RICHTER'S RAKETE - Post-war concrete architecture


Richter's Rakete (Richter's Rockets) is a housing complex built during the 1960s in Zagreb (Croatia) by the Centar 51 Design Group firm led by architect Vjenceslav Richter. This example of Brutalist architecture is peculiarly located in the Trnje district north of the Sava river. The latter indeed ideally divides old Zagreb from its Novi (new) counterpart, which extensively developed south of the river as a product of the golden era of Socialism, making large use of Brutalist design.

The Rockets stand out against the surrounding cityscape and they are easy to recognise from the distance thanks to their peculiar shape. The sharp and symmetric lines, the sturdy volumes, the impressive size of the buildings: these are only the most evident characteristics of those grey giants. Instead, from up close the complex reminds of a big concrete maze, where nature is relentlessly repossessing the less used areas, and concrete slowly decays due to the poor maintenance.

Nonetheless, when Richter designed the three skyscrapers Brutalism was the design of choice in architecture for its futuristic look, cheap realisation costs, and efficiency in urban planning. Developing on the Minimalist and Modernist experiences of the first half of the 20th Century, the idea was that of creating self-reliant apartment blocks where micro-communities could live independently thanks to the shops and businesses located on the lower floors of the buildings.

Eventually Brutalism only lasted for a couple of decades before being superseded by new trends in architecture. Today these "Commie blocks" (as some people like to call them) have become a relic of the past just like the community model they tried to develop, which essentially began failing as Socialism itself started to succumb to Capitalism. Although in many parts of the world Brutalism has gained a negative reputation among the public mostly due to its design hard to integrate with modern cityscapes, in Zagreb the Rockets are still well regarded by the local population. The three skyscraper not only represent a characteristic landmark, but also bear witness to the elaborate post-war and modern history of the city.

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© Mattia Alunni Cardinali 2022
© Mattia Alunni Cardinali 2022