The creation of urban landscapes is considered in this study from the perspective of the synthesis of nature and culture under specific historical circumstances. The transformation of an urban landscape is the transformation of a space which, in turn, is in any given historical period bound up with the history of the space. It is not only, as Henri Lefebvre writes, ‘geographical descriptions of natural space’, but the study of ‘natural rhythms’ and of change in the ‘spatio-temporal rhythms of nature’, which reflect the social practices inscribed into the space [1
] (p. 117). A river, as both a flexible and a firm element of urban landscape has potential as a mediator to express the complexity of its ever-changing images [2
]. Though the term ‘riverscape’ designates the landscape around a river, even a view of a river, its more profound meaning points to its complex structure comprising organic and inorganic elements and their interconnectedness across change. As S. M. Haslam pointed out: “The river continuum is of time as well as space, as is that of the riverscape, changed, slowly or dramatically, over the years. The land form continues, the rest changes” [3
] (p. 149).
The historical data that document these changes thus reveal the main phases of urban landscape transformation. In this article, we emphasise the importance of (historical) study of the riverscape of Belgrade, given that the city is situated “[...] on the largest water junction of Europe” [4
] (p. 319)—the confluence of the Sava river into the Danube. Positioned on the Balkan Peninsula, Belgrade is geographically situated between the Pannonian Plain and the mountainous area of Šumadija. The historical core of the city is located between the two slopes above the rivers, which also give it its strategic importance. Being wedged between geographical oppositions is also reflected in its multi-layered history: “In geopolitical terms, ever since the split of the Roman Empire and into modern history, the two rivers formed borders between often conflicting empires (i.e., between Eastern and Western Roman Empires, Franks and Byzantine Empire, and Ottoman and Austrian/Austro-Hungarian Empires)” [5
] (p. 53). Today, Belgrade is the capital and the largest city in the Republic of Serbia, which it also was in former Yugoslavia, 1918–2006. The metropolitan area of Belgrade covers more than 320,000 hectares, with 17 municipalities and nearly 1.7 million people.
Facing a moment of profound change in Belgrade riverscape, our study is focused on the city’s central green core and the large open public space on the right bank of the Danube. Following Christophe Girot’s notion that “[e]ach time a landscape project begins there should follow an extended period in which one may simply discover what already exists” [6
] (p. 65), we have undertaken a historical survey in attempt to grasp both perceptible and ‘not so obvious’ layers of modernisation, inscribed into the peculiar site of the urban park Ušće
(confluence in Serbian). Even though historical enquiry is considered a standard methodological procedure and supposedly forms a common part within the practice of landscape architecture and urban design, under pressure from time-saving and profit-based demands of the capitalist economy, this step is often neglected or severely reduced. Being aware of these reductions and their consequences, the survey starts from a general question: how to acquire profound knowledge and experience, as proper introduction to a site project? Knowing that the dominant paradigm of contemporary city development has already been framed for decades by the universal idea of sustainability [7
], we intend to explore ways to approach interventions in the modern city, and furthermore, how to relate to a modern city that was conceptualised and realised within a socialist society—to wit, the capital of former Yugoslavia.
In this endeavour, we refer to the theoretical framework constructed around the concept of ‘landscape urbanism’, that was initially articulated through the Landscape Urbanism academic program at the University of Illinois, the Landscape Urbanism conference, 1997, and the Landscape Urbanism traveling exhibition curated by Charles Waldheim, 1997–1998 [8
]. The discipline progressed particularly through the work of, besides Waldheim, James Corner and Mohsen Mostafavi, and many other educators, theorists and practitioners, such as Sébastian Marot, Kelly Shannon, Julia Czerniak, Richard Weller, Anita Berrizbeitia, Christophe Girot, etc. This hybrid field of work cuts across numerous disciplines, in “an attempt to re-emphasise the importance of particular sites and the ecological/artificial processes they encompass” [9
] (p. 626). Emphasizing that the very concept of landscape contains both a spatial milieu and cultural image, Corner notices that landscape ideas are not universally shared: “it is crucial to understand how cultural ideas condition construction and how construction, in turn, conditions the play of landscape ideas in a larger cultural imagination” [6
] (p. 8).
