architects 2A / Tomislav Ćurković, Zoran Zidarić
project Family Estate, Bijača, Bosnia and Herzegovina
written by Ante Nikša Bilić


Stories about borders are interesting. Property borders, horizons, the Mediterranean’s borders, state borders, ethnic boundaries, borders between exterior and interior space, borders between love and hate, breaking points, the limit to which the eye can reach.


Who creates borders?


In his book Mediterranean Breviary Predrag Matvejević defines the Mediterranean’s borders using vegetation:


In places on the northern part of our coast, coniferous trees make peace with deciduous trees and accept them, and in places they repress and reject them. Macchia gets on well with brushwood. Hornbeam, chestnut, beech, poplar and ash can find their way to the coast, but not with the same success. The fig tree extends the Mediterranean’s boundaries to the hinterland, where the olive gives up.


What are borders?


In our perception, do all these kilometres of drystone walls, stretched out along the hills and dales of Dalmatia and western Herzegovina, reflect property borders, or do they form a picture of landscape as an irreplaceable perception of a place? Centuries of hard work by local labourers are converted into the landscape as we know it today. Is that not the purpose of every architectural work? After all, every work comes into being on a border.


Standing on a hill above the western Herzegovinian village of Bijača, I am trying to find an answer to this question. From the east the view is framed by a church tower and the pine trees of the neighbouring village of Zvirići; from the north, by the remains of the Herceg Stjepan fort overlooking the town of Ljubuški; and from the west, by the outlines of the Biokovo mountain range. I understand this cyclorama as the starting point of a sketch. Like the contour of an idea. And the little stone houses scattered around the surrounding hamlets, with their roofs and framed windows, have the role of the idea whisperers of local tradition.


The family estate covers approximately 35,000 square metres. It is planned to function separately and independently of the cultivation of agricultural products and other foodstuffs where the architecture itself tries to be an integral part of the concept. The programme incorporates a house for the owner, a guest house, outhouses, the caretaker’s house, a meditation room, grounds for sports and leisure with an accompanying building, an orchard, a vegetable patch, a vineyard (plantations of Cabernet, Syrah and Plavac), an olive grove and a plantation of medicinal herbs and autochthonous plants. All these contents are embraced by a necklace of drystone walls.


In the architectural work of the Ćurković-Zidarić team and in the work of their office 2A, family house projects play a significant role in the comprehension of their creativity. Over the years, passing through different creative periods and analysing the relation between open and closed imbued with strictly set volumes, their relation to the membrane/cloak was divergent. Abandoning their early white period they started to question and treat membrane as a recognizable sign. Using recycled brick, clinker, copper, Eternit sheets, metals and paint they analyse the purpose and aim of every material used, selecting them closely and putting them together into the main structure with perfect realisation of details. Many of these buildings are located in the Podsljeme district in Zagreb, where architectural works are hostages of so-called ‘land-registry urbanism’. These houses even today represent some sort of white horsemen of justice in the prairie of the urban Wild West.


The estate project presented a completely new challenge for the Ćurković-Zidarić team. The buildings are not connected to any cadastre (or that is not the most important thing), there are no urban regulation directives, and highly sophisticated materials and details are not required in its construction. Their approach to the project task was faced with soil, vegetation, shade, view, and, most importantly, the skill of the local craftsman. After understanding this it is clear to us that the same, equally treated stone from the local quarry was used for the outside paving and the façade, thus connecting them with the stone in situ, found in the new and old drystone walls. This sort of limestone can be found on the whole estate. By grouping the buildings on the top of the hill (owner’s house, guest house and outhouse) the memory of Herzegovinian villages is reproduced where all the villages are arranged in groups as some sort of nucleus of life. Often these hamlets derive their names from the residents’ surnames. The only difference is that all these hamlets are formed at the foot of a hill, close to places exposed to the sun or shadow, road or river. Close to everything that produces life. These nuclei were rarely formed on the hilltops. As shown by the tumultuous history of these border regions, the peaks were reserved for fortifications, as well as chapels and cemeteries, enclosed with cypresses as a symbol of aspiration towards heaven. As a result, the estate has both elements of fortification and a formative imitation of the hamlets, and it communicates with the bell towers, bell cotes and cypresses of the local cemeteries. With a local stone envelope and white frames, the very volumes of the buildings interpret local construction tradition, but at the same time caricature it with their proportions and ratio. The project uses and caricatures tradition as much as the authors’ gesture allows it. Besides their shell, another really important component of these buildings is the relation between covered, uncovered and closed spaces made, excavated or thrown out according to the logic of shade and solar trajectory. That is why the created interspaces of these buildings, whose stone walls are bathed in large shadows at sunset, recall in my memory the image of de Chirico’s perspective. Maybe surrealist components exist precisely for the purpose of the better understanding of our own reality.


That is why creation knows no borders. We live together with tradition and nature. With our work we try to impose ourselves on tradition and nature. We take from nature its space. We know that we will never conquer nature and gravity.


One has to create in order to dream.