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The Lost Legacy of Zlatko Ugljen's Exquisite Hotel Architecture

Updated: Aug 30, 2021

As one of the most significant and influential architects of the Yugoslav-era, Zlatko Ugljen was among the figures who blazed a trail in cultivating a unique architectural identity not only for himself, but also for Yugoslavia. While his corpus of work in sacral architecture often receives the most attention, his efforts in grand socially-minded hotel architecture are just as ambitious and distinguished. However, in recent decades, destruction, demolition and disfigurement have left his rich legacy of remarkable hotels nearly stricken from the landscape.

 
 

While many designers and creators pushed Yugoslav architecture in ambitious and innovative directions during the middle of the 20th century, only a handful of them can claim to have had a cultural impact equal to that which was achieved by Mostar-born architect Zlatko Ugljen [see THIS link for profile page]. Many Yugoslav architects were exploring the evolving style of modernism during this time period and were consistently innovating new ways of constructing increasingly futuristic and ever more exuberant building designs, which, as a consequence, often found themselves divorced from the local tradition architecture and landscape in which they were situated. Ugljen, on the other hand, never lost sight of the architectural roots he cultivated and was surrounded by during his youth in the historic town of Mostar. The idea of how the architectural heritage and tradition of a particular place can be expressed through contemporary visuals, materials and design was a concept which Ugljen explored throughout his entire career. In analyzing his work, the boundaries between tradition and contemporary blend together, so much so that a wholly new and distinct architectural language is created. With this new language, Ugljen blazes a trail across what is now the former Yugoslav region, but his most distinct impact was upon the region of Bosnia & Herzegovina, where he authored dozens of projects of all types, from monuments, to hotels, to restaurants, to sacral buildings and so on. In recent years, Ugljen has been greatly celebrated particularly in relation to the sacral architecture he has created over his long career. For instance, his most widely recognized architectural achievement was the White Mosque (Bijela džamija) in Visoko, BiH, for which he not only won the 1983 international Aga Khan Award for Architecture, but also had this work featured at New York City's Museum of Modern Art exhibition on Yugoslav architecture in 2018.


However, the exceptional hotel architecture which Ugljen created during the Yugoslav-era is a much less examined component of his creative work. Each distinct and groundbreaking in its own way, these hotels and lodgings that Ugljen crafted were singular efforts and are remarkable in the sense that they often came to reshape and define the landscapes and communities in which they were placed. One reason that Ugljen's hotel architecture is often less noticed and highlighted compared to his sacral architecture is because, unlike his sacral works, the majority of his hotel works have been either destroyed or highly disfigured in contemporary times. So, in this article, we will closely examine the quickly vanishing legacy of Ugljen's many Yugoslav-era hotel and lodging complexes, doing the best we can to examine their creation, their form, their impact, their fate and, in many cases, their unfortunate destruction. While this article will not be able to explore every single hotel project Ugljen was involved in, this list examines his most significant projects and/or the projects in which Ugljen was most closely involved.

 

Hotel Orijent, Travnik, BiH

A vintage Yugoslav-era postcard showing Hotel Orijent in Travnik.
A vintage Yugoslav-era postcard showing the two tombs in Travnik's Leipzig Square in front of Hotel Orijent.

Name: Hotel Orijent

Location: Travnik, FBIH, BiH

Years of creation: 1973

Current status: Hotel closed, awaiting demolition as of 2020/2021

Coordinates: 44°13'37.2"N, 17°39'39.5"E

Description: Sitting within the green hills of the Lašva Valley resides the historical town of Travnik, BiH. At the center of the town within Leipzig Square, Zlatko Ugljen, along with Sarajevo architect Smilja Janjušević, created Hotel Orijent in 1973 on the former site of the Travnik Bazaar. The fact that this hotel was built on the site of a former bazaar was no doubt the idea behind the name for the hotel, as a way of invoking the cultural tropes of the "Far East". While exhibiting some modernist flairs and accents, the hotel largely worked to reflect the local architectural vernacular of the area, with the low pitched roof, upper-floor bump-outs, use of bare wood and white plaster facade. Unfortunately, I found few photos of the original interior of the hotel, which would be particularly interesting to see in its full splendor as this was the aspect of the hotel that Ugljen had the most involvement in developing and designing. In addition to the hotel, next to it was constructed a modest shopping center right along Leipzig Square crafted in a similar architectural style. Upon their completion in 1973, this hotel and shopping center instantly became iconic local symbols and operated as the centerpiece of the community, doing so positioned right next to the most culturally significant historical site in the town "Turbeta pod lipom" or "Türbe under the Linden Tree", which are a pair of ancient tombs containing 18th century Ottoman Grand Viziers who lived in Travnik. Furthermore, even Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito himself was a frequent visitor to Hotel Orijent, as it was along his regular route from Belgrade to Bugojno, where his favorite mountain hunting lodges were [see article HERE on Tito's residences].

Some vintage photos of the original interior of the Hotel Orijent in Travnik. Credit: Zlatko Ugljen archive
A recent photo showing the now derelict hotel after it had changed its name to "Hotel Lipa". Credit: GoogleMaps

As Yugoslavia began its process of dismantlement in the early 1990s, this, paired with the start of the Bosnian War during the same time period, lead to the Hotel Orijent quickly falling into decline and disrepair. After the end of the war, the hotel was privatized and changed its name to "Hotel Lipa". However, it was not long after the new management took over this deteriorating complex that they too permanently closed the hotel premises (as well as the shopping center). After sitting closed and neglected for many years, developers bought the hotel site in 2017 and are planning on tearing down the old hotel structure in order to build a new hotel and shopping center complex styled in a contemporary fashion. Local opinions are divided about the planned demolition of Janjušević & Ugljen's Yugoslav-era hotel. Concept art for what this new hotel will look like can be see in the above images. From looking at news articles online as of January 2021 in respect to this project, it appears as though demolition and new construction at this site may have already begun or is soon to begin.

 

Hotel Visoko, Visoko, BiH

Various views of Hotel Visoko which is located at the center of Visoko, BiH.
A vintage Yugoslav-era postcard showing various scenes from Hotel Visoko in Visoko, BiH.
A vintage Yugoslav-era image of a terrace at Hotel Visoko located in Visoko, BiH. Credit: Archive of Zlatko Ugljen

Name: Hotel Visoko

Location: Visoko, FBiH, BiH

Years of creation: 1971-1974

Current status: Closed down,