The Art of Dialogue

architect Drago Galić
project Multiresidental Building, Zagreb, Croatia
written by Vera Grimmer


Even before his study at Ibler’s school, Drago Galić had a chance to collaborate with the most prominent protagonists on the Zagreb architectural scene such as Ehrlich, Denzler and Kauzlarić. From the beginning of his studies in 1930 he became Ibler’s close associate. Between 1930 and 1940, Galić designed numerous projects, and we especially single out his Villa Jak{ić in Lapad from 1935 – a building that should be a part of any Croatian architectural anthology of modern times. In the 1950s he reached his creative peak, but unfortunately it was also the end of his work. With the building of three apartment buildings in Zagreb (Vukovarska Street 35, 1953; Svačić Square, 1953 and Miramarska Street, 1954) he set standards that are hard to meet even today. While the design of buildings in Vukovarska and Miramarska Street is directly linked to the Corbusier’s world of forms, the house on Svačić Square is fascinating first of all for its originality and certain radicalism of language. Of course, the challenge for the architect was also great – it stands on the corner lot between one of the most beautiful green squares in Zagreb and a busy boulevard, and most of all, right next to Kovačić’s Slavex palace, which is considered quite an opportunity for any committed architect.


We can assume that it was the dialogue with the Master that led to the uniqueness of this building. Without a trace of mimicry, the author uses contrast in a subtle and not too obvious way. In the direct contact with Kovačić’s firm corpus of the classicistic style and motifs, Galić reacts with the void of the loggia’s vertical, signaling a distance in the design as well as content. Discreet linear ornaments of intertwined green squares on a dark brown background in the graffito technique, spreading throughout the building’s corpus, could be interpreted in a dialogue as an answer to Kovačić’s classic motif of meander beneath the cornice of the Slavex palace. The architect reacts to the perforated façade of the palace with a glass façade canvas, protruding from the plane of the remaining façade, similar to what Ivan Vitić did earlier with the façade of the Simo Matavulj Elementary School in Šibenik.


With at least two determinants of his building – ornament and the central glazing, Galić broke some of the basic rules of “white modernism” – no ornaments and sincerity of the façade. Namely, the same screen of glass surfaces of the parapets and windows and copper muntins flows in front of the living room area and veranda. It is however accessible from some apartments, but its real function is to separate the staircase in the center of the building from the façade. The staircase that receives light from the glass on the roof and glass prisms installed on the landings, could be interpreted as a reference to a similar treatment of the staircase of Ibler’s Markulin house in Zagreb’s Ribnjak.


The link to the adjacent historical building in Žerjavićeva Street is not as spectacular. A segment of the simple perforated façade of the free ground floor creates a transition element between an anonymous street front and the author’s unique corner, its passe-partout in a way. This, due to construction regulations, lower and differently treated part of the building closes the court that could, with the green terrace that is basically the roof of the garage and the gallery that links the main and secondary building, could create an almost idyllic Biedermeier atmosphere.


The layout of the apartments was also important to Galić, if not even more important than the image of the building. The layouts here almost reach the quality of housing in a family house, evident in the always two-sided and three-sided orientation, with at least one large external living area and a very well thought out floorplan organization. The core is always made of the well-indented living room – the center of family life – from which you enter the complex of intimate spaces as well as “production” spaces, where the kitchens are connected to lumber rooms and short corridors, and sometimes entire working areas. The horizontal and vertical location determines the floorplan options, always trying to reach the maximum of possible housing quality. These are luxurious but not lavish apartments, although the architect was reproached at the time about the luxury. This made him bitter, and rightfully so, because the so-called luxury is revealed here in his care for sustainability, comfort, satisfaction with housing conditions, values you can not measure with money.


While the apartments in Vukovarska and Miramarska Street are “holding up” quite well, the neglect and poor condition of the house on Svačić Square could soon reach the point of no return. Our society should finally become aware of the fact that modern architecture is above all a valuable cultural heritage.


In socialist times, those who excelled in their crafts received the award “State Master of Crafts”. If it were given to architects, Drago Galić would have surely earned it first. His mastery of materials, volumetric relations and details is a direct continuation of the work of masters like Viktor Kovačić or Hugo Ehrlich, his first employer. So one of the important elements of the fascination with the house on Svačić Square is the mastery of the métier, obvious and understandable in itself. But from today’s point of view, Galić’s non-orthodoxy is much more important. In resisting dogmas he found his own path that was however not arbitrary, but always in the service of the architecture’s humane obligation.


Literature: Ljerka Biondić: Kritička analiza stambene arhitekture u djelu arhitekta Drage Galića – evolucija i tipologija (Critical Analysis of the Residential Architecture in the Work of Drago Galić – Evolution and Typology), Doctor’s Thesis, Faculty of Architecture, University of Zagreb, 1996