Hans Ibelings: Was Bosnia still pretty much the same when you came back after the war?
Sanja Galić: It was a completely new context. The post-war development of a multicultural and multi-faith society has very specific conditions.
Igor Grozdanić: But psychologically it was difficult to accept. It was as if you'd lost a limb but you could still feel it. Obviously one needs time to comprehend that familiar surroundings are no longer what they used to be.
SG: And of course we noticed the complete difference between the over-regulated situation in Germany and the under-regulated conditions of Bosnia's transition.
IG: In a way, Germany was scary for us. There you know precisely that if you are currently living in a one-room apartment and driving a Volkswagen, in five years' time you can expect to be living in a two-room apartment and driving a BMW, and so on…
HI: But hasn't the experience made you more German than most Bosnian architects in terms of your precision and rigour?
SG: That's true. We were of course influenced by those experiences. What we appreciate about Germany is the way the work is organized, the very interesting design programmes and problems, the detailed planning documentation. And yes, of course we are trying to implement this here in Bosnia.
HI: Talking about the Bosnian context, there is often a direct, sometimes even literal, relation between your work and the landscape and buildings that surround them, but I suppose that context, in your non-stop sense, can mean much more than just the visible forms.
IG: We believe that architecture is the materialization of different contexts, depending on the programme of the building and its location, historical and cultural conditions, clients and their requirements or feelings about the building. The influence of the context manifests in different ways.
SG: In addition to this, our intention is, through each of our projects, to tell a story. If we weren't architects, one could imagine these stories being shaped with words instead of construction materials, as a literary work or movie or theatre play. Sometimes it's not easy to recognize the stories at first sight. Each story is based on the relationship between various elements and the context.
HI: How does it work then with the two of you, being partners in marriage and in work? Do you always design everything together, or is there a division of labour, with each of you working on different projects?
SG: In the early phase we always do everything together. At that stage we talk non-stop about our projects. We are not used to working on something alone. We simply believe that this kind of exchange of personal opinions and experiences brings a new quality to our work.
HI: One more question about the context, how do you position yourself? Do you see yourself as part of a Bosnian tradition, or as international architects?
SG: Our Bosnian background entails many different influences. Bosnia is a mix of Turkish, Austro-Hungarian, Yugoslavian and international influences. Foreign influences have always arrived here in a filtered form and the same is true of the modern architecture of the International Style. And you can see this even today, albeit that a direct global impact seems to be more strongly visible than ever before. In these circumstances trying to find local roots for your work can seem a bit artificial, but still we believe it is possible. You can be very open to international forces and at the same time interpret them in a very local way. And to return to your question, it is evident that this Bosnian tradition is important for us. We are undoubtedly part of it, but we believe we can at least try to present this tradition in a very minimal, sometimes almost invisible way.
HI: I get the impression that there were more adventurous spirits in Bosnian architecture in the old Yugoslavia than there are today.
IG: That might be true. Yugoslavia was somehow big enough to support both internal diversity and its own development. It was a strong enough basis for innovative and adventurous architectural approaches.
SG: And there was much more public investment in Yugoslavia. For architects it is usually easier to do something in the public sector than in the private sector, and hence the public sector often offers more opportunities for adventure and experiment. But today I find it difficult to talk about Bosnian architecture in the sense of a specific or unique direction in architecture. Instead, I prefer to define architecture in Bosnia and Herzegovina as an amalgam of different local architectures generated by the diversity of our society as well as global influences.
IG: I think a balance is important. You shouldn't make architecture that is either purely international, or purely related to local conditions.
HI: How fast has Bosnia changed since the war?
IG: Well, we believe that we have achieved something during this last decade, but we are unhappy with the speed of change. We would have liked things to have moved faster since the war.
SG: Architecture reflects society. I mean, in the architecture of Bosnia you can see that our society is not finished, still not fully recovered. I think that we are trying with our works to do something to resolve this, but I think that only in ten or fifteen years' time we will be able to see the real results of our own work. You have to wait that long to see whether a building actually does something for its environment, whether it has a positive effect on people's behaviour and well-being.
IG: One limitation is that there is almost no critical or public debate about architecture in this society. So it is difficult to discuss architecture. The reactions we get are not always positive, but most are, including from ordinary people. That is the achievement you can talk about right now, but the real impact, as Sanja says, will probably only become visible in ten years or so.
HI: You are clearly ambitious in your work, but do you think there is a critical mass for this, and sufficient support for it?
IG: We have to take into consideration the post-war society in Bosnia, all the suffering, the transition, from the war until now, and the very specific and problematical political situation of this multicultural, multi-faith society. Young people are strongly influenced by this difficult transitional situation in Bosnia. It may be one of the reasons for this lack of ambition, not only in architecture, but in all other activities. There are examples of exceptionally good films, literature, music and art in our country, but what’s missing is a kind of…
SG: …good-quality average.
IG: And that is certainly connected with the present state of society. Sometimes we are in an optimistic frame of mind and believe we can see things improving here, but at other moments it is not easy at all to keep faith in a society that is in a very, very turbulent process.
HI: I think that it is only possible to be constantly optimistic if you are totally naïve.
IG: But in the long term we could certainly be optimistic, because we believe that this whole Balkan region, not only our country, has a potential for development. We hope the Balkans might eventually have a development similar to that of the Iberian peninsula…
SG: Or at least part of it.