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Kolašin (Колашин)

(koh-LAH-shin)

Brief Details:

Name: 'Spomen-dom' or 'Kolašin Municipal Assembly' (Колашин скупштине општине)

Location: Kolašin, Montenegro

Year completed: 1975 (4 years to build)

Designer: Marko Mušič [profile page] (prounounced MAR-koh MOO-sheech)

Coordinates: N42°49'27.2", E19°31'07.5" (click for map)

Dimensions: 3,220sq. m building

Materials used: Poured concrete and rebar

Condition: Fair

 

History:

The 'Spomen-Dom', also referred to as the 'Kolašin Town Hall/Cultural Center' is a spomenik complex in Kolašin, Montenegro which is meant to commemorate the first assembly of the National Anti-Fascist Council of the Peoples Liberation of Montenegro and Boka in 1943, as well as the struggle of the residents of the city during the People's Liberation Struggle (WWII).

 

World War II

On April 17th, 1941, Kolašin was taken over by Axis Italian forces during the invasion of subjugation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. As a result, the whole region of Montenegro underwent a brutal and oppressive occupation by the Italian occupiers, who were under the command of General Pirzio Biroli. It only took three months of this occupation before an anti-Axis resistance movement was initiated and began to fight back in July of 1941. In Montenegro, there were two primary resistance groups: the communist-led 'Partisans', primarily led and organized in the region by Kolašin native and Communist Party (KPJ) leader Milovan Đilas, and the Serbian nationalist group called the Chetniks, which was mostly directed in Montenegro by former Royal Yugoslav Army officer Pavle Đurišić (Photo 1). The two groups originally fought together, liberating a significant amount of Montenegro from Italian control, however, after a crushing defeat of the cooperative resistance movement by a bloody Italian offensive in August of 1941, Đurišić and his Chetniks wished to give up the fight against the Italians, hoping to avoid further loss of civilian life, but the Partisans wished to continue. As a result, in early January of 1942, Đurišić met with Italian Army representatives and formed an Italian/Chetnik alliance to work together in destroying the Partisans (Photo 2).

Photo 1: Photos of both Pavle Đurišić (left) and Milovan Đilas (right)

Photo 2: Pavle Đurišić giving a speech with Italian General Pirzio Biroli in in Kolašin, 1942

During the Chetnik dealings with the Italians, the Partisans captured Kolašin from Italian troops in January of 1942. However, the civilian residents of the town (especially the Muslim population) were not fully trusting of the Partisan's intentions. As such, Partisan forces saw this distrust as 'opposition', especially as many Muslim groups had aided the Italian occupiers. This resulted in the Partisans executing many residents who refused to cooperate with them. Some sources relate that up to 300 civilians were killed in this way. Executions such as these were condemned by the Communist Party leadership and later characterized as the "Leftist Errors". These killings left many Montenegrins with deep resentment and anger towards Partisan forces. Then, on February 23rd, 1942, Chetniks attacked Kolašin, retaking the town and driving the Partisan fighters out of the region. The Chetniks held Kolašin and much of northern Montenegro until May 14th, 1943, at which point it was taken over by German Army forces. Throughout the next two years, fighting between the Partisan and Italians (along with their Chetnik Axis collaborators) was fierce, with the city of Kolašin changed hands between Partisan rebel forces to Axis control over two dozens times, while also suffering over 18 air bombings.

In September of 1943, the Italians surrendered to the Allied forces in the "Armistice of Cassibile". This weakened Axis-front in Montenegro allowed the Partisan resistance to take complete control of Kolašin, this subsequently allowed for the National Liberation efforts of the Partisans to grow and spread rapidly across north Montenegro. When the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ) representatives decided an assembly should be organized in this liberated region to determine the future government to represent the people of Montenegro, the city of Kolašin was chosen as the host for this significant event. On November 15th, 1943, exactly 544 delegates from across Montenegro came to Kolašin to be part of the fist Anti-Fascist Council of the Peoples Liberation of Montenegro and Boka (Photo 3) -- this first assembly was hosted in an old gymnasium in the center of town. From this space, the delegates, led mostly by the local Communist Party leader Milovan Đilas, proclaimed themselves to be the supreme representatives of the Montenegro and the highest body of the people's government. This was the first elected parliament to represent Montenegro in over 26 years, as the last was dissolved in 1918 when the Kingdom of Montenegro was annexed by the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The assembly elected as it first president Dr. Niko Miljanić, a surgeon from the Montenegrin town of Cetinje. A second Council meeting was also held in Kolašin on July 13th, 1944.

