The Library in Priština

architect Andrija Mutnjaković
project National and University Library of Kosovo, Priština, Kosovo
written by Maroje Mrduljaš, Andrija Mutnjaković

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Inspired by the Hammam in Prizren, it is one of the first buildings to reformulate relations with the traditional architecture. The idea of freely bringing together a multitude of volumes, organizing and lightening them autonomously, makes the building an easily recognizable landmark. For the first time, people could recognize themselves in a modern building which was not erected on old foundations, but in the middle of the park.


(Timeline in the catalogue of the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2014)


Together with Vjenceslav Richter, Grujo Golijanin, Edvin Šmit (early works) and others, Andrija Mutnjaković is a special follower of the experimental other line, the latent alternative to the main movement of the rational tradition of architectural culture in Croatia. His intellectual development took place in the dynamic atmosphere of the exat 51 group and the New Tendencies movement. He attended the masterclass of Drago Ibler, participated in the magazine Čovjek i prostor from the start and worked with Aleksandar Srnec on architectural and art projects. It was in cooperation with Srnec, at the international competition for the City Centre of Tel Aviv in 1963, that Mutnjaković expressed some of his many stands as an author: the emphasized radical approach free of any norms of functionalism, ambition to literally combine the experiences of visual art and architecture and the interest for participation in current international architectural movements. In the 1960s and 1970s Mutnjaković simultaneously developed his interest in structuralism and kinetic architecture, to which he has stayed devoted until this day.


In 1970, Mutnjaković took part in the competition for the library in Sarajevo. One year later, the director of the Library in Priština Ismet Spahija commissioned him to do the project of the utmost importance for the identity of Kosovo so he took over and developed the model of the library in Sarajevo. As an active critic, theoretician of architecture and author of many books, he offered the theoretical elaboration for the library. In this article we are issuing Mutnjaković’s abbreviated original text on the concept of the library and editorial comments that aim to improve the understanding of the author’s ideas by placing them in a larger context.




The building of the University Library should be the ultimate expression of architectural creativity. The activated terrain, the environment and the building itself require that the decomposition of the volume, the condensed structure, shapes, light and shadow and the gradation of the heights evoke the building heritage of these areas (architecture of columns, cubes and spheres) as a modern structural and shaping concept of an autochthonous shaping style.


In the introductory summary, Mutnjaković introduces the term structural, which is presented as the strategy of planning the repetitions and mutations of the elementary spatial module: cube covered with the sphere. Mutnjaković sees the origin of the module in the tradition of the Byzantine and Ottoman architecture. In his ambition to reach the modern and autochthonous at the same time, Mutnjaković syncretically combines the then contemporary structural art research and the interest in the heritage that anticipates postmodern tendencies.




The topic of the contemporary structural concept of the autochthonous shaping style is one of the new achievements in the development of architecture; after progressive functionalism went through the formal crisis of the academic ‘international style’ and flooded the planet with shapeless uniform ambiences, after numerous warnings by theoreticians of architecture on the alarming situation and after the research of some of the best architects of our civilization, we can definitely accept the offered paths of the further development of the architectural theory and practice. This development, having accepted functionalistic theses on the purity of the function and construction, demands that this objection be completed with the next important or the most important component: the human being – with their preoccupations, habits and customs, regional, reflective and ambience peculiarities, historical, religious and social characteristics, needs for the constant confirmation of the essence. We can see this architectural thesis in many regions on all the continents. The pioneer examples are Alvar Aalto, Arne Jacobsen and the bbpr group. Japanese architects were the most successful in transposing the national expression into contemporary architecture. (…) Contrary to the formalistic plagiarism and the lack of criteria while applying the International Style, the search for the authentic architectural expression in our country appeared rather early in the works of Kovačić, Plečnik, Neidhardt, Dobrović, the Zemlja (Earth) group (Ibler, Galić, Horvat, Kauzlarić) and others, producing the results that meet the international criteria.


Mutnjaković continues the then already widespread criticism of high modernism and recognizes the international and local origins of the regional approach within the modern movement. He sees a solution to uniformity in regionalism; the project of the library and its elaboration originate in the times when the modern heritage in the region was critically reviewed. Among others, Mutnjaković thus refers to Plečnik, whose comprehensive rehabilitation was done in the 1980s and to the Zemlja group, whose critical retrospective exhibition was organised in 1971, at the time when the library was being designed, within the 6th Zagreb Salon of Architecture.




