Back in the day when it was built in 1966, the building performed the function as the heart of evening schools in Novi Sad, funded by the state as a part of permanent education project stimulated by the socialist system. Due to its rough modernist looks and the location in a quiet neighbourhood consisting mostly of residential houses and smaller buildings, the Worker’s University was never much loved. Nevertheless, it was one of the most important buildings of the quarter and became well known to all the residents of Novi Sad.
After a devastating fire destroyed the entire building in the year 2000, it was stripped to its concrete skeleton. With state-sponsored education not in focus anymore, there was little to none incentive to rebuild the building. After years of standing unused by anyone and becoming the city’s biggest eye soar, the popularly called “Radnički” came to be spontaneously used by the youth of Novi Sad who opened a hole in the protective fence in order to climb to the top of this tall construction and use its rooftop as a terrace to hang out. This behaviour brought building once again to the attention of the public and plans have been presented to rebuilding it, though it’s not yet clear whether it will have the same purpose as before.
Stripped of all but its concrete skeleton since the year 2000, the building is due to be reconstructed. In the meantime, its walls were covered in graffiti and there are several trees growing from its walls and terraces.
Researcher Vladimir Dulović
2018 Under reconstruction
2018 Public / city
2018 Urbanistički zavod Novi Sad
Form of government
1966 Socialist Federal Republic
Spatial Planning Agency
Type of heritage and protection
2018 Not recognized as heritage
Interview with Ana Vrtačnik
AV: Yes. The Workers’ University would host various workshops, like painting, languages, they offered courses in sculpture, painting, English, French and lots more. I know what I attended.
VD: Would you say then that in a sense, because it isn’t here anymore or has been moved to other locations, that this somehow changed the micro-geography, the cultural climate in the neighbourhood? Is the Workers’ University in its big, distinctive building missed?
AV: Yes. The Workers’ University moved into a building now called the Workers’ University in Radnička [Workers’] Street. However, this building, after it burned down, was never renovated – I don’t even think anyone knows how it burned down. So, in essence, the University moved, however, it never reached the level it was on here. Firstly this is because of space and secondly because part of their building is rented out to some private school to raise more funds. Generally, I think Novi Sad definitely needs more cultural institutions.
VD: I hope there will be more now before 2021, that things will get going a bit.
AV: We’ll see.
VD: Tell me, I can see a billboard here that says work began on 1 August 2017. Has anything noticeable been done? Has anyone noticed anything?
AV: Those works? We saw only that they stopped us from going in.
VD: So, all they did is board it up?
AV: That’s right. About maybe a year ago that wasn’t there so you could freely climb up to the roof and that’s what young people did. Basically they hung out there like some kind of squat, drawing graffiti, hanging out, as they say, chillaxing. But that’s forbidden now. But as far as major work is concerned, I don’t see anything happening.
VD: So, it was used spontaneously as a new hang-out where lots of people from Novi Sad would come to this, let’s say, open squat – a squat-roof-terrace!
AV: A squat-roof-terrace, yes! We talked among ourselves – but, I mean, that’s an idea young people had that didn’t receive any support – to make ateliers, various music studios and studios for painting, sculpture because it really is a big space and each floor is like some kind of hall. But I don’t think anyone will be interested… I mean, I don’t know what the planning permission says it should be used as.
VD: To be honest, I haven’t looked either. Some kind of renovation probably…
AV: It would be great if it could be the Workers’ University again, just as it was or even better but I doubt it…
VD: I know that when it was built, in ’73 was it, the building was a new symbol of Novi Sad for the socialist era and so forth. What do you think of it now, neglected like it has been for, how long has it been, almost fifteen years?
AV: It’s also a symbol of the new Novi Sad.
VD: Of some changes, yes. So, we could say that even like this it has become recognisable. When you see this, practically everyone from Novi Sad when they see this half-ruined, the unfinished building immediately says, “That’s the Workers’ University”. What’s people’s attitude to that?
AV: I don’t even know if we can draw a parallel between this building and BIGZ in Belgrade say. Except BIGZ was for a while even used for something but this never took off like it would if it was taken over by an organisation. But a symbol – I think it’s a symbol of cultural neglect in Novi Sad today, which is a City of Culture but…
VD: And what do you think of it in an artistic sense. Right around the corner, there are buildings done in some kind of Neo-Classic style with some kind of decoration. I mean, we can’t see it now but right around the corner… And this, when it’s renovated it will again be what people mockingly call a commie building – a communist-style. They’ll probably throw in more glass and all that. Are there people who say, “We don’t need this, it would be better if they knocked it down and built something else.” What are people’s attitudes?
AV: I think people would like it if it was restored. With more glass or not it would definitely look better than it does now.
VD: So you think it isn’t a thorn in anybody’s side? Nobody says, “I’m glad it burned down, wish they’d knock it down now”?
AV: No. I mean, I wouldn’t mind more glass. I’m more bothered by that “radiator” hotel in the centre of Novi Sad.
VD: There’s going to be a Pupin Tower now too…
AV: Yes, the Pupin Tower. At least this is not exactly in the centre in the strictest sense. And then we have this building next door…
VD: But it’s somehow on the border between two worlds: These quiet streets…
AV: Well, yes. But generally, that’s the situation in Belgrade and in Novi Sad.
