Lastovo: untypical heritage, universal approach

After the long pause, we hereby present you the article Lastovo: untypical heritage, universal approach, mostly adapted from the equally named state report analysis and preliminary research article made by the members of the Association Dobre Dobričević for the presentation purposes during the Anatomy of island seminar in the year 2016.


Specific spatial politics of the island Lastovo during the 20th century marked the settlement Uble on its west coast – on antic foundations, a rationalist housing neighborhood was built as an addition to the sardine factory in mid-1930s, populated with Italians, and after the 2nd World War, the strategically important spot on the southeast Adriatic coast was managed by the Yugoslav Army. The dynamic of the place depended on the military staff and their families, and since they left the island in the early 90s, all public facilities vanished as well. Unlike the coast and other islands – except Vis and Goli otok – Lastovo was not turistified during the Yugoslavian period, and being relatively far from the mainland, that process has not yet become as hectic and fast, giving us a chance to systematically and thoughtfully approach its future development. The potentials are as big as the stigma that the constructional and cultural layers of Uble carry: since all ferries must port there, and it is the only place equipped for nautical tourism, every visitor of Lastovo will see this valuable heritage at least once. Ways to preserve and present it are based on raising the quality of living for inhabitants, led by the idea that cultural layers for future generations can only be preserved by a permanent settlement.



Historical and cultural layers of Uble on the island Lastovo1 form a unique constructional environment in the eastern Adriatic, perfectly reflecting the rich complexity of the Mediterranean. In the beginning of the 21st century, Uble appears as a historical cross-section in 1:1 ratio, with a significant spatial reserve and well thought and realized architecture embedded in an Arcadian setting. For some, its negative image formed in the 20th century prevails: as a reminiscence of the Fascist, and then the Yugoslav National Army presence on the island. Uble is perceived, by both locals and tourists, as a foreign body in an ideal(ised) frame of the cultural heritage of Adriatic islands. Still, being the only ferry port on Lastovo, it is the first image on arrival and its valuable modernist heritage is an equal part of the island’s identity that should be incorporated in contemporary development. In order to raise awareness of its value, a conservationist study of Uble is being prepared, but there is also a variety of continuous research and artistic activities that shift focus to a positive perspective of the place. But, the prerequisite of any viable urban (and island, even tourist) development concept is a stabile community on the site. This essay is a speculation on (re)building such community.



Uble was planned and built as an industrial city next to the pre-existent but long abandoned Roman settlement. It was built from 1933 to 19363 during the Italian occupation of Lastovo, alongside the sardine factory established in 1931 and destroyed in 1974. Initiated within Mussolini’s urban planning project for industrialization / population of provinces, Uble was/is associated partly with the Fascist regime that conceptualised it. After WWII, the island was in a way a no man’s territory (terra nullius), before the Yugoslav troops arrived, later to be associated with the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) that built newer segments of Uble. The reduction of public functions after the Yugoslav National Army left the island in may 1992 turned it in a modest settlement it is today.

The original plan of rationalist Uble follows a typical modern concept with a clear functional zoning. The city consists of a factory complex, a square defined by public buildings and two residential streets, with all the infrastructural and communal facilities needed (including a small power-plant). The whole project is fully adapted to the natural topography of the terrain. Unlike the regular and geometric form of the central square (on the plain part of location), street lines were formed in fine curves that are defined by a natural valley. The shores were regulated and the port was built along with the city. Therefore, ship and seaplane connections were established. This grand state investment was supposed to economically elevate the island of peasants and fishermen and change the negative migration and depopulation trends. More than 80 “foreign” workers, mostly from Istria, were brought to Uble to both build and work in the factory. The relatively high standard of the workers’ neighborhood accompanied  with public and social buildings was supposed to motivate the locals to live in the free, modern houses (Karac et al., 2009, 97/98), but only a few decided to move in. St. Peter’s Square is an almost perfect rectangle in the golden ratio (30,5/51 m), ideally proportioned in rlation to the whole settlement, “almost 06 summer cinema is being revitalized like a stage design” (Karac et al., 2009, 100).


