Dobrovic in Dubrovnik


ISBN 978-3-86859-357-0





PREVIOUS SPREADS: Villa Vesna, roof terrace with a view over the bay of Lopud;

Villa Svid, balcony facing the sea; Villa Adonis, open porch under the solid volume;

all photographs by Wolfgang Thaler, 2010.



A Venture in

Modern Architecture

Krunoslav Ivani šin

Wolfgang Thaler

Ljiljana Blagojevic


The authors are grateful to the Archive of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and

Arts in Belgrade, the Architecture Department of the Museum of Science and

Technology in Belgrade, the Gallery Petar Dobrović by courtesy of the Museum

of Contemporary Arts in Belgrade, the State Archives in Dubrovnik, and the

Institute of Art History in Zagreb for granting us the rights to publish valuable

documentation, photographs, and archival material from their collections.

We are thankful to Dubravko Bačić and Miloš Jurišić who gave us permission

to publish documentation from their private collections, to Fedora Pallavicini

for opening Villa Rusalka, to Vlasta Pulić Glavović and Vjekoslava Franušić

Glavović for the illustration materials on the Grand Hotel Lopud from their

family archive, and to Hela Vukadin and Tamara Bjažić for their help in archival

research. Special thanks are owed to Marija Milinković for sharing with us her

findings to which she dedicated much time and energy and for her collegial

support in bringing together source material that is published in this book.

As authors, we are honored to have the book endorsed by the esteemed

academics Andrija Mutnjaković, academic at the Croatian Academy of Sciences

and Arts; Đorđe Zloković, academic at the Serbian Academy of Sciences and

Arts; and Christopher Long, Distinguished Teaching Professor and Director

of the Architectural History Program and the Ph.D. Program at the School of

Architecture, University of Texas at Austin.

At Jovis Verlag, we are grateful to Jochen Visscher and Philipp Sperrle for their

belief in the proposal and to Mara Taylor for her subtle and precise text editing.

Authors thank the graphic designers Philip Popoff and Bojan Vutov for their

patience and their collaborative approach to the book’s design and layout,

reflecting the complexity of the notions expressed by the three co-authors.

The last thanks go to Vladimir Macura and Maroje Mrduljaš for their initial

impulse to bring us together, which not only made this book evolve into a

collaborative undertaking but also made our different standpoints cast a more

complex play of light on the book’s multifaceted subject.


Krunoslav Ivanišin:

Wolfgang Thaler:

Ljiljana Blagojević:


Reading Nikola Dobrović, Looking at His Architecture

Dobrović in Dubrovnik, 2010

A Lifetime of a Mediterranean Modern

Dobrović on Dubrovnik, 1966






Grand Hotel Lopud, the original project submitted for approval to the authorities, 1934: ground floor plan with situation plan; first floor plan; sections and elevations,

signed by the designer Ing. Nikola Dobrović and the authorized civil engineer Ing. Jaroslav Dubsky, Zagreb, with the bearing concrete structure rendered solid black. One floor was

added to the central wing. The “second phase” shaded with red lines–the lateral wing in the upper left corner of the plans–was not constructed until the nineteen-seventies; it

was demolished recently as it legally does not constitute an integral part of the protected cultural monument.


On the Grand Hotel

construction site, 1936:

Courtesy of the Architecture Department,

Museum of Science and Technology, Belgrade.



Krunoslav Ivanišin

Spatial art stands high above all other art forms.

Any architect or architecture enthusiast can easily believe this. 1

The Old and the New Dubrovnik

Nikola Dobrović was born on February 12, 1897 in the Hungarian city of Pécs,

then part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. He completed his studies in 1923

at the Department for Architecture of the High Technical School in Prague,

the capital of the new Republic of Czechoslovakia. After gaining experience

in prominent Prague architectural offices and in his own private practice, he

moved to Dubrovnik in the early nineteen-thirties with the radical, programmatic

mission of bringing modern architecture to this small but historically

very important ancient city on the Dalmatian coast.

