Zdravko Bregovac: An Architect of Yugoslav Pleasure

Perhaps one of the most prolific and influential architects of Yugoslavia that made a lasting mark upon the landscape and the hearts of the public that endures up to the present day is Zdravko Bregovac. While he crafted a wide variety of buildings during his four decade career as an architect, he is unquestionably most remembered for the countless hotels, motels resorts and other touristic facilities that he created from Slovenia down the Croatia’s Adriatic coast to Montenegro. Not only did Bregovac help to revolutionize Yugoslavia’s tourism industry with his resorts, bringing leisure-filled joy to the hearts of millions, but his avant-garde approach to design has left us with a stunning legacy of works that few have rivaled and that still have much to teach us today.

A photo of Zdravko Bregovac at the height of his career. Credit: Family archive Bregovac-Pisk

Born to parents Dragan and Marija in the small village of Dinjevac, Croatia on March 4th, 1924 (just 10km from Đurđevac), Zdravko Bregovac was a bright child who was born into a family that valued education as well as creativity. His father Dragan was a mathematics professor, which resulted in the family moving quite often as he took up teaching positions at various institutions across the region. Eventually, these moves resulted in the family relocating to Zagreb, where Dragan had secured a respectable position with the Ministry of Education. After graduating from high school in 1942, Bregovac began studying electrical engineering at the University of Zagreb, however, he did not find this direction fulfilling, so he quickly changed over his focus of study to architecture. He was trained through the course of his studies by the famous Croatian early-modernist architects Zdenko Strižić, Alfred Albini and Mladen Kauzlarić, while, at the same time, he studied alongside fellow students such future luminaries as Vladimir Zarahović and Vjenceslav Richter. After graduating in 1949, Bregovac moved to Rijeka where he began working for the “Central Design Bureau” (“Centralni biro za projektiranje”), focusing on expanding infrastructure around the region’s shipbuilding industry across Istria. However, Bregovac’s ambitions as a creator were not satisfied within Istria’s shipbuilding industry and he began to reconnect with his former university classmates from Zagreb.


After catching up with his former architecture school friends Vladimir Zarahović and Vjenceslav Richter in 1950, Bregovac was enlisted into their new artistic group named “EXAT 51” (Experimental Atelier). At its core, EXAT 51 was a small avant-garde collective of creators (inspired by Bauhaus and Russian constructivism) who objected to the rigid formalism of Yugoslavia’s state-prescribed “Socialist Realism” art style and felt that not only that abstract art (which was at that point frowned upon by the state) had a place within the socialist system, but that the “pure” arts and the “applied” arts could exist as a seamless unified whole. Also part of this group were other creators such as interior designer Bernardo Bernardi, graphic artist Ivan Picelj, artist Aleksandar Srnec, among others, who would all come to be integral in his professional collaborations throughout the rest of his career. However, Bregovac would come to work most closely with his friend Vjenceslav Richter. After quitting his job with “Central Design Bureau” in 1952, through the rest of the 1950s, Bregovac worked on a number of formative architectural proposals with Richter that would come to set the tone for the rest of his career, which included projects such as the City Museum of Belgrade (1954), a housing complex in Banja Luka (1955), the National Museum of Aleppo (1956) and the Museum of the People’s Revolution in Sarajevo (1958), some of which were built and some not. In addition, Bregovac also took on numerous commissions to construct pavilions on behalf of Yugoslavia at events not only domestically (such as the Tourist Pavilion he built at the Zagreb Fair in 1959), but also pavilions representing his country at fairs in Chicago, Helsinki and Vienna. In addition to this creative work, he also took part in a significant amount of scholarly work during the 1950s, acting as the editor-in-chief to the important Zagreb trade journal “Arhitektura” from 1953 to 1956, where he often used artwork from his fellow EXAT 51 colleagues as front-cover art for the journal.

A vintage postcard of the National Museum in Aleppo, Syria, created by Bregovac & Richter in 1956.