VD: What do you think, could we say that this has been a symbol of Novi Sad during this transition period in the last fifteen years? Nobody knows whether they’re coming or going, Novi Sad’s changing radically…
AV: Yes, in terms of Novi Sad’s urban landscape, definitely. Some people clearly have the power to… Whether they got it due to their expertise is debatable. I think people from Novi Sad are definitely not satisfied with the way the city is managed and how the architecture of Novi Sad is changing. Things are a bit better in Belgrade but I think it isn’t well protected either. Like that bank that was demolished so they could build a tower block. I don’t think anyone from Novi Sad would support that.
Interview with Jovana Stojanović
JS: It would be less horrible if it was the only building stood like that – there are many others – and that definitely reflects attitudes: both of the population and of the Novi Sad authorities who allow this to go on. I mean, it isn’t the only one, there are lots of similar buildings nobody cares about.
VD: What’s behind all that, do you think? What trends and currents cause that…?
JS: Well, Novi Sad definitely has a problematic attitude to architecture, towards the aesthetics of buildings in general. What’s building it instant buildings that definitely have no aesthetic value – even in terms of functionality they don’t fulfil basic criteria. A lot of housing is being built with the aim of selling those apartments which are, again, miniature. That’s the main aim. Nobody cares about aesthetics or cultural heritage or the historical significance of a building… This one is probably more recent than other much more significant historic buildings that are demolished to make way for car parks, shopping centres and similar instant buildings for modern society.
VD: Is it more a case of indifference or has it somehow been deliberately neglected?
JS: I think it’s a failure to understand basic historical significance.
VD: This building was built in the 1960s and was one of, let’s say, maybe not the most important symbols of but something that was definitely noticeable on the city’s skyline. One of the first towers in the city centre. Today we have this building standing empty because it is, let’s say, publically owned. For 17 years it has stood unused but, on the other hand, we have the Pupin Centre that’s being ‘thrust’ into the very centre of the city and will be built very quickly in spite of all hurdles as a private investment. Can we also draw some parallels there?
JS: Definitely city planning in Novi Sad is not run by the Urbanism Institute, which is their job, but by individuals and investors who have the money to achieve their goals.
VD: What do you think about how the building of the Workers’ University was spontaneously utilised by the local community, how it became an adventurous hangout and the best place to drink beer with a view of the whole city? What do you think about that? Was it dangerous? Did it work? Was it better than nothing?
JS: It was most dangerous for the users – for the spontaneous users of the building, considering that it was totally unsecured and so tall but…
VD: Through that did the building become more visible, more of a location, than it was before when absolutely no one used it?
JS: I don’t even think it did. I think it was just a space that people used as is, in their own way, but I don’t think that had any effect on the other citizens of Novi Sad.
VD: So you think that it stayed at the level of a sub-culture and that no one else paid any attention to it?
JS: That’s my impression, yes.
VD: Ok. And now if we gave you free rein to imagine what Novi Sad needs, what would you put there? Or what would you replace the building with?
JS: Well, maybe it would be justifiable to return it to its previous function but I don’t see a strong need for that – there are a lot of unused spaces in Novi Sad – this isn’t the only space. There are, unfortunately, very few ideas. To me the general architectural appearance of that building is problematic – it doesn’t, in my opinion, fit with its surroundings. It’s surrounded largely by residential buildings that are much shorter and that somehow… It is the broader city centre but it’s a residential zone… And this really tall building sticks out in every sense. I mean, it always stuck out and it sticks out now as a burnt ruin, I don’t have any idea how it could be used more intelligently.
VD: So, you think it would be better if it wasn’t there?
JS: It’s a shame to demolish any building but this one is, to me, completely superfluous in that location. In my opinion, a much shorter building would better fit that location.
Interview with Stevo Jelić
SJ: Well, I mean, to me it’s no symbol of Novi Sad. We have far more beautiful examples of symbols of our city but it does reflect the situation in general – maybe even in a society with many other building sites where nobody knows when they’ll be completed and where deadlines are set for completion but they are never met. There are many such construction sites across our country, not only in Novi Sad, but for me this is some kind of – I don’t know how to explain it – some kind of neglect.
VD: And about what you said about tourists? To the Germans it’s inexplicable. Do you think others also come to take pictures of it?
SJ: No, they don’t…
VD: Not even of the graffiti?
SJ: No… Look, all the tour groups that come through, they go through over here through the centre, not through there. Down there they sometimes pass through by bus. Occasionally it happens that they’re coming by bus and there’s a traffic jam due to something or other, some event or construction, something like that but it isn’t exactly a destination, where people go down towards the Workers’ University.
VD: Let’s say that there is a possibility. There’s some kind of billboard saying that works began on 1 August 2017 – I think that was when they boarded it up to stop people going in. What do you think, is it worth restoring that building to what it was, modernising it, demolishing it? Do you have an opinion on that?
SJ: Well, I think it would be a shame, in economic terms, to knock it down. I’m not an engineer but I assume that the skeleton can be used for something. I think something could be made of that. Not a Workers’ University, I mean, the Workers’ University, that would be too big a bite for them but some kind of business centre, not a shopping centre, but a business centre with lots of offices – I think that could work, probably.
VD: So, something, as they say, the same size but modernised – it wouldn’t be for the workers?
SJ: No, no, absolutely not. Because look, when you look at it, once upon a time the Workers’ University had more of a role and a wider range of services but I think that they don’t anymore so this building would be too much of an undertaking for them. It could be a hotel, at the end of the day, why not.
VD: A Workers’ Hotel.
SJ: Well, sure, why not.