Monumental simplicity with a German influence

Jovanka Bončić Katerinić is one of the representatives of Serbian architecture between two wars. She is mostly known for the fact that she was the first graduated women architect in Germany, which made headlines in daily newspapers in Serbia in 2016. However, in addition to this fact, Jovanka Bončić Katerinić has marked Belgrade’s architecture with her work, most of all on important university buildings.

Born in 1887 in Niš, as the daughter of a lawyer and later judge, she finished primary and middle school in Požarevac and Vranje, and graduated from the Third Belgrade Gymnasium in 1905. The same year she enrolled into Architecture Faculty of Belgrade University. In the same generation her friends were Milica Krstić, Milica Vukšić, Angelina Nešić and other women, continuing the path set a decade earlerier by Jelisaveta Načić.

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After her fourth year of studies,in 1909 she leaves Belgrade for Darmstadt, Germany to continue her studies at the male Technische Hochschule, which was enrolling women for the first time. Abroad, she held a stipend from the Ministry of Construction of Serbia, an amount of 100 dinars per month. Jovanka Bončić was not the only woman from Serbia who attend university abroad over 100 years ago. Financed by the Kingdom of Serbia, in this period 45 female students attended higher education at the Zurich and other european universities. Among them were Milena Bota from Kruševac, Ružica Dražić from Šabac, Mileva Marić (Einstein) from Novi Sad, and many others.

Jovanka Bončić successfully graduated in june 1913, as the first woman architect in Germany. This news created a sensation in Germany, and many newspapers and magazines published her photograph and resume.„Berliner Ilustrierte Zeitung“ published the front page with a large photograph of male graduated engineers and Jovanka with a bouquet of white carnations and a single red one. Magazines „Welt und Haus“ and „Sontagzeitung fur deutsches Haus“ also wrote about her. Although the first woman architect in Germany, Jovanka was the fourth in Serbia after Jelisaveta Načić, Angelina Nešić and Vidosava Nikolić.

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After her graduation and the return to Belgrade, she started work at the Ministry of Construction, where her state exam was admitted without additional examinations. She worked on the designs for the post and telegraph building in Obrenovac. However, she soon marries Andrej Katerinić, a Ukranian she met during her studies at Darmstadt, and leaves with him for Russia, and later other eastern European countries. Jovanka returned to Belgrade in 1922, with her three sons, and was joined by Andrej in 1923.

After her return to Serbia, Jovanka Bončić Katerinić also returns to her workplace in the Ministry of Construction. She worked in the same office with architects Danica Kojić, Dušan Manojlović, Vojin Simić, Čedomir Glišić, Danica Hristić, Branislav Kojić, as well as assistant technicians. The department lead was Nikolaj Krasnov. Together with colleagues Dimitrije M. Leko, Pavle Ilkić, Aleksandar Janković and Rada Milivojević, she was part of the older and well-respected employees. She was also a regular member of the Architects Club.

Her first assignment after her return was the reconstruction of part of the Dom Ankera building, which is located in Balkanska street in Belgrade. After that, like her other female colleagues, she worked on the designs for village school buildings, that where built in large numbers all over Yugoslavia.

Among her biggest and most important work are two university buildings in the capital: Women Teachers’ School, today the building of the Faculty of Pedagogy, in Kraljice Natalije street, and the Veterinary Faculty in Bulevar Oslobođenja street.

In 1930 Jovanka Bončić Katerinić started work on the project for the Women Teachers’ School, which was founded the same year, and she will continue this work in the following three years, and then lead its construction in 1934. The school had 500 students, and before the construction of its own building, it worked in often poor conditions. The design brief given to the Ministry of Construction encompassed a school with student housing. The building was intended to have 15 classrooms, offices for the principle, secretary and teachers, kitchen and dining hall, as well as a series of specialised cabinets: reading halls, halls for crafts with tables for sewing, drawing halls with rooms for models, singing halls. Additionally, a library, room for teaching equipment, auditorium, performance hall, gymnastics hall and infirmary were also envisioned. The housing was supposed to provide space for 300 students, with rooms with up to 10 beds.  

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Faculty of Pedagogy in Belgrade

Jovanka Bočić Katerinić shaped this ambitious program into a four-storey building with a central courtyard. After several alterations, the final design was approved in 1932. The student housing and apartment for the principal were abandoned, and the building consisted of 15 classrooms, performance hall, gymnastics hall, two libraries, seven cabinets, offices, dining hall and auxhiliary spaces. The beginning of construction was covered by Belgrade press, writing about two women leading constructions of two important school buildings, both in Queen Natalia street: Jovanka Bončić Katerinić was building the Women Teachers’ school and Milica Krstić The Second Girls’ High School.

The Faculty of Pedagogy building is located on the corner of two streets. This corner position was used to create an L-shaped building, with a central courtyard. The facade is a symbiosis of neoclassical and modernist architecture, with a typically modernist main entrance. The modernist features of the building are reflected in the simplicity of the facade surfaces and the uniformity of openings, while the neoclassical features can be found in its symmetry and the emphasised horizontals on the facade.