However, it was working on several touristic projects during 1959 and 1960 along the Adriatic coast (consisting mostly of restorations, bungalow resorts and modest hotels) that seemed to resonate most deeply with Bregovac. With numerous high-profile successes under his belt and a new spirited energy for tourism architecture, he moved to the Istrian seaside town of Opatija to start his own architecture firm named “Opatija-projekt”, which was to focus almost exclusively on the creation of hotel and resort complexes. He began with some noteworthy projects along the Istrian coast between Opatija and Rabac, as well as spearheading the construction of a new resort called “Bellevue” at Plitvice Lakes next to Marijan Haberle’s famous Hotel Plitvice [1957]. However, Bregovac’s real fame as an architect came when he completed the “Hotel Ambassador” in 1966, which quickly became one of Yugoslavia’s most famous and resplendent locales, visited by the elites and celebrities from all over the world. Afterwards. Bregovac went on to create even more stunning and elaborate resorts, hotels and even several motels across the region, especially along the ever-popular Adriatic Coastal Highway touristic route. To illustrate just how significant the hotel boom was in Yugoslavia during this era, between 1960 and 1970, the country doubled its number of hotels from 400 to 800, with the vast majority of them being built along its Adriatic coast.


The bulk of Bregovac’s resorts and hotels were either in a coastal Adriatic setting or a serene mountain atmosphere. So, when it came to his design approach, he had two very different ways in which he tackled creating an architectural concept for these two very distinct regional settings. While it can be openly admitted that Bregovac’s designs can often be compared to the International Style, a highly popular facet of modernism during this period, he nonetheless was able to imbue his works with his own personal touches and highlights of regional flair, thus, transcending the cold uniformity and regional decontextualization for which the International Style was often criticized. For example, in his coastal works, he expressed more “Mediterranean” aesthetics (such as white facades, red-tile roofs, lattices), while his mountain resorts took on a more rustic tone, often replete with warm wood finishes, steeply pitched roofs and darker color schemes. Also, towards the goal of maintaining regional character, Bregovac was also very keen on preserving the natural landscape in the area around which he situated his hotels, keeping as many trees, rocks and terrain features as possible. This approach was to protect the pristine character of the environment as well as to convey the impression that the hotel itself was part of (or an extension) of the landscape. It was such fussing over little details such as this (a tree here, a rock there) that made Bregovac’s hotels unique experiences. He was not surprisingly just as fussy over the hotel’s interiors, as he was well versed in the craft of artful interior design. For his resorts, he often threw himself quite deep into this process, building customized furniture, fixtures and even went as far as to personally design the shelves behind the reception desk for storing room keys in some instances. It must also be mentioned on the topic of interior design that Bregovac, in addition to building new hotels, also undertook the process of renovating the interiors of classic pre-war hotels such as Hotel Toplice in Bled [1968], Hotel Kvarner in Opatija [1971] and Hotel Istria in Rab [1974].

A vintage photo from the "American Bar" at Hotel Ambassador in Opatija, with mural by Edo Murtić. Credit: CCN Images

It is also important to mention that Bregovac employed within the design of his hotels the philosophies he took from EXAT 51, exhibiting that pure abstract art can successfully be combined with applied art. For example, many of his hotel interior’s were adorned with massive free-form art installations (often made by former EXAT 51 members) that integrated themselves seamlessly with the surroundings, almost to the point where they became inseparable with the hotel’s architecture and design.


Over his life, Bregovac, with the help of numerous other architects and artists, created more than two dozen hotels, motels and resorts across Yugoslavia and, in the process, helped to put the country on the map as a European travel destination by completely reimagining its idea of touristic architecture and the coastal/mountain resort experience. Through this pioneering work, he received countless awards and recognitions, such as the Borba Award, the "Viktor Kovačić" Award and the “Vladimir Nazor” Award for lifetime achievements. He even went on to teach his skills to students at both universities in Rijeka and in Zagreb, passing on his experience to the next generation. He continued creating new projects until the mid 1980s, at which point he retired. On February 8th, 1998, Bregovac passed away in Rijeka at the age of 74, at which point he was subsequently interred at his family plot in Mirogoj Cemetery in Zagreb. Today, Bregovac is fondly remembered by academics and art historians as one of Croatia’s most famous and accomplished architects of the Yugoslav era. Not only has Bregovac’s work had multiple retrospective shows at museums across Croatia in recent years dedicated to his legacy, but his work was also widely shown at the 2018 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City that was dedicated to Yugoslavia’s architecture.


