‘The illusion that illegal construction brought a dispersion of power in the production of space dissolved, and it became obvious that the power just shifted into the hands of developers who merely used the illegal as their legitimate field.’ [DS]
Glotzt nicht so romantisch! (after B. Brecht’s statement Don’t stare so Romantically!) is Dubravka Sekulić’s brilliant research on Extralegal Space in Belgrade (Jan van Eyck Acadmie, 2012). A deep look into former Yugoslavia’s housing policies shaping the countless roof extensions that can be seen all over today. These built-in additions are a literal remnant of both socialist and neoliberal acts of informal negotiations for the addition of new floor area beyond the legal height limits. She takes the case of the so-called Russian Pavilions (post WWII) to take us into a trip through residential markets. Coming from 1960s strategy of co-ownership – to motivate people to invest personal funds in housing construction,- the practice of ‘wild building’ led to the invention of land and housing property as a veritable source of income. This even reached a point where even some people quickly built mock-ups of construction they were planning to build later, just to have them registered on the satellite image for future legalization.
If real estate and the right to housing in 1990s socialist Yugoslavia started a process of individual appropriation of collective commodities, the corruption of the 2000s evolved into a more elaborate turn of the exception into the norm. The analysis of the built form of a roof unveils the struggle of citizens in shifting a political mind-set from one extreme to the other. As Sekulić states, the attitude towards space changed from societal, though it was not entirely clear what this meant, over to more private, so from ‘ours’ to just ‘mine’. This reflects the schizophrenia of how real estate property as such was born out of informal economies to later raise the entire economic system of a nation in the making.
The triad developers-municipality-inhabitants composed a complex set of clever negotiations that detected any loopholes in legal frameworks and allowed them to manoeuvre in the blurry landscape of temporary permits and building legalization. They all fought everyday austerity with a pure sense of entrepreneurial greed to keep up with the Jones’. If a neighboring block could grow a few floors, so could mine. Extralegal Space in Belgrade teaches us a devastating lesson on market syndicalism through Belgrade’s architectural parasites.