Project
Collective Architecture Studio | Infrastructural Collective

(Retro)Utopian Alternatives for Belgrade cultivated a collective studio and examined notions of common authorship, using socialist Yugoslavia as its precedent. Throughout the semester, we interrogated this concept of collectivity in three experiments that include: the mash-up devices/wearables, (retro)museum proposals for Usce Park, and housing alternatives for Belgrade. The way in which we organized ourselves as a collective - and often disorganized ourselves - offered new modalities for functioning in a society that was physically removed from the context in which we were operating; however, through archiving and in the spirit of collectivizing our workflow, we interrogated this contemporary nostalgia for a former socialist Yugoslavia. The lessons learned from socialism were re-imagined in these alternatives, aiding us in formulating our own methods of collectivity.

Infrastructural Collective is only one of five alternatives for housing that emerged from our collective scope of work. Here, it appears in isolation, operating without the larger context of the work. Although this is problematic, the alternative does offer a unique take on the role of infrastructure and collectivity in the domestic realm. As a retrofit proposal, it preserves and protects the residue of the power plant while re-imagining the potentials of its interior.

The "Power and Light" thermopower station was one of the largest power stations in socialist Yugoslavia. Its achievements in enhancing traffic and telecommunications revolutionized the region in the 1930s. Abandoned in 1970, nearly forty years after its conception, this coal plant holds a strong figure in the urban landscape of Belgrade. In order to secure easier transportation of coal from the mines, the plant was sited along the southern Danube branch which also offered ample water for cooling. This careful siting strategy was coupled with the design of a large movable portal crane. Its spatial engagement with the river branch makes this crane both visually and sectionally dynamic in this context. The plant's shift from city to state ownership in 2018 left this abandoned building sitting idly. Although adopted as a cultural monument in 2013, it still remains in a devastated state. The ruin consists of: a concrete facade, a portal crane, and steel and concrete structure. The embedded nostalgia for this former industrial building offers a peculiar approach to housing, in that, it re-imagines how collective infrastructures can transform domestic life.

Site-specific industrial objects that once figured the internal spaces of the power plant now are re-purposed and re-imagined as zones of collectivity. For instance, the tanks (in the catalog above) serve collective infrastructural programs such as: restrooms, baths, showers, kitchens, dining rooms, work areas, repair shops, and study areas. By allotting the interiors of these objects to be used for collective activities, we challenge the normative role of infrastructure in the domestic realm. Therefore, the industrial memory of the power plant, paired with the lessons of New Belgrade, re-invent the notion of collectivity in both public and private spaces. An element of play and freeing up the interior of the building was heavily influenced by the urban relationships studied within New Belgrade. For instance, the public spaces are figured by the housing blocks and operate as the interstitial space. Our response to this, was to re-purpose some of these former industrial objects into spaces for play. For example, the condensing pipe becomes hollowed and transformed into a suspended playscape within the densely-packed housing zone.

Also home to the new Nikola Tesla Museum, the Infrastructural Collective and its notions of infrastructural collectivity are complemented by Tesla’s inventions, which explore this collectivity on numerous scales. His innovations in electrical science also tap into the historical significance of this power plant; his lessons not only resonate within the confines of the power plant itself but have left impressions on an urban scale of Belgrade and on an international scale of electrical science. Furthermore, his research, in combination with notions of collectivity, shed light on how to re-invent housing’s relationship to infrastructure. Through “housing” his collection of books and inventions on the ground floor, the exhibition spaces serve as zones of collectivity, framed through his work and legacy. The placement of this museum offers public entry into a zone that occupies the interstitial space between housing and collective infrastructure.

Collective notions of play and public space were heavily influenced by the housing configurations of New Belgrade. In this way, the communal spaces of New Belgrade were figured by the housing blocks, operating as interstitial between private zones of domestic life and public streets. The Infrastructural Collective's interior organization of public zones was heavily influenced by the analysis of these communal territories. Hidden behind the monumental facade of this abandoned ruin, housing wraps the perimeter, freeing up the interior for communally-shared programs. Some of these spaces are programmed while others are left un-programmed. The building is split into two neighborhoods including: (1) a denser arrangement of housing with out-boarded infrastructure spanning along a catwalk and (2) larger apartments with out-boarded infrastructure housed in multistory tanks. The size and shape of each apartment typology does not prescribe the amount of occupants, merely allows for a variability in how people choose to occupy these private spaces. While the multistory tanks and thickened walls service the infrastructural facilities in both zones, the suspended platforms encourage a free adaptation of public space. Another distinction between the two neighborhoods is that one adopts the existing industrial objects as infrastructural elements while the other adapts them into elements of play.