The following sections of this article will explore in detail the works of Zdravko Bregovac’s hotel, motel and resort architecture. While I have done my best to track down all of these works (which sources say number between 25 and 35), I concede that there are a few that remain elusive.

 

1.) Helios Hotel & Bungalows, 1960

A vintage Yugoslav-era postcard showing the Helios Hotel in Mali Lošinj, Croatia.

Name: Helios Hotel & Bungalows

Year: 1960

Condition: Fair to good, still operating [slated for demolition]

Location: Mali Lošinj, Croatia

Coordinates: 44°32'03.5"N, 14°27'06.8"E


Nestled among the coastal pines on Čikat Bay on the outskirts of the historic town of Mali Lošinj is the Helios Hotel & Bungalows. This was one of the first hotels (if not the very first one) that Bregovac built when he started upon his career-long journey into the realm of touristic architecture. Completed in 1960, the complex consists, firstly, of three wings of flat-roofed rectangular blocks (each three levels) that extend off of the main reception area. These wings are crafted in the international style with white facade broad faces and end-cap walls composed of native stone. Meanwhile, the white facade is interspersed on the street-side with vertical strips of red windows and then red banister balconies on the sea-facing side. Off of the reception area is a restaurant, which opens up through a series of glass curtain walls onto an outdoor patio courtyard that is enclosed and covered with a series of streamlined metal awnings. The second component of the complex is a series of modest bungalows across the street from the main hotel complex, composed of simple rectangular concrete construction with a flat roof and wide double doors that open up towards the hotel.


Since its construction, it has been a hugely popular destination among Croatian tourists, with many having come regularly for decades. It stands as a unique historical example of Bregovac’s early touristic experiments and an important relic of Yugoslavia’s classic resort architecture. In 2012, California-based filmmaker Ryan Jeffery spent several weeks at Hotel Helios in order to compose a documentary about the cultural life of the resort. In a description of the project, he writes that “the film follows the day-to-day operations of the hotel, documenting both the guests and the employees.” Titled “Guest House Helios”, the trailer can be watched at THIS link, while the documentary in its entirety can be watched at THIS link. However, despite the history and cultural importance of Hotel Helios (it being one of the last fully-original un-renovated Yugoslav-era hotels on the island of Lošinj), plans have been in the works now since at least 2009 to demolish the complex and replace it with a new contemporary luxury resort. While I have not been able to find articles about the exact schedule for these plans, I was able to find some of the proposals put forward HERE and HERE. From what I have been able to establish, as far as the summer of 2021, the original Hotel Helios still seems to be operational, but I have not confirmed that and it is hard to know how much longer it will be open for.

 

2.) Hotel Resort Saint Andrea, 1963

A vintage Yugoslav-era image of the restaurant pavilion of Hotel Saint Andrea in Rabac, Croatia.

Name: Hotel Resort Saint Andrea (today "Hotel Miramar" & "Hotel Allegro")

Year: 1963

Condition: Very good

Location: Saint Andrea Beach, Rabac, Croatia

Coordinates: 45°04'28.2"N, 14°09'44.8"E


In his follow up to the Hotel Helios, Bregovac created an attractive resort complex in the seaside Istrian town of Rabac. This would be the first of many projects that Bregovac would undertake in Rabac, to the point that, by the end of the 1970s, nearly every major resort in the town would be created by Bregovac. Located at the tip of Saint Andrea Peninsula which juts out into Kvarner Bay, Hotel Saint Andrea originally consisted of four rectangular three-level hotel blocks arranged in a staggered orientation leading town to the beach, all topped with gently sloping red tile roofs. A restaurant pavilion positioned at the rocky tip of the peninsula, which was itself especially dramatic in the way it stood atop the rocks perched over the beach with its wide verandas and long exaggerated horizontal eaves sweeping across the sky. Meanwhile, in 1986, the facility, due to its popularity, was expanded with two low-rise towers connecting the four blocks into two larger complexes. These two expanded facilities became known as Hotel Castor and Hotel Pollux, both as sub-divisions of what was called the Hotel Saint Andrea Resort complex. In addition, elegant swimming pools and cafe patios were added at the same time in order to improve the resort’s offerings. Finally, within the hotels’ interiors, Bregovac’s fellow EXAT 51 member Aleksandar Srnec created numerous art installations.


