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16 Works of Yugoslav Modernist Architecture in Africa & the Middle East

Updated: Nov 18, 2022

In recent years, the unique modernist architecture of Yugoslavia has begun to be increasingly celebrated around the world and recognized for being a singular architectural manifestation, distinct from the work made by either the Cold-War eastern or western powers. However, what has not received as much attention or recognition are the works by Yugoslav architects that were built outside the area of Yugoslavia. Because of the influence and political relationships which Yugoslavia cultivated through creating and participating in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) (which was a "a forum of 120 developing world states that were not formally aligned with or against any major power blocs"), Yugoslavia was thus able to export its architecture and modernist design aesthetics to many NAM member states. One of the most noticeable footprints in this regard made by Yugoslavia was in creating a huge amount of buildings and infrastructure across the African and the Middle Eastern landscape. Many of these architectural works have long gone unrecognized, not only as excellent examples of Yugoslav architecture, but also as stunning examples of modernist world architecture in their own right. The whole phenomenon of Yugoslav architecture in Africa and the Middle East is only just beginning to be explored, most notably by academic researcher Łukasz Stanek. Here I will give a brief run-down of sixteen notable architectural examples that will help to communicate an idea of the variety of forms in which Yugoslav modernism manifested itself across these regions during this pivotal time period.


1.) International Trade Fair, Lagos, Nigeria

Name: International Trade Fair complex

Location: Lagos, Nigeria

Architect(s): Zoran Bojović, with Predrag Ðaković, Milorad Cvijić & Ljiljana Bojović

Year completed: 1974-1977

Coordinates: 6°27'49.1"N 3°14'49.6"E

Description: Located just off of the Lagos-Badagry Expressway on the western edge of Lagos, Nigeria is situated the 350 hectare International Trade Fair complex. This massive development project was intended to host Nigeria's first ever international trade fair and upon its opening in 1977, it was said to be the largest market place ever created in sub-Saharan Africa. The creation of the trade fair grounds, which ended up totaling 40,000 sq m, was built by Yugoslav construction/engineering firm Energoprojekt, while the buildings of the complex were designed by a design team lead by Belgrade architect Zoran Bojović. The spatial planning of the complex is characterized by its circular flow of connectivity and accessibility between exhibition halls, which was a layout Bojović formulated after being inspired by the results he saw from a field research exercise in rural Nigeria where he asked young village children to draw maps of their small communities. Meanwhile, while the buildings themselves display an playfully ambitious design which invokes a wistful future-oriented design of angular and geometric styles. While the complex continues to host various activities and events, many parts of it have descended into a poor condition over recent years. The most prevalent activity of the former fairground complex is the sale of use car parts, of which it is the largest marketplace of this kind in all of Nigeria.


2.) The FINDECO House, Lusaka, Zambia

Name: The FINDECO House

Location: Lusaka, Zambia

Architect(s): Dušan Milenković & Branimir Ganović

Year completed: 1971-1974? [conflicting dates from various sources]

Coordinates: 15°25'27.6"S 28°17'01.8"E

Description: Standing at 90m tall and consisting of 23 floors (with 8,900 sq m of floor space), the FINDECO House is the tallest skyscraper in Zambia, making it one of the most iconic buildings in the country. The name of the building comes from its original owners, who were the State FINance and DEvelopment COrporation. The building is unique in that its floors are cantilevered off of a central pillar, giving the structure a gravity defying appearance. This tower was built for FINDECO at the height of Zambia's copper export trade (which the state corporation managed). However, almost as soon as the tower was completed, the global copper prices plummeted, leaving the corporation all but gutted and Zambia in a recession which continues to present times. Today the FINDECO House largely operates as general office and retail space. In 2013, a huge Samsung sign was installed at the top of the tower. Efforts have been put forward in recent years to renovate and modernize the building, but so far, no such activities have manifested. Also, it is relevant to note that the white skyscraper next to the FINDECO House, which is ZANACO Bank HQ, which was also designed by Yugoslav engineers and architects.


3.) International Conference Centre, Kampala, Uganda

A view of the interior of the International Conference Center at Kampala. Photo credit: Cletus Lwalijja

Name: International Conference Center at Serena Hotel

Location: Kampala, Uganda

Architect(s): built by Yugoslav architects of the Energoprojekt engineering/construction firm

Year completed: 1975

Coordinates: 0°19'03.4"N 32°35'11.2"E

Description: The Kampala International Conference Center was unveiled in 1975 and constructed and designed by the Yugoslav construction firm Energoprojekt to accommodate the 13th Summit of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). This facility conference facility, along with its adjoining hotel, were constructed in a mind-boggling nine months in order to be ready in time for the OAU conference. Made in a unique hexagonal shape, the building it clad in decorative aluminum panel not only for their attractive appearance, but also to protect the building from the intense tropical sunlight. The summit was presided over by notorious Uganda leader President Idi Amin, also known as the "Butcher of Uganda" who was considered one of the cruelest despots in history. This conference center was used by President Amin for all sorts of personal activities, limited not only to his wedding reception when he wed his wife Sarah Kyolaba Amin, but also, according to some sources, the basement level of the center was used as a torture chamber for Amin's opponents and enemies. The complex has been used consistently over the years for a variety of events and governmental purposes, being updated and renovated in several instances in recent years. It continues to be well used and in good condition to present day.

A vintage image showing the Conference Center in Kampala, Uganda during the 1970s.
A 1990s view of Hotel Nile in Kampala, Uganda.
A vintage commemorative stamp showing Hotel Nile and the convention center in Kampala.