Modern cities impress with the scale and number of inhabitants. More and more places on the planet are turning into megacities. This process is an irreversible phenomenon: people want to live in cities, have access to quality healthcare, social and administrative services, and earn good money. This is evidenced by a study by the Strategic Planning Agency GRAYLINE. According to experts, in 1950 there were only 29.6% of city dwellers in the world. Now there are 55.8% of them, and in 2050 there will be 66.4%. Cities as administrative units no longer have a choice: they have to develop, take care of infrastructure, come up with entertainment and build housing. Otherwise, their residents will not be happy.

As the city changes, so does the architecture. Neighbourhoods where new houses appear every year.Parts of the city that are strictly forbidden to be built on.Old factories that turn into creative spaces.New cultural and social sites that declare twenty-first century architectural style.The Dancing House in Prague. An incineration plant in Vienna. Krzywy Domek (crooked house) in Sopot, Poland. There are hundreds of them all over the world. Different artists have created them, they were built in different years, but they have something in common: they are a manifesto for the architectural development of our time. Free in design, sometimes strange, sometimes even incompatible with the surrounding world, they attract tourists, they are the pride of the locals.

The Dancing House in Prague

An incineration plant in Vienna

Krzywy Domek in Sopot

The story you are about to read is about the combination of new buildings with old architecture, about how closely the biography of a city is linked to the structures and to the biographies of the people who live in those cities. After all, without our heroes, this story wouldn’t make sense at all.


Before traveling to Bosnia and Herzegovina, I knew very little about this country. I could only recall Medjugorje, a kind of Christian Mecca. Thousands of believers visit the beautiful town in western Herzegovina, where the Virgin Mary appeared in the 1980s. I also recall that there was a brutal war in Bosnia at the end of the last millennium. Today, former enemies – Croats, Serbs and Bosnians – live “under one roof”. They have three presidents, a lot of administrations, foreign debts … They are not very happy to welcome foreign journalists, but I will find out about that a little later.

The first thing to note: Bosnia and Herzegovina is a very beautiful country with a unique mix of Western and Eastern architectural styles, mountains and lowlands, several religions and really cosy towns.

Road to the city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Second: there was indeed a bloody war, which, according to various estimates, claimed between 100,000 and 200,000 lives. One of its preconditions was the break-up of Yugoslavia. The Bosnian war lasted from 1992 to 1995. There were three sides to this conflict: the Serbs fought against the Bosnians and the Croats, who were at first allies but soon began to fight amongst themselves as well. In fact, the war ended with the signing of an international peace treaty, but morally, politically and socially it is still going on. There are now three peoples living on the same territory, who do not seem to be doing so willingly. Part of Bosnia and Herzegovina is, in particular, RepublikaSrpska, with its own language, flag and houses, which still stand burnt and destroyed along the roads.

A boy plays on a tank in the devastated Sarajevo neighborhood of Grbavica on April 22, 1996, after the siege of his city ended. Photo: Odd Andersen

Twenty years was not enough for this country to heal its wounds. No local people have succeeded, although in public their representatives shake hands with each other and know the language of the one with whom they are greeted.

Of course, architecture was also affected by the war. Photographs of old bombed-out houses will long be a sight to behold. Some of them have now been restored. But, looking at those buildings, one cannot help but be reminded of a randomphoto from the Internet.It is a photo of a building from Grbavica, a quarter of the city of Sarajevo, that was destroyed during the war.

‘Loris’ residential building in Grbavica. Photos by Jim Marshall / Barcroft Media

Someone was living in it, hanging laundry on the balcony, keeping chequered towels and porcelain dishes in the kitchen. And then, after the explosion, the building literally came down one wall, almost falling apart. Fortunately, it had been restored during the peace years. Has the figurative owner of the chequered towels returned to his home? The answer to the question whether the owners returned to the homes that had nearly been razed to the ground has not been given to me. This is not surprising, as there were 1.8 million internally displaced persons during the Bosnian war. Some chose another city or went abroad (Bosnian Serbs, for example, emigrated en masse to Germany), some returned to their old flats, and some chose new, newly built housing.

Sarajevo during the war and 15 years after it. Photos by Jim Marshall


All talk boils down to war

And for reason. According toALEPPO, four years of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital have taken 11,000 lives, including children. 80% of utilities – sewage, water supply, electricity – disappeared. Architecture was also badly damaged: 60% of buildings were damaged during the war.

“Around 430 buildings we had on the list that was drawn up in 2000. This is an estimate of the damage the war caused to Sarajevo’s registered monuments,” says architect Selma Karacevic. This damage can be seen with the naked eye, such as bullet and other weapon holes on the walls of houses.

