The Southeast Corner of Gradec: Adaptation, Interpolation, Revitalization

architect Igor Emili
project Klovićevi dvori Museum space, Zagreb, Croatia
written by Rastko Schwalba

PDF Download: Click here.

The adaptation of the former Jesuit monastery building in the Upper Town of Zagreb, Gradec, in order to house Ante Topić Mimara’s donation of artworks, caused different strong reactions. Such reactions and discussions are not uncommon in the cultural circles of Zagreb on the occasions of renovation of certain significant edifices or erection of new buildings in the city centre. Let me merely recall here discussions about the renovation of Zagreb Cathedral and Bollé’s restoration (called boletika, a portmanteau of boljetica, the Croatian word for malady, and the name Bollé); stories related to the construction of a housing block in Vlaška Street called Vatican; events surrounding the construction and subsequent adaptations of the Croatian Association of Artists by Meštrović on the today’s Victims of Fascism Square; or, the construction of the skyscraper on Ban Jelačić Square (the ‘sky gobbler’, as it was called by some in these circles). Such discussions are still dragging on in relation to the Željpoh/Ferimport building by architect Stanko Fabris on Marshal Tito Square in Zagreb. Some of the interested parties in these debates used to determine the future height of the building ‘on a commission level’: by covering the draft of the façade with a palm or a sheet of paper.1


The mentioned circles manifested similar behaviour in the case of Mimara’s donation and the adaptation in order to place this donation. Only in this instance a mainly emotional reaction occurred, and this on several levels. At first, there were reactions to the donation and donor’s personality and then reactions again became fiercer when spaces for accommodation of the donation were considered.


An echo of this and such discussion went on when the book Croatia – Aspects of Art, Architecture and Cultural Heritage by the British art critic Brian Sewell was published. In the last chapter, the author critically ‘dealt solely with the Mimara Museum and this for very personal reasons.’2 Also, he ‘swooped down upon Ante Topić Mimara (1898–1987) and his art collection with unprecedented ferocity.’3 This publication was followed by an interview with Brian Sewell conducted and published by journalist Patricija Kiš in the newspaper Jutarnji List.4 The revamped controversy about the Mimara Museum caused a reaction by Zarez, a biweekly for culture and social events, resulting in ‘The Mimara Museum’ being the main topic of the issue.5



We are not interested here in the debates about the donation or the choice of building to accommodate it. We are solely interested in the adaptation of the former Jesuit monastery building in the Upper Town. We are interested in the projects and executed works of architect Igor Emili as well as implications that resulted from these works in the south-east corner of Gradec. In doing so, however, we cannot ignore the unfavourable climate in which pressure was and is still being exerted on the donation and the entire issue.


Reconstruction and renovation of the complex in the Upper Town can be observed merely on the basis of excellent texts by the untimely deceased architecture critic and museologist Ivo Maroević. This is moreover possible because, due to his competence and scholarly meticulousness, he was able to avoid taking sides and talking politics even in the times of the most ardent polemics, unlike some other experts on this complex issue who has not managed to do so even now. Such an attitude by Ivo Maroević would sometimes come at a price, but he stayed consistent. This rare attitude of his, his peculiarity is clearly recognizable in all of his writings about the new museum space in Gradec.


The essential question in deciding on the construction and presentation of the ‘corona’, the ‘acropolis’ of Gradec is valorisation. Maroević thinks that valorisation of the south and east fronts of Gradec is defined merely ‘by big and general expressions, and no analysis has been carried out to reveal real and current values. ... Nevertheless, the fact is undeniable that the façade and height outline of the south front are results of interventions in the 19th and 20th centuries on the medievally defined edge of the town with here and there preserved and at some points barely recognizable elements of the structure and forming of medieval times.’6



Before the adaptation works, the Jesuit monastery complex served as office space and for a while, unfortunately just a short while, the Academy of Applied Arts was housed there. Therefore, for example, in a dilapidated little ground-floor building in front of the south front of the complex, in the middle of a vegetable patch, students had a sculpture workshop. Namely, the ground of the largest section of today’s south courtyard used to be covered with vegetable patches. On the south-east corner itself, above the edge of the city’s defensive wall, stakes with bean pods used to rise in summer time.



There is no record about what circumstances led to the decision to adapt the complex for housing the donation of Ante Topić Mimara’s artworks. Maroević, decently, did not mention the first architect’s name at any point as well as the reasons why this person had stopped working on the adaptation. Nevertheless, the adaptation that lasted from 1973 to 1984 started to develop after the design by Zagreb architect Vahid Hodžić (1933–2009). According to Hodžić’s design for adaptation, the west front, that used to serve for internal communication between the south and north wings of the monastery, was extended and the second floor was additionally constructed. In this manner, two larger exhibition spaces were obtained. As part of construction works according to the first design, the stone doorframes of the monastery cells were removed and a number of partition walls were cleared away so that the exhibition spaces became larger.


