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Design: Ivan Meštrović, sculptor (1883-1962)
Architectural design: Harold Bilinić d.i.a. (1894-1984), Lavoslav Horvat  d.i.a. (1901-1989), regulation by Zagreb City Department of Buildings, Ivan Zemljak d.i.a. (1893-1963)
Construction: 1934 – 1938

Positioned at an exclusive location a bit east of the main city square, the monumental circular building stands out among downtown rectangular buildings as architectural point of important identification and symbolic significance. It is surrounded by representative houses built in the nineteen twenties and thirties with predominantly traditional features (architects A. V. Báránay and L. Kalda), but there are also more modern architectural concepts (architects V. Kovačić, E. Šen, M. Kovačević).

In the nineteen thirties Croatian art society „Strossmayer“ intensively looked for a new exhibition area as the historicist building of the Art Pavilion, partially assigned to the artists until the end of 19th century, was no longer meeting their actual needs. At the same time, larger financial support was provided for the Committee for Building a Monument for King Peter I the Liberator (Karađorđević). The design of this royalist monument was commissioned to then leading Croatian artists and president of Art Society „Strossmayer“, Ivan Meštrović. Recognizing the offered location as an attractive area for the new home of the art, the sculptor suggested that a grandiose building should be built instead of a sole sculpture, and that the monument to the king should be raised inside of the building. Despite of the socio-political crisis during the monarchist-fascist dictatorship of the king Alexander, and thanks to persistent diplomatic negotiations, Meštrović’s proposal was finally accepted.

Modern rotunda of stereometric purity is encircled by colonnade pillars creating an impressive porch. The interior space is structured for polyvalent programs, so that the large central hall was primarily assigned to sculpture exhibitions, while the first floor ring, balcony of the central hall and the ground floor were assigned to exhibitions of other forms of visual arts (painting, drawing, photography, design). The building represents, also at international levels, an example of synthesis of monumentalism and modernistic asceticism which holds to the tradition of various ideals, from the antique to the neoclassicism of modern art. By its formal expression it belongs to the first period of modern architecture which holds to pluralism of styles (proto-rationalism, modern classicism, creative eclectism). In the period when it was built it was a unique exhibition hall in Europe and in the world.

The preliminary ideas of Ivan Meštrović regarding the design of the round pavilion partially depart from its final interpretation. The greatest difference lies in the fact that the building was initially designed as a modern Tholos with a lower and open central section, and not as a roofed building. The changes were made during the construction period, when the cooperation of engineers and architects resulted in a new solution, that is, in covering of the central area by a reinforced-concrete dome with inserted glass prisms. Architect Zvonimir Kavurić made the project for the construction of the dome. Although representing important engineering achievements, this dome (diameter: 19 meters, thickness: 6 centimeters) is a compromise between the artist’s idea and construction development that had to overcome the construction problems arisen from the practical need to bridge over the wells and drainage canals.

30s, 40s

The program of the House of Visual Arts displaying numerous permanent and travelling exhibitions began with the formal opening of the exhibition „A Half Century of Croatian Art“(December 1, 1938). Unfortunately, that program lasted only three years. Due to its monumental character and prominent location, the round pavilion attracted political representatives and thus changed its (profane and sacral) functions. At the beginning of the Second World War it was converted into a mosque (1941-1944), and after the war it became the Museum of the Revolution (1945-90). Each change caused specific interventions, from devastation to creative approaches and renewal. The renovation of the interior for the purposes of a mosque was done by architect Zvonimir Požgaj. Solving primarily the problem of thermal and acoustic isolation, he introduced under the original arched ceiling a new one made of iron and concrete, and the internal massive wall surface was divided by niches. Architect Stjepan Planić developed the exterior of the mosque. He placed three tall minarets (45 meters) about ten meters in front of the building, and he defined the entrance area by a broader area in the form of steps with an elevated terrace and banks made of stone.

In the beginning of the 50s, architect Vjenceslav Richter intervened into the interior of the building. Taking the project of designing of the permanent exhibition of the Museum of the Revolution, by his radical concept he negated and deconstructed the original circular ground-plan, and introduced a console balcony and central staircase, and instead of a circle he created variations of a trapezium theme. After numerous polemics over this modern museum setting, the project was finished, but it is important to note that it was made of assembly parts and not as a solid construction.

In the 80s, ideas of changing the purpose the pavilion were heard more often, and in the year 1988, the curator of the Museum of revolution of Croatian Peoples invited architects Ivan Crnković and
Dubravka Kisić to draw up a feasibility study on restoring of the building to its original condition.

The real change of the purpose of the building was not made possible until the beginning of the 90s, together with large political changes. In those years different initiatives regarding its purpose appeared, some of them being strongly politically influenced. But from May 1990, strong activities of the Croatian Association of Artist (HDLU), headed by academic artists Ante Rašić, and especially organization of the exhibition „Document-Arguments“ , enabled the Association to move from the premises at Starčević Home to the round pavilion.

The renovation of the building started in 2001. Extensive construction works were done following the design of architect Andrija Mutnjaković – removal of the construction that were made for the transformation into the mosque, removal of the layers of the double ceiling of the dome, deconstruction of the reinforced-concrete groins, building of a circular fence. In 2003 the first phase of reconstruction was finished. Since 2006 reconstruction works of the cellar and a part of the ground floor have been made following the design of architect Branko Silađin. The remaining works should be continued until the final renovation of the building.

Singularity and attraction of the volume of the circular form along with the ideological context that has always been included in the history of this monument and building are often the reason for various interventions, performances and site specific installations within the very building and in its immediate environment.

Snježana Pavičić



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