Destroyed building in the center of Sarajevo today. Bullet marks are seen here and there

“Buildings are in much better condition now than they were after the war, of course. But I think we could have tried harder. A lot of work has already been done – restoration, reconstruction – but we still have a lot of vandalism and negligence in terms of preservation, getting proper permits, and so on, which also affects the space, the streets, the atmosphere,” says the architect.

But Sarajevo impresses with its architecture: there is a good mix of houses from different epochs. The city even has a so-called ‘crossroads of cultures’, a boundary between Austrian buildings and Ottoman houses. There’s a mosque on one side and a Catholic church on the other. A vintage shop in the Turkish part of town, a cosy restaurant in the Austrian part. Such a perfect mix attracts tourists. Dwelling houses are in a dilapidated state, without windows, but with inhabitants. And nearby you can see the first skyscraper in the Balkans. A city of contrasts – that’s exactly what Sarajevo is all about.

The first skyscraper in the Balkans and a destroyed building near it


Adnan Vlajčić was born in Sarajevo and lived here for almost forty years. That was the period of his childhood when the war was going on. That’s why Adnan spent part of his childhood in Germany. And when he came back here after the end of the armed confrontation, it was hard to get used to the ruined city. Adnan grew up, and with him grew a new, post-war Sarajevo. Gradually the situation improved, houses were rebuilt and Adnan started working as a tourist guide, first for the city council and then privately.

He likes to give tours of the city and talk a lot about it.

“Different eras and cultures are intertwined in Sarajevo,” says Adnan says with a smile. He loves the old, Ottoman part of the city. He likes to enjoy the coolness in the cozy courtyard of a former caravanserai. According to Adnan, Sarajevo is also characterised by a mix of old and new, with new houses and architectural trends emerging, but the process of modernisation will be a long one.

Adnan loves the historic part of the city

Caravanserai in the center of the city

Preserved authentic details of the antique Caravanserai

“We have a problem because a country that survived the war has a lot of problems. And one of the problems is the restoration of houses, because after the war people built structures without planning and permits. But I think this is easy to translate into a legal framework. In the last twenty years the city has been substantially rebuilt. This is important to know because Sarajevo was very destroyed. Now there are fewer destroyed buildings, there are more new houses. New shopping malls, a new city administration, which look European-style,” says Adnan.

Combination of old and new buildings. Sarajevo today

In general, Sarajevo is a very conservative city. Something strange and unusual in architecture is hard to find here, the perfect centre does not go beyond Austrian and Turkish styles, the new quarters are dotted with modern neat houses, a little further from the central part there are old buildings, very similar to the Soviet-style ones. The locals, like Adnan, love the historical part. They spend their free time there, sometimes have dinner in cozy restaurants, take a walk in the evening center.

A little further from the main street there is an unusual building – the old Bosniak Institute. It’s eye-catching: a house with glass inserts rises above the Turkish baths. New and old.Turkish and exclusively Bosnian.Two in one. I saw the institute building on the first day of our trip, and my heart pounded: we have found a perfect (and the only one here) example of a combination of past and modern epochs.


This institute was established in 1988 in Zurich, Switzerland. It was founded by a prominent Bosnian philanthropist, former Yugoslav partisan and emigrant AdilZulfikarpašić. He and his wife, Tetiana, dedicated half a century to collecting, classifying and systematising various materials about Bosnia and Herzegovina, its historical, cultural and literary heritage.

Adil Zulfikarpašić

Adil had a lifelong desire to move the institute to his native country. He was a dissident and an emigrant, so the dream was slowly realised abroad and within a few years Adil managed to turn a small institution into a centre of Bosnian cultural development, albeit in another country. In early 2001, the main funds of the institute were moved to Sarajevo, which is no small treasure for the whole country. The library, archive and art collection were moved from Switzerland to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Sarajevo Institute complex includes a library, an archive of documents, a video and audio archive, an art collection, research rooms, reading rooms and conference rooms. And the institute was housed in the buildings of… former Turkish baths.

Building behind this busy road is the Bosniak Institute

“Before the war there was a café here. This change of function started a long time ago. We were in a situation after the war where we had to deal with the remains of the hamam, that is, the baths, and turn it into a cultural institution. Architects are still arguing about what the building should have looked like. But the situation is better than it probably was 15 years ago”, says Selma.

Bosniak Institute from outside

Old photo of Turkish baths. Source:

Bosniak Institute from inside. Source:

The baths have been preserved, they still jut out among the neighbouring houses, but the structure behind them has been completed and inserts of solid windows were made. The building has become like a swallow’s nest. Now there is more space and light, and there are quite a few exhibits and displays inside.