After suspension of construction, Dr Stipe Šuvar, the head of the Republic Secretariat for Education and Culture at that time, being acquainted with the works of architect Igor Emili in Rijeka (for which he was awarded a number of prizes), asked him to take over the completion of the adaptation. Emili had already been retired for several years at that time, but he was still active as a freelancer. He resisted the unrewarding work for a long time, even when the donator Topić Mimara accepted him. He conceded only after much persuasion. Adaptation of the former monastery was already completed in terms of construction until 1979 and therefore just smaller changes could have been executed in the building. Nevertheless, many various problems still remained which required a quick solution. Emili was aware of his poor health as well as the fact that the adaptation was causing waves in professional and other circles, and an unfavourable climate was created in relation to the efforts to complete what had been begun. He tried to stay aside and focus on completion of the work he took upon himself.7


In his text titled ‘The Analysis of the Interpolation Project in the South-east Corner of Gradec,’ Ivo Maroević writes that Emili completed and architecturally designed the interior of the former monastery for a new purpose after long-lasting trials and tribulations and that he ‘in this context, continued to think about space in the south-east corner. Here, he was inclined to the concept of a modern construction without imitating the existing construction, which he thought was not defined sufficiently to be imitated. With this Emili wanted to say that there is enough awareness in our time in relation to such an intervention, and the time is sufficiently civilized not to jeopardize the existing values of Gradec in the process, but to express due respect to these values and to include them into an egalitarian and active contemporary life (part of the explanation in the complaint to the decision of the Regional Institute for Cultural Heritage Preservation in Zagreb).’8 The quoted are obviously postulates by Emili himself because his building (the term considered as architecture and urbanism together) is not mere creation of the very physical space, but this building also means organizing space in order for people to find there and develop significant psychological and social values. And this, with no forcing whatsoever, just because it offers itself. Spaces conceived in such a manner differ from spaces of modern architecture which frequently have a character of exclusiveness. Emili attempted to equip his interior and exterior spaces in such a way that staying there would be pleasant.9 Apart from that, Emili never imitated the old style of building, but he used its forms and accentuated values that are still valid today.



The Regional Institute for Preservation of Cultural Heritage in Zagreb, as well as the Commission for issuing expert opinions on appeals in the court of second instance procedure reacted by refusing the proposed solution ‘to such an a priori extent that they even did not use arguments from the analysis of the location and project in the documents, but their position is axiomatic (refusal without hearing of evidence).’10 To this, the Republic Committee for Education, Culture etc. annulled the decision by the Regional Institute and did not adopt the opinion by the Commission of the Republic Institute. Since not one among the two negative opinions refused the possibility of construction on this location ‘the Republic Committee, on the basis of opinions by a group of prominent experts and persons active in culture estimated that the proposed project “will contribute even greater prominence of cultural heritage values of the Upper Town” and that it represents ‘an extraordinary creative approach to this cultural heritage entity by the author of this revitalization project...’11



In 1984, on the occasion of the exhibition ‘The Treasury of Zagreb Cathedral’, Ivo Maroević wrote about the exhibition space itself.12 He noted it was impossible to deny connection of the exhibition with the exhibition space in this situation, therefore he dedicated more than half of his text to both the space and new building of the Museum and Gallery Centre management than to the exhibition. He says (and this without taking into consideration whether it was necessary or not to damage a high quality monument in a brutal and irreversible manner or to bring it to life again with this adaptation) that we ‘have obtained an adequate museum space after a long time, my opinion, a gain that is not without disadvantages, but nevertheless a gain which brings above all a precious and useful exhibition space to Zagreb.’13 He further adds that this exhibition confirmed all the possibilities of the space, but its disadvantages were noticed as well. The main disadvantage, and it is impossible to repair it, just as it was not possible for the architect to change it, was the given outline. The very function of the monastery architecture with corridors and cells, regardless of removed doors and partition walls, reduced the exhibition space and the possibility to have an unhindered flow of movement which is of particular importance in spaces of such purpose. The architect attempted to achieve needed intimacy in the interior by equipping it with warm and soft materials, and by reducing to the minimum visible technical devices. He made the exhibition spaces uniform with white walls, reddish-brown wall to wall carpet and thin metal lath which flows between the floor and wall. Maroević thought that the architect left options for individualization of the space for future exhibits with these simple elements.


