Sarajevo’s main railway station was started two years after the end of WWII. The new Communist Party of Yugoslavia started the project as an architectural competition with the ultimate goal of physically uniting the country through its railway system. At the beginning of Socialist Yugoslavia, the country’s political views strongly aligned with those of the USSR and the remainder of the communist bloc. As such, Yugoslavian architecture at this time, although modernist in spirit was still heavily influenced by the social realism that was used as a political tool and prevailed in the majority of the eastern bloc countries.
Social realism in Sarajevo brought on a range of contradictions in its architectural articulation. It ranged from ‘architecture for the masses’ most clearly articulated in the residential settlements for the worker’s housing (designed by the institutionalized Regional Bureau in Sarajevo) to that of highly articulated and relatively well executed public buildings, mostly designed through architectural competitions.
In many ways the the main railway station in Sarajevo also reflected the complexity and perhaps the blurring lines of socialist realism and that of a more ‘western’ modernism. The project started as a public competition which was won by a group of Czechoslovakian architects and in true socialist sprit their names remained autonomous. One year later in 1948, due political drift between Yugoslavia and USSR, this group of architects left the country leaving the project incomplete. As a result, the construction of the railway station was taken over by the Ministry of Building of the Federal Republic of BiH and was completed with the help of local architects including: Jahiel Finci, Muhamed Kadić, Emanuel Šamanek and Dušan Smiljanić as well as the engineering team of Bogdan Stojkov and Lorenc Eichberger. Since the Faculty of Architecture and Civil Engineering had not yet been established at this time, all of these architects had been educated outside of BiH and had been influenced by the ‘western’ modernist architectural ideas.
The building was officially opened in 1952 and in its thirty years of function, up until the siege in 1992, the building was one of the most monumental structures in the city of Sarajevo. This could be attributed its grand scale which by far exceeded the needs of a city of Sarajevo’s size. In fact, during the construction the great entrance hall remained true to the original design but the number of platforms and terminals was cut down to one third the original in order to accommodate the actual traffic flow. As one of the major gateways in and out of the city and a key point of connection to the reminder of Yugoslavia, the design of such a grand railway station was an affirmation of Sarajevo’s significance, placing it at par with much larger cities like Belgrade and Zagreb. Prior to the siege that started in 1992, there was one major renovation to the building and was led by Tanja Roš, Stjepan Roš and Emir Fejzić in 1984.
During the Siege
During the siege 1992-1995, much like the rest of the city, the railway station suffered immense damage. Although the building was resorted some years after the siege, the larger issue that still resonates today is the extent of the unrepaired damage done to the overall railway system in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Only a few train connections are currently active, which renders the building much less frequented, while most of the commercial spaces in the grand hall remain vacant and large hallways abandoned. Graffiti covers the walls and in the summer months waves of migrants find shelter in the open space in front of the station.
In January 2019, Sarajevo Canton in collaborating with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) launched an international architectural completion for a city-wide review and masterplans for the two major transportation hubs: the main train station and also the GRAS tram depot. The competition brief states that these sites are earmarked for strategic redevelopment and infrastructure upgrades. History comes full circle as Sarajevo awaits the results of another international architectural completion for its railway station that will surely reflect and be affected by the current socio-economic and political state of affairs in Bosnia and Herzegovina.