 Twenty-five years have passed since the war ended, but when you walk around Sarajevo, it feels like less than a dozen years have passed – bullet holes still mark the walls of houses like open wounds. Sarajevo declares frankly and loudly: there was a bloody war here.

But even after the war, houses in the city have stood abandoned and destroyed for decades. And this is not some kind of highlight to attract the attention of tourists. The reason is more trivial: there is simply no money.

“After the war we had funds for restoration, but after 2007-2008 there was a drop in funding because of the world crisis. So for the last ten years we had about 2 million from investors for the restoration of monuments. Only two million euros for 10 years,” says architect Selma Karacevic.

Latin Bridge is one of Sarajevo’s most interesting attractions. It was here that the First World War began. As a member of the Serbian revolutionary youth organisationMladaBosna, the Bosnian GavriloPrincip killed Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia as they passed near this bridge. Because of this, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. That’s how it all started…

A beautiful bridge over the Miljacka River, the city museum behind it, the famous turn from behind which the car with the Archduke appeared, and next to it an old abandoned hotel, windowless and with painted walls, which slightly spoil the historical aftertaste.

“We had a very active reconstruction period after the war. But if you look at the damages today, many of them appeared because the houses were not well ‘healed’. That is, they were deteriorating little by little. So some of the damage on the houses is greater now than it was just after the war,” says Selma Karacevic.

Bosnia and Herzegovina does not have the money to renovate everything at once,  but here they are trying to do something here. For example, old heritage is primarily restored here, with funds allocated from the municipal, cantonal and federal budgets. A good example is the Vecnica building, the former town hall, from which Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia departed in 1914. 10 million euros were allocated for the renovation of this monument, almost all of which was provided by the European Union.

Building of Vijećnica. The center of Sarajevo today

Country of Wonders

Before travelling to Bosnia and Herzegovina, we sent enquiries to the country’s official structures. And then it was a surprise for us that almost all of them (!) refused to comment or at least give us information. When we arrived, the situation had not improved. We learned that there are several city councils in Sarajevo, a number of administrations, but thank God there was only one city mayor. We were sent from the canton to the federal level, from the highest level to the municipal level, no one wanted to talk to us about the money allocated for architecture, but everyone was talking about the war.

We were prepared for three presidents (a Bosnian, a Serb and a Croat, who take turns presiding over every eight months), but life had not prepared us for the fact that we would have to pound the doorsteps of all official and unofficial institutions to get at least some information. So the trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina on the topic of “architecture” was more like an investigation, where we put together a picture of the amazing but beautiful city of Sarajevo out of hundreds of puzzles.


The word that unites Bosnia and Ukraine is war.But if in the former country armed conflict took place over the entire territory, in mine the war continues only in two regions and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia. If you move further away from these territories, there is no hint of war, but it is also known and talked about.

Modern Ukraine tries to preserve architecture. There are monuments of local and national importance, and more than 1,000 sites across the country are under UNESCO protection. Funds for restoration and reconstruction are allocated from city, regional and state budgets. They are not enough to renovate all the facilities that need restoration at once. But small steps towards the reconstruction of the Ukrainian historic environment are quite sure.

Rynok Square in Lviv that is protected by UNESCO

This is well felt in the largest city in Western Ukraine, in Lviv. A lot of tourists come here every year, for example, in 2019 there were 2.5 million of them. Lviv is visited for its Galician cuisine, the historical heritage of Western Ukraine and its architecture, which is not inferior to that of European tourist centres.


A bustling city with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, crowds of students, beautiful (though sometimes too narrow) streets. Imagine them all gathering in the centre, on the pavement, with the tram passing by, the trumpeter at the Town Hall announcing the 12 o’clock, and street musicians playing nearby. That’s exactly what Lviv sounds like. But this city would probably not be so colourful if it not for the old Austrian buildings in the centre. Lviv has the largest number of historical and architectural monuments among Ukrainian cities – 2,500. In general, experts assess their condition as satisfactory.

“If we compare with other cities in Ukraine, we can say that in great [condition]. If we compare with cities abroad, then again, with which countries we are comparing. If it is the Balkans, there are so many contrasts in the Balkans themselves, if we compare Sarajevo, Zagreb, Ljubljana… They are different worlds, different attitude to monuments and to historical heritage. In my opinion, Lviv feels at a good average level, if you take such a general European context,”  says Anton Kolomyeytsev, Chief Architect of Lviv.