The lighting is also flexible which is enabled by means of cables beneath the metal lath. Daylight is reduced by means of screens, nevertheless, windows can be opened if needs be.


Dissatisfied with the works that had been carried out and which merely enabled the future purpose without appreciation of continuity and development of the building complex, Emili also started to do some research. Therefore, he left the old section of the wall visible where the basement is connected to the church. Also, he presented the old crypt with the earthen floor in the same condition it had been found.


Space is always uniquely accentuated in Emili’s architecture. He formulated his relation to space as follows: ‘It is completely wrong if space starts or ends in a building. The approach has to be more complex.’14


Maroević stresses the same: ‘Emili’s project consistently attempts to include the museum space into the concept of revitalization of the Upper Town in the best and most complete possible way and to connect it with the exterior spaces to the maximum... by drawing the museum out of the closeness of the building and introducing an ambience into the museum, which has not yet been achieved. There is a visual connection because there is no barrier of the heavy doorframes’15 (which were exposed in the entrance space, author’s note); and also, the connection with the inner courtyard is realized by means of glass door.



From the very beginning, Emili understood that design of the museum could not be reduced merely to the complex of the former monastery. For its operation, the undefined space from the building itself and St Catherine’s Church, the Upper Town Gymnasium to the very south-east corner of the town wall would have to be designed. In 1980, he also created a project of revitalization of this section of Gradec. With this project, he proposed the design of the exterior courtyard, almost a square, with views of lower parts and the neighbouring zone of the city. He did not want to burden this simple space with a mass of new architecture, but he lowered a part of the courtyard along the inner side of the south-west corner of the town defensive wall to the level of the promenade in front of it. In this manner, he was able to present the corner section of the city’s defensive wall of Gradec on both sides. The space that was created by lowering the surface level was planned to host catering and service contents.


He slightly shielded the upper area of the exterior courtyard in the north-east and south-west corner with new buildings, but just to obtain a more visually intimate space. The smaller building along the north-east corner recalled a former, additionally constructed building merely with its mass, and there was little data on this building. The larger building was intended for the management and other museum services.


‘Due to the complexity of the entire museum structure and restrictions of the existing building, a decision was made to build the building of the museum management along the gymnasium building in the immediate vicinity of the monastery. It should house programmes that could not be accommodated in the existing volume of the former monastery in spite of additions (the entrance wing, the section underground and in the attic) due to their capacity and content.’16 Namely, the donator was enlarging his donation with time and therefore lack of space become more and more of a problem. He therefore decided not to exhibit the collection in the former Jesuit Monastery, but the exhibition spaces were already almost completed at that time.


Maroević wrote most extensively about the management building of the Museum and Gallery Centre when the building was already renovated for exhibitions and opened for the 1st World Triennials of Ceramics in 1985.17 The architect placed the building that was intended for the museum management in front of the bare gable wall of the gymnasium, which had remained naked since its construction in the second half of the 19th century. Maroević confirmed that this fire wall was supposed to be finally closed since it was leaving an impression of incompleteness.


In front of the gymnasium building’s gable wall, Emili placed a sculpturally defined building which reminds one of a classical house with its shape. The front oriented to the promenade is in line with the gymnasium building and the wider front is directed to the east, above the lowered section of the courtyard. The north front, the one turned to the former monastery complex, is divided into strict block. And the old buildings behind the apsidal section of the church as well as the rear section of the gymnasium on the opposite side are indented in the same manner. In this way, with the indented front, Emili incorporated the new building and valorised the west zone of the exterior space as part of the courtyard which in this manner gradually transforms into a narrowed passage towards Catherine Square.


He covered the entire new building, and even its roofing, with large panels made of cast obscure glass. He had already previously tested the same, but smaller, panels made of cast glass as cladding on the walls of the passage through the ground floor of the Privredna Bank building in Rijeka’s Old Town. The author of these glass panels was a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, Raul Goldoni (1919-1983). Namely, at the very beginning of Emili’s architectural design work, he made efforts to always include visual artists as collaborators who would equip the exterior and interior of a building by means of visual arts. And so Raul Goldoni collaborated in his last two realized projects.18


At the beginning of his work on projects in Rijeka’s Old Town, Emili talked of the necessity to use ‘expensive and durable materials’ on new sections of old buildings and particularly on new buildings in old ambiences. He was trying to shape lost forms in old ambiences with contemporary materials or to reveal and confirm values of old spaces in this manner.19 It seems that ‘confused individuals’ (quote I. M.), who were against this construction, mostly attacked the indigo colour of the management building’s cladding. Further about this, Ivo Maroević says that the accent with indigo is not characteristic of city spaces in Zagreb, but he concludes it is not shocking either. Having some regrets that our time does not manifest more sensitiveness to colour in architecture, he says: ‘We neglect the possibility that red, blue, black and white existed in the Gradec of the 17th and 18th centuries, grieving for the Austrian ochre of the 19th century.’20


