Despite the fact that the student accommodation facilities complex “Student City” is one of the oldest student dormitories in Belgrade, today it constitutes a modern student campus that provides accommodation and meals to students of higher education institutions (faculties, academies and colleges of vocational studies) founded by the state of Serbia and located at the territory of the city of Belgrade. In the organizational sense, the Student City is a specific unit within the system of the Institute Student Center Belgrade.
Student City is the largest student campus in the Balkans. It was built after the Second World War, between 1948 and 1955. Zagreb architect Drago Korbar is mentioned as the designer of the facilities of the Student City.
The Student City has four student dormitories with basic supporting facilities (each of them has two wings - G and F), including a student restaurant, grill restaurant, shops, a sport hall, outdoor sport fields, a boiler room, and some professional services: security, sports and recreation, technical services, telecommunication, transport, and information technologies. Each of the dormitories operates as a separate entity regarding its organization and management (every dormitory has its own director), just the same as student dormitories outside the Student City. At the entrance of each of the dormitories there is a porter’s office that works 24 hours a day. Every dormitory has reading rooms, drawing rooms, TV halls and laundromats. The dormitories also house student clubs and associations (student organizations, handball, football, karate and chess clubs, photo and literary clubs, society of gusle players and similar), Student City TV, and a photocopy service. A part of accommodation capacity in the Dormitory 1 operates as a hostel, while the F wing contains the local hospital that belongs to the Student Polyclinic. Premises of the Academic Cultural Artistic Association “Zikica Jovanovic Spanac” are located in the G wing of Dormitory 3, while the post office is available in the F wing. Special segments and various contents in the dormitories complement each other, making the Student City what it is - a specific environment that is completely dedicated to life and work of students that inhabit it.
The Student City also contains the Student’s City Cultural Center (with a large reading room, the main hall for musical, theatrical and film programs, a small hall intended for conferences, ateliers, summer stage, and a bar), but this facility does not belong to the Institute Student Center Belgrade.
First plans for construction of a student complex with 4,500 beds were made in 1947. In a swampy area between Zemun and Belgrade, on 11 April 1948, youth work brigades began the post-war construction of Novi Beograd. The Student City was one of the first complexes that were built.
Since the conditions of student life in Belgrade at the time were extremely unfavorable, and since there was a dire need to create additional accommodation capacity, youth work actions were planned with the aim to build 4 dormitories of the Student City in 1948. However, seven years passed between the beginning of construction and its completion. Construction of the student city was in large part performed by students who participated in youth work actions (according to some data, 95% of 10,000 construction workers were the participants of youth work actions, both boys and girls). The dormitory buildings became occupied in stages - in winter of 1951, students moved in Dormitory III, which was the first completed building in the complex. Dormitory II was completed in the same year, while Dormitories III and IV were fully completed in 1955. G wing had six floors (GF + 5), while F wing had seven floors (GF + 6). Without doubt, construction of the Student City was one of the largest construction projects of the Belgrade University.
Figure 3 A view of the Student City in construction from the direction of the west, from today’s Studentska Street, 1952.
Figure 4 A view of the Student City in construction from the location of the SRC “11. April”. | ©Branibor Debeljković
In some of the buildings, numerous problems were solved only after the students have already moved in. In the autumn of 1952, the dormitory 4 had 8 showers, 2 bathtubs, 4 washbasins and boilers used to heat water - 72 water-consuming devices in total - while 1,000 students lived in it.” (Mitrovic, 2002)
By the end of the fifties, the Student City had 5,340 regular residents and a certain number of so-called “illegals”. Very soon, foreign students appeared in the Student City. They mostly stayed in rooms with two beds together with a Yugoslavian student, which allowed them to better familiarize themselves with the country and its people. The criteria for students became stricter each year, but despite that, the number of students looking for accommodation was on the increase.
The Student City in Novi Beograd was officially founded on the basis of the decision adopted by the Government of the People’s Republic of Serbia on 25 September 1952. The main goal of the Student City was to provide the regular students of the Belgrade University, colleges and academies with accommodation and allow them to comfortable conditions for their work and studies. On 2 June 1958, it was registered with the People’s Board of the Municipality of Novi Beograd as an independently financed institution, “Student Dormitory - Student City, Novi Beograd”, with the University as its founder. The dormitory was managed by a managing board and the director.
