Updated: Feb 1
Spread across the Yugoslav landscape in countless towns, cities and villages were legions of attractively alluring and seductive department stores and shopping centers. As the country began to decentralize in the late 1950s, the “Workers Self-Management” style of socialism that came out of that transition began to allow certain levels of market forces to steer production, trade, commerce, imports, etc, etc, creating something akin to “market socialism”. From this, a modest “consumer culture” emerged in Yugoslavia. People began to develop a taste for retail goods, exotic imports, time-saving appliances, and much more. This was a significant shift away from socialism as it was practiced in the Soviet-sphere, which was a system where little attention was paid to the tastes or desires of the consumer.
As a result of this shift towards “market socialism”, western-style department stores began to be constructed in huge numbers across Yugoslavia. These commercial centers were not the austere chaste sort of shops emphasizing utility and practicality one might expect to see in the USSR, instead, they were bright vibrant buildings created in adventurous and exciting architectural styles which were so distinct that it could be argued they pioneered a uniquely Yugoslav approach to modernist commercial architecture. Within the shops were impressive selections of not only domestic products, but, in some cases, a wide array of import products as well… American blue jeans, British rock records, designer clothes, Bulgarian perfumes, among other such seductive products. Even further, these modern markets operated not only as commercial spaces, but also, in a very Western way, social places for young people to congregate together.
As a result of the popularity and attractiveness of many of these shopping centers, they became local landmarks for the communities which they served, so much so that they were often featured as central symbolic attractions on the promotional postcards for these towns and villages. In contemporary times, as the capitalist ‘mega marts’ on the outskirts of town dominate a large portion of commercial retail, these Yugoslav-era monuments to ‘market socialism” are being increasingly abandoned and even demolished in many cases. In this article, we will examine a few notable examples of Yugoslav department stores and explore this distinct typology of Yugoslav modernist architecture that manifested in a myriad of forms across the country during the 1960s to the 1980s.
1.) Unima Department Store, Sarajevo, BiH
Name: Unima Department Store (aka: Sarajka)
Location: Sarajevo, BiH
Architect(s): Vladimir Zarahović
Year built: 1975 (demolished 2007)
Coordinates: 43°51'30.5"N 18°24'59.9"E
Description: The Department Store “Unima” of Sarajevo, BiH was unveiled in the newly created October Square (today called “Children of Sarajevo Square”) during a festive ceremony on April 5th, 1975, the 30th anniversary of the WWII liberation of Sarajevo. It was intimately referred to by locals as “Sarajka”. This massive five-level 17,000 sq m complex employed over 500 people and was meant to operate as the new commercial center of the city. Sarajka was created by famous architect Vladimir Zarahović, whose concept for the building’s design was characterized by a snowflake shaped structure adorned with a series of bright blue panels embossed triangle patterns. Sarajka was a seminal work of architecture and most modern shopping complex in the BiH republic, drawing in not only local people, but also people from all over Yugoslavia. Articles online are filled with nostalgic stories about Sarajka from people who grew up in Sarajevo during the 70s and 80s, as the center became a notable center of youth gathering and "hanging out". However, Sarajka became a casualty of the Bosnian War, sitting completely destroyed by its end. After sitting ruined for more than a decade, the entire structure was demolished in 2007. The BBI Center was built in its place in 2009.
2.) 'Beograd' Department Store, Bor, Serbia
Name: "Beograd" Department Store
Location: Bor, Serbia
Architect(s): Bureau of "Arhitectura i Urbanizam"
Year built: 1970
Coordinates: 44°04'42.3"N 22°05'57.9"E
Description: At the north end of Freedom Square in the town of Bor, Serbia is the Department Store “Beograd”, which was a chain of stores founded in Belgrade in 1965 and was among the largest chains in Europe during the Yugoslav-era. As seen in the above image of this department store, the center operates as a bustling center of community life, with families shopping and children playing. Unveiled in 1970, the building was designed by the Belgrade architecture bureau "Arhitectura i Urbanizam", which was led by the architects Krešmir Martinković, Čedomir Beloš and Felix Bajlons. The complex is characterized by the bold yellow geometric pattern of its textured metal screen which covers building’s entire front facade. Despite being a center of community activity, the “Beograd” complex closed and fell into disrepair during the economic turmoil of the 1990s. However, in 2010, an investment group intent on reinvigorating the “Beograd” chain injected 1.5 million euros into re-opening it, at which point its old fading yellow screen was painted bright red. While it remains open to present-day, unresolved roof drainage issues have resulted with the screen’s new red paint chipping away, slowly revealing its original defiant yellow color.