Maroević writes very briefly at one point about vistas of Gradec with the new building in indigo from the Lower Town and Kaptol, evaluating that we do not have to be disappointed with the realization.21


When interpreting the author’s concept and design vision, Maroević establishes that ‘Igor Emili, with his sensitivity and with his authorial physiognomy, could not have reached a significantly different result. One can feel his way of thinking as a creator and architectural designer in this project. Regarding his thinking, it has to be said that he was absolutely taking into consideration all the values of a space that were accessible and that he became aware of.’22 This quote is from one of his texts, published in 1983, in which he says that he is not going to elaborate on an evaluation whether this solution for the location is good or not, and that evaluation would be crystallized through discussions.


When he valorised this building in 1985, when an estimate had probably already been crystallized, Maroević established that ‘the indigo building’ was not sufficiently brilliant as architecture to add something unique to such a precious space in terms of value, although this seemed the only possibility to the architect in the creative procedure.


He says that the architect wanted much more than he could get, than technology allowed him; that Emili wanted ‘to place a jewel on the crown of the Upper Town’ which failed in spite of large creative sensitivity and striving. Regarding the work entrusted to Emili as a great creative personality, Maroević says in the end: ‘Emili did not fail expectations, or disturb the quality of spatial relations, but he also did not fulfil them so the result does not match the value of the location.23


Maroević’s image with the crown of Grič and unrealized jewel appears to be literarily convenient, but still exaggerated. Igor Emili was aware of the ‘jagged’ crown, its undefined quality, and the situation of this line in which the only preserved medieval town’s tower became an interpolation by means of its isolation from the context, as Maroević himself established in his significant tractate on interpolations.24 A brilliant building, which would cover all the incompleteness and concealment of the former function of the space, cannot be realized in my opinion. Emili was aware of that, as well as the fact that certain loud circles would not allow acceptance of a creative solution expressing not only all the possibilities of the new, but also initiating an integral presentation of the south façade of Gradec. It seems that Emili was trying to reservedly harmonize different contents in this space, to create a unity by means of spatial organization which would present its values with an accent on the essential content of the museum; to evaluate it as a starting point of a wider space, stressing its initial fortification function, indicating a coming into being as well as development of the space in the south-east corner of Gradec.



What do we have today? We have the Palace of Klović, the new name for the Museum and Gallery Centre, but luckily with the same valuable exhibition as well as other activities; we have the abandoned and neglected building intended for the management of the donation; we have the undefined outer courtyard transformed into a desolate square whose eastern edge now brutally hits the corner of the building that used to be a monastery in the place where a small building was erected after Emili’s project, torn down for totally unknown reason; we have five benches arranged along the edge of this desolated square that should bear witness to a space that offers comfort; we have a neglected staircase, now an unpleasant connection between Strossmayer Promenade and the upper level of the outer courtyard that has become a desolated square at present; we have part of the defensive wall covered with vegetation to the extent that it is unrecognizable; we have monstrous sunshades that emerge from a (non-existent) working schedule in highly valuable cultural assets; we again have heavy doorframes on the main entrance to the Palace; we have two entrances to the complex, one from Jesuit Square – regulated after the design by V. Kovačić and H. Ehrlich, and the other from the exterior courtyard which is now flanked by parking spaces for automobiles. In other words, we have an image of our relation not only to the creative efforts of one time, but also to our, declaratively speaking, greatest cultural treasure.


It is obvious that the south-east section of Gradec, highly valorised by of all the relevant experts, in reality has not been valorised. It is there, neglected and abandoned, belonging to no one. Perhaps someone will make some effort to complete and arrange this part of Gradec as well in some near future.


Solutions for its design can be various, and here we mean creative and not administrative, managerial solutions, and even less party-related ones. A solution can be found within the range from returning to the medieval Gradec, continuation of construction of Gradec’s ‘corona’ in a romantic manner, or to its forming in futuristic style. The solution, in my opinion and some experience, should not be looked for through public or invitation competitions. It can only be found in serious work together by a group of collaborators of the necessary professions, but only those who are capable of such work. And, who have already proved to be creative. Nevertheless, the solution should above all be sought in an integral and all-inclusive analysis of the historical development of the space, as well as of all the works so far with appreciation for predecessors’ achievements and respect for their way of thinking. Nothing new. And yet, considering the state in which theory and practice of preservation and improvement of urban heritage is at this moment, it seems that Igor Emili’s postulates and ways of thinking are still closest to the solution.