Figure 5 Student City, 1957. Source: Student City Archives
Since its very beginnings, the Student City had a specific social life of its own. During the first decade after its founding, it became a central hub for student solidarity and sharing of experiences and opinions, as well as the revolutionary spirit. Famous student protest of 1968 began on the night between June 2-3 in front of the Block I of the Student City.
The Student’s City Cultural Center was constructed almost two decades after the very first buildings of the complex. Its planning began at the moment when it became necessary to take the heat out of students’ protests and provide the students with better conditions.
The dormitories were always filled to capacity and their rooms were often overcrowded (fourth bed was added in rooms that were originally intended for three beds), apart from the well-known and traditional problem with “illegals”. Today, students’ needs in their studies and their work are given a lot of attention and each of the dormitories has reading rooms, some of which have been converted into drawing rooms used by students of technical and artistic faculties.
Associations and clubs that exist today in the Student City were mostly founded during the fifties. One of them is the ACAA “Zikica Jovanovic Spanac”, which today has its own premises with all necessary facilities in the G wing of Dormitory 3.
Initially, regarding organization of accommodation units, the dormitories had shared sanitary facilities (with washbasins and toilets) at each floor, while showers were available in the central bathroom located in the Boiler Room facility with around 100 showers. The Student City complex got its present-day appearance during the reconstruction that took place between 1985 and 1997. During the reconstruction, mansard roofs were added, which allowed an increase in the accommodation capacity of each section, as well as elevator cores in the form of annexes to the buildings, while all rooms were equipped with sanitary facilities and kitchenettes.
Since the eighties of the last century, the quality of accommodation and meals available to students - a part of the boiler room has been reconstructed, allowing central delivery of hot water, the central bathroom in the Boiler Room facility was transformed into a Sports Hall, and sport grounds were newly arranged with an open gym as well as running and walking tracks.
Opinions about the Student City
“Although all buildings are very similar, students are of the opinion that some blocks are better than the others, including some rooms. Rooms are adapted to the number of people that will live in them. They have bathrooms, as well as kitchenettes. Students are allowed to decorate their rooms in accordance with their tastes and create an environment that will suit them. Of course, their family and friends are allowed to visit them in their new little homes. Everything is tightly controlled to ensure students’ safety, and all visitors are required to pass through the reception desk. If someone has a visitor, such a visit must be reported and a personal ID is then left at the reception desk - an ID card or a student card.”
“Young people from all regions of former Yugoslavia, today Serbia, have been coming together at this place for more than 60 years. We will find out more about the evolution of the environment in which student life took place, the ways in which they spent their free time together, the changes in the students’ standard of living, and the transformation of the functionality of the architectural complex in which they have lived. Of course, each of these segments was determined by the prevailing cultural background of the period during which the photographs were made, which is evidenced by posters on the walls of rooms, students’ clothes, and their relationship towards photography and its role as one of the instruments of memory.
We will also find out many things that constitute the oral history of the Student City, including many interesting details of today’s life. This information will allow us to discover recognizable spots inside this settlement, whose meaning is unavailable to non-residents. For example, we were informed that there used to be the so-called Fifth Block in the nearby park, which used to be a place for meeting and spending time together at the time when the accommodation facilities blocks were divided into sections for male and female students. We also realize that nowadays there are places that are recognized among students by certain names, such as integration plateau, i.e. park in front of Block 1, where foreign students usually gather and hang out with local students; island of longest friendships, i.e. part of the green area near the highway exit, as well as many other secret spots and landmarks such as Circle - the intersection in the middle of the square, near the fountain, the place were students ponder daily where to go next: to the reading room, on benches, to the restaurant or somewhere outside the Students City.”
Life in Students City between 1950s and Today, www.vice.com
Photographs and audio interviews related to life in the Student City between 1951 and today are archived within the online collection “Oni žive” (They: Live) at the international collaborative digital platform Topoteka - https://they-live-belgrade.topoteka.net.