Commissioned by Matica of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in partnership with the Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
What happens when a state of exception becomes the rule? Can architecture embody a powerful process of defiance and adaptation? Ravaged by war and siege, Sarajevo is today held hostage in a situation of ongoing political paralysis with no end in sight. Destruction and neglect have transformed the city into a new kind of urban frontier. The Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina epitomizes this phenomenon. Like no other built structure in Sarajevo, the ‘People’s Museum’ stands as a heroic icon of active resistance and resilience. Its form, collection, and program express an unwavering drive to stand one’s ground in the face of adversity.
Founded in 1945 as a Museum of the Revolution marking the Partisans' victory over Fascism, its current modernist shell opened in 1963. Today, a building that once embodied the era’s utopian socialist dreams has become a ruin. Situated one hundred meters from the siege frontline, exterior traces of shelling and grenade blasts are now a surface level hint of deeper challenges within. Unpaid museum staff shiver through freezing winters without heating, while the state withholds resources that would stem the flow of water leaking through the roof. Starved of funds and abandoned by government, citizens have been invited to activate the structure in new and unexpected ways, reclaiming the museum as a vital civic space of dialogue, culture, and education.
This exhibition asks a simple question: can a museum be a force for change in a city? Inspired by demonstrations of solidarity and popular ownership, we redefine it not as an elitist institution dedicated to the display of objects, but as a catalytic urban space. A temporary strategy of adaptive reuse can compel a new reading of the site and its surroundings. Sheathing the museum in a transparent vinyl skin leaves the decay and patina of the original building intact, while juxtaposing the old and new. The overall effect is a détournement, with the design projecting an oppositional message. The historic structure itself is enclosed as an uncanny artifact, subverting conventional notions of a museum as sterile container.
Wrapping the existing museum is a potent act imbued with both symbolism and function. Suspended on scaffolding, the skin represents a first move towards stabilization of the degrading structure and a no-budget base for future repairs. It seals the site against the weather, and allows for simple heating. But the intervention also gestures to something more profound. The museum is in a process of opening itself up to the city. It operates fluidly in the face of frozen politics. It is playful though bearing the weight of a painful past. Covering the current structure will create new spaces of engagement and interaction, while drawing in the people of Sarajevo as a new center of possibility.
The museum's staff continue to reinforce the message that the institution belongs to everyone. It is a living space that manifests no difference between its collection and public function. Budgets and benefactors no longer rule. Outwardly dedicated to cultural preservation, its programming poses important questions about how a divided society deals with the trauma of the past. But it also suggests the same resourcefulness shown under conditions of extreme stress has revolutionary potential in the post-conflict era. This exhibition seeks to channel that energy through architecture and design. Not towards restoration, but to support an alternative model of urban regeneration.
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