Memory Between Amnesia & Trauma: an urban proposal for the Marijin Dvor district, Sarajevo, B&H.

  • articlepress book2003.07.03The Planned City? ISUF International Conference, Italywith Michael Stanton
    postwar, urbanism

    Proposal for zones C & C1, Marijin Dvoru, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina

    1st published in Proceedings of "THE PLANNED CITY?" International Conference, Trani, Italy, 7.2003

    This project for Sarajevo proposes both to retain the characteristics of a charged site and transform the significance of those characteristics - to walk a fine line between amnesia and trauma. It suggests a neutral recognition of certain artifacts, in particular the extraordinary figure of the Marshall Tito Barracks. It equally recognizes qualities that make the site unique.


    Even in a place with as difficult a recent history as Bosnia, memory, as embodied in urban form, should not be eradicated. This will induce a form of civic amnesia that the eviscerated central district of Beirut most clearly evokes. There the demolition of most structures in the downtown and the more extreme erasure of the street pattern have produced an emptiness that will now be filled by the forms of speculation and invented tradition. The radical erasure and reformation of war-damaged cities in Europe, east and west, after 1945 is another negative example of amnesia as an urban strategy. In psychotherapeutic terms this is the equivalent of shock-therapy, the erasure of traumatic memory, allowing the recreation of personality in a more docile mode. In urban terms it subdues cultural flux permitting an intensification of the marketplace and a redefinition of cultural values. On the other hand, the maintenance of traumatic urban form, the fetishization of war damage as in the projects of Lebbeus Woods for Sarajevo and Berlin, represents another extreme. Here the Pastoralism of War becomes voyeuristic, and painful memory is institutionalized, encouraging a numb indifference that is also extremely vulnerable to the worst sorts of development. Traumatic retention of the forms and damage of war, while possibly picturesque in a romance-of-the-ruin way, can be entertaining only for those who have not lived through the suffering and loss embodied in those ruins.

    Our proposal acknowledges the importance of therapeutic urbanism in equal relation to given landscape. Morphologies are identified and reconfigured. The Tito Barracks are a literal example. Here the form of the walled perimeter, fort-like and forbidding, becomes the dense and accessible kasbah/pad of the university campus. An armature of violence and authority is transformed into a new center for civic activity and learning. "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks." This passage perfectly describes the strategy, for a plow is still a blade and a hook still a lance, but their function and significance are overturned.

    The site sits at a point of maximum urban pressure. From the north and south, hills pinch the city at this point. Like the waist of an hourglass, the barracks area of Marijin Dvoru is a narrow connector between the halves of the city. Axes of movement - the river, the railroad and the major high-speed road that ties the city together - define the edges and center of the site. The flow increases speed as it is forced through a smaller passage made by the mountains at the site. The design acknowledges this law of physics but also bridges, cuts, even dams the flow from north to south, connecting the hills and channeling the east-west current. The new ring road will pass along the eastern edge of the site crossing the river on a new bridge. This major route will form the most emphatic of these north-south cuts. The intersection of this vertical thoroughfare and the horizontal flow of the city's main east/west artery, the former "sniper alley" of Zmaja od Bosne, will make a center of gravity in the area, like the train and bus station at the north-east corner of the barracks and the parliament complex to the south east. These exert a force at the eastern edge of the site that affects both program and form. From east to west across the site, flow strata that are accepted in our proposal as stripes. From north to south new routes both cut and bridge the flow. Points of extreme activity generate pressure on the development of the area. A nervous field is produced where rules appear precise but edges and definitions remain fuzzy.

    Alfred Jarry said, "You won't have destroyed everything until you have destroyed the ruins." To avoid trauma and amnesia, we have chosen to destroy the ruins, yet to keep a memory of their destruction. The development of the barracks area as the new university campus results in a dense filling-in of the armature made by the nearly continuous 2-kilometer-long wall of existing buildings. Like concrete poured into a form, the 151400 m2 of university program and an additional 80000 m2 of commercial and social functions, flow into the 162500 m2 frame of the barracks. New buildings cover 30% of the ground area in the campus with an average of four floors. Dense foliage will fill in the rest except for "memory voids," gaps left by the removal of existing buildings. They are like forms taken away after the mix hardens. They become gaps in the new mass of trees and structures. In a literal application of a figure-ground reversal plan, all arrangement begins with the absence of these original buildings. These represent around 30% of the area of the quadrant. Thus the physical fabric of the space is reversed (FIG.1). Void becomes solid as in the castings of Rachel Whiteread. The rest of the quadrant is colonized by buildings and trees - 30% each. The distribution of trees is mandated by a template that places deciduous and evergreens at optimal positions for sunlight penetration. Throughout the seasons, the density and colors of the kasbah/pad trace the passing of time, allowing more or less access to certain parts of the plan, diluting or defining the edges of the “memory voids” (FIG.2)…
    The remaining 10% goes to circulation. Up to 6000 cars are parked in a structure beneath the ground plane, occupying 132000 m2. Vehicles enter from the south and move beneath the campus to any point for service or close parking. A 9 x 9 m grid of structure accommodates the cars below and the campus above.

