The Museum of Aviation was founded back in 1957, but for the first three decades of its existence it did not own its own exhibition space. Though started much earlier, the present day museum building was completed only in 1989. This was due to the fact that its complicated design meant that its statics could not be successfully calculated with the introduction of computers to construction engineering. Its large oval building not only provided the perfect setting for its numerous planes and models on display inside but also became a recognisable landmark, a sight that anyone arriving to or departing from Belgrade airport would have noticed. Architect Ivan Štraus’ building soon found its way onto lists of Belgrade’s most memorable and most loved modernist edifices, often compared with a huge NLO. Unfortunately, its opening coincided with the last days of unified Yugoslavia and never got the attention it deserved, neither on a national nor on an international level. Even nowadays, though it is one of the largest museums in the city, it attracts few visitors—most of them arriving from the airport while waiting for their flight. One could justly say that most Belgraders are unaware of the existence of the museum, though most of them have certainly noticed the building.
Due to the economic sanctions and wars of the 1990s and its expensive maintenance, the building is nowadays far from being in good condition. The same could be said of its outdated permanent exhibition. There has been little talk of diverting the funds needed for the renovation of the building.
Text by Vladimir Dulović
Form of government
1989 Socialist Federal Republic
2018 Parliamentary Democracy
Spatial Planning Agency
Type of heritage and protection
2018 Not recognised as heritage
Interview with Đorđe Vidojević
ĐV: By making – I mean we’re definitely living in capitalism – by making space for a restaurant or café that’s in keeping with the rest of the museum. It should stay a museum, of course, but other activities should be introduced, some workshops… that museum is only visited occasionally by schoolkids on some excursion because planes are probably interesting to them but it could be turned into... a clear road could be made to the airport, properly signposted so people can see that it’s there – because nobody knows that it’s there and they think it’s far away but it actually isn’t – you cross three carparks, run across a street with no pedestrian crossing and you’re there. So that should be sorted out first and then the museum should be renovated like they renovated the Museum of Contemporary Art where they’re going to show films. Why wouldn’t we show films that are closely related to the topic of aviation or, simply, for that whole period?
VD: And do you feel that people somehow go there out of curiosity – mostly tourists – to see what that building it and then inside they find themselves in a kind of time machine?
ĐV: Yes but it’s interesting for them. That can be useful until we decide to fix it up, we can use that. But one thing that could be done easily is to organise a Film Street on the space in front. Then people will – only a few people will come – but those that do will find out about it and then others will come…
Interview with Igor Marijanović
IM: Well, realistically, the building itself, the structure, was never fully completed. So, certainly, around 5 percent of the work on the building itself is still not done. It had to be opened, to put it mildly, because the country was falling apart – i.e. the ensuing collapse of the country, then hard times under sanctions, the bombing, wars in the region and so on. The museum worked at a bare minimum but I have to tell you one thing – I’m a mechanical engineer – the quality of this building is exceptional. I mean we’re talking about a time when Yugoslavia invested properly in its public buildings and so on. The very way, the technology of how the building was constructed means that it can survive for a very long time even with minimal maintenance which, there you go, 30 years after the Museum was opened we can see for ourselves. The main problem of the building itself is the external appearance which partly affects, let’s say, the interior. But only partly. It's more, let’s say, aesthetic. That’s, for example, waterproofing of the roof, then some glasswork and fixing up space in front. Anyway, the whole concept of this Museum, this museum building, because it was purpose-built as a museum, a kind of temple to culture, in this case the culture of technology, where visitors – because this temple to aviation was located near the airport – it means visitors can come and spend the day here. So with a large park around it, a huge space in front, it’s like you’re approaching a temple. Inside there’s all kinds of content from a cinema, a temporary exhibition hall, a gift shop, a cafe and so on. So it does have that additional content, which is anyway quite rare in this country, Museums usually use buildings that were built either during the Kingdom of Yugoslavia or even the Kingdom of Serbia and last Yugoslavia has only a couple of buildings that could claim to be purpose-built for museums – including the Museum of Contemporary Art and this here, the Aviation Museum.