When the Ikarus airplane makers moved from Novi Sad to Belgrade in 1927 they opened their factory on the very edge of Zemun (formerly a separate town, now part of Belgrade). Originally, the factory only had workshops and barracks for engineers and managers. This building was the first representative edifice in the compound, in line with what the other airplane manufacturers in Belgrade had built.
The factory was damaged in the American bombings of 1944 but manufacture continued after the war. The last planes came out of it in 1955, while a year earlier it had started producing buses and had gotten a new name—Ikarbus. Since, in the late 1960s, apartment blocks were built in this neighbourhood the bus factory was moved further away in 1972. The only building remaining of the whole complex, it has since served many purposes including providing space for any service or business that could not be hosted anywhere else in the neighbourhood.
Though the building was in the process of restitution to the inheritors of the original owner, the management of Ikarbus mortgaged the building and it found itself on public sale in 2010. In 2015 its new owners, Kemoimpeks and Neimar visokogradnja, announced that the building will be demolished and a new block of flats built in its place while the original façade will be kept. Upon hearing the news, local residents gathered on several occasions to show their opposition to the proposed plans and to point out that the building is an important monument in the history of New Belgrade and the aviation industry and, as such, it should be protected by the state.
The building has seen only a few minor changes since its construction. It is used by the local community and is in excellent condition. It is not listed as a cultural heritage site.
Text by Vladimir Dulović
2018 Business, due to be demolished
Form of government
1939 Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy
2018 Parliamentary Democracy
Spatial Planning Agency
2018 Urbanistički zavod, Beograd
Type of heritage and protection
Interview with Miodrag Simović
VD: Of urban topography!
MS: As urban topography, yes. It should be protected if the building itself can’t be, which as the only Art Deco building and the headquarters of the first aircraft plant is definitely significant. The architect was Franjo Jenč, a significant architect, especially for Zemun. He designed, it can be said, much of Zemun.
VD: Yes, in the inter-war period. And tell me, please, before you knew all this about the building, and you lived in the area, in this very neighbourhood and hung out with your friends, what did you think about this building then? Back then you certainly saw it as different from the surrounding buildings. What was your relationship to this building before you started to research it? What is the relationship of people from this neighbourhood with this building?
MS: When I was very young I knew it was an older building, but I wasn’t sure when it was built. I mean, when I was very little, when I was still at school, I didn’t really know the history of New Belgrade so I didn’t know that there were pre-war buildings and so on, so I thought it was from the beginning of Belgrade’s communist era. However, as I grew up a bit, at some point in high school I figured out that the building was probably pre-war. I was a bit unsure exactly what period it was from. Later I learned that it was a building from the aircraft plant, which I learned from, basically, the residents of the block, I mean, my friends who lived in the area and who told me it was linked to the aircraft plant. Although the Icarus above the entrance to the building always reminded me of the Aviation Building in Zemun, which also has an Icarus, so it didn’t come as a surprise. Back then most people said it was the Ikarbus building, that’s what they called it, simply because they knew that Ikarbus was the successor to Ikarus so that’s what people called it here, in the neighbourhood. At the end of the day, it’s possible that ost people who lived in these buildings actually came from elsewhere to work in the Ikarbus factory. And then, my real interest in the history of this building – I had always tried to dig around and to google things on the internet – but my real interest in the history of this building began this year, in 2017, when I discovered that the idea of it getting knocked down had resurfaced. I say “resurfaced” because it was already tried in 2015 but campaigning by people from the neighbourhood and by experts managed to prevent that, let’s say, endeavour.
Interview with Rifat Kulenović
RK: Looked at in that limited, individual way, the Ikarus Building must be saved and must survive, it must have monument status – without question. Except as an administrative building it isn’t a priority, from the point of view of preservation, it isn’t significant for industry in this region, in Serbia. So, it isn’t first in line of significant monuments. On one hand. On the other, by some other criteria it is terribly important. It is really important because right now of all the things that have been saved of the industry involved in the production of aircraft, aircraft parts, aircraft engines, instruments and the rest, that once existed. It is a special issue for the industry tied to aviation. It’s an important building because it is completely unique in how well it’s preserved. Now, I’m not going to talk about its architectural worth because that isn’t a field I work in, even though it’s obvious this building is special. As I said, I’m not going to get into that. Anyway, it is an unbelievably important building, even more, important than it seems at first, specifically because it represents the aviation industry. And so, to get across the importance of this building, it should be mentioned that the aviation industry was, especially between the two World Wars, representative, that is, was an indicator of the development of the country’s industry. The development of Serbia… Of industry, can be tracked seriously from the second half of the start of the final quarter of the 19th century up to the period between the two World Wars. Not to mention the post-war period after the Second World War. During that time, between the two World Wars, Serbia had a car industry, for example, as well as, within its limits, an industry producing aircraft and engines, both on a license, and its own, original designs. So this building is a perfect architectural representative of a developed industry from which some things have survived and others have not. Here in the Rakovica annual, engines were produced there. Meanwhile, here in this part of New Belgrade – which was once part of Zemun, from the Jugoslavija Hotel to the first part of Zemun by the Aviation Command Building, the aviation command centre for the former aerodrome, which was active in the second half of the 20th century, with its grass runway, building and so on. Very little of that aerodrome remains. Well, on that whole stretch, was a very developed aviation industry none of which remains. Actually, it was all cleared so New Belgrade could be built. Looked at like that, this building has to be saved and listed for protection. I say, “listed” but if you ask me it should be made into some kind of museum that would present the history of the aviation industry in Serbia and even, of course, in post-war Yugoslavia, which was largely moved away from Belgrade and Serbia – but primarily from Belgrade and Pančevo over there, to other parts of Yugoslavia. So it has to be listed. And the issue is perhaps more serious than it first appears.
Interview with Milan Milovanović
MM: Well it does, due to its unusual appearance, stand out for residents used to being surrounded by architecture from the seventies and they see it as an unusual building as far as I have managed to figure out. In the context of social housing, the architecture of New Belgrade, which is pretty uniform and so on, it is maybe some kind of benchmark perhaps, which has been preserved… It’s immediately obvious that it’s something different. It isn’t, if we’re talking specifically about fitting in, we cannot be completely sure that it’s a matter of fitting in. That it’s a special object, separate from surrounding buildings, it somehow stands out from the whole context, thanks to its architectural elements. Inside it’s covered in marble… There is a relief of Ikarus on the façade, isn’t there… Fortunately the building has been completely preserved, as far as I could tell from the photos. I’ve never been inside. So it has all the elements that show we’re talking about an authentic building in this environment.
VD: And do you think that these kinds of buildings are not valued? That all Modernist architecture from Belgrade at that time, to which this building definitely belongs, is not valued because it lacks decoration and doesn’t immediately look really old? That that simple relief and circular windows are not enough for people to recognise that the building is from some golden age of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia?
MM: That’s it in a nutshell. People still cling to things that are monuments of some earlier period, thinking that what is richly decorated must have some value. And that’s, you know as if you put some average antique furniture, let’s say, next to some fascinating piece of contemporary furniture that is also very precisely made, that required a high level of design to make, to free it from surplus decoration. That decoration is always a heavy burden, let’s say, that weighs down the estimation of whether something is valuable or not. Generally, it seems to me, architecture today is valued only on the strength of the façade, but the valuation of work is based on much much more than that and is not simply a matter of, as they say, today, “protecting the façade”. Which is complete nonsense that has stayed with us from an earlier time because of the interior space and that which makes the building, the architecture valuable is not just the way it at first appears.