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Veterinarski fakultet u Beogradu

In 1939 the decision was made to build the new building for the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Belgrade, in a location opposite of the Karadjordje’s park and close to the planned complex of buildings intended for the Medical Faculty and institutes. Despite concerns raised by architects Momir Korunović and Jovan Ranković to the planned location of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine because of the intersection of important boulevards and the vicinity of city center, the decision wasn’t changes and the project was entrusted to Jovanka Bončić Katerinić, with the task to pay special attention to the apprearance of the building that was to become the ornament of that part of the city. In addition to architect Bončić Katerinić, architects Rihard Mataušek and Stanko Kliska worked on the same space, in charge of the buildings of livestock hospital and maternity clinic. Jovanka was in charge of the central most representative building of the complex, situated at the street line of the Liberation Boulevard (Bulevar Oslobođenja).

The Faculty of Veterinary Medicine is a three-story structure, with two underground levels, shaped like the letter E. This building too is monumental, characterised by emphasized middle and side wings. Here too the program is a contemporary school building, with offices, amphitheatre with galleries, cabinets for practical work and restaurant for students. Part of the building are also specific programs, such as the Anatomy institute with the dissection hall and the Pathology institute with specially designed cold storage. The building houses a total of six institutes with their own museums, libraries, amphitheatres, laboratories, operation halls, dark chambers and other specific rooms.

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The entrance of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Belgrade

The facade is simple and without decoration, with uniform rows of window openings. The central entrance and side wings are emphasized. This building too demonstrates the architect’s skill in marrying the academic symmetry of the plan and the modernist spirit of the exterior’s finish. Both university buildings are characterised by simplicity, in which form and proportion, devoid of decoration, are sufficient to accomplish a monumental expression.

In addition to these two large projects, Jovanka Bončić Katerinić also headed the constuction of the building of the Law Faculty in Belgrade, the work of architect Petar Bajatović, designed the hospital in Despotovac and the recontruction of Secondary school in Smederevo.

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Secondary School in Smederevo

In 1934 – 35,major work was done on the extension and reconstruction of the Secondary School in Smederevo, the building that is today one of the town’s symbols. The original building was designed by architect Milorad Ruvidić in 1904, in academic style, but over time the school needed more space. The project by architect Bončić-Katerinić conserved the original building as one wing of the new, extended structure. Another wing was added, and a massive central main entrance with the auditorium on the upper floor. The new building is neoclassical, with emphasised columns at the front and a massive roof balustrade adorned with male and female reclining figures. A strict rhythm and uniform sequence of solid and void is consistently applied on the facade, in accordance with the principles of Beaux-Arts architecture.

Another of her important works is the project for reconstruction of the main building with bath and spa in Banja Koviljača, a spa town close to Loznica in western Serbia. The construction of the spa hall in Banja Koviljača was started before the First World War based on design by Dragutin Maslać and Vladimir Popović, and was definitely finished according to the project by Jovanka Bončić Katerinić and Milan Minić. This building is the most representative in the spa complex, with architecture elements and decorations based on historic orders. The interior details, staircases and candelabras were designed by Nikolai Krasnov.

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Bath and spa at Banja Koviljača

Jovanka Bončić Katerinić also designed the building of the mud bath in the same complex, also started before the First World War and constructed during 1940-ies.

In addition to her work at the Ministry, Jovanka Bončić Katerinić also successfully participates at architectural competitions. Together with Andrei Katerinić, Jovan Ranković and Anđelija Pavlović she won first award in 1930 at the competition for the regional Palace and administration building in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Both buildings were designed in the serbian-byzantine style, in accordance with the context of the main church of Holly Trinity.

She was awarded several times during her employment at the Ministry of construction. In 1928 she received the Medal of St.Sava of 5th Order, and in 1938 the medal of the Yugoslav crown. She continued working at the Ministry on smaller tasks during the occupation, and retired in 1945. Her husband also had a long career in Belgrade. Architect Katerinić was employed in 1924 at the Technical direction of the Belgrade Municipality, where he worked until his retirement in 1950. He designed the building of the music school Stanković in Dečanska street and the building of the Secondary technical school in Vojislava Ilića street.

The bizarre anecdote related to the death of Jovanka Bončić Katerinić, in Belgrade in 1966, is mentioned in the notes of Divna Đurić Zamolo. Due to illness she was laying and had the habit of smoking in bed. She died in a fire she had caused herself by falling asleep with a lit cigarette.

The first centennial of her graduation in Darmstadt was recently marked. What importance Jovanka Bončić holds at the German “city of science” is illustrated by the fact that one of the University awards, as well as a street on campus, both bear her name. The award “Jovanka Bončić” was established in 2014 for women with special scientific contributions in the fields of materials and geoscience.  

Tekst: Milena Zindović

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