Updated: Nov 4, 2021
Among the most monumental and landmark structures ever built during the era of Yugoslavia were its many soaring high rise towers and skyscrapers, of which many pushed the envelope of engineering and inspired a nation to look towards the future. While the country of Yugoslavia has ceased to exist for nearly three decades now, the many iconic and charismatic skyscrapers built during that era continue to inspire and speak to not only the old Yugoslav generation, but also the new youth generation who never lived in that former nation, as well as people around the world who are drawn in by their unique and bold architecture. However, for all of the fame and fan-fare surrounding many of these structures, many have barely been written about and few meaningful words dedicated to their history. In fact, my entire impetus for writing this article was that when searching for a listing of the seemingly straightforward query of "what were the tallest buildings of the Yugoslav-era", I found no authoritative articles related to that question or any serious investigation into the topic. The only appreciable resource I found that even began to scratch the surface of this question was a rudimentary Wikipedia list on the subject, but it was not only woefully incomplete (leaving out numerous buildings altogether), it also contained a significant amount of incorrect and misleading information.
As a result of my frustration when faced with seeking out authoritative info on this seemingly simple question, I set myself upon doing the investigation for myself to determine "What Were the 15 Tallest Buildings of the Yugoslav-era". Not only did I want a listing of the buildings, but I also wanted to gather a brief and accessible history of each building... who built it, when was it built, why was it built, what is its present-day state, etc etc? The following article is the results of my investigations into this question. However, the work wasn't easy. When it came to even determining simple facts like the exact height of particular buildings, often I encountered conflicting info from a myriad of sources. In doing research for this article, I found considerable confusion among writers and residents of the former Yugoslav region about which were the tallest buildings of that era, with the people of a location who once had the tallest building completely unaware that a taller building was subsequently built elsewhere. The listing I make here is my best effort to reconcile all of this conflicting data and confusion into what I hope can be the start of more accurate and reliable listing. However, if anyone out there reading this has access to definitive info that can clarify the height or specific details of any of the skyscrapers listed below that I may have gotten wrong, please contact me and I can amend this list as necessary. Through gathering together all of this info, I hope much can be learned and understood about not only the tallest buildings of Yugoslavia, but also its modernist architectural styles, its penchant for monumental larger-than-life construction projects, its approach towards social housing, and, most importantly, its endeavor to build a new nation from the ground UP.
15.) TV5 Tower, Niš, Serbia (81m tall)
Name: TV5 Tower (aka: The Yellow Skyscraper) [originally called the 'Varteks Tower']
Location: Niš, Serbia
Construction years: 1972-1973
Height/floors: 81m tall (91m tall with antena) / 21 floors
Coordinates: 43°19'07.5"N, 21°54'33.8"E
Description: Situated in the heart of the city of Niš, Serbia along Dr. Zoran Đinđić Boulevard is a residential tower that is today known as the TV5 Tower, but more colloquially known as the "Yellow Skyscraper" as a result of its brightly painted facade. Unveiled in 1973, the tower's construction was funded by the Yugoslav Army and was originally created as a complex for accommodating veterans of WWII. Upon its completion, it stood roughly 81m tall (with an additional 10m antenna mounted on top of it), making it the tallest building in Serbia outside of Belgrade (a distinction which stands to the present day). Upon opening, the ground floor of the building was occupied by the Varteks department store chain, which lead to the local nickname 'Varteks Tower' being used for the building during the Yugoslav-era. In the early 1980s, the local broadcaster TV5 moved their studios into this building and installed a large red and white Cyrillic letter logo sign at the top of the building. This resulted in people then referring to the complex as the "TV5 Tower" or just "Petica" ("Five") for short. Although the TV station moved out of this building in 2009, the local name and its sign on top of the tower have remained (although the sign's "T" fell off in recent years, leaving it simply as "V5").
14.) Executive Council Building, Sarajevo, BiH (84m)
Name: Greece–Bosnia & Herzegovina Friendship Building (originally the "Executive Council Building") (zgrada izvrsnog vijeca)
Location: Sarajevo, BiH
Architect(s): Juraj Neidhardt (with Hamdija Salihović)
Construction years: 1978-1982, renovated in 2006
Height/floors: 84m tall / 21 floors
Coordinates: 43°51'18.1"N, 18°24'18.8"E
Description: During the early 1950s, the administrative and government assembly for the SR of Bosnia & Herzegovina were holding session within a small building in the Bistrik neighborhood of Sarajevo. It was well known at that point that these quarters were insufficient and, as a result, efforts were put towards establishing a new political district in Sarajevo within the neighborhood of Marijin Dvor. The commission to build this new governmental complex was awarded to famous Sarajevo architect Juraj Neidhardt in 1956, who envisioned a shining skyscraper as the central element of this new political complex. However, budgetary issues and administrative/planning roadblocks (along with the vastness of the project) delayed work on the tower for more than two decades. Furthermore, the complex was to house and host every department of government within BiH, which required that it be built to very exacting requirements. Construction on the project finally began in 1978. Then, tragically, just as work on the tower began, Neidhardt died the very next year in 1979. As such, Neidhardt's colleague architect Hamdija Salihović subsequently assumed the task of overseeing this project to completion. The finished project was finally unveiled in 1982.