Vintage Yugoslav-era images of the interior of the Saint Andrea Resort at Rabac, Croatia.

After the dismantling of Yugoslavia, the complex was privatized and it is now operated by the Poreč-based hotel conglomerate “Valamar”. While there have been some renovations during the 1990s and 2000s, the resort appears largely the same, however, many of Srnec’s interior art installations were removed during this time. With these changes, the Hotel Castor and Hotel Pollux changed their names to “Hotel Miramar” and “Hotel Allegro”, respectively. While the hotels still operate and are in excellent condition, the restaurant pavilion has been shuttered up and in a state of disuse for many years now. The official website for the complex can be found at THIS link.

 

3.) Hotel Bellevue, 1963

A contemporary photo of Hotel Bellevue at Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. Credit: idriva.com

Name: Hotel Bellevue

Year: 1963

Condition: Very good

Location: Velika Poljana, Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Coordinates: 44°52'51.1"N, 15°37'18.4"E


During the same time that Zdravko Bregovac was working on the Saint Andrea Resort at Rabac, he was also working on an additional commission for the creation of a new resort complex at the world famous Plitvice Lakes in the scenic and mountainous Lika region of Croatia. This new hotel that Bregovac was to build was given the name “Hotel Bellevue” and was to be situated overlooking the lakes directly next to Marijan Haberle’s famous “Hotel Plitvice” built in 1957. Unveiled in 1963, Hotel Bellevue is constructed as an arrangement of three connected pavilions, with one facing towards the parking area and two facing outwards in the direction of the lakes. The exterior of the pavilions is covered in a facade of dark wood slats and white plaster, with all of this topped off by a set of gently sloping red metal gabled roofs. The hotel itself is situated within a natural depression in the landscape as to minimize the amount of visual and environmental disruption incurred by the facility, thus, allowing the hotel to merge with the surrounding natural topography. The theme of “wood” carries over into the interior of the hotel as well, with a main dining hall paneled from floor to ceiling in deep stained pine boards. Furthermore, the dining hall also has expansive curtain windows that look out westward towards the waterfalls. The Hotel Bellevue complex is expertly crafted and follows closely to the 1946 Plitvice Lake development plan by Zdenko Strižić that called for low-impact environmentally sensitive architecture that complements the landscape rather than imposes itself upon it. For his efforts creating Hotel Bellevue, Bregovac was granted an award by the Association of Architects of Yugoslavia for the country’s best architectural achievement of 1963.

A contemporary photo of the dining hall of Hotel Bellevue at Plitvice Lakes National Park. Credit: farvater.travel

Hotel Bellevue continues to operate up to the present day and is in very good condition. In its present state, it has undergone very few renovations, appearing much as it did during the Yugoslav-era. However, in 2021, the Plitvice Lakes National Park, who own the hotel, chose to undertake an extreme renovation proposal put forward by Croatian architect Maja Tedeschi that would completely transform the appearance of the hotel. Sources seem to indicate that this renovation work will begin by 2022.

 

4.) Hotel Lanterna, 1965

A contemporary view of Hotel Lanterna at Rabac, Croatia. Credit: Valamar Sanfior Hotel

Name: Hotel Lanterna (today “Valamar Sanfior Hotel & Casa”)

Year: 1965

Condition: Very good

Location: Saint Andrea Peninsula, Rabac, Croatia

Coordinates: 44°52'51.1"N, 15°37'18.4"E


In his second seaside resort project a Rabac, Bregovac undertook a project directly adjacent to the one he made two years prior (Hotel Saint Andrea) which came to be known as “Hotel Lanterna”, named after the pebble beach that it stands perched on the rocks just above. Completed in 1965 and accommodating 335 beds, the hotel is characterized by its square three-level pavilion style construction (63m x 63m) that is completed with a pure white facade and low-pitched red tile roof. Within the center of the pavilion is a 31m wide square courtyard, overflowing with trees and vegetation. This was the first hotel Bregovac designed that featured this inner-square cortile design, which is a feature he may have borrowed from the designs he and Vjenceslav Richter proposed for the National Museum in Aleppo in Syria and the Museum of the Revolution in Sarajevo. Numerous sources recount that Bregovac’s Hotel Lanterna project here at Rabac was the most beloved creation of his career. The hotel was privatized during the 1990s, which led to it undergoing significant 8 million euro renovations in 2013. While the exterior of the hotel has remained largely intact and in its original appearance, the interior has been significantly changed, with the majority of the original Yugoslav-era interior design elements made by Bregovac and other artists being lost. The hotel continues to operate up to the present day and is in excellent condition. The facility is currently operated by the Poreč-based hotel conglomerate “Valamar”, with its name changed from “Hotel Lanterna” to “Valamar Sanfior Hotel”.


