Published in Nacional number 374, 2003-01-15

Autor: Nina Ožegović

Exclusive: Džamonja to build the Rijeka Mosque

'The Rijeka Mosque to resemble a giant sculpture'

After Nacional revealed that the winning submission for the Rijeka Islamic Center was a plagiarism, the competition was nullified, and after much consideration, it has been decided that the Rijeka Mosque will be built on the concept of sculptor Dušan Džamonja

The Mosque in Rijeka is to be built according to the idea of sculptor Dušan Džamonja. With this project, Džamonja will present his great love for architecture and will be presented as the designer. To date, he has hidden this curiosity from the public, and as such, only his closest friends are aware that he has actually been dealing with architectural design for years, and has designed museums, galleries and mosques. In addition to his many sculptures, drawings and sketches, Džamonja today has a collection of over 60 architectural designs which he has modeled. The public will soon be able to see for itself just how interesting they are at an upcoming exhibition in the Museum of Architecture to be held in February. To make things even more interesting, the Rijeka Islamic Center will be the first after the Zagreb center to be built in Croatia.

Best Design Rejected

'I don't feel guilty about winning this project instead of young architects accused of plagiarism'The decision made to build the center on Džamonja’s model ends the rather unpleasant story which began at the beginning of last year, when it was discovered that the winning design for the center was in fact an act of plagiarism. However, Džamonja’s project almost was not realized. The decision to accept his project was mostly on hold because the people of Rijeka were dissatisfied with the location of the center. In truth, the background behind the story was a case of racial intolerance, as it turned out the people of Rijeka did not want a mosque anywhere in their town. Despite this, there are already rumors that the construction of the Rijeka mosque will be a great attraction.

Considering that sculptor Dušan Džamonja has been working well with Rijeka for years, they invited him to make a submission on the Rijeka Islamic Center. Džamonja accepted the invitation with delight, and he selected architects Vučinović and Vlahović from the architectural design company ‘SDB’, who had made the architectural-urban project. Džamonja stressed that they had created an excellent internal design to the project, creating a pleasant ambient to the complex. “We took Džamonja’s model sculpture of the mosque and began thinking about a prayer, education and housing areas,” said the architect who in his 30 year career has already realized some 300 projects, from the Maksimir Tennis Center and many urban and family homes and villas to the interior and housing center in Sveta Nedjelja, and the underground parking garage on Langov Trg which is currently undergoing construction.

However, their project design for the Rijeka Islamic Center was not submitted on time, it was not entered into the official competition. That is, Džamonja and team sent in their proposal on the final day of the competition, believing that the post-mark on the package would be valid, as in the case with the majority of competitions. However, that was not the case, despite the fact that the Regulations of the Croatian Architects’ Association permit such a possibility. The organizers of the competition already sent the proposals to the panel the following day, and as such could not consider projects sent by mail. As the architects said, their proposal was returned to them unopened, and they were more than disappointed. When it was revealed that the winning project was plagiarized, they showed their project to the decision makers in the Islamic Community in Zagreb and to the City of Rijeka. Their proposal was met there with general delight. “But they were all angry that our submission for the competition was late!” said the architects.

Islamic Specificities

The new Islamic Center will be erected on the slopes of Gornji Zamet, in the western section of the city and will have a spectacular view of the Kvarner Bay. The mosque with its minaret will be positioned on elevated ground as the central sculpture. In harmony with Džamonja’s idea of integrating architecture into the landscape, it will look simply like a massive sculpture.

Of course, the interior of the mosque will strictly conform to religious standards. The exterior will be composed of stone and yellowish ‘desert’ sand, while the interior vault will be covered with gold mosaic. The floor will be black granite covered in oriental carpets in lively colors. The minaret will rise to the north, will also have a sculptural form and will be 17 meters in height. Beneath the mosque, on the lower floor, one side of which will be underground, the Islamic Center will be constructed, with several facilities, including café, restaurant, butcher shop, conference hall, preschool and religious school. In the back, northern section, to be underground, will be the garage and other businesses. The Islamic Center will cover a total of 3572 square meters.

The new Islamic Center in Rijeka was designed in harmony with the symbols of the Islamic community and religion. As the architects admitted, they were required to learn more about Islam and Islamic construction for this challenging project in order to better present its specificities. “In the external section, in the dome sections, the figure of the half moon is present, as a unique Islamic symbol, and the internal vaults create the atmosphere of the heavenly vault and ultimate space,” added Džamonja. The element of water, a popular one, is always discrete in Islam will be strongly emphasized here: between the two southern domes will be a pool with a glass wall, such that the light will penetrate through the water, lighting the office space below.