Photo 3: KPJ representatives attending the Anti-Fascist Council at Kolašin, Nov. 1943

Starting in August of 1944, a string of German/Chetnik offensives were made to retake Kolašin, however, each time it was taken, Partisans were quickly able to once again retake it. On December 29th, 1944, the city of Kolašin was liberated from Axis control for the final time by the 5th Montenegrin Proletarian Brigade. Its Partisan history, heritage and central role in the regional events of WWII is something that has not been forgotten in Kolašin, even up to the modern day. Even after the dismantling of Yugoslavia, Kolašin did not change one street name which honored Partisan heroes or events, making it the only town in the entire former Yugoslav region that refrained from doing so, according to some sources.

 

Spomenik Construction

In the late 1960s, local and regional government bodies, along with veterans groups, began to layout plans for the creation of a spomenik complex and facility to commemorate the Kolašin Anti-Fascist Council gatherings which occurred in the town in 1943 and 1944. To choose a suitable design for the complex, a selection committee was established in 1970 to judge a Yugoslav-wide design competition, with the committee being populated by notable artists, architects and politicians from across the country. Of the concepts submitted for consideration, the committee eventually granted the commission to notable Slovenian designer Marko Mušič (Photo 4). This was the first major commission awarded to Mušič Construction on the complex began the following year in 1971. Helping Marko Mušič on the architectural planning of this project was his father Marjan Mušič, who was also a very accomplished Slovenian architect. Construction was completed and the memorial was unveiled to the public on November 15th, 1975 during a large commemoration event.

Photo 4: A concept model of the conference hall at Kolašin

Photo 5: Schematic plans (top) and an overhead view of a model (bottom) of Kolašin memorial

This impressive memorial structure, which is dominated in its shape by a vast complex of sharply angled concrete pyramidal skylights and rooflines, often referred to as the "Spomen-Dom" ("Memorial House"), is unique in that it operates both as a monument and also a fully functioning civic build. The building's footprint is a massive 2,500 square meters in size, originally containing numerous offices, exhibition spaces, museum installations and a large 'Congress Hall' intended for civic events, public functions and governmental party meetings. The building was and still is considered by many to be a modern wonder of architecture and continues to be studied and evaluated by architects around the world. The architectural concept for this building (Photo 5) went on to win countless awards for its creator Marko Mušič, including the coveted Slovenian 'Prešeren Award' in 1976, the republic's highest art award, as well as the Yugoslav 'July 4th' Award.

 

Present-Day

Since the dismantling of Yugoslavia and the ensuing conflicts and wars across the region in the 1990s, the Kolašin Spomen-Dom facility has fallen into some disrepair and neglect. Over the last two decades, funding for the building's maintenance from regional and national governments was cut, leaving the few municipal and political offices that did still exist there few resources for the structure's upkeep. Because of the derelict state much of the building was in, many locals in the area felt the structure was a blight and eye-sore for the city center. In the late 2000s, there were grand plans to tear down the 'Spomen-Dom' to redevelop the space into an elaborate tourist facility, however, due to a budget crisis, this plan did not materialize. Three points make the future of the 'Spomen-Dom' uncertain: 1.) the dire state the facility is in, 2.) the opposition to the building from some in the local Kolašin residents and 3.) the fact the building is only being partially used -- however, even despite this neglect and poor condition, it is still considered one of the most significant examples of post-war architecture in all of Montenegro. In fact, in a 2015 publication, two architecture professors at the University of Montenegro recognized the Spomen-Dom as an "unsurpassed example of transposition of vernacular architecture in a modern creative expression, not only in Montenegro, but also beyond." Also, in 2014, the 14th annual Venice Architecture Biennale (Photo 6) featured the 'Spomen-Dom' in an exhibition called "Treasures in Disguise", in which the future and redevelopment of Montenegro's late-modernist architecture was discussed.

