The 15 Tallest Skyscrapers of Yugoslavia
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.