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Richter's Rockets and the Zagreb's Brutalist

Richter's residential complex is a three building estate placed in Zagreb, Croatia, characterised by the unique Brutalist design of the Socialist era.
Located in district Trnje, the skyscrapers are also colloquially known as Rakete, “Rockets” in English, due to their peculiar shape.

The firm and symmetric lines, the exposed and worn out concrete, the buildings impressive size, are the most evident characteristics of these grey giants. All of this recalls of a young Yugoslavia and its rise from the Second World War scarred ground, while it was member of the Non-Aligned Movement and squeezed between the Eastern and the Western bloc Powers during the Cold War.

In the first half of the 20th Century Brutalism helped many governments to have a great visual impact on their population. Nonetheless Tito wanted Yugoslavia to have its own identity and personality, so he built gigantic abitative units in most of the main cities of the Federation.
In a time when urban planning was far from being thought as environmental friendly and the optimization of spaces was the main aim of architecture, Brutalism was a good solution also on the economic side. It could deliver what at that time was considered as the design state-of-the-art while providing housing for people who had their homes destroyed by the Allies bombings.

When the Centar 51 Design Group led by V. Richter, B. Šerbetić, L. Iveta and O. Korenik proposed the draft of the complex, Tito's Yugoslavia was a booming economy. What the regime was looking for was something majestic but at the same time also a response to the need of new abitative units for the quickly growing population of Zagreb.

The estate was completed in 1968. Some improvements were made over the original design in order to withstand potential earthquakes such as the one that razed Skopje to the ground in 1963.
On the original project, laid down in the early 1960s on the concept of Le Corbusier's Bauhaus design, the three buildings were supposed to be all of the same height. However, because two of them would have interfered with TV and radio transmissions, they had to be resized to the current level, and today only one, the Building Two (Zeleni Trg 2), reaches 70 meters of height.

In a time when Socialism was experiencing its golden era, these three buildings standing off from the city skyline became one of the symbols of the Socialist power in the residential areas of Zagreb.
They were designed with people in mind. The Rakete buildings indeed constituted a little independent community on its own, capable of responding to all the basic needs of its tenants.
However the architects of the Centar 51 Design Group were thinking about these buildings more as a mid-term solution instead of a long lasting one.

Today these "Commie blocks", as many people like to call them, have become exponents of Zagreb's recent history, but due to shortage of funds and lack of maintenance, their destiny seems to be written. As they are either not old enough to get heritage protection and the options for a renovation or re-purposing are very few, no one seems to be really interested in recovering them, and in the meantime the outside raw concrete begins to crumble apart under the effect of the harsh weather conditions of the Zagreb's continental climate.

The maze of low corridors, basements tunnels, narrow flights of stairs, the dense crossing of columns, pillars, beams and ramps created by the extensive use of concrete and iron, it has in some cases become a dark labyrinth lying in state of abandonment and neglect.
Every now and then patches of sky make their way through breaks in the concrete of the cramped and airless covered passages, which alternate with wide open spaces that nature sometimes has taken back.

Many other buildings appear in the list of the Brutalist epoch of this town. Across the Drava river, particularly noteworthy, the Siget and Novo Zagreb districts stand out with their sequences of enormous blocks, entirely built in order to withstand the wave of progress that was crossing the Yugoslavia in those days.

All of these awkward-looking skyscrapers today still soar even of Zagreb's skyline, as if to testify and remember the gone days of a regime that marked an era in the Balkans history. However for many they represent just a huge and melancholic relic of the past.