A straight axis connects the port with the factory and the church of St. Peter on the eastern part of the square. Parish Manor (Casa del paroco), a modern one-floor building and a characteristic community centre (Casa di dopo lavoro), almost identical, flank the church. On the northern side of the square is the primary school building, and an auditory called Casa Littoria (Casa del Fascio). The canteen was replaced in 1974. by a military hotel. Today’s Nature Park management office is in the original Financial and Tax Office premises, and today’s post office is in the one-floor Casa del Genio Civile. A small market marks the entrance to one of two residential streets. The residential part of this small modernist city is characterized by 11 single and 10 two-family houses, each being surrounded by the gardens: a total of 35 dwelling units. Since the army left the island, the open-air cinema, restaurant, school, post office and shops have no longer been active – none of the public facilities are needed, although Uble remained the only port of Lastovo. There are no new buildings in Uble, businesses that used to operate there have been shut down and opened elsewhere, despite the fact that Uble has a surplus of built space.


The stigma of two unpopular regimes had a preservation effect for the modern heritage. Illegal construction that characterizes the contemporary Croatian (anti)urban planning practices is practically non-existent in Uble: only three significant building additions are noted. Non-residential buildings, state-owned, are preserved by the absence of interests of the owner. A great revitalization potential lies in the fact that everyone coming to Lastovo has to pass through Uble at least once. Together with an active housing policy, this could lead to reviving the commercial spaces as well.



The notion of a need for preserving the modernistic heritage intensified and was formalized internationally in the early 1990s, at about the same time that Croatia became an independent state and entered a somewhat tedious period of interpreting its own totalitarian heritage. Croatian socialist architectural and urban heritage is the subject of many researches, scientific papers, books, even documentaries, but due to the scarce number of fascist buildings on the territory and probably the unwillingness of the scholars to address such an ideology-loaded subject, almost nothing regarding the fascist period in the architectural production is published up to date. Fundamental obstacle in forming the criteria for protection of new settlements of industrial era is that their key cultural value lies in the innovation of an urban system; the conceptual clarity itself is considered to be enough for acknowledging the integrity of the site. In the case of Uble, authenticity, the second formal condition for recognizing the site as an outstanding universal value, is also kept. Still, the questions remains: what kind of values (and whose)?


Modern architecture preservation simultaneously aims to keep the continuum of the modernist philosophy in the practice of contemporary architecture and brings the contemporary architects and critics who are proponents of modernism together with historians and conservationists. That enables the constant dialogue, redefinitions and re-evaluations. In our frame of interpretation, Uble represents a suppressed identity container that should be addressed in order to make it prosperous (again).


At the beginning of the 21st century, “whose values” preservation question can be expanded with “…by whom and for whom?” Extremely unfavourable population trends on  the island in general, but especially in Uble, add to its future grim perspective. This also signifies that a negative perception can be more important than measurable qualities of the place: being “ugly” outbalanced all urban and social values of it.



Tourism on Lastovo is an important developmental factor, as well as in the rest of the state. Still, being practically closed for decades due to the Yugoslav Army regulations and geographical remoteness, Lastovo has a chance to plan its tourism a bit slower, a bit smarter, and with far more autonomy than other Adriatic communities: in the context of all other possible economic subjects and in the context of all other aspects of living on an island. That slow pace of acquiring the attention of guests simply enables the stakeholders on Lastovo to develop balanced relations between various stakeholders. The local municipality cooperates with local initiatives, NGOs and agricultural co-ops, in their joint ambition to increase the attractiveness and lovability of Uble by increasing the artistic activity in the community. The year-round open-air cinema programme, concerts in public
spaces, art residencies etc. have an additional function of clearing the bad name of Uble, and they are mainly focused on inhabitants, and then tourists. Artistic interpretation of the
rich, but controversial heritage is the first step toward understanding the existing and future advantages of Uble.


Although the number of inhabitants of Lastovo shortly peaked in 1991, a constant decline in the last 100 years is undeniable. But, unlike Uble, the nearby settlement Zaklopatica, being interesting for yachtsmen, registers slow, but significant growth. We may conclude that agricultural production and fishing are not enough to keep the islanders, after both production and a big consumer – the army – disappeared. Is tourism enough for an influx of new people, enough of them to turn the negative trends? Experiences from other Adriatic islands suggest that it isn’t.