In the rich cradle of the European regionalism, there is also a specific architecture of the Kosovo region. The Kosovo region abounds in original architectural shapes characteristic of the wider Balkan Peninsula. The Byzantine culture from the first millennium of our era has stylistically synthesized architecture in the shape of cubic and spherical volumes, as a significant contribution to the architecture of mankind. It was in Kosovo, as in other areas of our country, where this architecture developed into a specific variant of multiply joined volumes with the tendency to grow vertically. When Krleža speaks of our miniature basilicas from the end of the first millennium that spread from Dalmatia, Duklja, Zeta and Raška to Ohrid, he often uses the semiological symbol of the basilicas – the cupola on a cube as an example of the artistic vitality of Illyrians and Slavs, as ‘a symptom of artistic talent that carries all dynamic possibilities for the creation of art and moral and intellectual civilization that does not lag behind its role models and creates a new and interesting variant of the European topic’. This symbol can be seen in Catholic churches (the Church of the Holy Cross in Nin), orthodox foundations and monasteries (Monastery of Saint Naum, Veljusa Monastery, Patriarchate of Peć, Gračanica Monastery), Islamic hammams, market places or mosques (hammams in Prizren, Skoplje, Sarajevo, the Sinan Pasha Mosque in Prizren, market places in Sarajevo). Although this symbol of a square with a circle (a cube with a cupola) reached its full expression in Islamic architecture, the fact that it is present in the whole Balkan area, regardless of the Roman, Byzantine or Islamic influences, can be interpreted as a certain antithesis to the foreign influences, no matter their origin, and a certain thesis of an autochthonous common expression of the people from the Balkan area despite the assimilating influences. The richness of the autochthonous regional architecture of the Kosovo area can and must be the initiator of the active presence. This richness, which arose by the permeation of the Byzantine and Ottoman influences, is crystallised in the specific expression of the individual ideal of beauty, as a contribution to the Islamic and Christian building practice. This results with the Sultan Fatih Mosque and the Sinan Pasha Mosque on one side and the Patriarchate of Peć and the Gračanica Monastery on the other side. (…) In the details of the shaping process, decomposition of surfaces, treatment of the walls and the application of iconographic elements, the ritual function – these expressions have their valuable specific qualities of stylistically pure separate units. Nevertheless, the spatial idea in its global expression – unlike the spatial idea of the Roman or Gothic, Aztec or Khmer culture – operates on the same premises of the cubic and spherical architecture.


Following the occurrence of cubic and spherical spatial configurations of very diverse typologies, time periods and environments, Mutnjaković finds a spatial archetype and tries to affirm the vitality of the regional architecture. By quoting Krleža, possibly even on the trace of the theses made by Ljubo Karaman on the authentic contribution of the art from the periphery, Mutnjaković points to the authenticity of transnational and transreligious regional culture. For Mutnjaković, the symbol of cubic and spherical spatial configuration has a universal civilizational value that gets new meanings of togetherness and ecumenism from the current point of view. The choice of a universally recognizable and regionally and locally specific architectural motif for the carrier of the spatial organization and the identity of the library of Kosovo, whose role is to emancipate the Kosovar and Albanian culture, is thus logical.




By singling out this semiological origin of the spatial idea we reach the message of the coherent and recognisable symbol as an autochthonous sensation of the region.




(…) The anticipation of a historical example in an ultimate consequence of the scope can open up the opportunity for a careful examination. Squares and rectangles have created an organism of the building with an expressed and structurally connected spatial composition. By accepting the structure, we can hardly transfer the composition into our time that has lost the fear of a hierarchical axial symmetry and that incarnated its leisure understanding of life in a freely composed shape, as the truth of our civilisation. This truth was anticipated in a visionary manner by Kazimir Malevich with his need for the supremacy of sensitivity, expressed with no anectodal representation, in the essence of the psychic experience of the rhythm of abstract geometric shapes. (…) By developing this topic, Victor Vasarely changes the intuitive suprematist shape into the combinatorics of the intellect constructed according to the a priori given algorithms, using the motif of a circle in a square as an essential sublimation of art. His ‘planetary folklore’ did the first significant programming of structuralist plasticity, thus opening the way to cybernetics. ‘Even now, his work is the image of the product of computing machines, although it is done manually’ – says Abraham A. Moles. We so reach the critical point of the current understanding of the development of the shaping process. This means that it is possible to make a causal connection between the cubic and spherical pre-form and its spatial treatment with the formal achievements of modern art. In other words, the formal expression of the historical autochthonous architecture of Kosovo can be interpreted by the most modern art and architectural forms. 


Mutnjaković concisely describes the development of the structuralist logic in architecture and art, from the local building tradition, through suprematism, op-art and, finally, systematic and early proto-digital art he got to know through the New Tendencies movement. The basic construction element is the archetype, the pre-form, and compositional and organisational principles continue the then modern tendencies. Mutnjaković’s research of the form does not follow the principles of the programmed art, but is the combination of an intuitive reaction and functional needs that result from the interior space of the building. Although abstract art is not explicitly mentioned in the text about the library, this art form is one of Mutnjaković’s reference points. The aggregated architectural form with no hierarchy is the result of the efforts to do almost impossible – reconcile structuralism and abstract art.