Lviv’s famous Rynok Square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is trying to preserve it. For example, for the replacement of wooden windows with metal-plastic ones, the architectural “malefactor” faces a fine of 170 thousand hryvnias. But another way can be found: the city council is ready to co-finance the restoration of windows and gates, so that the centre does not lose its historical charm. No new buildings can be built in this part, so the city centre is a coherent architectural ensemble, where each building has its own history. But do not think that Lviv is an old city without modern architecture. It’s just difficult for ordinary people to notice it.

“I see the combination of the old with the new at every step in Lviv, because in the interwar period, in the 1930s, there appeared very up-to-date buildings with the latest architecture; they were built right in the midst of 19th-century houses, and this is a constant contrast of different styles, different origins. Another thing is that it was done in such a cultural way that today only architectural connoisseurs, connoisseurs of these styles notice this juxtaposition of old and new,” says Anton Kolomyeytsev, the city’s chief architect.

UNESCO considers Lviv a special example of the combination of the architectural and artistic traditions of Eastern Europe, Italy and Germany.  This architecture has been preserved, and Rynok Square also offers plenty of entertainment for residents and tourists. Souvenir shops, restaurants, cosy old cafés with open terraces… That’s why there seems to be nothing better than a coffee on Rynok Square, especially during the warmer months.


Andrii Saliuk is chairman of the Lviv branch of the Ukrainian Association for the Protection of Monuments of History and Culture. He has spent his whole life in the city of Lviv, and all (at least conscious) of his life he has been interested in architecture. Now he tries to protect it. Andrii, of course, likes the historical centre of Lviv. That’s where we meet him. He says that the city centre has been preserved in its authentic form, but over the last century it has been adapted to the needs of locals. But this has been happening invisibly to our eyes.

“We see such a stratigraphy, a layering of certain styles or superstructures in certain times, when the city was developing, the city was changing, and there was a need for more space, more house”, says Andrii Saliuk.

Let’s take the example of the Black House located at 4 Rynok Square. An additional floor was added to it at the beginning of the 20th century, but now the building looks quite organic and does not stand out from the other buildings, easily fitting into the architectural ensemble and its high-rise boundaries.

The Black House at the Rynok Square

“That additional floor was added in the correct way, in the way that was considered appropriate and correct at the time, so it is perceived as a solid, single structure without the conflict of different periods,” says Andrii.

Most of the houses on Rynok Square look well maintained and comfortable. Of course, each of them has certain infrastructural problems that have to be addressed from time to time. But for the city to have a UNESCO zone means not only enjoying it, but also fighting for it.

“The entire modern architecture in historic spaces should be secondary, should be background, not aggressive, where the architect’s ego is so bulging that he wants to outshine the entire cultural, historical architectural heritage,” says Andrii.

And this is really the case in the city: near a UNESCO zone, one has managed to find a place for a … ‘toilet building’.


There was once a building on this site, erected in 1830. At the back of it was one of the city’s oldest cinemas. At different times it has had different names: Wanda, Bajka, Fata Morgana. Already in the 1990s, the cinema was named after the Ukrainian writer and poet Ivan Franko.

A building behind the monument is an old house of the first half of the XIX century destroyed later

In 1991, a big fire destroyed this house at 10 Mickiewicz Square. The burnt-out house, born in the 19th century, was painted by unknown people with quotations of Ukrainian authors during the festival “Vyvykh”, so it was called “vyvykhnytyi” (dislocated). In 1998, the destroyed house was dismantled and a new one built in 7 years. In the city it is called the most ugly, because the structure destroys the whole ensemble of Mickiewicz Square. And if you step back a little bit, the structure really reminds of a huge toilet bowl. The new house has replaced the old one, but it hasn’t added to the beauty of the city.

“Toilet Bowl” building erected on the place of an old house in the center of Lviv

“It’s such an ulcer on the face of the historic city. It hurts the eyes, it’s totally unacceptable, and you can’t do that,” Andrii Saliuk says indignantly.

There used to be a bank there, but now the building is rented out.

This is a sad city story about a building that could have completed a beautiful square, but thanks to modern architects it didn’t… But we have another story in store.  We didn’t have to go far to get it The house we’re going to tell you about is located right across the street from the ugly building.


The new doesn’t always mean that it is created today. Sometimes the new is a second breath for the old. Novation in the place of history.A combination of a long-standing foundation and re-growing walls.

“International charters say that in the case of expediency or restoration of historical space, it is absolutely realistic to reproduce historic buildings that were in a particular place. Not pseudo-style construction, but the actual reproduction of those buildings,” says Andrii Saliuk.

