This week’s field trip takes us to the nation of Croatia, where Jacob, our newest intern, recently spent some time. After a steep, cramped and bouncy ride in the back seat of a friend’s Yugo, Jacob and his Croatian counterparts found themselves facing a strikingly odd mirrored structure – dilapidated yet dignified – overgrown with weeds.

They were standing in front of the Petrova Gora Partisan Monument, the focal point of a memorial complex dedicated to the partisan fighters who used the mountain as a field hospital and hideout during Yugoslavia’s resistance in World War II. In the late 1970’s, Tito, Yugoslavia’s President, commissioned fellow countrymen Vojnin Bakić (sculptor) and Berislav Šerbetić (architect) to create the monument. What they completed in 1981 was a building unlike anything many Croats had seen before.

Entirely shrouded in 3’x20’ stainless steel panels, the reinforced concrete structure is made up of six external parts, organically shaped, devoid of openings, and quite baffling to the eye. On first glance, one might be reminded of a Gehry-inspired design, something deconstructivist, expressive, and full of questions. Since its creation, it has had quite a history…

Petrova Gora existed as a “functioning” monument from 1981 until 1991 when the area fell into Serbian control in the Croatian War of Independence. Atop one of the highest ridges in the region, the monument was used as a military base where (supposedly) rockets had been fired into nearby cities. By 1995, the Croatian army had regained control of the region, and the monument was utilized as a field hospital for wounded soldiers. Following the end of the conflict, the monument received very limited attention and continued a gradual decline.

At the time of Jacob’s visit, the building was facing serious neglect and disrepair. Many of the large stainless panels had been removed, either by wind or by human hand, and the recent past was still very much present inside. Floors that once welcomed families into a history museum were littered with military jackets, stretchers, and decaying medical supplies.

Today it sits as a mysterious, haunting object; a reflective shell sans function (albeit the television and mobile transmitters atop the roof).

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