Dragana Ćorović: Cultural heritage is both the basis and the product of comprehensive transformation of human environment

Dragana Ćorović: Cultural heritage is both the basis and the product of comprehensive transformation of human environment


All cultural layers of a community can be found, like an open book, in front of readers of landscapes, wrote the geographer Peirce Lewis, i.e. in front of those who know how to observe a landscape and “read” all the symbolic meanings of physical space from it.

What is European heritage for you?

I will allow myself the freedom with this notion, with regards to the familiar definition of cultural heritage, to observe it primarily through the prism of spatial research, and say that for me cultural heritage is at the same time the product and the basis of comprehensive transformation of human environment, and that assumes the most valuable form of symbolic reflections of human space, through a series of temporal strata. European cultural heritage assumes the same, but of course, in the space of the entire continent, and due to historical circumstances, even beyond its borders.

Which historical periods and events from human history are very important and interesting for you from the perspective of the shared European and cultural spaces, shared history?

Research I deal with in the field of history and the theory of architecture and urbanism, became focussed in time on the process of early urban modernisation, i.e. Europeanisation of Belgrade in XIX century, from the perspective of transforming the urban landscape, and thus also the numerous aspects of redefining spatial relations. Comprehensive changes of the cultural patterns in Serbia of XIX century, make up the historical and social framework where the Belgrade urban landscape was transformed and within which it gradually lost the characteristics determined by the Ottoman city culture, the influence of the history of traditional Christian village communities and the feudal social system. Studying the comprehensive transformation of Belgrade in the period from 1867-1914 opens a wide horizon of questions concerning the role and significance of cultural heritage of the Balkans, in the context of modernisation of the city and careful observation of the diversity of European cultural paradigms, which allows avoiding biased interpretation of currents of this process and opens the field for deeper contemplation of mutual influences.

In your opinion, what are the ways in which we should develop awareness and encourage the feeling of belonging to shared history and values?

By researching the ways in which human surroundings change throughout time we get familiar with its changeable and permanent traits, thus gaining a better understanding of the interconnectedness of all processes and actors in it. As the geographer David Cosgrove said, the new layer of urban landscape is created in cooperation of influences of all generally applicable and accepted manners in which a specific community manifests its culture. Urban landscape can be understood as a methodological framework of comprehensive studying of various influences on cultural heritage of the area and a comprehensive observation of spatial characteristics. There are numerous ways, from institutionalised professional education, to other forms of permanent education, organising seminars, public lectures, and the like, which help crystallise deep knowledge of surroundings. During the beginning of this year, ministers of culture of signatory countries of the European Cultural Convention, 1954 and members of the Council of Europe signed the Davos Declaration, (2018: https://davosdeclaration2018.ch/programme/), entitled: Towards a high-quality Baukultur for Europe. Apart from emphasising the dramatic challenges of contemporary world, this document also exposes the urgent need to develop new approaches “for the protection and improvement of cultural values of the developed European environment”, as opposed to obvious problems reflected, among others, in the “trivialisation of construction”, “lack of skilful designing”, “irresponsible utilisation of land”, “devastation of historic urban tissue”, which is something we are also witnessing in our own environment. This European initiative, whose 23 action points propagate the creation of high values and quality of the comprehensive concept of Baukultur, assumes, among other things, the totality of human milieu, i.e. “existing buildings, including monuments and other elements of cultural heritage, and also design and construction of modern buildings, infrastructure, public spaces and landscapes”. I believe this can be a shared platform for the development of cultural heritage awareness (and its contemporary reflection in physical space), as a process which should unite all educators, experts, scientists and researchers in the field of cultural heritage of a developed environment, and other related fields.

Would you emphasise a project of contemporary creativity dealing with cultural heritage that you particularly like?

From July 2018 to January 2019, in the New York Museum of Modern Art, МоМА, the exhibition Toward a Concrete Utopia Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980 is taking place, the curator of which is our colleague, architect, professor and architecture historian, Vladimir Kulić PhD (FAU – School of Architecture). This event was pointed out by professor Irina Subotić PhD in her text here, published in February 2018. Meanwhile, the exhibition was opened, and it achieved a resounding success, diverting attention to undoubtable qualities of heterogenous architectonic Modernism of Yugoslavia. What is also very important for me, are the initiatives and events sparked off by this exhibition, like, for example International Forum: Creation of a Concrete Utopia – Architecture of Yugoslavia 1848-1980, by the editor and author, architect Ljubica Slavković, that took place in the Centre for Cultural Decontamination in Belgrade in November 2018, with accompanying programme organised by the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Belgrade and Architectuul, online platform (Berlin).
Recently, the Museum of the City of Belgrade published the book of authors, colleagues Zlata Vuksanović Macura PhD, scientific associate of the Geographic Institute “Jovan Cvijić” SASA and Angelina Banković MA, Senior Curator of the Museum of the City of Belgrade, entitled: Measures of the City. Maps and Plans from the Collection of Papers for Architecture and Urbanism of the Museum of the City of Belgrade. This book received the second award, in the category of publications, on the 27th International Salon of Urbanism, in November 2018. The monography offers spatial and visual characteristics of plans and maps of Belgrade in the period from 1865-1969, revealing the richness of this unjustly neglected cultural heritage of the city.

In what way will your institution participate in the marking of the European Year of Cultural Heritage?

I would like to emphasise one of the events at the Faculty of Forestry of the University of Belgrade belonging to the mentioned category. On the occasion of the International Day of Landscapes, on 20th October at the Faculty of Forestry, an exhibition was organised in cooperation with the Ministry of Environmental Protection of the Republic of Serbia, consisting of works created by students of the Department for Landscape Architecture and Horticulture entitled: Landscape and Education, which presented the results of work dedicated to gaining knowledge on planning and designing, protection and arranging landscapes. The exhibition was organised within IX Green Fest, International Festival of Green Culture, that took place in the Youth Centre of Belgrade in November 2018.

Architect Dragana Ćorović is a docent of the Faculty of Forestry of the University of Belgrade. She deals with scientific research in the fields of history and the theory of architecture, urbanism and landscapes and urban history of Belgrade. She has been gaining experience in higher education of architects since 2000 at the Faculty of Architecture UB, where she obtained an MA mentored by Ljiljana Blagojević PhD, 2008, on the topic of applying urbanist concept of a garden city in Belgrade between the two world wars. She obtained her PhD at the same faculty in 2015, also mentored by Ljiljane Blagojević PhD, on the topic of transformation of urban landscape of Belgrade in XIX century. She is the author of the book Garden City in Belgrade, 2009. She was elected a docent at the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture of the Faculty of Forestry UB, in 2016, where she also teaches the subject Contemporary Landscape Architecture and Urban Landscape: Research and Understanding.