ONCE again, little Storefront for Art and Architecture in SoHo has cast our big institutions into the shade by staging a world-class show on a shoestring budget. "World class" here stands for more than high praise. "Warchitecture - Sarajevo: A Wounded City" looks at a major global crisis from an architectural perspective.
Prepared under harrowing wartime conditions by Midhat Cesovic and four other members of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Association of Architects, the show documents the destruction of Sarajevo's architectural heritage during the Serbian siege. Its mission is to inform the international community about the extent of the damage and to drum up financial support for rebuilding. The show has already appeared in several European museums, including the Pompidou Center in Paris. The presentation at Storefront is, thus far, the only American stop scheduled.
The main part of the show consists of 40 black-and-white photographs of destroyed or severely damaged buildings. Spanning nearly 500 years of architectural history, they range from the early 16th-century , Mosque of Gazihusref Bey to a pair of (shattered) :glass office towers completed in 1987. Plainly mounted ibeneath panes of glass, and accompanied by a brief ac-icount of its history, the pictures are divided into four groups, each corresponding to a period in the city's history. This arrangement helps us trace the different cultural strands that are woven into the urban fabric.
The different styles of building stand for more than changing taste. They represent a crossroads between East and West, the layering and mingling of cultural influences from the Ottoman and Austro-Hungar-ian empires. Maps and diagrams pinpoint the location of the buildings in the cityscape, and gauge the extent of the damage in each part of town. In effect, the show narrates the creation of Sarajevo through images of its destruction.
Some may have difficulty discerning the human dimension in these images. With people's lives at stake, how can we work up sympathy for ruined buildings? Those who look closely, however, will recognize that what is being attacked here is not roofs, not walls, not beauty. The target here is a symbol: the dense interweaving of styles and building types represents the ability of Muslims, Serbs, Croats and Jews to live together in one city. It is this model of heterogeneity that has been pummeled by the artillery shells.
Storefront's cramped quarters somewhat diminish the show's impact. In Paris, before entering the large, darkened gallery where the black-and-white pictures were on view, you passed a screen displaying color slides of the Sarajevo city-scape before the shelling began. The sound of the slide projector sliced through the gallery's muted air like an executioner's blade. Then, as you turned to leave the gallery, you saw a projected color video of several demolished landmarks, most haunt-ingly, perhaps, the National and University Library, a Moorish-style edifice of 1896. The camera scanned silently over the rubble of the library's central, skylighted atrium, as if searching for the soul of the city itself.
At Storefront, the color slides are dimly projected onto a white wall, while the video plays on a small monitor in the corner. And, of course, the small downtown gallery lacks the Pompidou's civic stature and its capacity to amplify an appeal to conscience. Yet it is hardly fair to criticize Storefront for these shortcomings. Thanks to its initiative, New Yorkers have the opportunity to see the show, and the gallery has made the most of its resources. But the show points up New York's need for an adequately equipped, internationally informed showcase for urban exhibitions.
On the other hand, when you consider the savagery of life in Sarajevo, it seems petulant to complain about meager resources in New York. This becomes painfully clear at a related exhibition, now on view in the second floor .gallery of the Department of Architecture and Environmental Design at Parsons School of Design in Greenwich Village. 'The exhibition, "Sarajevo: Dream and Reality," presents 14 projects by student architects and professionals from Sarajevo that respond creatively to the city's destruction. A wall text describes the conditions under which these projects were produced: no gas or electricity; broken computers, photocopy machines and other equipment; paper shortages; classes reduced to 30-minute sessions held in
constantly shifting locations.
The mix of established and aspiring architects drives home a point: the city's architects are guardians not only of history, but of continuity as well. With their present in ruins, the architects' abiding concern is to sustain a link between the past and the future generation of designers who must face the task of rebuilding. The exhibition, sponsored like the Storefront show by the National Institute for Architectural Education, has been installed in a plain wooden setting designed by Michael Morris, the show's curator, and Susanna Steiff.
The student projects are concentrated in the district of Zetra, the parkland surrounding Sarajevo's blasted Olympic stadium. The war-ravaged area, near the Sarajevo School of Architecture, must seem like a symbol of dashed hopes for the ideal of world peace signified by the Olympic Games. The students' designs (plans for new recreational facilities and other public uses) convey a heroic determination to keep hope alive.
The professional architects have focused on designs for the restoration of demolished buildings, along with some plans for new ones. A chilling project by Zoran Dorsner depicts what might be called a model dwelling for siege conditions. A set of floor plans traces the transformation of a modern three-bedroom apartment (one of 35,000 units in a complex of burned-out high rises originally built for the Olympic village) into a grim survival shelter. In place of sofas, dining table and a master bedroom suite, there are rainwater collection barrels, a sandbag protection wall and, jammed through the empty socket of a window, a makeshift chimney attached to a wood-burning stove.
Though occasioned by catastrophe, these two shows are heartening because they highlight a critical role for architects in a changing world. The architects who created these shows are not just designers of new buildings, or conservators of old ones. They are catalysts for cultural exchange. They aremakers of places, but they are also actors on the world stage. As the Storefront show demonstrates, Sarajevo is a monument both to cultural difference and to the breakdown of tolerance. The refusal of these architects to surrender to that breakdown transcends their city's fate.
"Warchitecture - Sarajevo: A Wounded City" remains at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, 97 Kenmare Street, SoHo, through March 18. There is a symposium in conjunction with the show at Dia Center for the Arts, 155 Mercer Street, SoHo, tomorrow from 11:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. Tickets $15 ($10 for students). Information: (212)431-5795. "Sarajevo: Dream and Reality" remains at the Parsons School of Design, Department of Architecture and Environmental Design, 25 East 13th Street, second floor, Greenwich Village, through Feb. 22.
By HERBERT MUSCHAMP