Photo 6: Poster for 14th Venice Art Biennale

 

In the 2018 book "Arhitektonska komunikacija: Objekti kulture u Crnoj Gori (1945 – 2000)" by Slavica Stamatović Vučković, the enduring legacy and the historical architectural importance of Mušič's Spomen-Dom complex is described in the following terms (roughly translated here into English):

"In the spirit of these architectural tendencies, Marko Mušič's Memorial House in Kolašin defeats the schematics of modernist formalism and introduces a new, expressive and dynamic connection with space, both formally, viewed from the outside, as well as functionally, reshaped from within... If this principle for generating the architectural form was to be placed in the historical context of 20th century architecture, then we would certainly place it among the distinctively 'semantic' post-modernistically defined architectural language of Michael Graves, who established 'exaggerated dialogue', as well as [Peter] Eisenman's explicitly syntactic approach to self-sufficient form, often trapped in one's own 'monologue'."

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

In its original condition, the Spomen-Dom here at Kolašin had a number of inscribed elements contained across its structure. However, as of present, there are no readily evident original plaques, inscriptions or engravings at the Spomen-Dom complex. The first inscription that would have been visible upon visiting the site in its original state was a set of raised letters fixed directly onto the wall at the building's south entrance. So far, I have been unable to obtain any records or photos revealing what the message this inscription was communicating, but more than likely it was a simple description of the property and an explanation of what it was commemoration. A faint image of the this entrance inscription can be seen in a vintage image (Slide 1). More than likely that this inscription was removed from the site sometime after the dismantling of Yugoslavia during the 1990s, but the exact date and reason of its removal is unknown.

Slideshow

Meanwhile, within the interior of the Spomen-Dom complex, additional inscriptions could originally be found, which presently no longer exist. A vintage Yugoslav-era photo which can be seen in Slide 2 depicts a large raised-letter inscription that once existed within the building's interior. Unfortunately, as of yet, I have been unable to determine where exactly in the building it was located. Its inscription, which appears here in both Latin (small text) and Cyrillic (large text), roughly translates into English as:

"The people themselves need a democratic way to decide on their destiny and state organization. Our destiny is in our own hands because of the declaration of the Assembly of National Anti-Fascist Council of the National Liberation of Montenegro and Boka."

Meanwhile, an additional vintage photo further reveals another inscription that once existed at this site but is now lost (Slide 2). This inscription was originally set within the south wall of the primary entry foyer to the left of the entrance to the main theatre.. The inscription seen here in Slide 3 is presented twice in both Latin (small text) and Cyrillic (large text), with it translating into English as:

"The Assembly of National Representatives of true patriots of Montenegro and Boka was held in Kolašin on the 15th of November 1943, and we announce the establishment of a terrestrial Anti-Fascist Council of the People's Liberation of Montenegro and Boka, which today takes on the role of the people's representative and the political leadership People Liberation movement in Montenegro and Boka. This is given all by ourselves for our own freedom and we will quickly execute the liberation of our people and create a better life. The life of the peace of freedom of democracy and fraternal equality of the people of Yugoslavia from the declaration of the Assembly of the Republic of Montenegro and Boka."

 

As far as graffiti, many elements of the Spomen-Dom are covered in spraypaint vandalism (Slides 3 & 4). Interestingly, much of the vandalism is right over top previous lackluster, mismatched and half-hearted efforts to remove older instances of it. In addition, a significant amount of the graffiti here is of a nationalistic nature, with many depictions of Serbian crosses, for example, being scrawled across the building. However, I've been informed that as of July 2016, much of what is seen in the photos here has been cleaned off or painted over.

Photo 7: Traditional styles homes found in the Dinaric Alps of Montenegro

Symbolism:

Upon first examining the shape and structure of the massive facade of the Kolašin Cultural Center (Spominski-Dom), it is difficult to decipher any meaning, as it almost appears to be an exercise in pure geometric expression. However, upon examining other surrounding structures, it can readily be noticed that the sharp triangle elements of the building are meant to be a mirror of the sharply pitched roofs of surroundings homes and buildings of the area, a feature needed in this area which receives significant winter snowfall. But even further, sources relate that these roof shapes are specifically meant to act as exaggerated references to the types of traditional homes built in the Dinaric Alps region of Montenegro (Photos 7, 8 & 9). Thus, the building's creator, Marko Mušič, is attempting to symbolically ground the building in the community in which it exists as well as its traditional heritage of architecture. Meanwhile, the building's strange and confusing shape can easily elicit an array of deep thoughts and feelings when examined closely and thoughtfully. In the 2010 book 'Kolašin and Lovčen' by writer Fedja Košir, he writes the following description about the building:

"This rich assemblage, full of different meanings, operates as a self-sufficient universe; and yet it is primarily a place for humans. See how well the people, children on bicycles, even the cars, fit the abstract geometry of architecture in the photographs. The architect marks his creation with the Laconic motto: standing on the ground and reaching for the sky. An immense thought, expressed with immense modesty. Marko Mušič reaches far into the sky, like only rare giants of art can."

Photo 8: A drawing study by Marko Mušič of Dinaric-style homes

Photo 9: An early drawing study for Spomen-Dom by Marko Mušič showing similarity with Dinaric-style homes

In addition, on the official website of the architect Marko Mušič, he includes several statements about his influences and intentions in his design and approach to the creation of the Spomen-Dom complex:

The aim of the project was to establish a system of invisible order as the characteristic of every action in which many people participate equally. This 'system approach' in physical layout tries to prevent complete disorientation and underlines the importance of contact with open space. However, its basic task is to allow numerous space arrangements and thus many alternative actions, some of them perhaps not foreseen in this moment.

The arrangement of elements is influenced by examples of vernacular architecture, which conditioned by primitive timber construction and hard winter climate, developed remarkable roof forms. The appearance of these individual houses or space structures which they form together overcomes the bare utilitarian comprehension of a sensitive observer. We tried to gain a historical understanding of vernacular living cells and links between them. As a manifestation of dependence on natural conditions and interdependence of people living together this represented the basis for establishing the system of invisible order.

The integration of two interrelating geometrical structures gives many interesting spatially perceptive experiences. The diversity achieved in this way and the unlimited spatial possibilities can initiate the creativeness of people who will use the building. The quality of the spaces formed cannot be measured only by their physical appearance. The value of the whole formation will increase if people accept it and enrich it by their activities.

 

Photo 10: Drawing of the Hekatompedon

There is one final symbolic component of the Spomen-Dom worth mention here that some researchers say give the site a link to antiquity. In a 2018 book, writer Slavica Stamatović Vučković begins by pointing out the interesting detail that the length of the Spomen-Dom complex is exactly 100m long. While this may seem at first incidental, Vučković relates this precise length to the Hekatompedon temple of ancient Greece (Photo 10). Built around 570BC and existed on the Acropolis in Athens in the location currently occupied by the Parthenon, the Hekatompedon was famously known for being 100 feet long. Even the name 'Hekatom-pedon' literally means 'hundred-feet' in Greek. As such Marko Mušič going out of his way to create the Spomen-Dom to this exacting length Vučković argues is a direct effort to "establish a dialogue with classical architecture".

Status and Condition:

The overall condition of the Kolašin Spomen-Dom complex is fair, but it being allowed to descend into a very deteriorated state. Firstly, the grounds and landscaping of the complex are being kept in a reasonably good state, with it clear that regular mowing and trimming of the grass and vegetation is being done. However, the state of the exterior of the building itself is in a much less optimal state. Graffiti on the building's exterior walls is clearly a constant problem, while years of neglect and improper maintenance has allowed the surface of the concrete for the building's entire exterior to become stained and tarnished into an extremely stained and discolored state. Furthermore, the interior of the building is descending into a dilapidated condition, with many examples of unaddressed water damage, broken windows (Photo 11), stained walls, mold and concrete cracks/chipping being openly seen in various places around the building. I was not able to ascertain the condition of the main Assembly Hall upon my 2017 or 2018 visit to the building.

Photo 11: Broken windows

Photo 12: The Main Hall

However, a colleague of mine from Katmandu & Beyond gained access in the summer of 2017. These recent photos reveal that the Assembly Hall is in a advanced state of disarray, decay and neglect (Photo 12), with the hall covered with piles of old furniture, while the facade displays extreme water damage along with live plants growing inside the space itself. If you arrive at the building hoping to see the locked rooms (which include the main hall), the staff there is very wary about granting access and more than likely will deny you. I get the feeling the staff are very embarrassed about the state the building had descended into. The building is still being actively used by the city for various administrative operations and local political functions/gatherings, however, despite this activity, it did not appear that any efforts were being put into restoring or rehabilitation the building whatsoever. Some sources indicate that government funding for the buildings upkeep and maintenance has been severely limited.