3.) Patrija Department Store, Prijedor, BiH
Name: Patrija Department Store
Location: Prijedor, BiH
Year built: 1979 (demolished 2019/2020)
Coordinates: 44°58'46.5"N 16°42'34.7"E
Description: At the center of Prijedor within Major Zoran Karlica Square are the ruins of the Patrija Department Store (Robna kuća Patrija). When constructed in 1979, this unique and distinctive red modernist complex stood as a bold testament to the ambitiousness of 70s era Yugoslav commercial architecture and design aesthetics . During the Yugoslav-era, Patrija was not only the town's most popular department store, it was also considered to be a landmark of Prijedor and was featured prominently and proudly on the town's postcards. However, after the dismantling of Yugoslavia, the business went into decline and was completely defunct by the early 2000s. It then proceeded to deteriorate, sitting blighted, abandoned and vacant for almost 20 years, with it becoming an embarrassment to the town rather than a point of pride. It sat vacant for so long mostly the result of unclear and disputed property ownership. However, with property rights resolved in 2018, the Patrija building was sold to developers. A 3.5 million euro redevelopment project calls for the building to be torn down completely and rebuilt as a streamlined glass shopping center by 2020. Dismantling of the building began in August of 2019. Sources report to me that by January/Feburary of 2020 the old department store was completed demolished.
4.) Vesna Department Store, Slavonski Brod, Croatia
Name: Vesna Department Store
Location: Slavonski Brod, Croatia
Architect(s): Milivoj Peterčić
Year built: 1971
Coordinates: 45°09'16.5"N 18°00'42.2"E
Description: Located in the Croatian town of Slavonski Brod, situated right at the western edge of its central promenade of Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić Square, is the “Vesna” Department Store. Designed by notable Zagreb architect Milivoj Peterčić, Vensa immediately became a central community hub upon its opening in 1971. Its concrete framed brick facade is cantilevered out to such a degree that the whole structure almost appears to float above the wrap-around glass walls of the ground level. Such engaging architectural flourishes made such places all the more exciting for shoppers, illustrating that, although Yugoslavia was a communist country, businesses were firmly exploring the Western capitalist idea of creating unique “consumer experiences” for their patrons. However, as the Yugoslav era passed, Vesna found itself struggling in a newly independent Croatia, then, by 2013, it went bankrupt and shop was left abandoned. As of 2020, it continues to sit vacant and poor condition, while Slavonski Brod is struggling to sell the building.
5.) HIT Department Store, Mostar, BiH
Name: Department Store “HIT”
Location: Mostar, BiH
Architect(s): Safet Galešić
Year built: 1973 (demolished early 1990s)
Coordinates: 43°20'38.2"N 17°48'26.8"E [former location]
Description: Originally located on Mostar’s Spanish Square at the site of the old train station was the imposing Department Store “HIT” (Herzegovina Integrated Trade), just a block west of the Neretva River. Built by Bosnian architect Safet Galešić, this massive 5,300 sq m retail outlet became one of the central commercial hubs (and even a tourist attraction) for Mostar as soon as it was unveiled in 1973. With a facade dominated by a decorative white metal screen, this loud modernist structure stood in sharp contrast to Mostar’s ancient architecture. HIT became such a cultural symbol for Mostar that when 36 local workers died in a bus crash in 1985, a large memorial ceremony attended by 30,000 people was held in front of the store. However, during the Bosnian War of the 1990s, the area of Spanish Square became a frontline of fighting, resulting in structure being completely destroyed by artillery. It was subsequently demolished. Since 1994, the new Croatian National Theatre has been under construction at HIT’s former location.
