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Milena Ivanović, Milena Kalinić and Sanja Kostić, Bureau Cube Partners

Architectural Maturity Comes Via The Absence Of Fear

One of Belgrade’s most respected architectural studios comprises a team of almost 50 top professionals for whom each new project represents a new source of inspiration. It thus comes as no surprise that Bureau Cube Partners (BCP) was entrusted with three exceptionally important jobs: the reconstruction of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU); the reconstruction, extension and construction of additional new facilities within the scope of the Serbian Institute for Mother and Child Healthcare, as well as the reconstruction and extension of the Faculty of Fine Arts

Bureau partners logo

For this CorD Magazine special, we interviewed three successful young women architects who play a significant role at BCP – a studio that pushes the boundaries by the day, setting new, higher standards – to discuss the biggest challenges of contemporary architecture and urban planning, the demands of modern man, global and local trends, new tools and trends, the need for lifelong learning and specialised training, the crisis of creativity, but also inspiration.

Your studio’s portfolio is impressive, as is the list of locations you’ve been engaged in and continue to work on. The demands of modern man far exceed former standards. Is this leading to rising demand for new residential complexes that offer, in addition to high-quality residential units, numerous other contents and services?

Milena Ivanović: Your assertion honestly makes us proud, which certainly obliges and additionally encourages our professional need for dedication and satisfaction, to actually render architecture – as a science, an artistic discipline and, finally, as a systematised practical category – even more solid, useful and agreeable, authentically respecting the cohesive factors of its uniqueness based on Vitruvius’s timeless definition of architecture.

Milena Ivanović, Urban Planning Group Head, Bureau Cube Partners

Our studio, which comprises almost 50 exceptional colleagues, representing architects who are oriented and have very ably differentiated origins, is also recognisable for its extremely wide range of launched and implemented design challenges that are reflected in the design of architectural structures with various purposes, typological characteristics and functional distinctiveness.

When it comes to your question regarding qualities, standards and rising demand for residential units, which is undeniably high, it is important to stress that the term, formulated in the form of “needs of end users”, often changes appearance, matures, generates, improves and “persistently” upgrades itself in a qualitative sense. In this way, we – as members of our studio and the broader architectural community, with realistically acquired reputational criteria that have been maintained successfully to date – are set new boundaries that are accompanied by additional challenges.

BCP architectural studio participates actively in the process of designing several very complex residential-business developments that are distinctive in terms of content and form

In that sense, concepts like luxury and comfort, which we almost always strive for, prompt an avalanche of distinctive unrecognisable forms, which are materialised in formats that time and again show that lifelong education and professional specialisation are essential.

Could you highlight some of the projects that you’ve worked on or are currently working on, and do so in relation to the aforementioned growing trends and demands?

Milena Kalinić: BCP architectural studio is currently participating actively in the process of designing several very complex residential- business developments that are distinctive in terms of content and form, the most current of which is the Buena Vista residential and commercial complex, which – following confirmation of the design concept and verification of the urban planning design project – is currently in the stage of obtaining essential documentation to launch the actual construction process.

Milena Kalinić, Design Group Head, Bureau Cube Partners

This complex is located in the immediate vicinity of Košutnjak [Belgrade forest park], or more precisely in Kneza Višeslava Street. Apart from the nomination criteria for the form, artistic and distinctive aesthetic characteristics, this project is also made interesting due to its exceptional technical and technological fitting, which is reflected in the applying of high standards regarding energy efficiency, and all this in accordance with extremely demanding spatial relationships and applied configuration principles.

Representing an additional advantage of the Buena Vista residential and commercial complex is that it testifies to applied principles of qualitative elements of contemporary architecture. Thus, firmitas-utilitas- venustas (strength-utility-beauty) in its full, existential format.

Elegant and fluid forms radiate sophistication and rhythm, while the utilised high-quality materials and equipment, alongside flowing harmony and the functional uniformity of the “connective tissue”, set against interior and exterior frames, serve to additionally enhance the impression of constancy. Ellipsoidal elements, and the architectural rhapsody of their segments, coupled with a convex façade, introduce at the essence an element of serenity to the existing geometric playfulness and its spatial forms.

It isn’t easy to satisfy the expectations of clients, respect the local market and keep pace with global trends, but you nonetheless achieve it all. Does this mean that clients have unreserved faith in your expertise and dedication?

Milena Ivanović: Our relationship with clients is really based on trust. However, we consider the format of unreserved trust to be illusory, and as such simply non-existent. The profession itself teaches us that things are easily changeable, and that we must be ready to absorb the majority of qualified measurable factors of influence if we want to make the degree of competitiveness at least slightly more difficult to achieve.

