War threatens Zagreb facelift

August 11, 1995

Architecture students from Greenwich University helping to shape plans for the future urban regeneration of Zagreb are just miles from frontline trenches where Croatian forces are attacking Serb-conquered territory.

Small groups of fourth and fifth-year postgraduate students have been visiting Zagreb, the Croatian capital, as part of a three-year research programme undertaken by Andrew Yeoman, a practising architect and senior lecturer in urbanism at Greenwich University in south London.

The students are working closely with Croatian architects and specialists from the planning and environmental protection bureau in Zagreb, which houses the headquarters of the United Nations peace forces to the former Yugoslav state.

Officials are confident that the logic of the Serb campaigns so far during the four years of war in the region falls well short of storming Zagreb.

But the capital has suffered rocket attacks, one only last weekend and another in May which killed six people and injured around 40 .

Vladimir Mattioni, urban planning advisor with the Zagreb planning bureau and the Croatian coordinator for the Greenwich research, said Serbian strategy has always been to try to conquer areas where a majority of ethnic Serbs lived. Zagreb did not fall into that category.

"We believe the Serbs have neither the power nor the idea to invade Zagreb and the main part of Croatia. After the break-up of Yugoslavia we started thinking about our future in terms of developing the city master plan and looking towards Europe for co-operation," he said.

"For us, it is normal that some of our kids are on the frontline and some are working on urban strategy; it's part of the same energy and same intention."

Mr Mattioni's attitude is evident in the energy being spent on generating options for the future shape of Zagreb.

More than 20 different plans have been devised in the past two years. Many focus on the challenges and opportunities presented by Novi Zagreb, a bleak area of concrete high-rise apartment blocks built between the 1950s and 1980s, where more than 120,000 of the city's one million inhabitants live.

Mr Yeoman, who moved to Zagreb two years ago to marry his Croatian architect wife Diana, sees the opportunity for his students to be involved in the creation of an urban vision of the scale and character of Zagreb's was too good to miss.

But the Croatian military campaign to push the Serbs back to the border and international fears of all-out war in the Balkans could dampen his optimism.

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