In this respect, we stand with many scholars in assuming that proper introduction to a site project should include ‘a closer look’ [6
], implemented through very well-known methodologies of landscape site analysis [14
], and improved by the contemporary approach of landscape urbanism. Starting from the premise that the concept of urban landscape offers a generic approach for revealing and re-imagining the unique features of the particular site, as well as the tools to actively resist the globalizing and homogenizing tendencies in contemporary practices [11
], our intention is to distinguish layers of historical, natural, social, environmental, cultural and political specificities of the New Belgrade landscape (Figure 1
). For reading the material and immaterial traces of the past, and detecting ‘not so obvious’ features of the present condition, we shall rely particularly on the peculiar notions of ‘critical practices in modernism’, recently proposed by Anita Berrizbeitia and Karen M’Closkey [15
Concerned primarily with serious ecological threats, the discourse of sustainability itself is, for many reasons, strongly influenced and supported by the contemporary wealth of scientific knowledge, technological innovations and unforeseeable technical inventions. However, the aim of this paper is to stress the necessity of including a historical and cultural perspective in reaching progressively more complex goals of sustainability. Formation of public green spaces in the city may be a process of critical change and enrichment of cultural conventions. The landscape that is being acted upon becomes the tool for establishing the ensemble that will, through its usage, fulfil a certain planned spatial strategy. Besides dealing with contemporary environmental issues, the restoration of green areas of the city, together with studying the memory they hold, can contribute significantly to a reduction of current “cultural amnesia” [6
] (p. 59), and thus the materialization of cultural diversity. Therefore, the significance of this paper may be found in its lateral contribution to contemporary debates on sustainable urban growth and achieving urban resilience: in pointing out the shortcomings of the prevalent ad-hoc approach to site survey, i.e., superficial analysis of the current state of affairs, and in proposing an alternative, critical mode of spatial and historical enquiry. Finally, we would argue that urban riverscape revisions of the post-socialist society should act as a trigger for the community, along with variously profiled experts, to cope with broad environmental and social challenges.
2. Theoretical Framework
There are numerous definitions of a landscape. According to one of them, it is: “a portion of the earth’s surface that can be comprehended at a glance” [16
] (p. 8). Another writer states: “The meaning of ‘landscape’ shifts by the context and by the background of the users” [17
] (p. 13). The human role in landscapes is dissimilar to that of other species, precisely due to the imprint of cultural patterns that characterise human activity. A new cultural landscape emerges through the activity of cultural groups in a natural setting [18
]. Dealing with the study of theory and practice in relation to the concept of landscape in the 20th century, John Wylie starts his book with the following statement: ‘Landscape is tension’ [19
] (p. 1). Dialectical pairs of terms: ‘proximity-distance’, ‘observation-inhabitation’, ‘eye-land’ and ‘culture-nature’ are the contrasts that create tension and define the critical view of a landscape. Within the same theoretical discourse, the concept of landscape is explained by studying the dialectic pair of terms: ‘production-representation’, accentuating the existence of the mutual dependency between the manner in which a certain landscape is presented and production of the social, spatial and aesthetic values that can be perceived in that landscape [20
]. In the past decades in particular, landscape was established as a means of mediation, on the basis of which the position and role of all social levels of a society can be recognised.