Buena Vista residential and commercial complex

In dealing with architectural space at both a micro and macro level, we strive – in addition to spatial phenomena and general and special characteristics – to understand as well as possible the additional specifics and characteristics of the space’s end users.

An additional advantage and recognisable element of the Buena vista residential and commercial complex is that it testifies to applied principles of qualitative elements of contemporary architecture

Sanja Kostić: In accordance with the noted principles, we strive to always re-examine and check, testify to and present our expertise and professionalism, very consciously, never diffidently and silently, always clearly and completely precisely, uncompromisingly.

Sanja Kostić, Design Group Head, Bureau Cube Partners

We prove ourselves very proudly and effectively, both to ourselves and colleagues from the guild, through constant improvement, and to clients during the design process and through the product itself.

Of course, a successful final outcome is the only relevant measure that is evaluated almost as a base standard, but a successful outcome always comes at the end of a process that implicitly implies constant and serious financial investment, as well as other intangible investments in the expert specialisation of individuals and their professional education, in order to even be started. Our architectural studio provides all of this with indisputably recognisable results that are the reason we are still here with you today.

We often here talk of a crisis of creativity and a lack of original ideas in architecture, but your studio, as one of Belgrade’s extremely highly rated architectural studios, doesn’t have such problems. Where do your ideas come from; what inspires and motivates you to go a step further with each new project?

Milena Kalinić: The concept, as a part of the creative postulates, and its subsequent systematisation through the unifying of elements that actually comprise the entire creative cycle, can be colloquially referred to as an idea that is most often a pseudonym for expressed individuality. However, the reality, and the full name of such a process, is rooted in completely clearly defined and essential teamwork, the spatial and functional articulation of which we control jealously from the outset to the final stage of the process.

Milena Ivanović: Our studio’s clearly established and determined protocols, with complete openness and indisputable expertise, contribute to the fact that even when moments of stagnation, conflict or transience are reached, discouragement and capitulation are unrecognised emergent and conceptual categories. On the contrary – tenacity, perseverance, readiness to comprehend and understand mistakes, as well as the systemic articulating of the resulting shortcomings, represent a professional stride towards an assemblage of creative potential. The creative potential of an individual observed and validated through teamwork becomes part of the union of dozens of such assemblages that are filled with inspiring and motivating elements, which await their own opportunity.

Even when moments of stagnation, conflict or transience are reached, discouragement and capitulation are unrecognised emergent and conceptual categories

Sanja Kostić: It has been noted that our studio comprises almost 50 exceptional architects, which also includes colleagues like Braca Ferenčak and professor Miša Mirković, who participated in the creating of the new architectural paradigm in the former Yugoslavia and represent true laureates of our profession, and a lot can be learned from them. When you approach the development of ideas with this knowledge, you know that nothing is impossible and everything is dependent on us alone. Architectural maturity comes via the absence of fear of the unknown, and that’s crucial to any form of creativity.

Your team of architects strives to ensure that the architectural units and urban spaces it creates are always harmonised contextually and with the immediate surroundings. How difficult is it to coordinate between tradition and the demands of modern life?

Sanja Kostić: Frank Gehry said that architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness. This postulate led to the emergence of dissertations grounded in the values of contemporary architecture. Regardless of the juncture when you read Gehry, the cited claim always has the same meaning, which is why we strive to provide a contemporary architectural expression when forming new spatial compositions, regardless of the urban matrix within the scope of which we operate. It is only in this way, by offering spatial responses and implementing compositional interventions materialised through individual structures, that we can additionally emphasise the level of originality of the epoch while avoiding mere interpretation, multiplication and reminiscence.

Is Serbia lagging behind the developed world when it comes applying modern trends in architecture and urban planning? Can Belgrade be compared with other world metropolises in this sense?

Milena Ivanović: If we conduct more thorough analysis of the spatial development of Belgrade, we can conclude that it has always been an inspiring spatial area, for both domestic and foreign architects. Our process of creating space is constantly changing and being complemented, both through our individual thought processes and experiences, and through new software tools that are more present today than ever before.

Campus of the Faculty of Fine Arts

Construction regulations are often unable to keep pace with modern architectural trends. Mandatory minimum criteria on the content of documentation are often insufficient for more serious spatial considerations. And it is precisely due to the aforementioned lacking documentation elements or similar factors that we resort to new processes, analytical methods and spatial/programmatic analyses, which – alongside legally mandatory elements – form an integral part of our studio’s planning and design documentation.