Like everything around Dobrović, the context of his first appearance in Dubrovnik

was highly unusual. It was documented in detail by the municipal conservator

Kosta Strajnić, a key personality in the modernization of Dubrovnik’s

demanding cultural scene and, more importantly, of Dubrovnik’s architecturally

highly charged physical space. Already well known as the author of the first

monographs on the architect Josip Plečnik and the sculptor Ivan Meštrović,

Strajnić described in his newspaper articles, which were later collected in a

booklet dramatically entitled Dubrovnik without a Mask, Futile Efforts and Bitter

Disappointments, 2 how he had invited the young architect to explain to the

authorities what modern architecture actually was. Namely, Nikola Dobrović

was the youngest member of an informal group, which included the painters

Jovan Bijelić and Petar Dobrović—the architect’s older brother—the architects

Josip Plečnik and Edo Šen, and the sculptor Ivan Meštrović, that stood up in

defense of Strajnić at his trial. The trial was initiated for his sharp criticism of

the architect of a newly built hotel in the suburb immediately east of the socalled

old Dubrovnik. When Strajnić publicly evaluated this project as being of

poor artistic merit, unsuited in its historicist and out-of-date approach to the

greatness of Dubrovnik, its architect brought legal action against him. Despite

the elaborate intervention of the above-mentioned group of distinguished

personalities who were part of the Yugoslav cultural scene, Strajnić was found

guilty and sentenced to fourteen days in prison, but the Higher Court in Split

overruled this decision.


Villa Adonis, project, 1939: cross section.

Villa Adonis, 1939–1940: construction site.



Architecture is nothing else but a logical expression of spatial

disposition and applied structural elements. The structure, by its harmony

of forms, the rhythm of lines and wall surfaces, fits the purpose, and its

appearance will decoratively improve the surroundings. 12

Cross Section

The cross section of Villa Adonis resembles a physical manifesto of Functionalism

that has been adapted to the Mediterranean climate and to the sloping

terrain. Its solid volume rises above an open porch on four reinforced concrete

columns to the south-facing front. Its back leans against a garden terrace,

which remains from the time when the walled city’s immediate surroundings

were intended for agriculture and enjoyment of the cultivated landscape. The

reinforced concrete frame structure enables the horizontal continuation of the

windows in the southern façade, while the roof is flat and intended for use;

through a continuum of vertical and horizontal axes, the structure as a whole

creates a remarkable experience of space. Le Corbusier’s five points of new

architecture are easily recognizable here. 13 Moreover, on many levels Villa

Adonis’s form and function resonate with today’s concerns about sustainability—by

activating the flat roof terrace as compensation for the occupied natural

ground; by imbuing, but not merging architecture with nature at the open

ground level; by adding value to the cross section of Villa Adonis—thus ranking

Dobrović’s architecture technologically innovative even from our contemporary

perspective. 14

The sun-shading with cantilever volumes and eaves is characteristic of modern

architecture in Mediterranean, sub-tropical, and tropical regions, and as such it

does not represent an extravagance. The same stark functionality can be found

in many of the structure’s other elements: its transversal natural ventilation,

which regulates the temperature of the residential space during hot summer

months; the mechanical ventilation of the sanitary facilities that are situated at

the apartment’s very center through small openings in the reinforced concrete

slabs; and the installation of a central heating system that blows hot air from

the central fire-box into all the rooms through a system of fiber-cement pipes.

However, two technical aspects of this cross section in particular represent

Dobrović’s original contribution to the instruments of technologically reflective



Villa in Srebreno, project, 1937;

photograph from the period:

Courtesy of the Architecture

Department, Museum of Science and

Technology, Belgrade.



All architects active in this city throughout history seem to belong

to the same school of architecture and appear to be peers. 20


For Dobrović, architectural heritage was nothing like a frozen past. To the contrary,

he saw it as a timeless confirmation of his own architectural efforts. No

wonder then that his logical analysis of the medieval city walls as “adapted to

the terrain, to the existing structures, to the landscape, and the sea” sounds like

an inspired description of his own works: “the sharp transitions from light to

shade make the solid stereometric volumes and sections seem grim, sharp, and

foreboding. However, dull weather will soften the sudden transitions from light

to shade and create a tonal unity of space.” 21

This invocation of the city walls’ utilitarian architecture as a confirmation of the

principles of modern architecture that Dobrović believed and practiced can be

seen as synonymous to young Le Corbusier’s reference to the “skillful, accurate

and magnificent interplay of the volumes in the bright light” 22 of the Acropolis

in Athens. One might interject, however, that the Dobrović quote above comes

from a newspaper article published only one year before he died and that this

article could be a mere ornamental justification of a body of work concluded

long ago. That this is not the case, after all, is best proven by young Dobrović’s

programmatic writings from the period before his Dubrovnik projects:

The moment has arrived for the Committee for Art and Monuments to explain to

Dubrovnik’s architects how to understand the principles of genius loci. ... Like in

earlier times, architects need to make use of the most contemporary means, materials,

and constructions and to follow the same spirit and the rules of urban and

architectural principles that guided all the old masters of this city.

