Student’s initiatives for people in need. The case of Serbia in the period of 2014-2016

By Aleksandra Đorđević

In this article, I will present a couple of student initiatives for people in need in the period of 2014 – 2016, the results that they produced in terms of organized workshops, designed projects, built projects, published books, exhibitions and the awards received for that work. These initiatives were recognized by Serbian planning and the architectural profession, but not beyond that. All of the projects were done for humanitarian reasons; this is the final reason why I have made them the focus of this report.

The first part of the following article introduces an initiative by students of the Faculty of Architecture, University of Belgrade, taken immediately after the floods in May 2014. In the second part, I will present a student project of Eco Park, designed in 2014 and built in 2015. The third part is about a young group of architects who originally met at the Initiative in 2014, and after that continued to work under the name Tim8, built two houses for the Roma people, won prestigious awards and had a chance to moderate a couple of workshops.

The context of Serbia in terms of natural disasters

During May 2014, heavy rainfall led to a rapid and unexpected increase in the water levels of the main rivers of Serbia, producing floods that affected up to 80% of the land belonging to the municipality of Obrenovac (World Bank Group 2014). In that period, as the Interior Ministry said, more than 24,000 people had been evacuated (Balkaninsight 2014). During that time, the citizens of Serbia showed great humanity, which resulted in various collective actions across the country, ranging from reinforcement of embankments to providing food, clothes and accommodation for people threatened by floods. Besides those work actions, there was couple of student initiatives focused on different problems that occurred during the natural disaster period.

1. Student Initiative "New Housing Models for People Threatened by Floods"

(Students initiators: Bugarski, J., Đorđević, A., Dušmanović, A., Radosavljević, J., Zorić, A.; Josifovski, A.)

One of the main problems that students from the Faculty of Architecture identified was housing, covering topics of temporary housing, adaptation of facilities to accommodate vulnerable people and problems of planning and building new houses. Consequently, they have started an initiative named “New Housing Models for People Threatened by Floods“ (Initiative). After the initial organization of students through social media, Initiative was presented at the teaching staff meeting where the working group of professors and students was formed aiming to ensure the effectiveness within the initiative. As a result of “online brainstorming” and meetings between working groups and the student organization “Architecture Summer School”, the idea of an expert meeting and workshops emerged. Accordingly, as initiators explain, expert meeting and workshops should serve for the dissemination of knowledge and opening of a multidisciplinary theoretical discourse as a starting point for developing a methodology in the process of reconstruction of areas threatened by natural disasters (Bugarski, et al. 2016). Expert meeting was organized as a one-day event during which lectures were held by professors from five different faculties, representatives of relevant institutions responsible for acting in the event of natural disasters such as the Jaroslav Cerni Institute for Water Management, the Statistical Office and a GDi GISDATA company. Experts held fifteen lectures on the causes of stream floods and landslides, water management, introducing concept of “living with floods”, EU funding, construction of new buildings, damage assessment, reconstruction of damaged facilities, planning in time of climate change, use of GIS in risk management, the importance of work actions, etc.

Two main conclusions were drawn from the expert meeting:  1) we have to be aware that the design and maintenance of rivers can affect human settlements and that the way of planning and designing houses and human settlements could have a huge impact on storm waters and, indirectly, on rivers as well 2) the importance of prevention, information and awareness raising is crucial.

During the expert meeting, students had a chance to gain insight into the multidisciplinary approach of planning and design in high-risk areas and to include that knowledge in designing and developing new housing models for people threatened by floods during workshops. The three-day workshops were organized by twenty mentors, professors, assistants and associates of the Faculty of Architecture, who suggested different aspects of the problem of housing in the wake of natural disasters. More than 130 students of various levels of study participated in the workshops, designing projects of temporary and permanent housing units, planning scenarios for housing in situations of emergency and researching ways to implement these projects and provide funding resources (figure 1). The students’ approaches to the problem of housing in an emergency situation were based on prefabrication, the use of local materials, the possibility of improvement, according to the citizens’ financial possibilities, and on an examination of the minimum and optimum standards of housing in order to achieve a certain degree of quality of life (Bugarski, et al. 2016).

