Early Modernism in Serbia
The porch over the main entrance is supported by caryatids, set in front of the asymmetrical facade as a direct historicist quotation. The villa reflected the architects' aim of a harmonious synthesis of art, decoration, and architecture, which was to become a trademark of their particular style.
In their design of Villa Vukosava (1930-1931) for Professor Dusan Tomic, the hybrid is created by crossing the traditional structural system and plan with an externally modernized form.
The compact plan, constricted by the massive load-bearing wall structure, is organized around a central hall in a traditional manner, with no exploration of the continuity of space between the ground and first floor. The staircase is literally built in between the thick brickwork walls, and the private quarters on the upper level simply repeat the arrangement of rooms from below.
The formal interpretation, however, moves away from historicist paradigms: the cubic composition is simple and restrained, and the facades are plain and smooth. The cubic purity, however, had to be given the proper dress: clear style signifiers such as the elaborate, decorative moldings signifying modern style planted onto the wall surface.
The final touch of luxury to the otherwise modest villa was provided by the articulation of the entrance zone with generously curved portal and wide external stairs, originally envisaged with an asymmetrically positioned sculpture by Branko Krstic, a draped nude leading two mythical dogs, and a shallow rectangular pond in front.
Double the Fashion
With the double villa of Olga Lazic (1931), I would suggest, the brothers Krstic achieved the high point of their modernist career and managed, at least for a brief moment, to leave the territory of fashion. The atypical site of the villa, with a very limited depth and stretching longitudinally parallel to the street, was sold by the neighboring owner on condition that only one house be built on it.
The architects were, however, requested by their client to design two independent houses, which they did by resolving the riddle in a clever, rather ambiguous manner. They designed two identical, totally separated houses mirrored in corner positions of the site, yet positively connected by an elongated, one-story-high gazebo, thus achieving the effective appearance of one integral structure.
The effect was enhanced by the planar treatment of the facade cladding in sleek marble slabs laid in a continual pattern, in which subtle variation of the grid emphasized the longitudinal stretch of the composition.
If anything, the brothers Krstic were masters of finishes. Even today, after decades of neglect, their buildings have to be appreciated for the finesse and quality of detailing in the use of materials. The facade of the rental apartment building of Mrs. Jelinic in Kumanovska Street (1930-1931) is perhaps the most telling example of their skill.
It is no wonder that they themselves chose this building to represent them on the pages of the magazine Arhitektura. The facade surface is formed by the inlaid materials of dark polished granite, matte gray-green stone, Terranova plastering, and Branko Krstic's cast reliefs in reconstituted stone, which are all carefully fitted together as a piece of marquetry.
It is this skill in putting together different textures, patterns, and materials that distinguishes the Krstic label, however much the designs, or even styles, of their facades varied from case to case.
In this sense, a Krstic facade is easily recognized, whether it is the ball gown style like the elaborate stucco-decorated Veterinary Foundation apartment block (1927) with caryatids, vases, reliefs, and so on; the starkly elegant column dress cut like the Igumanov Palace (1936-1937); or the simple little all-purpose black dress like the rental apartment building for Josif Sojat in Brankova Street (1934).
And if the sartorial metaphor is cast aside, the Krstic brothers still hold prominence as one of the most representative creators of the Belgrade modern style.
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Ljiljana Blagojevic is a practicing architect and an architectural historian and theoretician. She is lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture, University of Belgrade, and teaches at the School for History and Theory of Images in Belgrade.
This article is excerpted from Modernism in Serbia: The Elusive Margins of Belgrade Architecture, 1919-1941, copyright © 2003, available from MIT Press and at Amazon.com.
Apartment block in Kumanovska Street, 1930-1931, by Branko and Petar Krstic.
Photo: Arhitektura, Ljubljana
Detail of the relief of the apartment block in Kumanovska Street.
Photo: Arhitektura, Ljubljana
Typical floor plan, apartment block in Kumanovska Street.
Image: Arhitektura, Ljubljana
Ground floor plan and front elevation of the double villa for Olga Lazic, 1931, by Branko and Petar Krstic.
Image: Ljiljana Blagojevic
Modernism in Serbia, by Ljiljana Blagojevic.
Image: The MIT Press
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