It is only in this way that it will be possible to create an artistic ambience specific

to Dubrovnik. 23

For an ambitious young architect, nineteen-twenties Prague, where Dobrović

also built a number of projects, must have been a stimulating context. Probably

it was the combination of the political-national emancipatory moment and the

outstanding level of technological sophistication that enabled architects who

were prone to experimentation to shape an emerging democratic and cosmopolitan

orientation. They outlined a new architectural layer that would merge

with the existing urban structure into an exemplary unified Heideggerian place.

As Dobrović had promised, the principles of modern, functionalist architecture

he mastered through his studies and his early practice were to be altered and

developed in Dubrovnik, partly under the influence of the demanding social

milieu and not without opposition from it. This conscious adaptation to context

is evident from the gradual changes in his approach to materiality manifested

in the formal expression of his built works.


Grand Hotel Lopud, front and back pages of the touristic leaflet from the period showing modern architecture in relation to the natural and

cultural phenomena attracting tourists to the remote island, probably 1937: Design by Gorjup, printed at Mariborska tiskarna, Maribor, Slovenia.




I am writing for those colleagues who are convinced that there are

still many places in Dalmatia where in the shortest time, using new

construction methods, settlements far more perfect and more poetic

than Dubrovnik could be built. To those I dedicate these lines, who

are convinced that our time would be too poor if it didn't know how

to create unique works, in respect to technique and art, with all the

natural and artificial material we have at our disposal today. 31






Student Union Hostel, Dubrovnik–Lapad, 1938–1939





Nikola Dobrović, Dubrovnik. Postanak.

Razvitak. Sadašnjost. Budućnost

[Dubrovnik. Origin. Development. Present.

Future], Handwritten manuscript, 1943:

Courtesy of the Archive of the Serbian Academy

of Sciences and Arts.



Ljiljana Blagojevic

This book brings together two venerable names to read and behold, that of

a city—Dubrovnik—and that of a person—Dobrović. In the book’s opening,

Krunoslav Ivanišin writes about the projects and buildings that the architect

Nikola Dobrović (1897, Pécs–1967, Belgrade) designed in the period between

1929 and 1941 for various locations in the city of Dubrovnik and its surroundings

including the island of Lopud in the nearby Elaphiti archipelago. Ivanišin

is a descendent of Dobrović’s clients Mary and Krunoslav Stulli, who appointed

the architect in 1939 to design Villa Adonis for them in Dubrovnik. More to

the point, he is an accomplished architect himself, here in the role of an author

writing an insightful architectural exegesis of the contemporary potentialities

of this subject. The central part of the book consists of something like a sentimental

journey undertaken by Wolfgang Thaler, a Vienna-based photographer

with an eye for modern architecture. Thaler takes photographs in his wanderings

through the Dubrovnik area in search of Dobrović and captures the buildings

and sites he encounters as they stand today. His photographs give a complementary,

astute visual analysis of the subject in its present state. The book

spans over eighty-five years of modern architecture in the Dubrovnik area,

from its painful and contested inception, to its golden-age glory, subsequent

decline, and, ultimately, to its marginalization, denial, and dilapidation. It tells a

story of a lifespan, a lifetime of a Mediterranean modern. 1

As much as the sequence of events, projects, and images immediately grab

the reader’s senses, the arresting story of Dobrović and Dubrovnik—as any a

good story would—lingers and eventually stays in one’s memory, resonant and

disturbing. It seems to me that what this book does is that it lets modern architecture

be comprehended simultaneously in its past as well as in its present. Its

visual and narrative stories and histories reveal both the worldly outlook and

inner worlds of the modern project. The photographs and text neither relay a

purity of nor an abstract a-temporal beauty of pristine white modern forms set

in a lush Mediterranean background. Quite the opposite, through the close-ups

on age spots and scars and the narrative outlining conflicts, traumas, stresses,

and worries, the past haunts and the present horrifies. Yet, there is beauty

there, the proverbial beauty in the eye of the beholder or reader and, perhaps

too, an accidental wanderer.