Constructed in the International Style of modernist architecture, the complex exists in two parts: a wide 5 level assembly hall/administrative building and next to which is a 24 floor/84m tall skyscraper that was given the name "Executive Council Building". The tower was crafted in a rectangular shape that was cantilevered outwards at its base in order to convey a 'floating' appearance, while the two broad faces of the building were designed with a subtle facet line running vertically down their center, giving the structure an extra dimension of depth. Upon their unveiling, these parliament buildings became one of the most innovative and groundbreaking works of modern architecture in the city of Sarajevo, while standing as the second tallest tower in Sarajevo after the UNIS Towers. Within the complex was a huge amount of artwork created by artists from across Yugoslavia, with the central plaza in front of the tower designed by famous Zagreb sculptor Dušan Džamonja. However, the Executive Council Building only saw ten years of use during the Yugoslav-era before the Bosnian War began in the early 1990s, at which point the tower was struck by VRS artillery during the Siege of Sarajevo, resulting in its immolation and destruction.
The reconstruction on the tower was organized by architects Ivan Štraus and Tatjana Neidhart (the daughter of Juraj Neidhardt) and began in 2006, a project that was largely funded by the Greek government. Work on the reconstruction was carried out by the Greek company Domotechnik. The tower re-opened in 2007 and was re-named the "Greece–Bosnia & Herzegovina Friendship Building", as Greece provided more than 80% of the reconstruction funds. The remodeling of the tower altered its outward appearance drastically, changing its original International Style facade into a more contemporary glass facade look. In 2008, the building was declared a National Monument by the BiH government.
13.) The "Five Towers", Belgrade, Serbia (86m tall)
Name: The "Five Towers" ('Pet Solitera) (aka: The Five Idiots)
Location: Belgrade, Serbia
Architect: Miodrag Ružić
Year completed: 1971-1975
Height/floors: 5 towers ranging from 75m up to 86m tall / 23 up to 27 floors
Coordinates: 44°45'34.1"N, 20°28'28.0"E
Description: Nestled in the picturesque Banjica neighborhood of Belgrade, right next to the famous Military Medical Center, is the 'Five Towers' ('Pet solitera') residential complex. Development within the Yugoslav-era neighborhoods of Banjica began in 1971 and were among the most modern and forward-thinking examples of residential urban planning in Yugoslavia up until that point. While the urban layout of the community was designed by the architect team composed of Aleksandar Stjepanović, Slobodan Drinjaković and Branislav Karadžić, the 'Five Towers' themselves were the creation of architect Miodrag Ružić, who intended to create a set of towers that could operate as visual landmarks within Belgrade's skyline, but while also appearing as more than just the conventional concrete 'box' shape of which many Yugoslav residential high-rise towers of that period were characterized. The complex was ultimately completed in 1975, with the shortest of the towers reaching a height of 75m, while the tallest reach a height of over 86m. All five high rises comprise over 1,000 apartments and many more thousands of inhabitants. The towers are sometimes locally referred affectionately with the name "The Five Idiots" ("Pet Idiota"), in reference to the fact that they stand out awkwardly in the landscape all by themselves towering into the sky.
Ružić's goal of creating a set of towers that transcended the typical concrete 'box' was well achieved with this work. The structures rise tall along with a dynamic array of vertical lines, ridges and corrugations, giving its facade a great deal of texture and upward motion. Meanwhile, at the summit of the towers, the facade juts outwards and then cuts sharply inwards with steep copper-lined sloping roofs which create an elegantly tapered silhouette. The 'Five Towers' remain in decent condition up to the present-day, hosting a vibrant local community. In recent years, the towers have been the center of numerous art festivals, cultural events and football tournaments.
12.) The Rudo Towers, Belgrade, Serbia (89m tall)
Name: The Rudo Towers (aka: Eastern City Gate)
Location: Belgrade, Serbia
Architect(s): Vera Ćirković, with civil engineer Milutin Jerotijević
Construction years: 1973-1976
Height/floors: Three towers 89m tall / 28 floors
Coordinates: 44°47'04.0"N, 20°30'44.9"E
Description: Perched upon a promontory of the Konjarnik neighborhood in Belgrade is set the imposing and dramatic Rudo Towers. Built during the 1970s era of massive residential expansion in Belgrade through the construction of massive tower blocks, the idea was conceived by the city's urban planners to create a signature landmark building at both of the city's primary east and west entries to the city along what was then called the "Brotherhood & Unity" Motorway (today the E-75 motorway). The high rise project on the city's eastern side was spearheaded by architect Vera Ćirković (for whom very little information is available, unfortunately), who worked alongside civil engineer Milutin Jerotijević. Work began on the complex in 1973 and was ultimately completed three years later in 1976. When the block was completed, final architectural inspections were conducted by Belgrade architect Dragoljub Mićović, who ultimately dubbed the buildings with their official name "The Rudo Towers", naming them after his hometown of Rudo, BiH. However, the towers are also popularly known by their alternate name "Eastern City Gates" ("Istočna kapija grada").
