Not only does Valentin Jeck have a fantastic name, but he can also take a rather fantastic photo. In his project Toward A Concrete Utopia, Jeck showcases some of Yugoslavia’s Cold War brutalist architecture in effortless style.
Jeck has achieved something pretty impressive in this project. His photography has made the forgotten brutalist architecture of a previous generation sing out in the pictures.
Brutalism, particularly Cold War brutalism in Yugoslavia, doesn’t carry the same romance as other architectural movements, and has long been subject to harsh treatment by the romantics who hark back to the renaissance.
However, Jeck’s skill has shown these buildings and structures in their best light, highlighting their grandeur and drama with each slab and sheet of concrete.
Jeck travelled round the former Yugoslavia, capturing images for MoMA’s Toward a Concrete Utopia exhibition. The images will be displayed around the galleries of the New York museum as part of the exhibition, which opened to the public on 15 July 2018.
After the war, the whole of Europe was doing some soul-searching, and the brutalist movement in Yugoslavia and other USSR states was hoping to reflect the strength and resilience of the countries, designed to shape a national identity during the socialist country’s formative years.
The picture above is one of many monuments dotted around, which were built to commemorate the Second World War. This particular structure in Slovenia was designed by Živa Baraga and Janez Lenassi.
He was given free reign by MoMA to go and find the best creations he could and over the past two years, he made seven separate trips to the countries of former Yugoslavia, including Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, and the still-disputed territory of Kosovo.
“I had no specific brief,” he told Dezeen, “I was completely free to choose the style and the look. They gave me a list of the relevant buildings and monuments, and the contacts of the individuals at the sites.”
“I was well-accompanied by local advisors who were also involved in the exhibition,” said Jeck. “Normally there was no problem, except at those with military relevance.”
Above is the 205-metre-tall Avala TV Tower in Belgrade, which was built in 1965 by Uglješa Bogunović, Slobodan Janjić, and Milan Krstić. However, it was destroyed in NATO’s bombing of the city during the Yugoslav wars in 1999. It was later reconstructed, and reopened in 2010.
This is also a tale followed by other structures in the project; built as a sign of strength but through conflict and neglect, the brutalist buildings began to serve as relics to a previous time of hope that never materialised in the way the communist dream suggested.
Above is Marko Mušič’s Memorial and Cultural Center and Town Hall in Montenegro, 1969-75.
During his visits, he found many of the structures in poor repair with scaffolding erected with the landscaping beginning to overthrow them.
But the aged and weathered concrete made for more interesting imagery, Jeck said, “The raw concrete structures are very photogenic…I like the patina, especially the fact that they’re not restored and in their original condition.”
“The designs of the 1950s and 1960s are very interesting to me,” he said. “The longer I worked on [the project] the more I appreciated the work.”
The longer he worked on the project, the more Jeck came to appreciate the qualities of each building, even those in disrepair like the Telecommunications Center below, designed by Janko Konstantinov in Skopje, 1968-81.
HEKKTA is a big fan of this project as we believe it shows off the brutalist architecture in a way that is often hard to capture, given the bare and baron landscape surrounding them. In the shots, such as the one underneath, he brings the buildings to life to the point where you can imagine how they would’ve looked in operation all those years ago.