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Croatian reconstruction.

After the bleak nihilism of war, rebuilding is an act of faith in the future. Croatia, with some half million people of displaced or refugee status, has slipped out of the international headlines but its problems are immense.

A week long workshop (organised as such to avoid the pitfalls of the conference as talking-shop) took place this autumn in Dubrovnik, jointly held under the auspices of Marija Kojakovic's independent Study Centre for Reconstruction and Development and the Postwar Reconstruction and Development Unit, based at the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies, University of York.

During five intensive days of discussion of the current state of affairs, crucial connections were forged between fellow professionals, experience exchanged and case studies examined. Progress remains pitifully slow and while those with savings or relatives overseas can start to rebuild, reconstruction on a large scale remains a distant prospect.

In the Dubrovnik hinterland there are tracts of country with scarcely a roof intact in any of the villages. Visiting these desolate places, with their charred reminders of intensive shelling and their walls pockmarked by repeated bursts of small arms fire, is a black experience.

Concentration on a planned approach is dragging into long months, even years. The infrastructure is largely repaired. Huge sums of World Bank money have helped, but Croatia's uncertain peace means that it is not eligible for funds for further reconstruction in the villages.

In the Dubrovnik region, holiday hotels continue to provide homes for displaced people, who are bussed back to their villages to cultivate the land during the day. Signs of rebuilding can be seen, as in the fertile valley area of Konavle, where a programme of providing starter shells within the ruined houses of the villages is progressing well, offering optimistic signs of activity.

Yet that essential haste means that consideration for the traditional architecture, and materials, is only applicable in exceptional cases. Concrete -- that symbol of security from attack or earthquake (the other terror of the area) -- has replaced much of the timber which traditionally provided floors and roofing for the old stone extended farmhouses and village houses.

Elsewhere, foreign governments and aid agencies have begun to provide assistance with rebuilding; the Norwegians, Swiss, Finns and Germans are all sponsoring building programmes in the villages in the barren areas north of Dubrovnik. Often new houses stand on the doorstep of the roofless older stone structures. Reconstruction, in the event, is essentially ad hoc.

One of Croatia's practical problems is its awkward physiognomy, a tenuous finger which turns into a broad fist further north, making transport of materials and access to skilled labour just one of its many near insurmountable problems.

Further north-east, one cheering and ingenious solution has been found by an architect who lost his ancient wooden house and its contents -- including a complete library of architectural books -- and saw his home town largely razed to the ground.

In the three years since, Davor Salopek and his family have lived in five different flats in Zagreb. Despite -- or perhaps because of -- his own misfortunes, he has turned his attention to the problem of reconstruction. He has designed a miniature wooden house which is prefabricated in Germany (a Bavarian `farmer helps farmer' initiative is providing the finance) and then serves as a temporary home for the farmer and his family for the year or two it takes to rebuild their old house, or to construct a new one.

The house can be adapted one serves as a church -- and though minute, is insulated and comfortable. The programme allows farming families to remain on the spot and to pick up their lives again, cultivating their land. So far, almost a hundred of these temporary homes have been installed, and once they become redundant, they are reconstructed elsewhere -- a rolling programme of practical housing assistance.

Few other practical exemplars of such imagination and flexibility emerged from the Dubrovnik workshop. The aid organisations are inevitably concentrating on the living conditions of those temporarily housed in barracks, disused schools and other scarcely adequate forms of shelter -- and the tide of refugees from Bosnia rolls inexorably on.

The task ahead is monumental and the achievement of the workshop organisers was to sketch in the situation, bring people together, lessening the isolation of those who are working in the field throughout the country and by doing so, to rev up the engine.

Listening to it all was a punishing and sobering experience; the aftermath of the crisis in the former Yugoslavia is one which all building professionals should be aware of and consider whether they can make a practical contribution of any kind. The workshop organisers, both at Dubrovnik and in York, toil on and any support would be welcome.
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Title Annotation:infrastructure reconstruction
Author:Darley, Gillian
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Dec 1, 1994
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