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13 Unfinished Architectural Relics of the Yugoslav-era

Updated: Dec 19, 2022

The 1980s era in Yugoslavia could be characterized by its substantial amount of economic crisis and turmoil. During the first five years of the decade, the value of the Yugoslav dinar compared to the dollar plunged from 15 to 1,370 and hyperinflation ran wild. Then, as the 1990s approached, Socialist Yugoslavia was dismantled, new states were created, political situations change and a long series of wars began. On top of all that, the eager eyes of privatization loomed over all state-owned assets in the post-socialist era. It was within this tumultuous economic, political and social atmosphere that dozens of large-scale construction projects going on across Yugoslavia were forced to reckon and keep their heads above water. While most of such building projects were eventually able to pull through and complete their projects in some shape or form, there were some, however, that were so not so lucky. Some of these large-scale construction project, only partially completed, were stricken and struck down by some or all of the above-mentioned afflictions, leaving their huge unfinished forms (sometimes decayed, sometimes destroyed) haunting the landscape for decades, standing as bitter reminders of the past, reminders of war, reminders of corruption, reminders of promises unkept or simply a reminder of what was lost. It is these such sites that we will examine and investigate in this article.

In each entry in this article, we will examine the history of the building in question, investigating the impetus of the building’s creation, who built, why was it built, who funded it, what circumstances led to its demise and what has been its ultimate fate. Furthermore, we will look at how these derelict idle buildings affected the communities in which they reside and what might be in store for their futures. Many of these locations are sparsely written about (as some would rather have them be forgotten) and they all are rarely, if ever, compared side-by-side, so, this article will most certainly be the first exercise in all of them being grouped and examined as a whole. As such, I hope the stories and trajectories of these ruined sites all brought together and collectively evaluated might impart some level of historical insight or clarity that might not have existed when looking at them individually. Meanwhile, some of these sites are so old and have been sitting neglected, abandoned and forgotten for so many decades that many young people who live amongst them and see them every day may have absolutely no concept whatsoever of what they are, why they are there, why they sit forgotten or what they were ever supposed to be in the fist place. Perhaps some of these young people will find this article and learn their stories. Lastly, this is a collection of the few sites of this nature of which I am aware. If any readers of this article are aware of further sites that fit into this category, please reach out to me so I can continue to add to this list into the future.

 

Staklena Banka, Mostar, BiH

A recent photo of the Staklena Banka in Mostar. Credit: Giles Clarke/Getty Reportage

Name: Staklena Banka (The Glass Bank)

Location: Mostar, BiH

Architect: Dragan Bijedić

Year started: around 1987

Coordinates: 43°20'38.8"N, 17°48'22.4"E


In 1987, construction work began on a new business tower and banking center for the Slovene financial company “Ljubljanska banka” in the heart of Mostar, BiH, right next to the popular HIT Department Store. Designed by Sarajevo architect Dragan Bijedić (who is also known for designing the colorfully famous “Papagajka” in Sarajevo with Mladen Gvozden), this tower came to be known as the “Staklena Banka” or “The Glass Bank”, referring to the buildings unique sheer glass facade, which was to be the first building in Mostar to have such a flashy contemporary styling. In addition to a bank, this facility was also intended to eventually house the administrative offices for the regional Sokol Association and the local aluminum plant. The building had reached its final height (about 30m tall) and its last stages of completion by 1992, thus becoming the tallest building in Mostar for that period. At that point, the sharp angular structure was adorned with its blue glass facade installed within an aluminum framework across all of its 10 floors, while its 8,400 sq m of office space was being prepared for office tenants. However, the Bosnian War which began that year indefinitely delayed the opening of the Glass Bank. Through the course of that war, the tower’s high vantage point led to it being used as a sniper’s nest by soldiers, which, as a result, led to the the structure being targeted by artillery fire. Subsequently, the entire building was devastated to such a degree that, by the end of the war, all that was left was the tower’s concrete skeleton.

A vintage early 1990s photo of the Staklena Banka with its original blue glass.
A 2009 photo of the Staklena Banka when it still has its aluminum lattice. Credit: Rejflinger@Wikipedia

After the Bosnian War, the Glass Bank building was left in ruins and remained that way for many decades. The decaying tower still retained the aluminum lattice on its facade until about 2009 (which still even held on to a few original blue glass panes), however, by 2010 the lattice was remove from the exterior. Its derelict remains became an attraction for homeless people, drug users, graffiti artists and curious urban explorers. Many of the “alternative” local tourist guides even began to bring eager foreigners there who were looking to relish in the region’s ruins of war, with the popular American travel website Atlas Obscura even having a profile page dedicated to the site. Though, while it has been a popular tourist site for Mostar, this destroyed concrete hulk has hung as a burden around the neck of the city for decades now, with legal and administrative roadblocks preventing any progress on the site.