1 One case does not belong to such discussions: the demolition of two older buildings on the Flower Square in the protected zone of the Lower Town in order to enable the interpolation of a new large building and digging of the entrance to a private garage in the middle of Varšavska Street. Resistance on the part of citizens to this construction occurred because of public asset appropriation as well as arrogance and violence on the part of the authorities while extending preferential treatment to the private investor.

2 Kusin, Vesna: ‘Neoprostiv Mimarin grijeh’, (Mimara’s Unforgivable Sin), Zarez, Issue 280, 1 April 2010, p.28.

3 Lukšić, Tugomir: ‘Pokušaj linč’, (An Attempted Lynch), Zarez, Issue 280, 1 April 2010, p.27.

4 Jutarnji List’, 5 February and 27 February 2010.

5 Within ‘The Main Topic: The Mimara Museum’, editorial board of Zarez published responses to the statements by Brian Sewell and individual evaluations of the collection itself. Berislav Valušek answered to his colleague Sewell with a humorous gag with which he suggested Sewell advocate closing down the British Museum because it is a warehouse of stolen works of art. Opinions by Arijana Kralj and Snješka Knežević are not relevant for this topic and least of all that by Mirko Petrić whose contribution is based on two ‘magazine articles’, obviously utterly averse to the late donator. The only text mentioning adaptation of the former monastery and renovation of the south-east corner of Gradec is the one by Boris Ljubičić, titled ‘Six Letters’. Unfortunately, this contribution, written with enlightenment intention, is full of untruths and half-truths, and all seen in a pastoral manner (as Ljubičić himself calls his point of view).

6 Maroević, Ivo: Analiza projekta interpolacije na jugoistočnom uglu Gradeca, (Analysis of the Interpolation Project in the South-east Corner of Gradec), Peristil, Issue 26, Zagreb, 1983, p.163.

7 Schwalba, Rastko: Monograph Igor Emili, MGR, Rijeka 1999, pp.152 and 200.

8 Maroević, Analiza projekta interpolacije na jugoistočnom uglu Gradeca, p.163.

9 Schwalba: op.cit. p.29.

10 Maroević: Analiza projekta interpolacije na jugoistočnom uglu Gradeca, p.163.

11 Ibid., p.163

12 Maroević: Rastava zakladnice zagrebške katedrale v novem muzejskem prostoru v Zagrebu (The exhibition ‘The Treasury of Zagreb Cathedral’ in the new Museum and Gallery Centre in Zagreb), Sinteza, Issue 65–68, Ljubljana, 1984, pp.165–168.

13 Maroević: Rastava zakladnice zagrebške katedrale v novem muzejskem prostoru v Zagrebu, p.165.

14 Schwalba: op.cit. p.29.

15 Maroević: Novija muzejska arhitektura u Hrvatskoj (Modern Museum Architecture in Croatia), Man and Space, Issue 3/1986, p.7 and Rastava zakladnice zagrebške katedrale v novem muzejskem prostoru v Zagrebu, p.165.

16 Maroević: Novija muzejska arhitektura u Hrvatskoj, p.7.

17 Maroević: Zagrebška arhitekturna kronika, Jugovzhodni vogal Gornjega grada (Zagreb’s Architectural Chronicle: South-east Corner of the Upper Town), Sinteza, Issue 69–72, Ljubljana, 1985, p.207.

18 Schwalba: op.cit. In some twenty years of architectural design work, Emili collaborated with more than twenty collaborators in the field of visual arts. The list is on page 202.

19 Ibid. p.29. The indigo colour beneath the glass panels was imported from Germany; nevertheless, it did not justify expectations in spite of assurances by the Civil Engineering Institute of Croatia who were responsible for the solution.

20 Maroević: Zagrebška arhitekturna kronika, Jugovzhodni vogal Gornjega grada, p.207.

21 Ibid. p.208.

22 Maroević, Ivo: ‘Analiza projekta interpolacije na jugoistočnom uglu Gradeca,’ (Analysis of the Interpolation Project in the South-east Corner of Gradec), p.165, Peristil, Issue 26, Zagreb, 1983.

23 Maroević: Zagrebška arhitekturna kronika, Jugovzhodni vogal Gornjega grada, p.208.

24 Maroević: ‘O nekim novim pogledima na interpolacije,’ (On New Approaches to Interpolations), Arhitektura, Issue 184–185, Zagreb, 1983, p.28.