art Nouveau building of the Town Hall, there stands and will surely stand for many more years to come a monstrous concrete torso, a bizarre reminder of human folly. At the beginning of 2010, two of Ferenc Raichle’s one-storey Art Nouveau houses built in 1899, actually the two earliest Art Nouveau buildings in Serbia, were demolished (Pictures 5 and 6). Raichle was one of the most eminent architects of the town, who had contributed with several remarkable buildings to the curved and colourful Art Nouveau architecture of Subotica.  The so-called “oldest house” in the town, dating from 1730, was also destroyed under the pretext of its restoration, which eventually ended up in its reconstruction, as the baroque vaults were replaced by iron and concrete structures. A similarly grim fate awaited the Haisler bath and several other buildings, which also fell prey to the lack of a sensitive professional approach.

 
Picture 5                                                                                             Picture 6

The increasing number and scale of threats endangering Subotica’s built heritage, the adoption of a new urban regulation plan in 2010, and the subsequent demolition of Raichle’s two buildings prompted the organisation of the seminar. The seminar in fact was the first in a series of events that the László Teleki Foundation has initiated recognising that the challenges facing the protection of Europe's built heritage call for common thinking and action. Appreciating that only debates conducted with the participation of all stakeholders concerned can elicit effective responses to these challenges, the Foundation attributed huge importance to local communities and civilian organisations being actively involved in all events in the series.

Therefore the events are envisaged to rest on three pillars: first, the expert presentations putting the issues concerned into a professional context; second, a panel discussion providing a forum for experts, authorities, CSOs, local communities and other stakeholders for debating and reconciling their different approaches; and third, a Declaration formulating recommendations devised during the panel discussion.

Urban development, being identified as one of the major threats imperiling the protection of built heritage and the traditional urban fabric of the city, was chosen as the topic of the first event of the series and accordingly Subotica was chosen as the befitting venue to host it. According to the adopted scheme the first day of the seminar was dedicated to presentations held by prominent experts from different universities and institutions from Scotland, Spain, Hungary, Austria and Serbia.

The presentations of the morning session were focused on the values and importance of Subotica’s built heritage viewed from an international perspective, and on the importance that heritage can play in forming and strengthening urban identity. Prof. Jeremy Howard from St Andrews University, Scotland, focused his presentation on the quest for new national and international visual languages which were especially intense at the age of the evolving mass public education, when communities sought to express their newly found voices more insistently and more articulately than ever before. Consequently, the model of Subotica’s early twentieth century architecture can also be viewed as symptomatic of the wider, pan-European trends in Zeitgeist identity-making. Prof. Gerle János from the University of Debrecen centred his presentation on the role that the architecture of the turn of the century plays in creating the image of a town, and the importance of this architecture in creating urban and national identity. The significance of urban identity in raising urban attractiveness and spurring harmonious urban development was the theme of the presentation held by Borislav Stojkov, PhD, Director of Republic Agency of Spatial Planning of the Republic of Serbia. Prof. Nađa Kurtović Folić from the University of Novi Sad called for the revalorisation of cultural heritage of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which can serve as an important step toward contemporary urban development. Landscape identity was extensively discussed by Prof. Werner Kvarda, from Natural Resources and Life Sciences University, Wien (Universität für Bodenkultur) in his presentation entitled "The Landscape Identity and Identity of Inhabitants". He underlined that paradoxically in our globalized world, the non-global issues like community, region and subsequently the notion of identity are gaining more and more importance. In central Europe the identities of cities are very much linked to the landscape.

The second block showcased several best practices in the management of historic cities from the UK, Spain, Hungary and Austria. One of the most inspiring presentations in the block was held by Ricard Barrera and Lluis Bosch Pascual from the Urban Landscape Institute of the Barcelona City Council. They presented the project "Barcelona pasa’t guapa" (Barcelona be beautiful), launched by the City Council back in 1985, in order to promote the protection and improvement of the urban landscape of the city, by fostering the restoration of privately owned buildings. Prof. Gábor Winkler from the Széchenyi István University in Győr presented the best examples of regeneration that were carried out in several cities in West Hungary. He also outlined the basic principles and requirements governing urban regeneration or development plans.  Anna Szövényi, Assistant Professor at Corvinus University in Budapest, demonstrated via the case of Kőszeg, a town in West Hungary, the way in which urban continuity can be achieved.

Finally, the presentations held in the last section were intended to draw attention to the possible threats that the preservation of traditional urban fabric face. The legal instruments governing the preservation of built heritage and the planning of regulation plans of historic cities in Serbia were discussed also in this section.

Attila Ertsey, Vice Chairman of the Hungarian Chamber of Architecture, focused his thought-provoking presentation on the challenges that the aggressiveness of the financial capital poses to the preservation of the traditional architectural fabric of a city.  He showcased some of the most striking examples of the newly appeared structures that were conceived to dominate and overshadow the traditional skyline of the city.

Kornelia Evetović Cvijanović, General Manager of the local City Planning Institute presented a historical overview of the urban regulation and development plans of Subotica over the last fifty years. She pointed out that during the compilation of the latest plans the preservation of built heritage and urban identity was given much consideration. Gordana Prčić Vujnović from the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments from Subotica presented the measures and guidelines governing the protection of the town’s built heritage, which also constitute the basis of the regulation plans for the town.

As the closing event of the first day the participants were taken on a tour of Subotica by Arch. Viktorija Aladžić, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Civil Engineering in Subotica, and the co-author of a thorough book on Subotica. During the tour the most emblematic and also the most endangered sites of the town were visited.

The second day of the seminar was reserved for a round table discussion, which provided the opportunity for all participants, experts and local people alike to discuss issues related to the fate of Subotica’s built heritage. The threats that the traditional architectural fabric of the town face, as well as the ways in which to save the dilapidated buildings and the one-storey buildings which no longer fit into the new high-rise image of the town envisaged by the authorities and investors, were also widely debated. The problems identified by the participants as posing the greatest threats to the traditional urban fabric of Subotica and the recommendations devised during the discussions as to how the risks can be avoided were included in a Declaration, which was offered for signature to all participants.

The Declaration will not only be forwarded to the local, regional and national authorities but also to all international organisations responsible for the preservation of cultural heritage.