Design Ecosystem in Belgrade

{🇷🇸} – Serbia: A Country in Transition

View over the New Belgrade district. Photo by Photo by Ivan Aleksic.

Serbia is not the kind of place that usually gets talked about… in general. With its reputation still somewhat damaged by the bloody Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, this Balkan country is still trying to heal its scars and find its place in today’s world. Today we will try to shed some light on Serbia and have a look at how design is contributing to shaping this nation.

Belgrade: Scarred, but Healing

There is no doubt that Belgrade, Serbia’s capital, and once the capital of the federated country of Yugoslavia, is a city that is still profoundly scarred and recovering from its bloody recent past. Belgrade was severely damaged during the NATO bombings of 1999, a consequence of the country’s involvement in the Yugoslav Wars, which took place for most of the 1990s.

The events of that time have had a strong impact on Belgrade as well as on its inhabitants, so it comes as no surprise that its consequences are still felt nowadays. Nevertheless, the willingness of the Belgradians to move forward and leave this dark, sad chapter of their history behind is just as strong, which has enabled their city to move in a radically different direction.

Nowadays, Belgrade is a place that shows all the different layers of its long history — and long is not used randomly here, as Belgrade is actually one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on the European continent. Throughout its history, the White City – that’s the meaning of the city’s name in the Serbian language – has been part of a plethora of different kingdoms and empires, a characteristic which has greatly shaped the country’s varied culture and image. Serbia is, in fact, thought to be one of those few places where East meets West, as in its culture one can trace elements of civilisations belonging to both groups that have left their mark at the time when Belgrade and Serbia were under their rule.

A City in Transition

Belgrade isn’t exactly a prime spot for design. It never has been and, frankly, it probably won’t be for the foreseeable future. That said, there are signs of a growing attention towards design, as more and more people seem to be developing an interest in it. 

Old storefront in Belgrade. Photo by Mirko Jeremić.

As the city becomes increasingly less run-down, city planners seem to have taken an interest in presenting the city in the best way possible, in order to attract both investors and tourists, as well as to help shed its less-than-flattering reputation it still holds in many circles. Design does of course come into effect when such overhauls want to be pushed forward, and Belgrade is no exception.

Recreating the urban identity of a city is never an easy task. Often, compromises have to be made in order to settle for an idea or a vision, instead of others. But, ultimately, something will prevail or will emerge as the natural or logical way to go about performing this task.

A different, yet no less complex, task is that of rebranding a city. And how on Earth do you rebrand a place like Belgrade, a city which has been stigmatised for quite a number of reasons due to relatively recent historical events… ?

Belgrade and its people are still figuring that out, and it’ll probably be some time until the process is complete.

Studying Design in Belgrade

While the possibilities aren’t exactly limitless, at present it is possible to obtain a degree in the various design niches from the main higher education institutions active in the city. At the city’s University of Arts (Univerzitet umetnosti u Beogradu), one can choose between different curricula from its Faculty of Applied Arts — graphic, interior, textile and industrial design are all offered, and so are more traditional fields of study such as ceramics, sculpture, scenography and painting.

The curriculum for both undergraduate and master design studies at the Belgrade University of Arts includes modules in graphic, industrial, interior, furniture and textile design, while the one for doctoral studies currently includes applied arts and design. Unfortunately, design programmes are at present only taught in Serbian, though the university has bilateral agreements with other institutions throughout Europe, Asia and North America, which allow student mobility.

Therefore, if you aren’t fluent in either Serbian, Croatian or Bosnian (these languages are all mutually intelligible), you might need to look for other options. There is a private university operating in the city, called the Megatrend University, that has a Faculty of Arts and Design. Sadly, this university does not have the best reputation in the country and has been at the centre of some controversies.

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Gianmarco Caprio / Content & Community Manager @ Phase

Content creator, editor and community manager at Phase.