 

While there are few directional or promotional signs anywhere in the city leading visitors or tourists to this spomenik complex, there are several historical interpretive sign boards in the "Fighter's Square" (Trg Borca/трг борца) park on the east of the Town Hall building which mention the significant events which occurred at this spot and in the region during the National Liberation War (WWII). If you visit the site, don't expect to be able to gain access to any of the internal rooms of the building, as they are all mostly locked/off limits or not accessible to the general public.

Additional Sites in the Kolašin Area:

This section will explore several additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in the greater area of Kolašin, Montenegro. Among the sites examined are the Partisan Cemetery at Breza, the 'Monument to the Victims of Fascism' next to the Spomen-Dom complex in Kolašin, as well as the unique WWI monument complex in the nearby town of Mojkovac.

Partisan Memorial Cemetery - Breza:

Situated in the northern outskirts of the town of Kolašin is the Partisan Memorial Cemetery at Breza Meadows. At this location during WWII, over 72 Partisan fighters from across Montenegro were brought here by Axis occupying forces and executed from March 1942 to May 1943. A spomenik park was built at Breza on the site of the killings in 1974 by Serbian designer Momčilo Vujisić. The central monument of the Breza Cemetery is a circular structure consisting of 10 concrete pylons, varying in height from about 2m to 9m tall. Behind the Breza spomenik are hundreds of inscribed graves marking the final resting place of not only those executed here during WWII, but also other fallen WWII Partisan fighters from the surrounding region and WWII veterans from the area who have passed away since the end of the war.

Breza Partisan Cemetery - Slideshow

Photo 13: A view of the first cemetery complex built at Breza for executed Partisans, 1943

The current cemetery complex here at Breza was not the first to be built on this location. During one of the early liberations of the region in 1943, a small makeshift burial ground was constructed for those who were executed here. A view of this original cemetery can be seen in Photo 13. Today, the Breza Partisan Cemetery is still used as a location for a number of annual commemorative and remembrance events. These events are generally held on every July 13th, which is officially recognized as Statehood Day in Montenegro (the creation of an independent Montenegro), but prior to 2005, it was celebrated as the Uprising Day of the Montenegrin People against Axis occupation and invasion. Despite this change, many people in Montenegro still recognize and celebrate the holiday with its original intention. The monument complex is located towards the north end of the town of Kolašin in the small outskirt village of Breza. The exact coordinates for the site are N42°49'50.5", E19°31'15.4". If you plan to visit the Breza Cemetery, it is important to know that its front gate to the facility is normally locked, so it might be necessary to contact a representative at the Kolašin Municipal Building if you wish to gain proper access.

 

Monument to the Battle of Mojkovac:

Roughly 22km north of Kolašin along the Tara River valley is the town of Mojkovac. In this town in an interesting monument located at the site where the main road crosses the Tara River (Slides 1 - 4). This monument, built by sculptor Drago Đurović and the architect Mirko Đukić, was unveiled in 1966 and was meant to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the WWI-era Battle of Mojkovac. It was during this battle in 1916 that a small group of Montenegrin fighters, under the command of general Janko Vukotić, faced off against a much larger unit of Austro-Hungarian soldiers. Despite Montenegrin fighters being of smaller numbers, they were ultimately able to force the Austro-Hungarians into retreat from Mojkovac. Culturally, this battle came to represent for the people of Mojkovac the strength and resolve of the local Montenegrin fighters, even when they were faced with overwhelming numbers.