6.) Razvitak Department Store, Mostar, BiH
Name: Razvitak Department Store
Location: Mostar, BiH
Architect(s): Ante Paljaga
Year built: 1970
Coordinates: 43°20'39.6"N 17°48'48.5"E
Description: Less than 1km north of Mostar's Old Bridge in the town's center on the east side of the river are the ruins of the old Razvitak Department Store. Unveiled on March 1st, 1970, this innovative new modernist shopping center instantly became one of Mostar's landmarks upon its opening (even being featured on the town's postcards). Created by Bosnian architect Ante Paljaga, the unique concrete panels surrounding the facade of the structure bear a series of dynamic ancient designs borrowed from the carved figures found on the region's medieval tombstones known as 'stećci'. With stećci being an integral part of the region's culture and history, Paljaga including their imagery on this building was a way to integrate local vernacular design and cultural heritage into the building's modernist visual language, thus creating a distinct 'local' style of Yugoslav modernism. Also, seen in the above vintage photo is a 64 apartment 7 floor high-rise which was built next to the shopping center during its initial construction.
During the Bosnian War of the 1990s, the Razvitak Shopping Center, along with its accompanying residential high rise, were severely damaged by shelling and bombing that went on. After the war, the high rise was demolished as the building had become a safety hazard in danger of potentially collapsing, however, the shopping center was left as it was, abandoned and destroyed. Now, more than 20 years after the war, the fate of the Razvitak is still in question. Some recent proposals in 2018 have been put forward to tear down the old ruins and redevelop the site, while other proposals suggest the building's original facade should be preserved. however, it is unclear whether these efforts will be carried out. One of the biggest road blocks in the development and resolution of the future of this site are prolonged legal disputes between the city of Mostar and the residents of the current high rise. Currently, the ruins are surrounded by fencing and it is prohibited to enter.
7.) NAMA Department Store, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Name: NAMA Department Store
Location: Ljubljana, Slovenia
Architect(s): building designed by Franjo Lušičić, NAMA designed by Miloš Lapajne & Bogdan Fink
Year built: Original building from 1938, addition built in 1965
Coordinates: 46°03'08.5"N 14°30'12.0"E
Description: On the corner of Slovenian Road and Cankar Street in the city center of Ljubljana, an early modernist building was created by architect Franjo Lušičić to operate as a department store for the Czech footwear company "Bata". However, in 1956, the massive Zagreb department store chain known as NAMA (“Narodni magazin” or “The People’s Store”) moved into the commercial space replacing "Bata" (making it the first NAMA franchise in Slovenia). In an effort to cater to an ever growing market, in 1965 NAMA added a huge addition onto the south end of the original 1938 building. Created by an architect team composed of Miloš Lapajne & Bogdan Fink, this addition added a huge amount of space onto the structure so that when it was completed it became the largest department store in Slovenia, with over 10,000 sq m of retail floor space. This 1965 addition to the original building was composed of 6 levels retail space with an exterior facade that was fashioned in an adapted International Style design. The facade is characterized by stark geometric lines around decorative red panels and horizontal layers composed of vertically-arranged thin stone blocks. Sources relate that Ljubljana's NAMA was such a cultural landmark that even President Josip Broz Tito and his wife Jovanka visited the department store when they were visiting the city. This NAMA location in Ljubljana continues to operate to the present-day, and while the 1938 section of the building looks almost exactly the same, the 1965 addition was covered over in 2002 with glass panels, which caused objection from many people as a result of its original archite's opposition to the project not being respected.
