Balkanization Srdjan Jovanović Weiss

Balkanization 1

A Canadian student of mine, from Harvard University, sent me this map of Europe. He has brought me interesting maps before, but this one is by far the most fascinating. It shows not only what the European space looks like politically, but also how all the minorities, ethnic groups, and other natives search for recognition as separate countries. Most curious are the new capitals. They are listed in their native spelling, so some well-known cities may normally be spelled differently: Aromani, Baile Atha Cliath, Barcelona, Bilbo, Bozen, Brno, Budyšin, Caerdydd, Casteddu, Corti, Cuira, Doolish, Gdunsk or Kartuzë, Giron, Guovdageaidnu, Murmanska, Johkamohkki, Naoned, Roazhon, Hüsem, Ljouwert, Komrat, Ladin, Ljubljana, Maarianhamina or Mariehamn, Nameûr, Novi Sad, Podgorica, Pristina, Santiago de Compostela, Sarajevo, Strasburi, Tiraspol, Tolosa, Tórshavn, Truru, Udin, Uzhhord, Vanta, Wroclaw and Zagreb. Note that some countries, like Sami or Lapponia, may even have more than one capital city. I just heard from a friend that both Naples and Palermo represent the latest urban factions which would like to declare independence. I also read that according to an Italian theorist, we should focus on capital cities, the grand schemes. But this challenge regarding this new Europe and its new capitals is irrelevant. We know this from the Western Balkans: when a new country is seceding from an old one, a capital city is created. Generations are spared utopian architecture. A well-known critic, surrounded by aspiring architects, was asking on the street: what exactly is Balkanization? Here was my chance! I said that the term had originally emerged in response to small-scale independence movements in the Balkans, after the fall of … etc., etc. It describes tension, hostility, conflict … But it also has positive aspects, it depicts political self-determination: not in order to fight, but rather to maintain its differentiation, its autonomy. And suddenly there is a metaphor: “the Balkanization of the Internet” or “the Balkanization of America.” It is a chance for the small … I did not have the chance to finish saying this, but the establishment of capital cities is perhaps the strongest aspect of Balkanization. I have also heard Peter Galbraith, the former US ambassador to Croatia, propose in a radio show to “Balkanize Iraq,” by dividing it into three distinct countries. Two new capitals … I also saw Ayn Rand’s “Global Balkanization,” transcript from a lecture in 1977, selling on the Internet for $29.95—more fragments = more capitals. Architects will undoubtedly benefit from the establishment and subsequent development of these new capitals.

Balkanization 2

Architects are not particularly happy with how desolate corporate architecture has become: clean minimalist forms turned into postmodern cubes. What if we Balkanized it? After all, this term has already gone beyond its academic borders and crossed over into fields of mathematics, international law, and also the digital world, into the arena of software as a tool for the protection of software code, which is essential for the overall functioning of the Internet. What would happen if we unleashed the Balkanization virus onto corporate monoliths? And let it work its way there through the discerning inner forces of the corporation? Could dissent be propagated? If corporations were built according to their inner dissent, how fragmented would they look in three dimensions? Turbo Architecture? Overstated. Interesting. Much more is more or less. One of the most stunning and elegant examples of the minimalist kind is the building designed by SOM and Bunschaft for the corporation Brown Brothers Harriman on Wall Street. This clean, black, and smooth monolith gives nothing away about the fiery dynamics of activity and performance taking place inside. Careful analysis of the stock market performances of various departments within the BBH uncovers such clashes and such violent mergers that national conflicts seem to diminish in comparison. A corporation reveals cracks within more and less successful entities. Departments become divided and separated, each with its own voice; main elevators pass between entities, each performing on its own. I wonder what Balkan architects would do with Manhattan today. But whatever it is, I am sure they would do it for free … or at least dirt cheap. Then again: with no money in New York … What could this mean today? Without a chance to show off, or with the prospect of getting thrown out and getting out only on bail? Maybe this is a wrong question at the right time.


I / “Historical Minorities and Majority Nations,” Eurominority, (accessed January 3, 2009).

II / Balkanization Studio with Srdjan Jovanović Weiss, Balkanized Skyscraper, Pratt Institute, Manhattan (model by Felix Hoepner).