In a war-torn area still recovering from bitter conflict, the construction of an arts centre will help reconnect two divided ethnic communities. This Holcim Awards winner results from a collaboration between architect Vernes Causevic and the “Most Mira” (“Bridge of Peace”) charity founded by Kemal Pervanic.
The war that erupted in 1992 in Bosnia and Herzegovina cost an estimated 100,000 lives and continues to divide society to this day. Near the former Omarska concentration camp in the country's north, two neighbouring villages stand apart, separated by their ethnic differences. The Bosnian Serbs of Petrov Gaj and the Bosnian Muslims of Kevljani rarely interact, as is still often the case in a country that “is more divided now than ever” according to Vernes Causevic and Kemal Pervanic. Having each experienced the war firsthand during their youth, their aim is to transform a house damaged during the conflict and located between both villages into a vibrant meeting point where both communities can mingle and build lasting ties.
Art as a common denominator
The community centre is intended to become a meeting place where children and young people can develop a common vision of the future through discovering art and theatre. A learning centre will also provide information for young adults about the impact that war, politics, and post-war divisions have had on the region.
A crafts workshop will be opened on the ground floor and accommodation for up to 14 people will be available on the upper level. Most Mira also aims to provide vocational training for local builders, engineers, and architects both during the construction process and once the building is complete.
Architecture for Democracy
Passing on knowledge lies at the heart of Most Mira’s and Vernes Causevic’s philosophy. Beyond creating new spaces, they see architects as change-makers and community-builders. In their view, the people that will use a building are best served when they have a say in the design process, which is why Most Mira developed a participatory and holistic architectural process called “Architecture for Democracy”. Across four years, a series of ten residencies were organized for architecture students from London, Banja Luka, and Sarajevo to collaborate with local residents and learn about the specific conditions, environmental issues and building materials that would come into play in the ultimate design. The ideas for the final structure were tested on site throughout the design process, and submitted to future users of the space who could learn from building demonstrations and interactive exhibitions that also helped foster a sense of enthusiasm and trust.
A carbon-neutral construction
The other key aim was to set a precedent for sustainable construction whilst reviving traditional building techniques. Clay was one of the preferred building materials in Bosnia and Herzegovina before the war and also has excellent thermal properties which lower heating costs and carbon emissions. The structure will be constructed out of rammed earth, insulated with wood fibre, and include triple-glazed wood-frame windows. Rainwater will be collected from a green roof, which will further insulate the building from the cold in winter and the heat in summer. The green roof will also help support local biodiversity by providing new habitats for the bird population that disappeared when trees were cut down during the war.
Rammed earth construction also offers an opportunity to recycle resources by mixing clay with local waste materials such as crushed stone, slag, and gravel. Finally, it also has symbolic value: by mixing different clay colours and by blending materials from ethnically divided communities, the building will create a unified whole that will stand as a reminder of the reconciliation process.