The theoretical concept of urban landscape, with its extended field of spatial agencies, brought new modes of thinking and acting within the field of landscape architecture [9
]. In keeping with the ideas of contemporary practice of landscape urbanism, we would contend that with some thoughtful projects in this domain, such as Freshkills Park
, New York (James Corner Field Operations), The BIG U
, New York (BIG TEAM), Resilience + The Beach
, New Jersey (Sasaki, Rutgers, Arup), new modes of critical landscape practice have emerged. If, following Berrizbeitia and M’Closkey, we understand the term ‘critical practice’ as the activity that is, in Max Horkheimer’s words, “explanatory, practical and normative” [15
] (p. 207), the critical projects of landscape architecture might be detected in various historical, cultural and socio-political contexts. As Berrizbeitia and M’Closkey have shown, criticality in the formative period of American landscape architecture was les manifested in formal than in methodological terms. The texts and projects that have rejected or resisted colonial and post-independence modes of land tenure have operated within the existing institutional and political framework of nineteenth century “laissez-faire capitalism, broadly institutionalized since colonialism; accelerated urbanization; and, as a result of these, an environmental crisis not unlike the one we face today” [15
] (p. 208). The authors of this insightful study found the predecessors of critical practice within landscape architecture in enterprises that produced formal, material and programmatic ruptures in the existing empirical realities, while offering innovative technical and material proposals, “satisfying the goals of both capitalism and environmentalism” [15
] (p. 222).
This particular mode of immanent critique, which operates within imposed real-world conditions, and differs from radical, transcendental, that is, avant-garde
critique, is labelled experimental
by architectural theorist Manfredo Tafuri [22
]. By the same token, some of the early projects for Belgrade landscape and riverscape revisions could also be distinguished as exemplary of the immanent critique. In this context, we shall underline the insightful plan made by the prominent architect Dimitrije T. Leko (1863–1914), for the regulation of the Danube bank in the old part of Belgrade, at the very beginning of the twentieth century. Leko was also known for his polemical articles dedicated to various problems in the urban development of Belgrade. In his writing, Leko pointed to the difficulty of urbanisation in conditions determined by ‘big capital’. He advocated for revisions to the urban regulation plan of the time, as well as construction laws. In an article from 1901 [24
], Leko discusses the issue of the Danube quay and expansion of the Danube neighbourhood, and addresses the question of the regulation of the riverbank. After the Second World War, renowned modernist architect and town planner Nikola Dobrović (1897–1967), just like Leko several decades earlier, proposed city plans with a strong critical attitude. Space as an unbroken whole was at the core of Dobrović’s idea of city landscape
, explicitly conceptualised in 1954. The term city landscape
, in German Stadtlandschaft
, belongs to the history of German urban planning and emerges as a doctrine for the creation of large-scale urban settlements shortly after the Second World War [25
] (p. 141). In Yugoslavia, Nikola Dobrović was among the first to consider the concept of city landscape
], writing of it as a term still being defined, describing its versatile nature as: “a new type of spaciousness of buildings and their plasticity, the hollow plasticity of the in-between spaces, architecture of the ground, greenery and the vistas in one organically designed composition whole” [27
] (p. 1). Dobrović explicitly connects the equality in space quality with given social values. He wrote that only an urbanism “comprehended and experienced as an organic assembly of city landscapes, can represent the reflection of social aspirations and spirituality of modern” [27
] (p. 3).
3. Methodological Framework
Each time a critical project emerges, it relates to what already exists. Yet, historical surveys are particularly underestimated and circumvented, often regarded as an obstacle to pursuing both the designer’s artistic freedom and goals of capitalist growth. Thus, surveys of the present state of affairs and its historical background often do not take enough space and time in preparing for future spatial interventions. In this study, we shall focus on the benefits of profound historical research, given that a preliminary survey of specific urban conditions should rely mostly on the proper collection, systematization and interpretation of heterogeneous data. Therefore, our research is not based on well-established disciplinary methods, such as historical-interpretative research. Instead, having in mind the specific context of this study, we have combined the analytical method of identification of relevant historical data with the synthetic method of superposition of identified historical layers [12
The process of detecting important historical data that refer to a certain area of research, along with the identification and evaluation of the landscape layers, are probably the most intriguing and most sensitive aspects of spatial revision inspection. The mutual relations of urban historical layers and various factors involved in contemporary urban transformation also reflect the inhabitants’ relationship to past values, as well as the relationship between the past, the present and the future of landscapes. The contemporary transformation of the New Belgrade riverbank, that is, the park that extends along the right bank of the Danube, at the Sava river confluence, has prompted our examination of the key concepts of urban planning—specifically, periods of rapid revision that took place at the beginning of the twentieth century, as well as after the Second World War. By comparing and analysing these revisions, we have tried to show the lost layers that reveal valuable traces of modernisation and modernity in the metamorphosis of riverine landscapes.