8.) Izbor Department Store, Bar, Montenegro
Name: The Izbor Department Store
Location: Bar, Montenegro
Architect(s): Batrić Mijović
Year built: 1980-1984
Coordinates: 42°05'54.8"N 19°05'42.1"E
Description: Situated on the north edge of the city center of Bar, Montenegro is the Izbor Department Store. Built in 1984 by Montenegrin architect Batrić Mijović, this fascinating and uniquely designed structure is a notable example of the ambitious and innovative visual aesthetics used in late-Yugoslav-era commercial architecture, with the complex characterized by its series of three angular tent-like pavilion halls. Standing as Mijović's best-known and celebrated building, it is recognized to this day for its visionary and future-oriented style of modernism, which seems to borrow elements from popular mid-century utopian and futurist architectural concepts. While the building still stands to present-day, sources relate that it is currently occupied by inattentive owners who harbor future plans to tear down the Izbor Department Store and redevelop it into a modern mall complex.
9.) "Beograd" Department Store, Bijelo Polje, Montenegro
Name: "Beograd" Department Store (aka: "Franca" or "FORUM")
Location: Bijelo Polje, Montenegro
Year built: 1978-1981
Coordinates: 43°02'08.4"N 19°44'52.5"E
Description: Located in the town center of Bijelo Polje, Montenegro was originally located a franchise location of the Belgrade-based department store chain "Beograd". This adventurously constructed complex was a playful example of late Yugoslav modernist architecture, with its form particularly notable for its bright red geometrically embossed decorative panels which surround the street-side facade. The department store was unveiled in 1981 and was financed throught the Underdeveloped Areas Fund for Montenegro, however, my research was not able to determine who the architect for this distinct building was. In the post-Yugoslav era of privatization and the decline of the "Beograd" store chain, the complex later became occupied by the "Franca" Supermarket chain, then, in the late 2010s, the entire structure was dismantled, rebuilt and renovated into the "FORUM" Shopping Center. After this dramatic alteration, the department store is completely unrecognizable from its original appearance.
10.) City Shopping Center, Skopje, N. Macedonia
Name: City Shopping Center (aka: GTC Shopping Mall)
Location: Skopje, North Macedonia
Architect(s): Živko Popovski
Year built: 1969-1973
Coordinates: 41°59'40.8"N 21°26'03.7"E
Description: As Skopje became the capital of the SR of Macedonia after WWII, the city slowly developed into a significant economic hub of trade and commerce. While much effort was put forward in developing infrastructure for such activities through the 50s and 60s, the earthquake that struck the city of Skopje on July 26th, 1963 devastated the city and the progress it had made creating modern commercial spaces. During the post-earthquake reconstruction era of Skopje which occurred through the 60s, major plans were set in motion in 1966 to create a massive city center shopping center on a scale never before seen in the city. After an international competition, the designer chosen for this huge project was Macedonian architect Živko Popovski, who was considered one of the most prominent architects in the republic. Completed in 1973, the complex which Popovski created, which is often locally referred to as the GTC, was a sprawling concrete commercial center of high modernist architecture which is often considered to be the first modern "mall" created in Macedonia. Situated right in the city center along the Vardar River, the GTC is unique in that it blends itself with the urban landscape, with its multi-levels and numerous entrances making it a critical transit route for local pedestrians. Also unique is that Popovski integrated the shopping center directly in and around the five apartment towers built on the site from 1952-1959 by Aleksandar Serafimovski (which were the first high-rise complex in Macedonia), forming a novel commercial/residential mixed-use zone.
In the 2010s, the city government of Skopje put forward plans to make drastic alterations to the City Shopping Center as part of the Skopje 2014 redevelopment project. As part of this proposed project, the complex would be covered in a Neo-classical facade, similar to how many Yugoslav-era buildings in the city already have. However, the plan was faced with harsh criticism from the local community and city architects. As of 2020, the City Shopping Center still stands in its original form, although its condition has deteriorated over the years as the result of a lack of maintenance.
