This text is derived from my ongoing doctoral thesis Mediterranean Species[1], which introduces a categorization of models and landscapes of mass tourism in the European Mediterranean, measured upon their productive value and environmental impact. Through a comparative analysis of the models’ strengths and weaknesses, thesis proposes to look deeper into specific case studies in which ‘integral approach to planning and architecture’ was able to enhance local socio-urban dynamics and reduce the negative environmental performance often brought by the de-contextualized architecture of tourism – all under the premise that several models can and are worth improving.

On this occasion the case of Croatian coast is addressed within the aforementioned framework, as a largely under-researched example in need of proper interpretation. At the same time, this case is especially significant for the representation of several key issues the thesis aims to dissect, as the coast in question is extensively marked by tourism, affecting its modernization in a fundamental way. Most of the tourist environments still used in Croatia today were actually built in socialism. These tourist environments were created as harmonious spaces open to public while their programs primarily meant for tourism industry, in time have taken on some public functions, becoming an important part of local social dynamics. Tourism brought modern infrastructure into undeveloped areas, and some exceptional examples of modernist tourist architecture were built, a valuable cultural layer in an area full of layers of historical architecture. The evolution of tourist environments’ spatial ideas was a result of the specific socio-political context of Yugoslav socialism, urban planning methodologies and a genuine architectural culture. Today the modernist tourist environments, as the specific ‘parallel cities’, act as morphological antipodes to the informal, deregulated coastal development, a reverse side of modernization. Further reflection requires seeing these planned tourist environments and coastal settlements in a mutually beneficial relationship whose potential could be developed further on a basis of inclusive spatial politics and advanced strategies of urban development and urban recovery.

Hotels Mimosa, Hedera, Narcis, Rabac, Z. Bregovac, 1967-72*; Hotel Complex Solaris, Šibenik, B. Magaš, 1967-68**

From Tourism in Croatia to Croatian Tourism

Today, tourism is a foundation of the Croatian coastal area’s economy, and although it has no firm grounding or clear strategy, the entire country’s economy follows it. The mythical status of tourism – as the ‘savior of the economy’ – is a remnant of the socialist period. From late 1950s to mid 1980s tourism became an important developmental force for the rather poor costal regions of Yugoslavia and a good way to promote country, Yugoslavia’s third way[2]. After its boom during the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s with the rise of mass tourism[3], tourism development stayed more or less as it was, concentrating on maximizing the number of beds in hotels, tourist villages, camps and other forms of accommodation (some half a million accommodation units, a half of them in camps). The typological distribution of accommodation capacity has not changed much since 1975, nor has it grown much in quantitative terms.

Yugoslav tourism was mostly relying on its natural and historical architectural beauty. But in order to meet the expectations of international guests from both sides of the Iron Curtain, tourist environments – i.e. their architecture and urban planning – had to reach a certain standard. As a direct meeting point between locals, East and West, from the beginning tourism had luxury and modesty… and everything in between, resulting in a vast range of typological solutions – from hotels and resorts to camps, weekend houses, small apartments (zimmer) and workers’ resting facilities. The coexistence of such variety of tourist offer made Yugoslav tourism differ from, for example, mass tourisms of Spain, Greece or post socialist Bulgaria. Thus, one of the affirmative images of Croatian tourism till today remains in its not too maximal touristification.

This condition required a great amount of experimentation in planning methodologies, plastic arts, interior, architectural and landscape design. The architecture of tourism produced recognizable features, common to more or less all the typologies. With the adoption of rather pure volumes following the lines of International Style at first, the architectural conceptions went further into a more authentic language. An approach that had the tendency to break down huge building volumes and subsequently recompose the parts in free permutations, thereby creating unprecedented new arrangements whose configurations follow topographical features of the original natural settings. The often used concrete, or even artificial stone, virtually blended with the natural stone of the shore, just as these huge built accretions with their fragmented, organic forms, blend with the overall landscape; and, in fact, become entirely new artificial landscapes in themselves. These structures, despite being built on top of local topography, ultimately created their own peculiar contexts – their own physical environments, which in turn produced quite radical social environments – the specific Yugo-Mediterranean leisurescapes for the international working class. It is important to note that many artists were called upon to contribute to the image of these hotels, in a rather abstract aesthetic approach partly intended to differ from the image of Social Realism, often associated with the Eastern Bloc at that time.