The Rudo complex is comprised of three 89m tall towers arranged in an outwardly radiating triangular orientation within a 120m wide circular plaza. The shape of the towers can be defined as a 'stair-step' form that all ascend upwards towards the circle's center. The positioning of the towers is such that almost any perspective you view them from they will always show the same silhouette. Each tower has roughly 450 apartments and the total resident population of Rudo is approximately 1,400 people. Many sources describe the bare concrete structure and stark unadorned facade of the Rudo Towers to be of the 'brutalist' architectural style. Since the building's unveiling in 1976, various problems have plagued the residents of these towers. Issues with plumbing, elevators, and a deteriorating facade are all problems which residents have attempted to get addressed for years, but to no avail. Sources estimate that the full cost of addressing all of the repairs this building needs as of 2020 would cost well over 4 million euro. However, despite the problems of the building for its residents, the Rudo Towers have become an enduring symbol of the Belgrade skyline and very much live up to their reputation as the 'Eastern City Gates', as they are prominently and dramatically visible as one enters Belgrade along the E-75 motorway.
11.) Rilindja Tower, Prishtina, Kosovo* (89m tall)
Name: Rilindja Tower
Location: Prishtina, Kosovo*
Architect: Georgi Konstantinovski
Year completed: 1972-1978
Height/floors: 89m tall / 19 floors
Coordinates: 42°39'34.0"N, 21°09'21.6"E
Description: Sitting near the city center of Prishtina is a high rise complex known today as the "Rilindja Tower". This building was conceived in the late 1960s to be the new headquarters and printing facility for Yugoslavia's first Albanian-language newspaper 'Rilindja'. Famous Macedonian architect Georgi Konstantinovski (who had studied under American architect Paul Rudolph and Chinese architect IM Pei) was commissioned to create this new headquarters complex. Construction on the project began in 1971, but was stalled for several years during the mid-70s because as a result of budgetary and political issues. It was finally completed in 1978. The architectural style of the complex is described by multiple sources as being very brutalist in its style, with Konstantinovski no doubt being influenced by Paul Rudolph (one of the leaders of the brutalism architecture movement in America). The tower's original form was characterized by its boxy bare concrete facade of bush-hammered panels and gridded window arrangements that take such a shape as to optimize their air ventilation. In addition to housing the primary offices of the Rilindja newspaper, it also housed some offices of the Turkish-language newspaper 'Tan' and the Serbian-language newspaper 'Jedinstvo', making it a highly multicultural working environment.
However, in 2008, the newspapers within the Rilindja complex ceased operation (with some sources citing 'political pressure' as a cause) and the building began to shift its operations to accommodating ministry for the new government of Kosovo*. As part of this shift in use, the tower was completely renovated with a new exterior design at the cost of 15 million euros. The formerly bare-concrete facade of the tower was retro-fitted with a new facade of glass and metal. These changes were carried out by architect Bhgjet Pacolli of the Mabetex group. The new changes to the building were unveiled in 2010 and attended by the Prime Minister of Kosovo* Afrim Pacolli and President Jakup Krasniqip. When Konstantinovski came to give a lecture to the Faculty of Architecture in Prishtina in 2015, he remarked in reference to the new appearance of the Rilindja Tower "Oh, yes, this is my building, but the building I designed is not the one I am seeing... the interventions made in this building have erased a part of history". Today, in addition to the government ministries, the Rilindja complex also houses a TV station, a coffee house, a disco club, a sports club and a daily newspaper.
10.) Voždovac Residential Towers, Belgrade, Serbia (91m tall)
Name: Voždovac Residential Towers
Location: Belgrade, Serbia
Architect(s): Stana Aleksić & Branko Aleksić (with Milan Miodragović, Stojan Maksimović & Nikola Sarčić)
Construction years: First two towers built from 1969-1973, third tower in 1981
Height/floors: 91m tall / 24 floors
Coordinates: 44°46'41.1"N, 20°28'24.7"E
Description: During the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a huge wave of constructing high rise residential complexes across Belgrade. Among these projects was the creation of the ambitious Voždovac Residential Towers along Vojvode Stepe Boulevard in the Voždovac neighborhood. The primary architects behind designing the Voždovac Residential Towers were the husband and wife architect team Branko & Stana Aleksić, who had both worked on several other residential high rise projects across Belgrade before taking on this commission. The challenge set before them was to redevelop an entire section of Vojvode Stepe Boulevard into a modern community with landmark structures that could cultivate a sense of identity for the neighborhood. Work on the first phase of the project began in 1969 (with work carried out by the contractors 'Rad' and '7 July') and was completed in 1973. This project's first phase consisted of the initial construction of two towers on the west side of Vojvode Stepe Boulevard. Assembled of raw pre-fabricated concrete panels, the form of these two towers was of an ascending stair-step base of floating levels and balconies which then rose in its upper two-thirds as a broad tower to a height of 91 meters.