And there is such an example in Lviv – the building of a former hotel on Mickiewicz Square. Modest, it fits perfectly into the architectural ensemble, but has perhaps the most interesting history.

In 1804, one of the oldest hotels in the city of Lviv opened in this building, Hotel Yevropeiskyi. At that time the house had only one floor. For 22 years the hotel passed into the hands of another owner, who added another floor to it.

Mickiewicz Square. Hotel Yevropeiskyi is to the left (white building). Beginning of the XX century

The hotel was modified throughout the 19th century. In the 1870s it was ‘reformatted’ in a neo-Renaissance style and became very similar to what it is today.

In the 70s of XIX century, the hotel affectionately welcomed not only guests, but also employees of the printing house and bookshop, and there was also a restaurant in its courtyard. This place in the center of the city and on a wide square has always been crowded and elegant.

Restored building of the former Hotel Yevropeiskyi today

The worst thing that happened to Hotel Yevropeiskyi was in the 1930s. It was reconstructed, and after that the hotel bore little resemblance to the beautiful old building. Instead of neo-Renaissance, there was simple and slightly banal functionalism. This is how the hotel lived until the early 2000s.

Beginning of 2000s. Source: Фотографії старого Львова

After the turn of the millennium, the city decided that the building should be reconstructed. The architects decided to restore the house to its pre-1930s style. They took measurements, studied the descriptions of the old building and in six years they commissioned the house almost as we see it today. Except that instead of Hotel Yevropeiskyi it is now a bank! For Lviv it is a successful reconstruction experience.

Try to compare the look of the building in 1920 and in 2020


Ukraine is a country with many architectural monuments. Without these houses it is hard to “read” its history. Every year funds are allocated for renovation and restoration, and houses in historic parts of cities mostly look attractive. Yes, sometimes embarrassing things happen here, like the “ugly” house in the centre of Lviv.

There are examples of negative treatment of historic architecture in other regions too. For example, the central gastronome, which opened after World War II, in the capital of Ukraine.

The future gastronome is to the left. Source:

The history of this building dates back over 150 years. It was built back in the 19th century; the ground floor was stone and the second was wooden. In 1873, the owner of the manor, French merchant Jean-Baptiste Canet, demolished the house and created a new, three-storey and brick one in its place. There were shops on the ground floor and an inexpensive hotel on the other two floors. After World War II the shops were turned into Kyiv Central Gastronome. The building was declared a monument of architecture in 1994, and the condition of the house was constantly deteriorating.

The building was “sent” for a long renovation, which it never waited for.

On 20 June 2017, a fire broke out in the former gastronome building. The fire destroyed wooden partitions and spread from the first floor to the third floor and to the attic. The police treated it as arson.

The gastronome building in 2006. Source:

Now there are various renovation projects for the building. Earlier, there were plans to add several floors to the gastronome, but this intention was rejected. The latest idea is to leave the house as a three-storey building, returning it to its authentic style.

Project of the reconstruction of the gastronome building. Source: Viharev Architects & Engineers

Ukraine is indeed taking steps towards the restoration, and more importantly the preservation, of architectural heritage.

In Ivano-Frankivsk, for example, there is the old Promprylad plant, one of the city’s largest industrial facilities. This urban giant appeared back in the 18th century. At first there were blacksmith and locksmith shops. Under the Soviet Union, the plant was engaged in instrument making, production of consumer goods, rotary gas meters. There was also an umbrella shop famous all over Western Ukraine. In the course of time the enterprise fell into decay and lost its capacities…The plant is still in operation, but on a much smaller scale. You can no longer hear the roar of large machinery here.

Promprylad plant in Ivano-Frankivsk

But in the 21st century, in 2018, local activists and entrepreneurs decided to restore the plant, give it a new lease of life and create a creative space there. The best thing about this story is that the walls, the interior and even some of the equipment in the former plant have been preserved.

“The whole world is drowning in overuse of resources. People start mindlessly demolishing everything, throwing tons into landfills, and always wanting new and different things. It’s important for us to rethink these buildings and fill them with relevant meanings. These buildings are also extremely important as an industrial heritage. This is where 115 years of industrial history are, which cannot simply be razed to the ground,” says Anna Pashynska, curator of the city workshop «Vidkrytyi Tsekh Parasolka» in the project «Promprylad.Renovation».

Anna Pashynska

So Ukrainians know how to combine the old and the new, even if you don’t notice it right away.


Ukraine and Bosnia and Herzegovina are two completely different countries: different political system, different languages, different people.

And there is also something they have in common: a huge architectural heritage that tells a story about cities better than words. Bullet holes in the walls. Block pavement under buildings. Architectural style.

Old (and) new houses.