In Stone and Glass

Drilling sounds and yellow cranes are becoming an all too familiar sight across Zagreb.  Pausing along the promenade encircling the old town, standing over the city, I trace the multiple changes taking place.

The inner city is terracotta rooftops and baroque domes. But further out it’s only glass and concrete. Even from here I can see the cranes strain, laboriously lifting raw materials to form unappealing blocks. They are no match to the old, depressing communist buildings, no they are almost stunning in comparison, but in an empty, soulless way. On the far left, close to the horizon, the steel frame of one of the commercial buildings catches the sun and throws out blinding sparks. I squint and turn back to the domes of the past.

But even at the heart of the city, the drilling machines have managed to sneak in. On Illica, the main street, the ground trembles, the soft white and cream trim on the old buildings are coated with dirt and the gargoyles spend sleepless nights as a new shopping mall rises. The project has taken a while; there have been protests, but work has resumed. They say the integrity of the old centre will be maintained, but no one is sure. Like me, many fear that in this mad dash to modernize the city is replacing its ghosts and legends with shiny, lifeless glass panes.

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14 thoughts on “In Stone and Glass

  1. I wrote a similar post on my blog with the a major company’s proposal to erect a 15-storey building downtown…a monster of a sky-rise by the city’s standards. Modernization is good, in small amounts I think.

    • Candice, just read your post. Sigh! Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for modernizing; can’t argue with working elevators and perfect plumbing. But I’m guessing all these brilliant minds can figure out how to maintain architectural integrity (especially in an area where traditional architecture dominates). Glass and steel are great, but so are brick and stone. On a side note, I stumbled across this piece, might interest you.

  2. It seems the new never has the character of the old. One of the things I loved best about Europe was the centuries-old buildings. I hope they don’t become dwarfed or obliterated by modernization.

    • I think it’s because modern buildings are so generic, they are the same in the United States as they are in Zagreb or Mumbai. It doesn’t say anything about the place or its history or culture.

  3. I have to agree that a lot of modern housing tends to seem soulless. I don’t know what the new buildings look like where you are, but there’s a certain contrived looked to a lot of new housing in California. In San Francisco it pains me to see an old Victorian go down and be replaced with uber moderness 😦

  4. I’m right there with you Neha. I’m a bit of a romantic, but I just get so disheartened when I see modern buildings being built that destroy or compromise most historical aesthetics. Part of the reason I love to travel is to ruminate in architectural beauty. Thanks for this beautiful piece. It really expresses the quiet tragic part of modernization.

  5. I could read on forever. Which takes me back to the very reason why I prefer reading blogs. And here I’ve stumbled upon a smashing one, with sharp reality that nearly stings, and one that echoes both my thoughts and fears of everyday life in my beautiful Zagreb, while I watch its historical arch. integrity being reduced to a modern-wannabe freakshow. Respect!

  6. You know what ? I had never heard of this place called Zagreb till I landed on your blog.

    I echo your views here. The old buildings have their own charm. They are like human beings… they tell a story which is missing in new buildings or place.

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