National Printing Institution of Yugoslavia

BIGZ

Location

Belgrade , Serbia

44.47948, 20.26469

Author

Dragiša Brašovan

Architect

Built in

1940

Modified in

1970

Around the year 2010 a vast amount of rock and alternative music bands started practising here transforming the last two floors into an unofficial hub of alternative culture. At its peak in 2012/13, BIGZ was home to about a hundred bands and no less than eight-night clubs. After one incident the clubs were evicted on the basis of no fire exits and the number of bands working here dwindled to about a half.

When it opened in 1940 the State Printing House was one of the largest industrial enterprises in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Its prominent position on the River Sava secured it immediately a landmark status, as did its uncompromising modernist architecture. After WW2 it was shared by several companies engaged in printing until the formation of BGZ in 1955, which in 1970 became BIGZ (Beogradski izdavačko grafički zavod – Belgrade Publishing and Graphics Institute). This huge socialist company which employed almost 5,000 people had its heyday in the 1980s when it published paperbacks but also several popular magazines. BIGZ company went bankrupt during wars and economic sanctions and was terminated in the 2000s. The only remaining part is BIGZ Izdavaštvo publishing house that still owns a smaller part of the building. The rest of it was sold (and resold) to private owners who deemed it most profitable for the moment to rent it to businesses and individuals by room. Around the year 2010 a vast amount of rock and alternative music bands started practising here transforming the last two floors into an unofficial hub of alternative culture. At its peak in 2012/13, BIGZ was home to about a hundred bands and no less than eight-night clubs. After one incident the clubs were evicted on the basis of no fire exits and the number of bands working here dwindled to about a half. Next to the building, a new hotel was built in 2014 closing the view of this imposing structure from one side. The city fathers have on several occasions announced grand plans for the building but its future use remains uncertain.
TEXT BY VLADIMIR DULOVIĆ

Function

1940State printing press

1970 BIGZ publishing house

2018 Mixed (Multi purpose rental space)

Ownership

1940 State

1970 State

2018 Private

Condition

1940 Excellent

1970 Good

2018 Fair

Property Management

1940

1970

2018

Form of government

1940 Parliamentary constitutional monarchy

1970 Socialist federative republic

2018 Parliamentary democracy

Spatial Planning Agency

1940

1970 Urbanistički zavod, Beograd

2018 Urbanistički zavod, Beograd

Type of heritage and protection

1940

1970

2018 National monument

Interview with Milan Milovanović

Transcription
VD: What is it that’s so good about Brašovan’s architecture for the State Printworks? What made it stand out then and what do we today see in that building that’s so significant?

MM: First of all, it’s Brašovan’s, as we say, last big project before the war. It’s worth remembering that Brašovan was engaged in two major projects almost simultaneously – the Air Force Command Building in Zemun and the Danube Banovina building in Novi Sad. However, when we look at this unique set of three buildings designed by Brašovan, we see that he moved furthest beyond his own eternal struggles and, we can say, compromises with pure functionalism here with the State Printworks building where everything was somehow subordinate to the industrial process and where there was no space for any of his favoured decorative flourishes that he introduced to almost every building we can see designed by him until then. Here Brašovan simply applied the latest principles of shape, visible at a level that perhaps hasn’t thus far been sufficiently noted but which I would say he saw when admiring Soviet constructivism – which was very powerful at the time, not least in the Soviet Union itself, not so much at the level of buildings that had been built but more at the level of conceptual projects that had obviously inspired Brašovan to design what he had designed. However, it should in this theory that Brašovan took his lead from the Soviet Union one should not forget the fact that Brašovan, as he himself recorded in the technical description for BIGZ, that is the State Printworks, which is kept in the Yugoslav Archives, wrote that his main assistant was Pavel Krat, a Russian émigré, a young architect, who was rather wonderfully (which is also not widely known) although he was a Russian émigré, quite influenced by what he saw in the Soviet Union. At that time, this was in 29 or 30, he was even, some say, influenced by ideas from the left, about which little is known. Anyway, Pavel Krat was Brašovan’s right-hand man in designing the State Printworks and it’s possible that their joint ideas, let’s say, “blossomed” through this building which is truly Brašovan’s masterpiece.

