Atelier LIK: Success supported by female solidarity

Waiting for a flight for your summer destination, or simply by walking around the Belgrade airport to kill time while waiting for a flight, you probably noticed the spacious hall of the old airport building – on a square base, with a geometrical roof, a now glazed atrium, marble wall linings and a modernist mural above the entrance, this hall radiates a different atmosphere than the rest of the Terminal. You probably didn’t know the project and construction of this building marked the beginning of a successful Belgrade architectural office Atelier LIK, which was founded and led by women.

About Atelier LIK I found out straight from its founders, Sofija Nenadović and Vesna Matičević, two of five women who started this successful practice. Enjoying a conversation with them, one Saturday afternoon on a balcony high above Dušanova street, I learned the story of a long lasting fruitful female architectural collaboration, which was in time forgotten by the professional and wider public.

From left to right Sofija Nenadović, Dušanka Menegelo, Nada Filipon, Vlajko Ivković

Winning the competition for the airport building in Surčin was an excuse to formalize a collaboration that started several years before, and was preceded by a long lasting aquaintance and friendship. Sofija Nenadović, Vesna Matičević, Nadežda Filipon Trbojević and Dušanka Menegelo Aćimović were the core of this group and their mutual collaboration, as well as their still active friendship, resulted in a successful business and a numerous projects and built work by Atelie LIK. All four were the same generation, born in 1928. Sofija and Nada, two school friends, enrolled in architecture school together in 1946, Dušanka and Vesna enrolled in 1947.

Their professional collaboration started while they were working together in the architectural office OBLIK (Form).  By day we worked in the office, at night we worked on competitions – Sofija and Vesna remember today. Among the young architects in the office, male and female, a friendship as well as healthy competition was formed. The male team: Slobodan Janić, Zoran Petrović, Braca Bravačić and Milan Palisaški, started entering and winning competitions. We said: They are not better than us, the four of us can do that too! Inspired by the success of the male colleagues, and perhaps a little bit out of female spite, they formed their own female group and started work on the competitions. Success came from the very beginning – their first competition entry wins first award for the design of an Elementary school in Niš (1954.).

The most important construction design they did together, with colleagues Mateja Nenadović and  Vladislav Ivković, was the development of the design for the ODEON movie theater by architect Ratomir Bogojević, in the architetctural office of the construction company Neimar, which was headed by his wife Nada Bogojević. They became experienced architects, but finished their collaboratios with Neimar. Dissapointed by the business model of the large company, after winning the New Airport project, they started their own practice.

Atelier LIK was founded in 1957. by Sofija Nenadović, Dušanka Menegelo Aćimović, Nadežda Filipon Trbojević, Vesna Matičević, Vladislav Ivković with Nada Bogojević as its first director. The offices from the beginning until closing were in a small house right opposite the ODEON movie theater.

Equality for women, we had it in that moment – after the war – they tell me.

In 1974., after Nada Bogojević retired, Sofija Nenadović becomes director of Atelier LIK, and remains at this position until her own retirement in 1987. Nada Filipon and Dušanka Menegelo as well retired form Atelier LIK, while Vesna Matičević transfers first to the Urban Planning Institute  after finishing the Belgrade airport project, and then to the Heritage Protection Institute. Vlajko Ivković left the atelier to teach at the Architectural Faculty in Belgrade.

But let’s go back to the beginning. In 1957 the design team consisting of Sofija Nenadović, Dušanka Menegelo Aćimović, Nada Filipon Trbojević, Vesna Matičević and Vlajko Ivković wins the first award at the competition for the Terminal building of the new Belgrade Airport. With smiles they remember this great success and as a funny anecdote explain why the code of the competition entry was 00001. It was four women and one man! – they say through laughter. Sofija emphasizes that they were and already formed team of authors and had decided to participate in the airport competitions, when they invited  Vlajko Ivković as a friend to work with them.

After winning the competition, Sofija Nenadović spent 6 months of professional practice working in the Paris studio of architect Henri Vicariot, designer of the Paris airport Orly. Vicariot had inspected the Belgrade airport project as well, and her Parisian colleagues attended the opening of the Belgrade airport. After Sofija, Vlajko Ivković as well spent some time practicing in the Vicariot studio.