In addition, the special construction of the shell combined with light will create a somewhat mystical atmosphere. When asked about the winning design, which was discovered to be plagiarism, Džamonja declared that nothing could defend plagiarism, particularly since the young architects used the same solution as the designers from Rotterdam. “They wanted to take an already constructed shopping center, turn it into a mosque and offer it to Rijeka, which is unprofessional,” he states, added that he does not feel any guilt for the fact that the City of Rijeka and the Islam Community in the end decided for his project. “They agreed that it was a shame that the project was not received on time, as it would have certainly won the competition.”

Džamonja became interested in architecture when he was studying at the Academy of Fine Arts. “While listening to the lectures on design by Neven Šegvić, I grew to love architecture, which was always so exciting to me,” he said. “We soon realized that we had many common interests and we became friends. He was a fantastic teacher and mentor: when he saw that I had a good idea, he would help me to realize it in space. We always discussed everything, though he never intervened in my ideas. Through our discussions, I realized that I could not separate architecture from my sculptural concepts. In the end, that is what helped me to create some sort of synthesis between sculpture and architecture. But unlike architects, I transform sculpture into architecture, while they turn architecture into sculpture, which is a real trend today,” said Džamonja.

Harmony with Nature

In explaining his views on architecture, Džamonja admits that architecture must respect programs, though that can also be achieved through reverse order. “First I resolve the spatial problem, for I believe that architecture should never be aggressive and it should fit in with its surroundings,” Džamonja explained, adding that the most sensitive part is designing the volume. “If that can be successfully resolved, then the interior is a lesser problem. Regardless of whether it is science or art, in creation the most interesting part is the imagination, which is more important than experience or inspiration. With the help of imagination, unexpected solutions can be found.”

To the question of what his vision of architecture is, Džamonja responded that he found a very interesting book in a Munich bookstore on the architecture of German bunkers. He instantly bought it, knowing that inside he would find fantastic testimony on how the structure must be integrated into the landscape. The bunker is perhaps the best example as it must be completely hidden. He added that his greatest affinity is for American architect Louis Cahn, who leaves his objects as sculptures, harmonized with the landscape.

60 projects

“For my creations, the model is characteristic,” said Džamonja. “I make all my architectural project models very precisely out of plaster, which is completely unusual. First I model the project in clay, adding to it, modifying it, and once it is defined, I model it in plaster. Of all the great architects I know, they all still make models. However, at the Zagreb Faculty of Architecture, there is not even a class on model making, which is a great shame.”

Sculptor Dušan Džamonja claims that he has some 60 architectural projects behind him. “My documentary museum on Kozari was realized, and I dug it into the ground, making it almost invisible in order to maximally blend it into the landscape. I also made a memorial to the victims at Dachau, where I turned one of my sculptures, 60 meters high, into a cathedral, opening up the internal space, turning it into a chapel with a thin trace of light penetrating from the spine of the sculpture.”

At an upcoming exhibition at the Museum of Architecture, Džamonja’s architectural project models will be on display. In the early phases, he made models for memorial structures, representative buildings, museums and hospitals. There are also the models of massive mosques in Bagdad and Oran, as well as the project of his home, studio, gallery and sculpture park in Vrsar which was 30 years in the making. He will also display his solution to the Sarajevo Square in front of the parliament, which was constructed in granite.

At the exhibition, Džamonja will also present a model for an unusual and futuristic skyscraper he created in 1985. The project even made it as far as one of the top American building companies, which assessed that the floor plan would mean a loss of about 25% of space due to its specific form and, as such, it was not as profitable.

We will also see a number of idea projects for the Džamonja Gallery in Zagreb which he has been dreaming of for years. These are projects for galleries on Jurjevska Street, on Tuškanac, along the Sava River and on Kačičeva Street, across from the Faculty of Architecture.

Džamonja’s Donation

For the past 30 years, Džamonja has been willing to donate his works to the City of Zagreb, but this has not been realized yet. In 1986, the City Council passed the plans to build the Džamonja Gallery on Kačičeva Street. The blueprints were made, the money found. The plan was for joint contribution: the City would give the space, and Džamonja his work and sculptures. But nothing!

“I proposed that in that space we could make a gallery in which my sculptures, drawings and sketches could be displayed, in addition to two studios – one for me and one for architecture and sculpting students and young artists. The idea was that this gallery would form the foundation for a future Museum of Modern Art, which Zagreb today still does not have,” said the sculptor.

“There is a damned atmosphere in Zagreb, in which even the best of intentions and will cannot defeat suspicions and doubts. Such projects must be done decisively, and we are not decisive. As the governments changed, so did our projects fall through and I fear that my gallery and my donation will again not be realized with this government. I don’t think the problem is money, because if these institutions are well organized, they can come up with the resources on their own. I no longer believe that my donation will find the right space in Zagreb,” concluded Džamonja.

A sculptor’s experience in architecture: ‘I transform sculpture into architecture, while they turn architecture into sculpture,” said Džamonja

Over the years, Dušan Džamonja has designed memorial centers, religious buildings in Bagdad and Oran, and a skyscraper for Chicago one hundred stories tall. His most recent works include a hospital in Amman.