In a society still recovering from the Bosnian War and the Siege of Sarajevo in the 90s, Zemlja, located in the war-burdened Grbavica neighbourhood of Sarajevo, strives to rebuild a sense of place, home, and shared identity through architectural innovation. It raises the question: can rebuilding a home provide ideas for rebuilding a community, a city, or even a country?
‘Zemlja', meaning 'earth,' 'land,' and 'country,' offers a glimmer of hope for a viable alternative through sustainable reconstruction.
It embodies a holistic approach to deep social repair and healing, promoting the production and use of sustainable materials and knowledge, countering unsustainable post-war building practices in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The original neglected apartment, has been radically transformed by drawing on Sarajevo's architectural history to resonate with the shared identity and resilience of its citizens, while integrating fragments of the original and forming relationships between materials and the people who source, use, and put them together.
Working within a compact 50m2 area, a key challenge was to create a spacious and adaptable home for a couple with different routines. Three non-structural walls were removed, converting four dark, small rooms into one generous light space with five adaptable living areas that extend and contract using movable curtains hanging from a continuous track. The terracotta-colored wool curtains act like theater drapes. They reveal and hide layers of space and provide endless possibilities for change, creating intimate or spacious settings. They also enable inhabitants to control visibility from outside to inside.
Even when the curtains enclose a single living area, the space retains a sense of depth. Each individual area feels as large as the entire apartment, sensed through the peripheral experience of the 'backstage,' which has a calming effect.
Three islands of bespoke fixed furniture, conceived as miniature architecture, anchor the main uses of living, working, sleeping, and dining. They include: a bespoke rammed earth table, a cantilevering marble and beech wood dining table, and a three-sided beech wood monolith housing an integrated wardrobe, TV cupboard, storage, and work desk that creates the main separation between sleeping, working, and living areas.
Daily life revolves around these islands of natural earth, wood, and stone. They are inset from the external walls of the apartment and ceiling, allowing fluid movement around the whole space and a resting area for the curtain. Movement, air flow, and daylight circulate freely, which is particularly important for the sleeping area located deep in the plan.
The white-oiled oak herringbone flooring unifies the whole apartment, and remnants of the original terrazzo flooring in the kitchen and bathroom have been retained, paying homage to its past.
Additionally, the entrance hall has been opened up by removing a wall and creating a window to the kitchen and built-in seating and storage. This brings light into the entrance area and makes it more welcoming.