11.) PRIMA Department Store, Split, Croatia
Name: PRIMA Department Store
Location: Split, Croatia
Architect(s): Antun Šatara & Bernardo Bernardi
Year built: 1962-1966
Coordinates: 43°30'38.0"N 16°26'18.9"E
Description: Located just north of the Split Old City is the PRIMA Department Store. Unveiled in 1966, it is often considered the very first modern department store in the city of Split. Created by the architect team of Antun Šatara & Bernardo Bernardi, the facade of the complex is characterized by upper-levels adorned with smooth polished stone panels, which is suspended above a ground floor level of elegant glass walls, making the whole building appear suspended in air. This style of illusion-inducing floating modernist architecture was a popular approach to commericial development in Yugoslavia during the early 1960s, very similar to the International Style of design. Meanwhile, the shop's interior featured a wide sprawling multi-level shopping experience which was connected by a series of escalators and sleek concrete stairways, a modern and high-tech presentation which seemed to rival any Western shopping outlet of the era. The name given to this department store was "PRIMA", which was an abbreviation of the term "PRImorski MAgazin", which roughly means "Seaside Shop" in English. After privatization in the 1990s, PRIMA continued to operate and still exists up to the present day, having avoided the bankruptcies and closures that were endemic during that era. Furthermore, the department store has retained much of its original appearance, which is often rare for buildings from this era that have continued to operate far into the 21st century, which all too often are plagued by dramatic renovations and rebuilding efforts.
12.) "Boska" Department Store, Banja Luka, BiH
Name: "Boska" Department Store
Location: Banja Luka, BiH
Architect(s): Velimir Neidhardt (w/ Ljerka Lulić and Jasna Nosso)
Year built: 1973-1978
Coordinates: 44°46'11.2"N 17°11'22.1"E
Description: A significant number of massive department store projects were created in Bosnia during the Yugoslav-era (such as those at Sarajevo, Tuzla, Zenica, etc), which not only served as major commercial hubs, but also operated as symbolic testaments to the industrial and technological innovation of these cities. Of all of these major projects, the only one that has continued to remain in business until present-day is the "Boska" Department Store in Banja Luka. The Boska complex was constructed upon the ruins of the epicenter of the massive earthquake which struck this city on October 27th, 1969, and when it was unveiled on December 5th, 1978 it was among the largest department stores in Yugoslavia, with 5 levels, 500 employees and over 11,000 sq m of retail space. Its huge scale and bevy of offerings made it an instant landmark for the city of Banja Luka, which resulted in the city's residents developing a deep connection to the structure. Designed by famous Croatian architect Velimir Neidhardt (along with assistence from Ljerka Lulić and Jasna Nosso), the structure's stark yet imposing modernist facade is characterized by smooth concrete paneled walls which bump out with each additional level, with a mansard-like brown metal roof framing the complex. A bright orange awning surrounding the ground gave the building a splash of color. During the Bosnian War, the Boska Department Store was spared much of the destruction and damage that other similar grand commercial structures around the country endured. From 2009 to 2010, the complex underwent major restoration efforts, which repaired many deteriorating components of the structure. It continues to operate to present day and exists as a monument to Yugoslav-era commercial architecture in Bosnia.
13.) "17 Nëntori" Department Store, Peć/Peja, Kosovo*
Name: "17 Nëntori" Department Store
Location: Peć/Pejë, Kosovo*
Architect(s): Svetislav Živković & Milan Tajić
Years built: 1975-1977
Coordinates: 42°39'34.8"N 20°17'32.6"E
Description: Located on the east edge of the city center of Peć/Pejë, just across from the Old Bazaar, is situated a department store which today is referred to as the "Metë Bajraktari" Shopping Center, a complex which was originally named "17 Nëntori" during the Yugoslav-era. This original name, which is in the Albanian language, translates to "November 17th" in English, which is a date which more than likely refers to a historical event such as the liberation of the town during WWII (but it may refer to something else). The complex was designed by the architect team made up of Svetislav Živković & Milan Tajić, with work on it starting in 1975 and completing two years later in 1977. The design of the lower department store section of the complex is of a conventional modernist style, however, the upper office levels of the complex is characterized by a uniquely textured facade and sloping-edged stair-step levels which gave the whole structure a dynamic and architecturally ambitious appearance. In the years after the Yugoslav-era, the department store was privatized in 2004, at which point it underwent several drastic renovations and remodels over the subsequent years, leaving the whole complex today almost unrecognizable from its original appearance.