During airport construction, they were real stars – partially for being young architects, partially for being four women. Newspapers regularly reported on their unusual team. The very existence of Atelier LIK was considered extraordinary. At the time privately owned architecture offices were scarce, so Atelier LIK had the status of an agency. The fact that the young women who led it were not members of the Communist party, but still managed to acquire large commissions and successfully maintain the business until retirement, was considered curious. Shortly after the last one of them retired from the office, it closed in the beginning of the 90-ties, proving that it was their creative and life energy that had sustained it for so long.

Photo from the opening of the Airport Belgrade in 1962 when the authors were awarded the 7th July Award. From left to right Dušanka Menegelo Aćimović, Vesna Matičević, Sofija Nenadović and Nadežda Filipon Trbojević giving a statement to the reporter Omer Karabeg.

The Belgrade Airport was open in 1962, and in the same year the authors were awarded the 7th July Award for the project. At the time the airplanes didn’t pollute as much, and watching them land and take off was a favorite pass-time for many citizens of Belgrade, so the airport building was design to accommodate: it had a central atrium with a tropical garden, a runway restaurant and a public terrace for watching airplanes. Coming to the airport was like having a picnic, schools would bring kinds to spend time there.

Project for the airport in Osijek, Croatia

After the success with the Belgrade airport,  Atelier LIK produced competition entries or projects for another 11 airports in Yugoslavia. The teams was not always complete, they were working in different combinations: the Osijek Airport was designed in 1970 by Sofija Nenadović and Nada Filipon, Podgorica Airport which is also built, was designed by Vesna Matičević, Dušanka Menegelo and Vlajko Ivković. At the competition for the Dubrovnik Airport, Vlajko Ivković won with his designed, but it was Sofija Nenadović who developed the project for construction. However, in professional circles, it was usually Vladislav Ivković, later a professor at the Faculty of Architecture in Belgrade, who was known as the „airport expert“.

During their entire career the women of Atelier LIK successfully participated in architectural competitions. In 1966 Sofija Nenadović, Nada Filipon, Vesna Matičević and Dušanka Menegelo won the second award at the competition for the General hospital in Sremska Mitrovica.

In 1970  Sofija Nenadović, Nada Filipon, Vesna Matičević, Dušanka Menegelo and Vladislav Ivković win the second award at the competition for the extension of the Belgrade Airport (the first award was taken by Srbijaprojekt with a project on which Ivanka Raspopović worked, among others). According to Sofije Nenadović and Vesna Matičević, without consideration for their successful first project, Atelier LIK was not originally invited to participate in this competition: When we found out about the competition we were very annoyed that they left us out. It was Vlajko who said that we should participate regardless, they can not refuse us once we submit the project. Sometimes it’s good to have a man on the team, we would have stayed annoyed and given up. And we got the second prize. The first prize went to  Srbijaprojekt which blindly followed the instructions of the client, their project was a safe bet. I know Ivanka (Raspopović) worked on it too and she later said she was never satisfied with it.

In 1978 Atelier LIK wins first award at the competition Slavija I for the architectural and urban design of the block between streets Beogradska, Kralja Milana, Svetozara Markovića and Njegoševa. This complex invited competition had several phases, and the first one gathered all of the most important offices of the time: Directorat for construction and reconstruction of Belgrade headed by Brana Jovin, Energoprojekt’s team headed by Milica Šterić, Institute of Architecture and Urbanism of Serbia headed by Uroš Martinović and Zoran Petrović, Projektbiro headed by Mihailo Mitrović, Srbijaprojekt’s team headed by Slobodan Mihailović etc. Four projects passed to the finals of the competitions: project by studio Arhitekt, the Directorat for construction and reconstruction of Belgrade, the Institute of Architecture and Urbanism of Serbia and Atelier LIK. In the second stage of the competition the projects were developed, complemented and rationalized, but again no project was awarded, and the projects were ranked. First place was taken by Atelier LIK, and together with the second place project by IAUS, they were invited into the third stage of the competition, and were awarded the first prize. Atelier LIK spent the next 10 years developing the project for construction for this huge mixed use complex of 120.000 m2, whose realization was halted in the 80-ties. Sofija still feels sorry for the time and effort spent on a project that never got built, although the jury had evaluated the project as „a contemporary solution that also contributes to the development of the architectural and planning thought“.

