Dražen Juračić is a practicing architect and a long-term professor at the Faculty of Architecture in Zagreb where he was also head of the doctoral studies. Even though his projects and research span various contexts, the majority of his work is tied to Zagreb and its parts that are defined as bearers of urban identity: Vrapče Hospital, Šalata neighbourhood, Downtown and Upper Town as well as Mirogoj Cemetery area. He is also active in the field of research, and is the author of numerous articles, studies and a university textbook on hospital design. Our discussion took place shortly after the recent Zagreb earthquake, thus its main focus are Zagreb-related topics.
Oris: It has been six months since the earthquake in Zagreb, certain insights have been acquired and discussions opened on how to approach the reconstruction and the renovation. However, we did not reach definite conclusions, and the law regulating city renovations has finally appeared. What are your thoughts on that?
Dražen Juračić: The renovation law does not mention tackling unavoidable problems that the tenants of the damaged buildings will encounter. The first issue is funding. Eighty per cent sounds pretty good. However, it concerns only the structural renovation i.e. the strengthening of the structure damaged in the earthquake. It does not include the inevitable accompanying work – removing the plaster from the walls and the ceilings, removing floor coverings and cladding, disassembling the installations, and then repairing everything after the structure had been strengthened. The costs of these non-structural interventions exceed considerably the costs of the structural renovation. They are at least three, perhaps even four times higher. It is not clear how this work will be financed. It is even less clear how the reconstruction of decorative elements, such as capitals, cornices and domes will be paid for. The second problem will occur once the tenants manage to raise the money. Then, the majority of the buildings will have to be evacuated during the construction work, because the structural renovation means the entire building is being renovated – the basement and the foundations, as well as the roof and the ridge. There are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic. Unresolved property rights and legal issues, cadaster, land register, legalisations. This complete systemic powerlessness is disastrous. The city organisational systems are paralyzed. I think the only realistic strategy would be to build up the Downtown in a sensible manner, and to use this opportunity to achieve modernisation in terms of content and technology. If the Downtown Zagreb becomes an interesting, vibrant and happy stage for a meaningful life, entertainment, shopping, culture and housing, it will attract new residents and businesses. Then, funding won’t be a problem. By renovating the damaged buildings, adding floors on lower ones, building new mews and underground garages in the interior of the city blocks, the new tenants will pay for the privilege of living in new modernized spaces. Downtown Zagreb should be revitalized with a highest degree of ambition, corresponding to its significance. It is the centre of a European country’s capital – its most attractive and most important place.