The creation of master plans, studio analyses and other extremely systemically complex research that we process through modern software tools and platforms, place us on the world map when it comes to the applying of modern and practically applicable development trends in architectural practice.

The process of creating space is constantly changing and being complemented, both through individual thought processes and experiences, and through new software tools

Foreign investment inflows are also largely dictated by the speed of development of our cities, and our readiness to adjust to domestic and foreign markets is reflected the most through the applying of new technologies. In accordance with this, it is professionally flippant to compare Belgrade’s urban development in relation to its rough recent history with the metropolises of Western Europe, though we believe that we are moving swiftly towards the elimination of that factor of frivolity.

Apart from your projects being exposed to the critical judgement of colleagues, the public as a whole, and end users, they must also stand the test of time. Can that be simultaneously considered a challenge and good motivation?

Land is not a renewable resource, to begin with that challenge. Alongside various tools and their possibility to simulate the actual use of space, our testing ground is still represented by the city and its urban area. In accordance with this, every intervention is visible and critiques are implied; this is something we face time and again, regardless of its connotation and content. The moment we implement our idea from start to finish, additional motivation appears and constantly pushes us towards new challenges, and thus towards new achievements. The absence of criticism would prove disastrous for us, as it would imply that we are not worth mentioning.

First came the reconstruction of the building of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU), followed by the reconstruction and extension of the Faculty of Fine Arts? Does this project have special importance and significance for Bureau Cube Partners?

It certainly does! Our team rejoices at the very thought that we can boast of working on such significant edifices. It was a real challenge for our architectural studio – led by a team of authors comprising architects Milan D. Rašković, professor Miodrag Mirković and academic Branislav Mitrović – to go through several pre-qualification and qualification contests and tender processes and to gain the opportunity to submit designs. The FFA sculpture department was originally designed by academic Branislav Mitrović, who formally and essentially joined the team on the basis of this fact and our invitation.

When it comes to the Painting Department, as a separate unit, it is integrated into the newly designed FFA campus in Mila Milunovića Street, which from the aspect of architectural receptivity represents a unique multifunctional structure, and a formally clear and very complex synthesis, has been completely or rebuilt, or rather totally reconstructed, with the extending of the old structure and the building of a new one.

Engineering recommendations and instructions for the design of public buildings – the Centre for Social Work and the Basic and Higher Public Prosecutor’s Office

Additionally taking into consideration the morphological characteristics and versatility of the terrain, our response reflected in the newly designed entirety of the FFA Campus and our team’s outstanding cooperation with FFA representatives, we sincerely consider that we really have the right to be more than satisfied. As a final result, we gained a complex designed on the postulates of sustainability. The multifunctionality of the inner courtyard is reflected not only through the active use of the area of the park, but at the same time is also represented by the square, as a gathering place and a place for rest, work and painting, but also as a space where it is possible to organise exhibition and presentation events. The main purpose of the FFA Campus consists of studios, workshops, galleries and various typologically adaptable, multifunctional spaces – all in the function of implementing teaching processes in the study programmes of the painting and sculpture departments.

Your architectural studio has also provided an outstanding contribution to the theoretical development of architectural practice by producing publications intended for the broader architectural community. Could you tell us more about that, considering that this isn’t common practice in our country, especially given that all of the aforementioned emerged from the private direction of your studio?

Milena Kalinić: BCP, which highly values and believes in the degree of significance of its design experiences as a creative matrix, took the bold move of publishing systemically unified general guidelines and engineering recommendations for the design of specific architectural structures that are more broadly grouped into public purpose buildings. And in so doing, through two separate publications, encompassed the buildings of the higher and public prosecutor’s offices, on the one hand, and the buildings of social protection services, on the other.

Bureau Cube partners has provided an outstanding contribution to the theoretical development of architectural practice by producing publications intended for the broader architectural community

Both publications contain rules and engineering recommendations that are systematised through respect for the discourse of all engineering disciplines. They can prove extremely helpful to our engineer colleagues in the treating of their functional disposition, spatial organisation and formative receptivity, as well as in the selection of technical and technological methodologies of architectural design, but also designing in accordance with other engineering disciplines that are essential for their contemporary feasibility and exploitation.

The fact that BCP independently implemented all the required processes to ensure these publications saw the light of day is something that particularly motivates us when it comes to establishing the actual needs of our architectural environment, both in theoretical and practical architectural creativity, and additionally, at least in an attempt to establish the lower limit of values and according to which the architectural practice in our country has to be sustainable and valued.

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