Recently, Uble became a part of the ATRIUM network, probably the ideal niche for interpreting its fascist and rational architectural heritage. The analysis of urban maps, urban and architectural works contributes to the understanding of the totalitarian past for the locals, and by establishing a cultural route to such a heritage, Atrium promotes a cultural tourism capable of attracting much larger audience than the simple sea-and-sun concept. Revitalization of Uble by changing its perception of a transit point of the island to an interesting place of all sorts of productions, primarily aims to attract new inhabitants. Of course, perception change can not be the only aspect of activities: the next step for the stakeholders is to address the housing policy.



The inherited urban complex and buildings of Uble follow the Italian rationalist expression of clear geometrical forms. With a distinct modern design and construction, they strongly differ from the traditional local stone architecture, but reflect an authentic design principle. Made of bricks and concrete, with emphasised straight lines of roofs, cornices and consoles, one-floor workers’ houses are “like little Mediterranean villas” (Karac et al., 2009, 102), with discreet detailing and rich gardens around them, perfectly fitting in the landscape of pine woods. Single-family houses (Type A) accommodate a single family in a comfortable duplex, and two-family houses (Type B) have two identical smaller apartments in the ground floor and the first floor. Both types are dominated by a somewhat “unmodern” large kitchen, probably following the local tradition, but also the designated place of socialization for larger families.



The housing crisis in the Croatian maritime area, including Lastovo, manifests in two inseparable phenomena (Frlan et al., 2016):

a) a great surplus of living area is designated solely for tourist renting; that surplus is not on the property market as housing, and even if it was, it probably would not be affordable to the locals;

b) a deficiency of social housing, both for sale and renting, as a result of the absence of active social housing policy. In the current situation, citizens/islanders provide their housing in the following ways (ibid.):

1. Extending (mostly illegally) the existing houses, usually family homes;
2. Building new houses on inherited land (which is both expensive and slow);
3. Renting (substandard) flats or houses.

The housing standard of Uble rational houses is relatively high, but some of the houses are now empty, and due to the city’s negative image – underused. More interesting, 37,5 % of apartments are state or municipality-owned, which makes the creation of an active housing
policy easier. 30 % of the housing units in private ownership are only used seasonally, but they are not classified as tourist accommodation. The maximum number of dwellers of the planned Uble complex, taking into account the recommended minimum of square meters per capita. Is more than 120 – more than 1/10 of the total number of Lastovo population. Today, only 60 people live in Uble. Apartments are, in designing terms, way over the standard quality, especially compared to the rest of the island. All houses have well-ordered gardens with vegetables, fruit, spices and decorative plants.


Over the years, a few typical annexes appeared on the private houses: sloping roofs, outdoor barbecues, chimneys, air-conditioning units; but the most interesting and significant intervention in the original design is turning the attic into a living space and adding the exterior staircase, resulting in an enlarged gross floor area. Valorisation of the houses is based on the following premises:

– more inhabitants create a potential market for various commercial and cultural content,
– there is no better preservation model than an active and careful user.

With that in mind, controlled enlargement of the useful living area could be helpful: families on islands have more children than families on the mainland and cities. All alliterations, restoration and other related activities have to be facilitated and agreed in advance in order to preserve the concept of living.



By learning from the original concept of the city as a heterogeneous place of production, housing and social activities, and incorporating it in the contemporary Uble, it might be possible to revive the living substance and improve the whole area. Privileged by an intelligent urban plan and wellpreserved buildings, some future management can use both research and artist activity as guidelines for decisions, especially regarding the housing policy. To affirm the value of Uble, a complex approach and cooperation of all stakeholders on the island is crucial. Producing the motivation for the locals to settle in Uble is not an easy task, bearing in mind both its aesthetics and ideological burden, but above all, the absence of work possibilities. Still, it’s a task worth taking, if we want Uble to become a city again.



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