Let’s continue our trip to the little known parts of Belgrade with the Genex Tower (Geneks Kula in Serbia, aka Western City Gate (Zapadna Kapija Beograda). We will discover today one of the symbols of Novi Beograd, and its brutalist architecture. A symbol still visible, but now almost abandoned.
When it comes to Novi Beograd, people usually think about unfriendly, badly designed decaying Communist buildings, cohabiting with cold modern business skyscrapers, some of them on arrested development for years and years now.
Well, to be honest, it’s a pretty accurate description of the district. However, it’s far from being uninteresting, as it’s one of the greatest examples of Socialist brutalist architecture. Among them, the Genex Kula is probably one of the most fascinating, and the most visible.
With its two pillars/towers and its revolving restaurant, you have the feeling to face a UFO. Landed that landed near the motorway, its occupants still don’t really understand what to do and how to leave this place. In the meantime, what was once the best engine of the galaxy became obsolete.
Let’s go back in the 70’s, when the project start. Back in this time, one of Yugoslavia’s main firm, General Export, usually abbreviated Genex (or Geneks), wanted to get headquarters matching their power. Back in the time, it was indeed one of the biggest firms of the country, specialized in exports and imports, of mainly anything. From goods to services, from airlines to restaurants, the company was in every fields, every ways. A few years later, it even managed to bring Mc Donald’s to Yugoslavia in 1988, making the country the first communist state to host this symbol of capitalism.
The Tower was therefore meant to be the symbol of the company’s power, but as well a symbol of Belgrade, built big enough to be seen from kilometres around, even from the airport. It even got a very symbolic name: the Western Gate of Belgrade (Zapadna Kapija Beograda), a response to the Eastern Gate, built a few years before on the other side of the city.
The choice of the architect was, as well, pretty symbolic: they called for the project one of the most famous from the time, a leader in the Brutalist movement, Mihajlo Mitrovic.
Three years later, in 1980, the project was completed: one tower made of 30 floors of flats, and one tower made of 35 floors of offices, 140m high, and its luxury restaurant at the top. The second tallest building of Belgrade was born.
The symbolic of power of this edifice, however, started quickly to fade, as Yugoslavia in the 80’s started to fall into an economic crisis, that quickly became a political crisis with the implosion of the country. The successive embargos, associated to the failed economic transition from the 90’s continued to damage the activities of General Export. Despite attempts to revive the company after the fall of Milosevic, the descent into hell continued in the 2000’s: the company was simply too obsolete, after having missed decades of economic transformation in the rest of the former communist countries. Genex offices became more and more empty, progressively shutting down. The restaurant closed in 1999, and the company finally ceased most of its activities in 2009.
Since then, the office tower remained empty and abandoned, while people are still living in the flats. The edifice is for sale, even though experts doubt about the sale potential, as the building not anymore up to any modern business standard.
Geneks tower still remains a place of interest, if you’re interested in Communist architecture. Given I am, I went there on a Sunday afternoon. While the business tower is now completely closed, it’s definitely possible to climb the inhabited one, which I did.
The elevators work perfectly. Despite their renovations, these are still the original ones, which is, according to some journalists, a pride for its manufacturer, Otis, given the extremely bad maintenance it suffered for decades.
The inside of the tower, however, is not that interesting (except if you have the chance of being invited to one of the residents’ flats). You can still have an idea of the breathtaking view, from the tiny windows located at every floor in the stairs.
Now that I have visited the most accessible part of the tower, I see a greater challenge: entering the empty tower, legally. Some journalists managed to do it a few years ago, as the tower is now used as an antenna for GSM operators, and as a giant billboard. I thus will come back for sure, sooner or later. Novi Beograd’s alien, for sure, won’t escape in the meantime!