façade above the orsan (Croatian)—a boathouse that protrudes from the main

volume of the house in the front. The capital letters of the name are carved

individually on every other square stone panel, arranged symmetrically above

the lintel to the large orsan doors. The name Svid is a variant of Sventovit or

Svantovit, in Czech and Slovak who is the supreme deity in Slav mythology—

god of all gods, deity of war and victory, fertility and abundance—his symbolic

color red. 56 Often, his name is erroneously identified with the Christian saint

St. Vito (St. Vitus), whose name is often incorporated in toponyms in Dalmatia

as Sutvid, Sveti Vid (Saint Vid). It is believed that some Christian churches have

been constructed over older temples to Svantovit, such as the famous gothic

cathedral in Prague Katedrála svatého Víta.

Finally, the pergolas or sky walkways in the garden of Opus X, villa of Mimi

and Dr. Edgar Wolf, are named Parnassos—Olympos—Kosmos in that order

from bottom to top. The terraces literally lift bodies into midair between the

garden planted with cypresses and the view to the sea. In Greek mythology,

Parnassos (Παρνασσός, Greek) denotes the mount above Delphi, home of the

muses. Olympos (Όλυμπος, Greek) is the highest Greek mountain, home of the

gods and Kosmos (Kόσμος, Greek) means cosmos as order, ornament, universe,

or the world, that is, the home of humankind. 57 The names situate the spatial

experience of architecture between the gods, muses, and humankind.

It is clear that names Dobrović gave to his architecture in the Dubrovnik area

are not connected to the owners’ names, nor are they names commonly given

to seaside villas alluding to the promise of pleasure and leisure under the

glowing Mediterranean sun. Neither are these names given as naïve or innocent

metaphors. Rather, I read them as a form of retrieving the suppressed

memories of Mediterranean myth and the pagan past through the poetic abstraction

of modern architecture’s permanence and transience in its cosmos

of uncertainty. The opening sentence of Contemporary Architecture 5 speaks of

the κόσμος of mind; the home of the architect Nikola Dobrović, whose name,

as Ivanišin and Thaler show us in this book, remains spelled out large on the

façade of the Hotel Grand Lopud:

In its orbit around the cosmos of the mind, contemporary architectural

thought encircles the globe as the spiritual satellite, creating a special

climate across all Earth’s parallels. 58

In this day and age, having finally acknowledged climate changes around the

globe, we behold the photographs in this book as documents of the remains

of modernism’s cosmos—the cosmos we might have known, the better part of

which melted into air as a consequence of human cruelty, violence, and conflict.

Its modern architecture, battered and maligned, stands still in silence by the

sea, the debris of history.


Lopud. View to the sea with the Villa Vesna in the foreground.

Courtesy of the Architecture Department, Museum of Science and Technology, Belgrade.



Research by Ljiljana Blagojević was realized as a part of the project “Studying climate change and its influence on the environment: impacts, adaptation

and mitigation” (43007) financed by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Serbia within the framework of integrated and

interdisciplinary research for the period 2011–14.


For previous writing on Dobrović by the present author, see: Ljiljana Blagojević, Modernism in Serbia: The Elusive Margins of Belgrade Architecture,

1919–1941 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003); Ljiljana Blagojević, Novi Beograd: osporeni modernizam [New Belgrade: Contested Modernism]

(Belgrade: Zavod za udžbenike, Arhitektonski fakultet and Zavod za zaštitu spomenika kulture grada, 2007) [Cyrillic]; Ljiljana Blagojević, “Arhitektura

Beograda u veku Jugoslavije” [Belgrade Architecture in the Yugoslav Century], in: Istorija umetnosti u Srbiji XX vek, Tom 3 [History of Art in

Serbia, 20th Century. Volume 3], ed. Miško Šuvaković (Belgrade, Orion Art, 2014), 323–352.