Atelier LIK continued to design the space of the Slavija square through another three competitions that followed: Competition for the plateau in front of the National bank in 1986, Competition for the Beobanka building on Slavija square in 1989, and Competition for the Dafiment bank building in 1991.

Other the these noted successes in competitions, among Sofija Nenadović’s projects the following projects stand out: reconstruction of the automated telephone switchboard Dunav in Charlie Chaplin street in 1970, the automated telephone switchboard Dedinje, residential complex with a kindergarten in  Braće Kovač street in Belgrade in 1971 and the residential block with 110 apartments in Vojvode Brane street in Belgrade.

ATC Dunav danas

In 1966 Sofija Nenadović designed the residential building in Smederevo, work that in the moment of crisis was brought to the atelier by Milica Šterić. An interesting anecdote is related to this project, illustrating the challenge of achieving work-life balance. Sofija Nenadović did not follow through on the project because of her pregnancy, and Dušanka Menegelo took over. During construction, Sofija was on maternity leave: One day someone knocked on my door. I was wondering who is it now, and at the door was an entire delegation from Smederevo. The design had glass railings on the balconies and they came very seriously to ask me to approve the glass color. I didn’t know where to turn, the baby kept crying, and I had little interest in the building. I told them put any color, and they left happily. Later I realized the catastrophe – they had put violet glass railings on a red brick facade.

Stambeni blok u ulici Braće Kovač u Beogradu

Vesna Matičević in her career emphasized her long-term successful work in urban planning. In the Urban Planning Institute in Belgrade she worked on the Master plan for the Airport, which defined the second phase of its development; the plan for the By-pass from the Vuk monument to the Saint Sava temple; the plan for 50km of the Belgrade Waterfront from 1976; Detailed urban plan for New Belgrade’s Block 19a was nominated for the October award (the block project was later developed based on the plan); the plan for the Železnik settlement.

Idejna rešenja Sofije Nenadović za blokove A-13 i A-14 na Vračaru

It was her work on the plan for the By-pass from the Vuk monument to the Saint Sava temple from 1971 shows collegiality and solidarity. The development of the plan in the Urban Planning Institute in Belgrade was led by Vesna Matičević, while the architects of Atelier LIK are working on the conceptual designs for the surrounding blocks. Sofija Nenadović designed an office building and the surrounding public space around it in the blocks A-13 and A-14 between Njegoševa, Proleterskih brigada, Kursulina and Koče Kapetana streets.

Among the built work of Nada Filipon Trbojević the following project stand out: residential building on the corner of Njegoševa, Baba Višnjina and Koče Kapetana streets in Belgrade, Kindergarten „Mira Simić“ in Aranđelovac and the interior of the Post office in Bulevar kralja Aleksandra street 76-78.

Among the built work of Dušanka Filipon Aćimović the following project stand out: Post office „Jajinci“ near Belgrade, Post office and apartments in Dušanovac, Belgrade, extension of the office building „Mostogradnja“ in Belgrade, Terminal building of the Airport in Podgorica, the automated telephone switchboard in Karaburma, Belgrade and the interior of the post office in Karaburma..

Their friendship and collabration have evolved into a family friendship that still lasts. Sofija and Vesna see each other regularly, and with sadness remember their recently passed friend Nada Filipon: Nada had a great hand, she even drafted freehand, every letter was the same even without templates.

On longevity and good stamina in their eighties they say: Our advice is to always be surrounded by architects!

Special thanks to Miloš Nenadović for allowing me to meet and talk to two great ladies in architecture.

Text and photos: Milena Zindović

Archive photos and illustrations: from personal archive of Sofija Nenadović

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