A view of the interior of the Staklena Banka at one of the "sniper nests". Credit: Martijn Munneke@Wikipedia

However, in 2017, the government of FBiH bought the tower for 3 million euros with the intention to rehabilitate it, setting aside another 6.5 million euros for its restoration. As of 2021, efforts are clearly in motion towards that goal. Though, even these efforts could be hampered, as the tower’s architect, Dragan Bijedić, is suing the FBiH government for copyright issues in relation to the changes being made to the structure. A more detailed examination of the state of the building, its condition and plans for restoring it can be found in THIS government document. Lastly, the Glass Bank was featured on the Viasat History channel show “Forsaken Places” in episode 4 (titled “Broken Brotherhood”), which can be watched at THIS YouTube link.

 

The Blue Hospital, Bugojno, BiH

A recent view of the ruins of the Blue Hospital in Bugojno, BiH. Credit: Bugojno Danas

Name: The Blue Hospital (“Plava bolnica”)

Location: Bugojno, BiH

Architect: “Biro 71”

Year started: 1986

Coordinates: 44°03'24.2"N, 17°26'35.5"E


There was great excitement in the air in Bugojno, BiH in March of 1986 as ground was broken on the construction of a new grand hospital complex for the community. With work on the facility funded by the community itself (with 5% taken out of every local workers’ paycheck during the hospital’s construction phase), everyone in Bugojno was looking forward to this project getting underway. Positioned atop a hillside near the town center called “Obješenica”, the “Bugojno Medical Center”, as it was officially known, was to serve not just Bugojno, but also the surrounding communities of Donji Vakuf, Gornji Vakuf and Kupres (who were also contributing towards its funding). As construction progressed with the completion of the facility’s concrete skeleton, in 1988, a charismatic modern blue facade began to be installed around these bones of the building. It was from this dynamic facade that the building gained its nickname “The Blue Hospital” or “Plava bolnica”. The authors of this project were the Slovene architectural group “Biro 71”, made up of Štefan Kacin, Radisav Popović, Jurij Princes & Bogdan Spindler, who also created additional “Blue Hospital” projects during the Yugoslav-era in Zagreb, Croatia and in Zrenjanin, Serbia.

A drone view of the ruins of the Blue Hospital in Bugojno, BiH. Credit: Bugojno Danas
A vintage 80s photo showing the Blue Hospital with its original blue panels.

Work slowed on the hospital’s construction during the beginning of the 1990s as the nation’s economy worsened, then, as the Bosnian War started in 1992, work on the facility was halted entirely. However, the construction efforts of the Blue Hospital were not affected by the war and by its conclusion, the work site of the facility was still largely intact. Yet, despite the war being over, construction at the hospital did not resume. It was at this point of inactivity and inattention that local vandals and thieves began looting the construction site of valuables and its building materials. It even reached the point where the hospital’s expensive blue facade panels were being ripped from the concrete skeleton of the unfinished building. In just a few years, all that was left of the site was a heap of empty hollow derelict remains. Since the 1990s, the Blue Hospital has continued to stand in this abandoned and derelict condition. As such, a building that was initially undertaken to be the pride of Bugojno, funded by its own citizenry, has today turned into an object of disappointment and a symbol of promises unfulfilled. As one newspaper notes, it stands “as a sort of mockery of the city”. I found no articles or sources indicating that there are any efforts planned by the municipal government of Bugojno, who own the site, to restore, refurbish or complete the abandoned ruins of the never-completed Blue Hospital. In April of 2022, the news outlet “Srednja Bosna Danas” posted a +40 minute long video on YouTube the local Bugojno citizen, Adil Ramčić, voicing his anger and frustration with this decades-old problem.

 

Dom Penzionera, Sarajevo, BiH

A vintage late 80s photo of the Dom Penzionera in Sarajevo, BiH

Name: Dom Penzionera

Location: Sarajevo, BiH

Architect: Mladen Gvozden

Year started: 1986

Coordinates: 43°50'35.0"N, 18°20'03.5"E


In 1986, the Social Fund for Pensions and Disability Insurance of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina announced a competition for a conceptual design contest for a new facility that would come to be known as the “Dom Penzionera” (“Retirement Home”). This commission for this project was subsequently awarded to an ambitious proposal put forward by the Sarajevo architect Mladen Gvozden. The Dom Penzionera was nearing its final completion in 1992 after five years of construction. Built at a cost of roughly 16 million Deutsch Marks, the facility consisted of 16,000 square meters of floor space and contained 150 beds (which were intended for use both as pensioner living and hotel room accommodation). A seven-level tower next to the apartments would include not only residential services for the elderly, but also an intensive care unit on the top floor and a dedicated morgue in the tower’s basement. As work progressed, it was shaping up to become among the most ambitious and innovative retirement communities in the country.

A vintage late 80s photo of the Dom Penzionera in Sarajevo, BiH.
A vintage late 80s photo of the Dom Penzionera in Sarajevo, BiH.

Broken up into several distinct components, the most noticeable and overt characteristic of the Dom Penzionera is its in-your-face pop-art usage of bold playful color combinations and eclectic use of various architectural shapes and forms. This bright fragmented arrangement of Bauhaus-inspired curves, traditional row house apartments, futuristic glass tubes, vividly colored bricks, and a collage of modern, traditional and vernacular motifs all came together to form something completely new in the Sarajevo city landscape. This visual eclecticism takes center stage in the exuberant and chaotic celebration of color, texture and pattern that defines Gvozden’s Dom Penzionera. As a result of this dynamic playful appearance, locals in Sarajevo gave the complex the affectionate nickname “Disneyland”.