Battle of Mojkovac Monument - Slideshow

This monument at Mojkovac is characterized by a flared white concrete canopy structure situated on top of a small stone prominence. A set of stone stairs leads up to the memorial from road level. On each side of the monument are cut alcoves within which are bronze relief sculptures depicting Montenegrin fighters (Slide 5). Under the canopy of the structure is an engraved polished marble panel (Slide 6) which contains an inscription which translates from Montenegrin to English as:

Heroes of the Battle of Mojkovac

They died for freedom & brotherhood, and so they live on today, 1915-16 (1966)

Commemorative events are still held at the site and it currently exists in very good  state of condition as of 2018. Extensive restoration was done to the monument complex in 2016 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Mojkovac. The monument stands as one of the primary symbols for the town of Mojkovac. Overlooking the bridge crossing of the Tara River for highway E-65, the exact coordinates for this monument are N42°57'23.5", E19°34'38.8" (with parking available just in front of the site).

 

Monument to the Victims of Fascism:

Located within "Fighter's Square", directly next to the Spomen-Dom complex in Kolašin, is the Monument to the Victims of Fascism. This monument, created in 1949 by Croatian artist Vojin Bakić, this work is a bronze sculpture (in the style of Socialist Realism) which depicts a man and a woman with their hands raised into the air, embodying and symbolizing the victory of the Partisans against Axis powers during WWII (Slides 1 - 3). This monument is one of Bakić's earlier more figurative & realistic works, as later in his life he created monuments of a much more abstract and modernist form (such as those at Kamenska and Petrova Gora). On the front of the monument is a black inscribed stone panel (Slide 4) which reads, translated into English, as: "Fighters & victims of fascist terror fallen during the People's Liberation Struggle, 1941-1945". The exact coordinates for this memorial sculpture are N42°49'26.6", E19°31'12.3".

Victims of Fascism Monument - Slideshow

And Additional Sites of Interest:

  • Hotel Bianca: Located just a few dozen meters to the west of the Kolašin Spomen-Dom is Hotel Bianca (originally named 'Bjelasica Hotel' during the Yugoslav era). Built in 1979 by architect Radosav Zeković, this adventurous triangular building is a landmark of Montenegrin architecture, and seems to take the design approach of 'critical regionalism', with the building very much referencing the local landscape/climate and the region's traditional architectural vernacular. The building almost appears as a modern, almost futuristic, A-frame ski lodge, with its wood-panelled interior and steep-pitched snow-shedding roofline. In 2005, a 9 million euro renovation project was completed on the hotel after it was bought by English investors, at which point it was converted into a high-end resort (with its name then being changed to 'Hotel Bianca'). The hotel still stands as one of the symbols of Kolašin. The Hotel Bianca's official website can be found HERE, while a photo of the complex can be seen in Photo 14. The exact coordinates for the site are N42°49'28.2", E19°31'02.1".

  • Kolašin Heritage Museum: On the west end of Fighter's Square in Kolašin is the town's Heritage Museum (Zavičajni muzej). Housed in the town's old municipal building from 1903, this placed was used as a prison during WWII. The museum was set up in this building in 1982 and it contains many exhibits related to the history of Kolašin, especially focused on the local history during WWII. It is reported to be open every Mon-Sat from 8am to 3pm. Its exact coordinates are N42°49'26.0", E19°31'15.1".

  • Monument to the Komski Partisan Unit at Morača Monastery: Roughly 24km south along the road southwest heading back towards Podgorica from Kolašin is situated the Morača Monastery. In front of the monastery along the road is a small abstractly-shaped concrete memorial altar that marks the location of where the Komski Partisan Unit was formed in November of 1941. This memorial altar is one of over a dozen identical memorial sculptures marking the formation location of all of Montenegro's Partisan units. It is not known who created it or when. A photo of the site here at the monastery can be seen at THIS link, along with two other examples. the exact coordinates are N42°46'01.1", E19°23'26.5".

Photo 14: Hotel Bianca

 

Directions:

The 'Spomen-Dom' Town Hall spomenik complex at Kolašin is located directly in the downtown center of the city at the corner of the streets Mirka Vešovića and Jagoša Simonovića. Parking can be made directly in front of the building along the street (see HERE for Google StreetView), or where ever it can be reasonably found. Approximate coordinates for street parking are N42°49'28.0", E19°31'08.3". Keep in mind that the roads which encircle the Spomen-Dom complex are one-way streets in a counter-clockwise direction around the building. Alternatively, the complex can be walked to reasonably from just about anywhere in the town of Kolašin.

Click to open in Google Maps in new window

 

Slideshow

Comments:

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