For further reading, see the following selection of broader overviews of Dobrović’s work, in chronological order: Theo van Doesburg, “Yugoslavia:

Rivaling Influences – Nikola Dobrovich and the Serbian Tradition,” in On European Architecture: Complete Essays from Het Bouwbedrijf 1924–1931

(Boston: Birkhäuser Verlag, 1990), 289–295; Kosta Strajnić, “Savremena arhitektura Jugoslovena: Nikola Dobrović i njegovo značenje” [Contemporary

Architecture by Yugoslavs: Nikola Dobrović and His Significance], Arhitektura 4 (1932): 108–113; Ljiljana Babić, “Arhitekt Nikola Dobrović

(12. II 1897–11. I 1967),” Arhitektura urbanizam 43 (1967): 22–31; Ranko Radović, “Nikola Dobrović ili o povećanju s vremenom” [Nikola Dobrović

or On Aggrandizement With Time], Urbanizam Beograda 52 (1979): 18–29; Miloš R. Perović, ed. Urbanizam Beograda – Special Issue: Dobrović

58 (1980); Marina Oreb-Mojaš, “Graditeljska ostvarenja Nikole Dobrovića na dubrovačkom području” [Built Work by Nikola Dobrović in the

Dubrovnik Area], Arhitektura urbanizam 93 (1984): 4–10; Tanja Damljanović, “Prilog proučavanju praškog perioda Nikole Dobrovića” [A Contribution

to Research of Nikola Dobrović’s Prague Period], Sapoštenja XXVII-XXVIII (1995–1996): 237–251; Miloš R. Perović and Spasoje Krunić, eds.

Nikola Dobrović: eseji, projekti, kritike [Nikola Dobrović: Essays, Projects, Criticism] (Belgrade: Arhitektonski fakultet Univerziteta u Beogradu and

Muzej arhitekture, 1998); Bojan Kovačević, Arhitektura zgrade Generalštaba. Monografska studija dela Nikole Dobrovića [Architecture of the Military

Headquarters Building. A Monographic Study of the Work by Nikola Dobrović] (Belgrade: NIC Vojska, 2001); Marta Vukotić Lazar, Beogradsko

razdoblje arhitekte Nikole Dobrovića [Belgrade Period of the Architect Nikola Dobrović] (Belgrade: Plato, 2002); Marija Milinković, “Kritička





This text was originally published as “Dubrovnik kao

gradotvoračko svedočanstvo” in the Belgrade journal NIN from

May 15, 1966, and reprinted in Miloš R. Perović’s selection

of Nikola Dobrović’s texts from 1980. The first English

translation as “Dubrovnik as Testimony to the Creation of

Cities” by Andy Jelčić was published in Vanda Ivanković-

Kontić’s collected volume Landscape and Architecture issued

by the Municipality of Dubrovnik to document the first

Festival of Architecture held in August 2004.

The version published here was compiled by Krunoslav

Ivanišin. It is illustrated with a series of postcards from

the nineteen-twenties.

Dubrovnik as a Testimony to Urban Formation

A Franciscan monk who was performing the matins in the monastic church on April

6, 1667 claimed that the earthquake lasted no longer than the words Passio Domini

nostri Jesu Christi secundum. However, it was long enough to turn the city into a

great pile of ruins. 1 Stones came tumbling down the St. Serge Mountain, the ground

opened, the cisterns and wells dried up, and the dust from the ruins obscured the

sun. This stroke of fate that happened to Dubrovnik was cast into historical oblivion

only by the larger disaster that overtook Lisbon in 1755. 2

The government solved the imminent problem of reconstruction with an extraordinary

exertion of its own powers, assisted by Pope Clement IX and Abbot Stjepan

Gradić, who was the consul of the Republic of Dubrovnik at the Papal Curia. 3 The

pope sent the architect Giulio Cerutti 4 to aid the government. The young patrician

Marojica Kaboga distinguished himself for his outstanding energy in imposing order

at the time. His contemporaries named him Dubrovnik’s second founder. 5

Until the earthquake, the architecture of Dubrovnik had had mainly a Romanesque

and Gothic Mediterranean character, with only a small number of Renaissance palaces

and smaller churches. The reconstruction, which was guided by the same urban

regulations that ruled before the earthquake, belongs to the high Italian Baroque era,

which in Dubrovnik took on a much smaller and a more temperate guise.





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