Examples of variations in architecture and landscape design*

Examples of hotel interiors: lobby – Hotel Palace Haludovo, Malinska, 1972*; lounge bar and room – Hotel Ambasador, Opatija, 1966*

Tourism in Croatia developed, and still keeps, a distinctive codex that owes everything to Yugoslavia’s ambitious process of modernization, which in turn was mainly seen through a general process of urbanization around the country. This much needed urbanization process developed a knowhow that was critically applied to tourism development; one that was not strictly monoprogrammatic and exclusory. The spatial characteristics of the tourist environments were a result of numerous historical circumstances, two of which are especially important. The first is the specific socio-political context of Yugoslav socialism in which management of land and all other resources was viewed under the terms ‘societal property’ and ‘collective interest’, which in turn enabled integral planning, mostly unburdened with land title and cost issues. The other circumstance was the relatively high level of development in architectural culture and planning methodologies[4], as well as the cultural autonomy that architecture enjoyed in socialist Yugoslavia.

Aware of the potential dangers of monocultural dependency, Yugoslav authorities conceptualized tourism as a developmental force that would trigger other, more dependable and productive economic spheres. These decisions led to an integral development in which industry and tourism were competing for the same valuable coastal resources. Yet, the government did not see it as a problem, and actually even encouraged the possibility of tourism and industry coexisting side by side. The main goal was to develop the country and economic prosperity, no matter through which sector. During the period of mass tourism development, both land and architecture itself were considered the main sources of income. In a relatively simple idea of tourism, the basic parameter for calculating the profit was the number of overnights, which in turn depended on a number of accommodation units. Dimensioning the amount of units or capacity depended on land usability, especially in relation to natural beach areas. Hence the maximum use of accommodation capacity was a priority[5].

Territorial distribution of tourism development; Hotel Marina Lučica, Primošten, L. Perković, 1969-72**

Although the modernization activities brought by tourism development in socialist Yugoslavia did not entirely overcome monofunctional programming, the physical articulation of tourist areas – the controlled regional distribution of tourist capacities, rational design of urbanistic ensembles, high quality of architectural relationships, distribution of programs within architectural complexes, implementation of public infrastructure – all generated active, interesting and accessible environments. Practically all the projects created gradations from public to semi-public to private and intimate spaces, and since the perimeters of tourist areas were not fenced in, like in closed resorts or gated communities, these environments were not erased or lost from the collective image of public space. Tourist environments and complexes were often adding onto the existing road and pathways network between the everyday and temporary habitat. The instrumental distance from the coastline, continuity of outdoor space and the ‘open accessibility policy’ to all indoor and outdoor facilities, allowed tourism environments to become somewhat the continuation of the public space that was and still is scarce in many surrounding coastal cities.

Hotel Complex Plava and Zelena Laguna near Poreč**

Hotel Kristal, J. De Luca, 1967-70*

Hotel Complex Valamar Rabac*

Lanterna and Girandella Apartments, Z. Bregovac, 1967-72

Hotel Complex Solaris near Šibenik*

Hotels Ivan** and Jure, B. Magaš, 1967-68

Hotel Complexes Brela

Hotel Maestral, J. De Luca, A. Rožić, M. Salaj, B. Bernardi 1963-65***; Hotel Soline, J. De Luca, 1983 

The consequences of this codex did not end with hotels, resorts, bungalows, camps and all service and infrastructural support, such as coastal promenades, parking pools, marinas, roads, congress halls, event spaces, restaurants, cafes, beach clubs, leisure and sport facilities, markets, rentals, etc. In the 1980s a few planned compact examples of real estate housing developments were made to address the increasing demand of another type of tourism; the second house[6] to buy or rent. Further on, a great part of this trend started to have the spatial consequences we came to know as low density sprawl[7]. Although sprawl is associated with inefficient consumption of resources and total lack of urbanity, these examples achieved good results in the spirit of producing complementary public space, coherent formal presence and a fair dialogue with the landscape.

Mareda Tourist Real Estate Housing Complex, J. Matijević, D. M. Milas, 1981-84

In time, with the decrease in the implementation of planned tourist compounds together with the ever increasing development of unplanned sprawl[8]; environmental articulation together with public space stopped being produced. Consequentially, the failure of the current tourist model to keep proportional development of new public spaces has led local communities to rely not only on city promenades and piazzas, but on the ever renovated, matured tourism environments produced during socialism. So far, most of the investment in Croatian tourism has been based on a brownfield approach and the use of resources built in socialism. And most of the tourist environments still used in Croatia today were actually based on modernist spatial ideas. Modernist schemes and architectural articulation of mass tourism environments proved to be sufficiently adjustable and aesthetically acceptable to respond to the new needs of today’s tourist industry, although one should admit that there have been some serious difficulties in physically adjusting them to contemporary standards.