    The campus is both dense and open. It can be entered from any point and includes community activities. Like most great university campuses, it is also a programatically flexible and penetrable labyrinth. The old kasbah of Sarajevo finds a dense equivalent at Marijin Dvoru. The traumatic form of the old barracks remains but is filled with new significance. Its actual walls are retained in some places. At other points, the plan of the barracks becomes a landscaped ring around the new campus. It is used for leisure and exercise. The old footprints of the barracks can be appropriated in predictable and unpredictable ways by the users of the campus: surface parking, informal piazzas, sports terraces, running loops, children sandpits, skating rinks, snow collectors, pet cemetery, reflective pools, outdoors sculpture gardens, flea market with temporary cover structures, flower pads, zen gardens, architecture students 1:1 constructions, war memorials, urban agriculture…

    The rest of site C and the available areas of site C1 are developed with the remaining commercial and social functions. 185200 m2 of program are housed in a forest of towers and a field of low bars accessible from all sides. The towers will mostly contain office functions except for those close to the river that will be new hotels. One of many possible versions of this development is shown in the attached drawings. In the current example there are 14 towers with an average footprint of 17 x 26.5 m and an average height of 20 floors. In this they correspond to the fabric of this part of the city where existing tall buildings produce a range of landmarks that are seen from the surrounding hills and reflect the height of those hills. The new towers sit on or next to 17 bars of commercial and social functions. The towers can attach to bars that then become their bases or can sit separately in the spaces made by the bars. These bars, of an average of three floors and a footprint of 15 x 80 m, host retail and public functions on the first and second levels and commercial offices above. Larger programmatic elements - theaters, dance halls, expositions, concert spaces, etc. - can fit in these structures or protrude from them. As with the pad/kasbah again the local existing fabric of the area, one of towers and low commercial structures, is repeated here but with a very different urban attitude.

    The whole site, campus included, is designed to be viewed from the hills above (FIG.3). The towers produce a field of objects at the scale of the skyline. The bars, in their frequency and proximity, produce a series of spaces of many scales. They read as definers of urban space. Streets and plazas of various proportions are shaped by these bars and towers. Like the Plaça Real in Barcelona, a paved field is heavily landscaped and flexible in its vehicular use while mostly pedestrian. The entire zone of towers and bars is floored in stone, like villages and cities of the region. This paving is then interrupted by lines of trees running east-west, lawns, sports grounds and ponds. Vehicles can move anywhere on this surface if necessary although parking largely occurs beneath the bars except during exceptional events when thousands of cars can be accommodated on the surface. Major paths are determined by "desire lines" and thus run generally north-south reiterating the cuts across the flow of landscaping and connecting to the university to the north. Several paths rise and bridge the high-speed Zmaja od Bosne and cross the campus penetrating buildings and foliage to span the train tracks at the north side of the site. They continue as well across the river to the south. They stitch the site and hills, together (FIG.4).

    The logic of this development can pertain to areas near the site that are not part of the competition. The zone of the bus station directly to the north of the campus can be developed as a series of bars that serve transport with commerce on upper floors. The proximity to the train station assures that this will be the transportation hub of Sarajevo and also presents a second location, along with the strip along the river, for more hotel towers. In fact, this system can extend to various areas in the city, especially those heavily damaged by war.

    The system of spaces and objects proposes a general strategy for producing new density in suburban sprawl while avoiding the nostalgic recreation of archaic urban structures as has been mandated in Berlin, for instance. Vast new programmatic areas can be accommodated and urban spaces that address the concerns and activities of a progressive community are generated. An urbanism that now seems lacking in the immediate area of object-buildings, an urbanism that values space as much as object, is reasserted here in contrast to the density of the new campus which projects the intimacy of the ancient city, of the "kasbah" that was Sarajevo. The rest of the proposal, the field of bars and towers, presents a play of open and linear space that spatial characterizes the city of the post-Industrial Revolution.

    The examples given in the drawings are flexible. Program can be determined by need, thus more towers or bars can be developed and connected or produced separately as the market dictates. The spatial relation between them will conform to certain urban requirements however. Large, medium and tight urban spaces are mandated in exact relation to each other and form the major elements of a code. The buildings fill in the gaps between these voids, a reversal of the barracks strategy. Maximum formal diversity is encouraged here within the urban limits. The actual position and function of the bars will be determined by need but also by a strict relation of the spaces that are left upon their construction. The towers will conform in their placement to the open-space requirements. Cut-outs and garden terraces are also required. The buildings in site C1 cover 27.5% of the area.

    Diversity is encouraged not just in the configuration of the buildings and their program but also in the spaces that form between them. As the project develops, a system of envelopes for building construction will interact with a series of urban spaces, changing with the seasons and the flow of users (FIG.5). Like the game of Go, a certain inevitability will link the infinite variations of what can never be random development.