The view can never be directed towards the landscape in general, but spontaneously steers and unmistakably stops at the stable, conspicuous points that ‘capture’ the attention of the observer. Instantly afterwards, the mind of the observer tries to understand the limits of the landscape and to comprehend the whole [28
]. We use these insights in an effort to find the most appropriate methods and techniques to highlight important cross sections of the meaningful layers and complex transformations of the Belgrade and New Belgrade riverscape.
The bulk of material for this study originates from the relevant primary and secondary sources, related to proposed methods. It contains material from historical archives, such as: maps, documents, plans, photographs, publications and written sources from the analysed periods. Also, it relies profoundly on previous investigations by prominent researchers and scholars, our own previous research into the urban landscape and urban history of Belgrade, as well as research regarding critical practices of modern architecture in Yugoslavia. This study is based on our findings in the search for more profound knowledge of mutual relations of the urban historical layers and the various factors involved in the contemporary urban transformation of the city. Finally, the research is informed by the material from public and private photo archives.
5. Discussion of the Case of Confluence
The analysis implemented in our enquiry is conceived as a contribution to a more comprehensive research procedure that examines the present condition of the New Belgrade urban landscape, more precisely the open public space at the rivers’ confluence. Our systematization of historical data was guided by the notion that for this particular mode of historical survey it is less important to extend the scope of existing knowledge than to set up methodological guidelines for this type of research. Namely, this analytical probe was centred on establishing the relationship between the critical practice of landscape architecture and urban planning, at one side, and the critical method of historical enquiry, at the other. The latter is discussed in broader terms in Tafuri’s Theories and History of Architecture
, under the term of the ‘critical history’ (storia critica
]. Yet, the relationship between historical survey and architectural practice has rarely been productive, and even Tafuri insisted on their separated development. Nevertheless, the examples of such productive relationship, even if rare, might be found in various historical periods. For example, the renowned architect Philippe Rahm, in the elaboration of his theoretical concept of ’meteorological architecture’, calls for a critical understanding of historical examples of cities, that is campi di Venezia
]—‘an ingeniously conceptualized rainwater filtering and collecting system’ that also represents ‘spatio-social and cultural network’ of the city [54
] (p. 27). In our study, profound historical enquiry of the New Belgrade riverscape revisions, covering the spectrum of environmental and societal conditions, intervened in the complex network of historical layers that depict critical moments in formation of the physical structure.
The assay started with the proposition of theoretical and methodological framework and led towards an interpretation of the assimilated knowledge. The results of the research are presented through the synoptic map, and are additionally sublimated in a complementary synoptic diagram (Figure 10
The synoptic map (from Ancient Greek συνοπτικός, sunoptikós, ‘seeing the whole together or at a glance’) indicates that the distinguished layers are not only historically superposed one onto another, but that they intervene with one another more profoundly, forming a complex state of circumstances that we have addressed with the conceptualization of urban landscape. In the synoptic diagram we have distinguished five historical strata (a set of layers) that contribute significantly to comprehension of the present state. By looking at the traces of the formative period of Belgrade urban landscape, the moments of New Belgrade’s inception, inerasable impacts of war, vigorous post WWII socialist transformation and, finally, the series of Danube riverscape revisions, we intend to depict the complexity of the modern city legacy and thus stress the interconnectedness of past and future endeavours. Their spatial distribution also reveals the relationships between the initial subject matter, represented by the historical stratum, labelled in the diagram as Revision, and the broader spatial and historical context. Depending on how seriously the site survey is taken, the number of historical layers that are taken into account enhances, and the distinction of the historical strata becomes more precise.
