About this Work

Memories, Experiences - Identity... City of Memories depicts the fragmented and multi-dimensional  constitution of Belgrade‘s urban body.

City of Memories is a short film by Mara Siegel, in collaboration with Vincent Johnson, Lars Köppl, Konstantin Hehl & Kevin Paterka.

Belgrade, Serbia, is a city, in which informal architectural developments emerged rapidly after the Yugoslavian war ended in 2000. These autonomous instances of architecture reflect key reactionary political moments of the city from which they originated. In recognising the buildings’ individual characteristics through an open-ended design methodology, a new voice is given to these structures, imbuing them with value through memories.

Personal memories of the city before and after the NATO bombing of Belgrade in 1999 were a trigger for the Serbian/ German urban researcher and curator Mara Siegel to engage with informal architecture as a coping mechanism for social transformation and as a political phenomenon. Wanting to understand these powerful yet uncanny memories, in 2018 she began documenting the materialized architectural forms of collective and individual resilience as part of the thesis „Memories of a City“. 
In this quest, the journey began: tracing down the multiple characters of informal housing structures in Belgrade, which emerged out of urgency or failure of administrative regulations.

«The formula “instability of the formal” and “stability of the informal” describes complementary forms of common energy underlying not only the administrative part, but also the urban and architectural transformation of Belgrade over the past twenty years.»

Here, informal architecture has outgrown its precarious character and is now a permanent and important part of the city. Some of these informal buildings represent and embody certain moments of Belgrade‘s urban and political history - its scars and gains - thus representing a form of influential counterculture.
This culture inhabits the materialized memories of the city and recalls at the same time the political situation from which it emerged. Since last 20 years ago, the people of Belgrade are once again bringing these memories back to the streets of protest.

Perspective switch
The movie City of Memories let’s the buildings themselves tell their story. They are characters who have their own tales and emotions.
A collection of fates and hopes brought to life through the story of Belgrades urban bodies.
The Buildings are witnesses, victims and containers of human destinies. By humanizing them, a new topo-historiography of the city should evolve.

«City of Memories displays the fragmented story of a project that emerged from a multi-perspective approach, not only depicting the architectural phenomena, which is based on a symbolism of memory. It also shows the different stages that ultimately led to the production of a film from the point of view of the buildings themselves.»

What happened?
In the 1990s, not only the failure of the administrative authorities and the state triggered a wave of construction that surpassed any other informal construction operation, but also uniform structures were created that were based on legal and official buildings and can therefore hardly be distinguished from one another. In its partly operetta-like form, Belgrade‘s informalism is an extraordinary case. It is the calculating logic behind the unbridled urbanist energies that makes Belgrade‘s informal urban development important.
The inhabitants of Belgrade manifested themselves within these buildings and they reflect the historical signs of the past. These improvised and mostly rapidly built housing solutions are a mirror of a nation that was affected by multiple wars, stagnation, constant upheavals and the flux of migrants.
In the confusion surrounding the state collapse and especially during the wars of secession, genuine parastate networks formed in which some politicians, state administrators, the army, the police, but also business leaders, beneficiaries of privatization, and rising war profiteers were involved. As political and administrative authorities ceased to function, informal functional equivalents to state power emerged and »took over« from the state. Members of the old elites appear to have played a crucial role in this context.
Under these highly contradictory conditions in 1990’s Belgrade, personal patronage, clientelism, and corruption became the de facto basis for the functioning of society and the economy. The formula »instability of the formal« and »stability of the informal« describes complementary forms of a common energy underlying not only the administrative part, but also the urban and architectural transformation of Belgrade over the past twenty years.

The short film City of Memories will be displayed at Dutch Design Week, October, 2019 in Eindhoven within the Graduation Show of Design Academy Eindhoven.