(…) The building of the National and University library is the basic treasury that keeps the core of the national essence and passes it on to the next generations. The function of the building in this active role cannot be inactive. (…) Engaged architecture in the function of the meaning of its existence.


Mutnjaković uses the interesting formulation of the function of the form and connects it with the active role of the symbol. The expression of architecture is not neutral in its meaning, but signifies the symbolic role of the institution.




The shaping and functional treatment of the main interior areas (reading areas) is influenced by the intellectual and physical needs of the reader. Deep contemplation of the reader requires calm, compact spaces, introverted and with a defined content. (…) The constructive and shaping treatment of the cupolas had to be on the level of the most modern solutions (R. Buckminster Fuller).




The composition of the space so that it consists of numerous volumes is also the result of the functional organization of the library areas. Between perceiving libraries as spacious halls (as in Zagreb and Belgrade) and as common, but spatially separate volumes (as in the new library in Berlin), the advantage is given to the second spatial concept. The reason is in the belief that the reader can concentrate better if they are situated in a more intimate space. (…)


After the detailed elaboration of the historical and contemporary references of the spatial concept of the basic module, Mutnjaković introduces its phenomenological characteristics. The cubic format covered with a cupola is calm, neutral and with an introvert direction towards the centre of the module. The individual experience and the reading process are in the focus of Mutnjaković’s reflections.




(…) With the aim of creating a more intimate space, necessary for the concentration while reading, a partial optic isolation from the outer space is also required. (…) In historical buildings, this effect was achieved by a lace-like construction of a stone or brick profile of the windows (the Patriarchate of Peć or the Painted Mosque of Tetovo). The historical experience was used in the process of shaping the Library and the optic separation of the exterior and interior areas was achieved by modern materials (cast aluminum) and the treatment of the surfaces, like installing brise-soleil systems under glazed façades. Association with the regional architecture is again present – in the treatment of this ‘curtain’ and in the graphical drawing of the hexagonal composition that we often see in this area.


Mutnjaković combines the elements of the traditional and modern architectural language. The cupolas are taken from the traditional spatial model but have the structural and technical concept of Fuller’s geodesic cupolas that are one of the iconic motifs of a technological and utopian wing of high modernism. Faced with the lack of more complex prefabricated building elements, architects in Croatia and former Yugoslavia were often forced to experiment and design them themselves, by relying on the available production. The metal lace-curtain that coats the building was made using an archaic technique of casting aluminum into moulds in the foundry in Krapina in the Hrvatsko Zagorje Region. It is this archaic technique that allows the metal coating to function as a brise-soleil system, since the grainy texture rejects reflections.




The spatial arrangement of the library is done according to the familiar scheme of treating the central area of the catalogue as an atrium with the function of a basic communicational area. Reading areas are situated on different floors, distributed according to their importance, functional unity and the number of visitors; a small reading room (100 visitors) and a large reading room (200 visitors) are located on the first floor, special reading areas are on the second floor (rare editions, geography, graphics, record library, film and video library, periodicals) and carrels of research workers are located on the third and fourth floor.


The aggregation of the basic modules of different proportions allowed the gradation of the intimacy of space. This principle is emphasized through the arrangement of different types of reading areas on the floors. Reading areas, whose format and location are carefully harmonised with their specific function, rotate like a galaxy around the gravitational and symbolic centre of the library, perceived as the treasury of knowledge, the catalogue and the common atrium that gathers all the facilities. 


The library in Priština is a unique project within the context of the Croatian architecture and the architecture of former Yugoslavia. Its syncretic sources resulted in the spatial configuration that resembles the democratic and open spaces of Dutch structuralism and the works of Aldo van Eyck or Herman Hertzberger. Contrary to the approach where the articulation of all spatial and tectonic elements is connected with their anthropological meaning, Mutnjaković starts from the abstract system and discovers potentials for concrete uses in the spatial system. Like his Dutch contemporaries, Mutnjaković reaches for an open form, like Kasbah that, within a clearly defined spatial frame, has the potential of open uses and changes in the programme. The library in Priština became the landmark of the town and the symbol of the national identity and, after Sarajevo and Priština, Mutnjaković continued with the research of the typology of libraries in unrealised projects such as the National Library in Damascus in 1974, the Pahlavi National Library in Tehran in 1977 and the National Library in Algiers in 1984, always relying on local building traditions.