Interview with Marija Martinović

Transcription
VD: Let’s take three points in time as a cross-section of the history of the BIGZ Building: We have the time when it was the State Printworks, when it was just opened; then next we have the socialist era, the golden age of the seventies and eighties, when it was BIGZ; and we have today, the transition period. What could you say about each of these, what has this building, which is certainly big, huge, everyone can see it, what was it a symbol of in each of these periods?

MM: I think that changes. And that, yes, that’s great. The 20th century: a short period but so many drastic changes in terms of architecture. Somehow it seems to me that back then when it was the State Printworks, I feel that was a very specific moment. I haven’t researched it in detail but I assume that if those photos were studied in a little more detail, the building was at the time an avant-garde symbol of industrialisation that was yet to begin in earnest. At the edge of the city a giant for the time, surrounded by little houses, tiny streets none of which are in keeping with the size of the building. So I’m interested in it from an architectural perspective. And I assume that in that sense its significance was all the greater. I’m sure that at that time it was a building that when you went to work there you had the feeling of entering something very important and very big and very different from the entire area around it. Now, after 1946, when it comes to hosting several companies, I assume that gave the building its confirmation, I mean, that was the time when the urban area around it began to respond to its dimensions. Now the motorway comes by, the whole story of brotherhood and unity… I think it was actually in 1946, but I’m a bit foggy on this, that was it 100 years since the first printing press in Serbia, which shows the significance of BIGZ as a company still going in the 1980s and something we remember. I would call that some kind of golden age – and the workers and all those ideas could be completely realised there. And the transition, yes, a completely unhappy period for this building, probably more so than any other. Because now, it is somehow very noticeable from the river or from the motorway as you cross the bridge, BIGZ can always be seen, there in our line of sight, except that now it looks like some stranded ship.

Interview with Dušan Lopušina

Transcription
DL: In BIGZ in 2005 I was, let’s say, I accidentally ended up there at some party for New Year’s Eve 2005 and then I, as one does, by chance, ended up playing in a band that was one of the first bands to rent space in BIGZ. And we were there for a long time. And with some other bands, I’m still there, some 13 years later.

VD: Great! Considering you were there during the rise of BIGZ as a centre for alternative culture in Belgrade all the way to its decline down to today’s existence but stagnation in that respect, could you in five or six sentences sketch how these changes from 2005 to today looked from inside the building? That really was an interesting period.

DL: Well from 2005 there appeared more and more not just bands and musicians but also DJs and artists and painters and people who practised acrobatics, who had a kind of DIY circus… At the beginning that was a space that could be used, that was large, monumental, old and pretty run down. I know that when I first went there it all looked a little scary, how everything was so large and dark but then people began coming to the space and creating something and somewhere like 5-6 years ago it reached its peak, in the sense of its transformation into some kind of cultural centre, in the sense that people who weren’t involved started showing up. Not only because there were some clubs opening up there but people were actually showing up and walking into different rooms, simply finding out what was going on there. When you find yourself in something that big and see crowds of people milling about and there’s some huge party with electronic music, where there’s a bunch of kids who otherwise wouldn’t go there, there’s musicians playing or practicing or recording or making gigs in their own 40 square metre spaces for their friends, there are people who have found a space with 15 metre high ceilings and they’re performing acrobatics and practising circus performances, there are people who have set up their offices to work and also to do what they love, some kind of creative art… And some kind of community grew up out of this, somewhere everyone meets, hangs out, know each other. People started, naturally, to cooperate and at one point you could meet some kids who have a punk band and right next to them some famous local musician like, I don’t know, Bajaga and then some DJs, artists and so on. So it was all kind of pretty lively and it was then when those clubs, where there were gigs, lots of people started coming and there were some, let’s say, problems, incidents, fights and lots of rubbish, etc. Then the people who were kind of the owners of the building put a stop to it and closed the clubs.