Our research shows the lessons of socialist city planning in conceptualising and building an urban environment that in many aspects advanced the conditions of living in a metropolis. These advantages become conspicuous in comparison to pre-modern and post-modern social and spatial practices: by connecting the private domain of high-quality mass housing and a novel kind of public open spaces within continuous greenery, the modern city offered an alternative to traditional forms of city dwelling. Paradoxically, rigorous planning strategies proved to be rather adaptive to new and constantly changing conditions of the contemporary urban environment and of the world at large. Its solid infrastructure and incompleteness thus provided good conditions for the post-socialist market-driven urban development. Regarding today’s complex global situation with regard to the making of urban sustainability and resilience in cities, contemporary research in Serbia is identifying problems in the spatial distribution of green spaces within the Belgrade administrative area, finding they are caused by lack of instruments in “legal adoption and implementation at the local level of planning and managing” in green infrastructure delivery [55
] (p. 492). Through the accumulation of ideas and conceptions, New Belgrade long ago stopped being a no-man’s wetland. In this respect, the results of our investigation can be considered a point of departure for pursuing new, contemporary critical practices of rethinking and reimagining of (New) Belgrade urban riverscapes.
Likewise, in the projects of the riverscape planning we have acknowledged the impact of both immanent and transcendent critique, exemplary in the work of Leko and Dobrović. Without an enabling social mechanism, critical projects are often rejected, and the redrawing of Leko’s plan testifies to that. Yet, the way it was conceived and argumented may still give us a clue about how to conceptualize immanent but severe critique by way of a landscape project. Compared to Leko’s plan from 1904, the criticality in Dobrović’s work operated in a transcendental mode, as an avant-garde critique that fundamentally altered the heritage of pre-war urban practice. Although the impact of Dobrović’s criticism was huge, it was nevertheless limited—resulting in New Belgrade becoming a complex and heterogeneous modern city. By comparing these profoundly differing practices regarding the socio-economic context in which they occurred, we would assume that even today, in fundamentally altered social and political conditions and almost without any enabling mechanism, new modes of criticality may be invented.
Finally, we would argue that the major pitfall of modern (and contemporary) city planning, in both socialist and capitalist economic systems, seems to be the old Faustian trap of considering unbuilt space as emptiness, ready to be filled. As shown in many previous cases, such insensitivity towards local histories and cultural geographies, have made too many projects go astray. Thus, we would like to underline the necessity of assimilating our particular, contemporary moment in history, always defined in critical relation to the complex cultural layers of the past, and directed towards the more heterogeneous, that is, resilient and sustainable, visions of future. In an era when cities are progressively built in an “ad-hoc project modus” [9
] (p. 625), the aim of this paper was to challenge the globalizing tendencies of built environments by contributing affirmatively to the critical projects of the urban landscape. Prompted by ongoing processes of re-programming and ‘thematisation’ of the extremely important and large part of the New Belgrade riverfront, this study suggests closer examination of the material and immaterial layers of the existing space.
A closer look into the specific history of planning, constructing and inhabiting of the modern city of New Belgrade, and in particular its riverfronts, might prevent such shortcomings and open different and unique perspectives for re-conceptualizing its urban landscape. It can bring not only a better understanding and comprehension of the specificities of the place, but it might be the very source of imagination [10
]. These notions may be inapplicable in present conditions, since the detailed plan for the Ušće
park has been adopted by the city authorities. Nevertheless, our study’s significance is not only didactic, since the Case of Confluence
exceeds the re-modelling of one city park, and might prove edifying in the face of new long-term challenges to sustainability of modern cities.