A vintage postcard photo of Lanterna Apartments at Rabac, Croatia.

Finally, it is important to note that in 1969, four years after Hotel Lanterna was completed, Bregovac began work on a supplementary component of this complex directly adjacent to the main building. Unveiled in 1972 and called “Lanterna Apartments”, this new complex was composed of clusters of four-level white blocks which were characterized by their vertical columns of balconies extending forward in a staggered fashion, all arranged in a circle around a central courtyard. Bregovac also built a duplicate of it at the same time 700m north within the Girandella resort complex called “Girandella Apartments”. In 2013, the Lanterna Apartments were acquired by Valamar, who undertook an extensive renovation on the property, which entailed considerable changes to both the interior and exterior of the complex. As part of these efforts, one of the blocks within the circle (closest to the sea) was torn down in order to improve views for the rest of the complex and to build a pool. Today the facility is known as “Valamar Sanfior Casa”.

 

5.) Motel Ičići, 1966

A vintage postcard view of Motel Ičići at Ičići, Croatia near Opatija.

Name: Motel Ičići

Year: 1966

Condition: Demolished, 2016

Location: Ičići, Croatia

Former Coordinates: 45°19'06.1"N, 14°17'29.0"E


In 1966, Bregovac unveiled his first roadside motel complex along the coastal highway of the small Istrian seaside town of Ičići, just west of Opatija right along the famous Lungomare promenade. Not only was this Bregovac’s first motel, but it was also one of the first motels or motor lodges in this region of the Adriatic. Not surprisingly named “Motel Ičići”, the facility originally consisted of a primary 60m long rectangular pavilion with three levels and a flat roof, along with three smaller similarly styled 30m long pavilions south along the waterfront. All three pavilions were fashioned in the International Style and were positioned on the rocks above the sea and offered dramatic unrivaled views out onto Kvarner Bay. Motel Ičići operated as a popular and well-patronized seaside destination for nearly five decades, however, with its privatization in the early 2000s, it began to fall into decline. By the early 2010s, it was shut down completely. Owned by the Liburnia Riviera Hotel group, based out of Opatija, that organization made the decision to demolish Motel Ičići in 2016, which was carried out in April of that year. In its place, a new 4-star contemporary luxury resort was built in its place named “Hotel Ičići”, which continues to operate to this day.

A vintage postcard view of Motel Ičići at Ičići, Croatia new Opatija.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that at the same time that Bregovac was building “Motel Ičići”, he also built a private residence just 400m down the road in Ičići for his friend Ivo Robić, who was an internationally famous singer-songwriter. Composed of a red plaster cube with a wall of pale blue wooden shutters facing south, the house still stands to the present day in good shape and in its original condition. However, interestingly, before his death in 2000, Robić donated the house to the Catholic diocese of Rijeka, who now operate the house as a church.

 

6.) Hotel Ambassador, 1966

A vintage postcard view of Hotel Ambassador in Opatija, Croatia.

Name: Hotel Ambassador

Year: 1964-1966

Condition: Very good

Location: Tomaševac Beach, Opatija, Croatia

Coordinates: 45°20'25.0"N, 14°18'40.4"E


Unquestionably, the most famous of all of Bregovac’s tourist complexes was Hotel Ambassador in Opatija. Fashioned as one of the first truly “luxury” resorts along the Adriatic, it set itself apart from many other hotels and resorts being built during this era as it was most decidedly aimed not at the common worker-tourist but, instead, a more upper-class clientele. This was also the first hotel that Bregovac created that was in the style of the ultra-large cube high-rise, a style that gained attention on the Adriatic just a few years earlier in 1963 with the opening of “Hotel Marjan” in Split by the architect Lovro Perković. Hotel Ambassador stands as a 12 story cube tower with 173 rooms looking out above Tomaševac Beach as it sits upon the rocks right at the edge of Kvarner Bay. The cube itself rests in an offset orientation atop a large two-level 83m x 35m pavilion that spreads out at the foot of the beach, accommodating the hotel’s restaurants, bars, lounges, and other amenities.