A recent photo of the ruins of the Dom Penzionera in Sarajevo, BiH. Credit: Roberto Conte

However, Gvozden’s Dom Penzionera standing as an icon of Sarajevo’s modern architectural backdrop was not a destiny that came to pass. As construction on the complex was completed in 1992, several dozen pensioners were preparing themselves to move into the facility, with care workers readying rooms and services for their elderly patrons. Yet, as the year progressed, the Bosnian War broke out and the long violent Siege of Sarajevo began. This series of events put a sudden end to the Dom Penzionera without ever having the ability to hold an official opening or the ability to welcome any retired folks to their new home. With the start of the conflict in Sarajevo, UN peacekeeping forces of UNPROFOR from the Netherlands, Canada, France, Belgium, Sweden (among others) stationed in Sarajevo appropriated the Dom Penzionera, moving into the facility and turning it into a makeshift barracks. This site was chosen for the UN troops because it was just a few hundred meters away from the main UN Headquarters, which was being housed in the PTT building along Bulevar Meše Selimovića (what is today the BH Telecom building). These UN forces were enchanted by the playful design of the Dom Penzionera and gave it the nickname “The Rainbow Hotel”. The photos taken by these UN soldiers of their new home are some of the only existing images depicting the facility before its untimely devastation and destruction.

A photo of the ruins of the Dom Penzionera in Sarajevo, BiH. Credit: Klix.ba

By the end of the war in the mid-1990s, the Dom Penzionera was completely devastated and left in utter and complete ruin. In this new country of Bosnia i Herzegovina, the state-owned Social Fund for Pensions and Disability Insurance retained ownership of the remnants of the facility, keeping hold of it for more than two decades, all while numerous other government properties around the city were privatized. During these decades, the facility sat as an unfortunate graffiti-covered blight upon the landscape and, with its thousands of bullet holes and shelling scars, served as a constant reminder of the war for all those who passed by it. Despite calls to preserve this architecturally important complex, in 2021, the Dom Penzionera was sold yet for 10.3 million euros to a company called Mont Ing from Visoko, BiH, with the intention to demolish the complex. Yet as of the summer of 2022, the ruins of the complex remain standing. Future plans for the site intend to turn it into a large commercial and retail hub called “Capital Centar”. See my full article on the Dom Penzionera at THIS link.

 

University Hospital, Zagreb, Croatia

Name: University Hospital (“Sveučilišna bolnica”)

Location: Zagreb, Croatia

Architect: Biro 71

Year started: 1982

Coordinates: 45°46'17.7"N, 15°55'12.5"E


In the southwestern Zagreb suburb of Blato along the Sava River, planning efforts began in 1982 towards the construction a massive medical complex that would operate as the city’s new University Hospital. Intended to be the largest and most technologically advanced hospital in Croatia, the ambitious project quickly grew to a size of over 200,000 sq meters of floor space, with the intention of housing over 1,000 hospital beds. The design for this enormous facility was undertaken by the notable Slovene architectural firm “Biro 71”, with Štefan Kacin, Jurij Prince and Bogdan Spindler, who were during this same time creating the now-famous Blue Hospital in the Dubrava area of Zagreb. Meanwhile, the funding for the project was taken directly from the income of Zagreb’s citizenry (known as “self-contribution”) with a 1.5% payroll tax each year for five years. With on-the-ground construction starting in 1985, the original opening date was set for September of 1987, however, barely even 20% of the facility was completed by this point. As a result, a second round of “self-contribution” for four more years was instituted. The situation of constructing the hospital was made all the more difficult largely as a result of the deteriorating financial situation and austerity measures in Yugoslavia during the 1980s, which greatly slowed progress. Also slowing progress was the fact that the project was initially presented to the public as a conventional clinical hospital for the New Zagreb regon but plans were later changed by government officials (without public approval) for the facility to be much larger and complicated University Hospital complex (roughly doubling its initially presented size), which obviously resulted in a significant increase in the labor, materials and costs required.

A recent photo of the unfinished ruins of the University Hospital in Zagreb, Croatia. Credit: Jan Hribljan

Thus, after 10 years of construction, the hospital was only about 50% completed by 1992. Estimates of the total expenditure by the government on this hospital project are equivalent to around 157 million euros. By 1994, the spiraling costs, changes in government and a lack of any further political will resulted in all work on the University Hospital being suspended. The husks of sprawling concrete shells that were left behind is a distinct and unique arrangement of modernist forms. Biro 71, who are renowned for their ambitious architectural projects, created an array of six low angular towers in a repeating pattern with a blue glass facade, which themselves were flanked by towering sculptural webs of white metal lattices (which can almost be mistaken for scaffolding upon first glance). Laid out to the south of these towers were a series of long pavilion-style wings engineered with living landscape roofs (“green roofs” as they’d be called today), which was certainly an element of this project that was ahead of its time. Clearly postmodern in its styling, the University Hospital, if it had ever been completed, would have been a stunning architectural achievement.