Today we are witnessing a specific turn in the coastal urban structure. While tourist environments in time of their building were seen as inferior antipodes to historical urban centers and traditional agglomerations, today they are ‘islands of urbanity’ compensating somewhat for the impoverished environments that are result of the deregulated coastal development. Tourist environments have become a part of social dynamics in coastal region, while the local way of life and local needs have spontaneously taken over the programmatic and spatial resources of tourist architecture, moderating its monofunctional character. The tourism legacy developed during Yugoslavia is not only vital for local socio-urban dynamics. In short, one could actually say that the straightforward instrumental principles based on coastal distance toward hotel premises, continuity of open public spaces – never blocking the access to the sea, diverse program offer and relation with local dynamics are all crucial in keeping tourism environments productive, attractive and away from decay.

Examples of infrastructural and service support and public space

Examples of infrastructural and service support and public space

What kind of planning control mechanisms should be introduced to reinterpret the tradition of compact approaches to hotel resorts and tourist apartment schemes, with fair coastal offsets and open continuity of public space? If all these questions were met with fair answers in the past, then tourism per se is not necessarily problematic.

The problem about tourism is twofold. On one hand it has to do with the rise of tourism’s overexploitation; when other policies of social and economic development are not introduced because there is no political will and money to do it. Especially when greater part of tourism’s economic revenue doesn’t come back to the very communities bearing the congestion of tourism. Fostering other sectors of daily activity would not only decrease local population from migrating elsewhere, but it would also decrease economic reliance on tourism and its overexploitation. Not to mention, with less pressure comes the opportunity to plan better the environments of tourism. On the other hand, the problem about tourism has to do with the implementation of the spatial models hosting the economy of tourism, which brings us back to subject matter. In order to preserve and even enhance the public performance of tourist environments, urban regulations may be introduced based on the historically proven dependencies and mutual benefits of the tourist industry and local communities. The fundamental notion for such a scenario is the preservation of physical and programmatic continuity between planned tourist environments and littoral settlements, updating the legacy of the mentioned codex. Despite the strong line of arguments in favor of furthering the spatial ideology behind these environments, this cannot be left to planners, architects and other experts alone. A fair amount of political determination will certainly be required for it to happen.

The problem about tourism is not tourism… it is about controlling its overexploitation and using it as an alibi to generate public resources.


[1] This text incorporates findings from the research projects Unfinished Modernizations and Tourism, Dispersion, Camouflage, conducted in collaboration with Luciano Basauri and Maroje Mrduljaš, which have helped inform the ongoing thesis.

[2] Specific Yugoslav socialism was an original project marked by in-between positions and concepts. Yugoslav system operated between East and West, between planned economy and free market, between one-party system and workers self-management.

[3] For example, the French tourist region Languedoc-Roussillon, probably the closest reference to the Yugoslav case, started developing in 1962.

[4] The rise of physical planning in Yugoslavia for the coastal regions had its peak with the collaboration between local and international expertise coordinated by the Yugoslav government, the United Nations and several planning institutions – from Croatia and elsewhere. Such cooperation resulted in three major regional projects, all created in the period between 1967-1972 at the peak of construction activity in the tourist industry: the Southern Adriatic Project, the Upper Adriatic Project and the Plan for the Intermediate Area of Split. The projects were promoted as significant methodological advances in integrated regional planning.

[5] For instance, within the spirit of exploring maximum tourist capacity, authorities and technocrats elaborated several assessments: evaluation of the coastline; designation of suitable areas for tourist use (mostly beaches and bays with easy access to the sea – approximately 15% of the coastline); and calculation of beach area required per tourist (1.4 tourists use the beach simultaneously at the peak of daily use and 6 to 8 square meters of beach is required per tourist). On the basis of these data and calculations, the total capacity of the Adriatic beaches was estimated to be 2.2 million tourists. This figure was revised after including the local population and taking into account other parameters such as water supply and electricity. 1.8 million was the final number of tourists calculated (until now, neither these projections have been met nor have new assessments of future capacities been made).

[6] In the 1960s, with the rise of living standards after Yugoslavia’s recovery from the WWII, citizens started to create their private retreats as a resistance to the collective system of social tourism. Cottages were built on the seaside or in other attractive locations for spending weekends and holidays outside the city.

[7] However, for many guests the sprawl model provides the feeling of sharing living conditions with their hosts, establishing a close social connection between them. Additionally, the contact with big clusters of tourists is not enforced, all of which makes it hardly comparable to mass tourism. With its purpose to offer solely accommodation, all the rest of the guests’ needs have to be provided by an extensive milieu of locals, making an immediate transversal economic distribution of the generated wealth among the hosting communities.

[8] The increase of tourist arrivals is absorbed by the so called ‘private accommodation’ which had been growing in numbers ever since socialism, with its part falling under ‘grey economy’. Current slow growth rate of other types of accommodation and the continued demand lead to a situation where the ‘private accommodation’ might soon represent half of the total of tourist accommodation capacity.