A vintage photo of the lobby of Hotel Ambassador in Opatija. Credit: CCN Images

The cube’s facade itself is painted with white balcony railings, while, behind the balconies, the rooms are enclosed in fully glass curtain walls. The interior of the hotel was originally adorned with a refined selection of 1960's era modern furnishings, arranged with a unique color scheme of purples paired with wood paneling. In addition, Hotel Ambassador was replete with a significant assemblage of artwork from some of Yugoslavia’s most significant artists (many of them being Bregovac’s EXAT 51 colleagues). For example, within the hotel were works by Vlado Kristl, Aleksandar Srnec, Ivan Picelj, Zvonko Lončarić, but one of the most charismatic works in the hotel was a bold and colorful abstract mural by artist Edo Murtić that took up an entire wall of the hotel’s bar and lounge. In addition, it must also be mentioned that the furniture of the hotel was designed by the famous architect and designer Bernardo Bernardi. Bregovac made sure that every detail of the hotel was thoughtfully addressed, in what some refer to as one of the earliest examples of “total design” for a hotel in Yugoslavia, where even the uniforms, silverware, dinnerware and other accessories were all custom-crafted by local trades people specifically for the hotel. As such, Hotel Ambassador can be seen as perhaps a physical culmination of the ideas of EXAT 51’s philosophy of bringing together the pure arts and the applied arts into a hotel complex that almost itself operated as a work of art.


However, it is important to note that not all of those in Opatija celebrated the Hotel Ambassador, even despite the fact that it attracted celebrities and prominent figures from around the world (even Yugoslav President Tito and his wife Jovanka from time to time). Many sources note that many locals felt that the massive modernist building (towering over the entire town) was incongruous with the historical Belle Epoque architecture that characterized the atmosphere of Opatija. Furthermore, sources note that even local ecologists referred to the hotel as a “thorn in the eye” of the landscape and the region. Though, despite such critical remarks during the 60s and 70s era, Hotel Ambassador nevertheless became one of the most famous hotels of the Adriatic coast. Notable contemporary Croatian architect Idis Turato remarks that the hotel “is still the best organized and designed tourist complex on the Adriatic”, while other sources call it “one of the strongest hotels in Croatian architectural history”. It is important to note, however, that the hotel has changed significantly since the Yugoslav-era. In 2002, a tragic fire struck Hotel Ambassador, which resulted in a complete renovation of the hotel’s interior. When the hotel re-opened the following year, its new interior was completely changed, with nearly all signs of Bregovac’s original interior design lost, along with all of the original furniture and artworks. I was not able to determine if those original pieces of furniture or art were saved and preserved or if they were all lost/discarded. Today, the hotel is owned by the Liburnia Riviera Hotel group, based out of Opatija, and is a five-star resort in excellent condition. Its official website can be found at THIS link.

 

7.) Hotel Bellevue, 1966

A contemporary view of the present-day appearance of Hotel Bellevue in Mali Lošinj, Croatia. Credit: Trip Advisor

Name: Hotel Bellevue

Year: 1966

Condition: Very good [renovated 2013]

Location: Mali Lošinj, Croatia

Coordinates: 44°31'53.7"N, 14°27'17.4"E


The same year that Bregovac unveiled the famous Hotel Ambassador in Opatija, he also unveiled “Hotel Bellevue” (the second hotel he would build with this name), in the town of Mali Lošinj, which is located on the island of Lošinj in the Adriatic. Located on Čikat Bay, Hotel Bellevue is located less than 300 meters away from the first hotel he built in Mali Lošinj six years earlier, Hotel Helios. For the architectural style of this hotel, Bregovac chose the square cortile pavilion design, similar to that which he used on Hotel Lanterna in Rabac, except Hotel Bellevue would be much bigger at 82m in diameter. Originally, the square pavilion was three levels high sitting on a foundation of native stone walls, while the facade was painted white and topped off with a gabled red-tile roof. The