Arranging a meeting with Marijana and Miki is almost as difficult as making an appointment with the Pope. The two of them are architects in Belgrade and there is a lot of work to do. By talking with the SWISS Travel Guide they explain why they love the city and what makes their job thrilling.
Belgrade - a playground for creative minds
Marijana and Miki are stressed. They are working on an apartment with an nice view to Saint Sava Cathedral. It’s planned to be a luxurious place for a family. And there is still a lot to be done. Marijana gesticulates wildly on her mobile as Miki instructs some craftsmen. There's no doubt about it – both live up to the stereotype of the mad creative genius, with a tangible passion for their jobs.
"When we were children, we used to love playing with Lego and challenged each other to build complicated things such as airports, hospitals and fire stations," Marijana explains later while sitting in the restaurant Kovač. The pair considers this restaurant is a must for anyone who wants to try real Serbian cuisine and promptly order half the dishes off the menu. Pan-fried chicken liver with caramelised onions and sour cream, pastry rolls filled with spinach and cheese, a platter of different kinds of ham and steak, served with braised peppers and mushrooms.
Miki takes over where his sister left off: "Later on, when we'd grown out of Lego, we still wanted to create things, design new places where people could live."
Visible attention to detail
The siblings work for various firms, including Beomarket, an investor in Belgrade that specialises in the construction of apartment buildings. Beomarket allows the two young architects to give free rein to their imagination, resulting in elaborate façade details, such as metal trees that appear to be growing up the front of the building.Or eccentric lighting designs that make hallways of houses look like stylish clubs. Their concepts make a fresh contrast to the old, greyish blocks.
And both of them have plenty of ideas. So many interior design ideas, in fact, that there are enough to go round the cafés, hotels, shops and offices in Belgrade's city centre. Between meeting customers, working on concepts, delegating tasks to specialists and meeting deadlines, there is no such thing as an eight-hour day for these freelance architects. Even so, they both agree that they wouldn't change their job for the world!
Every project is 'their little baby'
If you ask them which project they are most proud of, they pause for thought. "Every building we have worked on is different. They all tell their own tale," explains Marijana. "And we become emotionally attached to every project – they are all our little babies."
That is very diplomatically put, but of course, both of them are experts. "OK," Miki finally admits. "Perhaps we could give the Sushi Dream project an extra little mention." They received an award at Belgrade's recent Salon of Architecture for their design of the sushi restaurant. Marijana and Miki managed all aspects of the project, including space planning, interior design and the design of staff uniforms.
Adding new elements - preserving the old
And there's still so much to do. All parts of the city are getting a new, modern face. Narrow glass and steel constructions are shooting up between the dominant blocks of neo-classical buildings in the city centre. Attractive office blocks rub shoulders with the square socialist-era buildings made from prefabricated concrete slabs. "Belgrade is changing, taking on a new shape," explains Miki on the subject of this evolution. "Old buildings are now reflected in the glass façades of new ones. Parks containing wonderful old trees meet modern landscape designs. Cafés, restaurants and bars are suddenly emerging on almost long-forgotten squares."
Both architects are relatively sceptic about the plans of the Serbian government.It has given the go-ahead for an enormous, state-of-the-art district to be built on the banks of the Sava, complete with luxury apartments, office blocks and shopping malls. These plans will require the old train station to be relocated and whole streets of houses to be flattened. It's not just the residents of Belgrade who are opposing this. It is still doubtful whether the investor from Abu Dhabi will finally give the go-ahead for the project.
Dreaming of a hotel complex on the seafront
Marijana and Miki both find the idea completely over the top. "These old buildings, these old architectural masterpieces are an important part of the city's history," explains Marijana, underlining every gesture with her dessert spoon. "They are what gives the city its century-old atmosphere." The challenge is not only preserving this heritage but also linking it with the new, digital age. Her spoon never makes it into the ice cream that's now on the table, not to mention into the apple filled with walnuts and the cherry pancakes with cream. You need to be very hungry when you have dinner at Kovać.
Asked for their personal vision of the future they answer is."Our dream is a multi-purpose project somewhere on the coast," says Miki, his eyes lighting up. Then his sister takes over, "A complex with apartments, spa, a theatre, and – of course – a roof-top bar with a fabulous view across the sea."