When they were completed in 1973, they were the tallest residential towers in Yugoslavia, but they only held this distinction for a short time before being surpassed by other projects across the country. Work on the 2nd phase of the project consisting of a third tower across the street from the first two began in 1979 and was completed in 1981. Sources reveal that architectural drawings from the Yugoslav-era called for a 3rd phase of this housing block which would include the construction of three more residential towers at the northeast corner of Vojvode Stepe & Vitanovačka, but this phase was never realized. All together, the three towers that were realized contain roughly 1,000 apartments, allowing for the accommodation of many thousands of residents. In addition, the Voždovac Residential Towers achieved their goal in becoming enduring symbols for not only the neighborhood, but also for Belgrade. When entering the city from the east along the E-75 motorway, the three towers stand as readily discernible landmarks to the south looming high above all other surrounding buildings. The towers continue to serve the residents of Voždovac up to the present day, although with the structure's fifty years of age approaching, the complex is in dire need of repairs and rehabilitation.
9.) Cibona Tower, Zagreb, Croatia (92m tall)
Name: Cibona Tower
Location: Zagreb, Croatia
Architect(s): Marijan Hržić, Borislav Šerbetić & Ivan Piteš
Construction years: 1986-1987
Height/floors: 92m tall (105m with radio antenna) / 25 floors
Coordinates: 45°48'11.4"N, 15°57'48.5"E
Description: Positioned just west of the city center of Zagreb, right across the street from the NK Zagreb football stadium, is the dramatic glass high-rise known as the 'Cibona Tower' ('Cibonin toranj'). The conception of this project, which began in the mid-1980s, was part of the city of Zagreb's infrastructure and business development for the hosting of the 1987 Universiade Games (also known as the 'World University Games'). The project was slated to include not only a massive skyscraper, but also a connected basketball arena for use in the Universiade Games. In addition, the basketball arena was planned to become the home court to Zagreb's famous Cibona basketball team after the conclusion of the '87 university games, which is from where the tower subsequently earned its name. Construction on the project began in 1986 and was impressively completed in only one year, just in time for the games to begin in July of 1987. However, it was just the exterior of the tower that was completed in time for the games... the actual interior of the tower was not fully finished until 1990.
The Cibona Tower's form is characterized by its cylindrical pure glass facade which tapers in shape at its summit in a series of inward stair steps. The tower was designed in such a way as to be resistant to earthquakes up to 7.0 in scale (which was a critical point as Zagreb is prone to occasional earthquakes, having experienced a significant one in March of 2020). Meanwhile, the attached sports hall (which has over 3,800 seats) is of an eliptical design with a broad domed copper roof and exterior walls of glass curtains to complement the adjacent tower. The tower and sports hall became instant architectural success and cultural symbol for the city of Zagreb upon its completion. The team who designed the complex were awarded the Borba Award in architecture, which was the highest professional recognition awarded in Yugoslavia. Furthermore, when Zagreb released a series of postage stamps of the city's most important symbols in 1994 to celebrate its 900th anniversary, the Cibona Tower was among the landmarks depicted.
For some years after the tower's completion, it operated as the headquarters for the Zagreb-based international trade company 'Astra'. However, after Astra's business failed in during the 1990s, the tower's office space was taken up by the Zagreb-based agribusiness company 'Agrokor' in 2000, who installed their logo at the top of the tower. Also, in the 2000s, the basketball arena changed its name to the 'Dražen Petrović Basketball Center', in honor of the famous former Cibona player who tragically died in a car accident in Germany in 1993. A museum dedicated to Petrović was also established within Cibona's ground floor in 2006 while a statue depicting him was installed in front of the tower. Meanwhile, the Agrokor company fell into extreme financial distress in 2017, at which point they vacated their offices at the Cibona Tower. While news reports indicate that Agrokor still owns the building as of the writing of this article, recent reports illustrate the tower and its surrounding grounds are in poor condition (see article HERE) and that the tower itself is largely empty of tenants. Furthermore, dire repairs and rehabilitation efforts are needed to prevent the site's further deterioration, however, no groups seem to be able to afford the huge cost it would take to accomplish such projects.