Over a period of ten days, students prepared posters and designed a publication containing all of the projects from the workshops. The publication was presented on the digital publishing platform Issuu, which made it available to different groups of users from various regions threatened by the floods - Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia (Issuu 2014). Official statistics indicated that most of the people who read it were from those areas.

In the following years, the initiative was awarded and exhibited several times. It is really significant to stress that all the exhibitions were realized with minimal costs, financed and prepared by authors with the outstanding support of hosting institutions. The initiative received an honorable mention at the 23rd Urban Planners Exhibition (Salon urbanizma 2014) and the Special recommendation and support of the council of the 37th Salon of Architecture for Affirmative Action in Architecture (Salon arhitekture 2015). The initiative was presented as part of an additional program of the Salon of Architecture followed by a discussion with professors and students about the results and possible further action during times of natural disaster (figure 2).

After an exhibition held for the professional community, the exhibition was presented to the citizens of Obrenovac. During the two weeks of exhibition, primary schools had organized visits to see the exhibition, an idea from the manager of Sports and Cultural Center of Obrenovac. Another result was the inclusion of these topics in the Faculty of Architecture courses and the opportunity given to student initiators to assist in the teaching process of master projects from the Integrated Urbanism Master Program. In addition to these results, it is important to emphasize all the indirect results that derived from this initiative, such as joint action and the contribution of students from different study levels, plus the enthusiasm and dedication of more than 200 young architects and urban planners motivated by simple humanity. It is worth mentioning that today, four of the initial six initiators are teaching assistants at Faculty of Architecture, University of Belgrade.

2. Students project – Eco park Obrenovac

(Authors of the project: Radosavljević, J.; Bugarski, J.; Berić, S.; Dušmanović, A.; Jerković, B.; Jovićević, L.; Savić, T.; Blešić, M.; Stojković, M; Aleksandrić, V., mentor: Sudimac, B., consultant: Šekularac, N.)

In May 2014, Coca Cola System, within a campaign Days of Danube, decided to dedicate its 2014 campaign to flooded areas and their faster recovery. The idea was to construct educational Eco parks that could present new meeting places for citizens from affected areas. In cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Serbia, the Faculty of Architecture - University of Belgrade and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the student workshop was launched and held at the Faculty of Architecture. Ten students who previously participated in the Initiative designed 3 conceptual design projects, while the combination of two selected works was chosen to be built in 2015.

Eco park is designed for education, enjoyment and relaxation. Plants that are specific to the Danube River were taken as main elements for the horticultural design of Eco Park, aiming to create places for education of end users about vegetation and general ambience of the riverbank. Before the initial design phase, the Municipality of Obrenovac suggested two possible location sites. Since one was in Zabran, a part of the city that hadn’t completely recovered after the flood, the yard from Sports and Cultural center's (SKC) was chosen for implementation of this pilot project. As one of the authors explains, this location was the best possible site for an Eco Park, since there are no playgrounds nearby and there is a Centre’s guard who could protect the playground during the day. In addition, authors have located Eco-park in line with the main entrance of the small hall and the youth council office, which were the first two places of SKC to be reconstructed. Besides quite attractive design, those are probably the main reasons why kids love it and why they spend their free time at the playground. During the design and construction phases, students consulted experts for static horticulture and did the project according to the playground standards.

But, as it commonly happens in Serbia, due to financial difficulties and administration problems, only the project’s first phase was built without prospect that the second phase with vegetation will be built soon. By these means, the playground almost lost its educational dimension, which, as I explained, was one of the most vital parts of the authors' concept. Anyhow, this is a pioneer project in playground design in Serbia, which has come across as an interesting place for kids, even in its initial phase because it provides choice and excitement (Figure 3).

3. Tim8 – Housing in Roma settlements

(Authors of the projects and Tim8 members: Dušmanović, Ana; Kojić, Jelena; Stankovic, Jelena; Kopta, Maja; Sladoje, Mihajlo; Arsić, Nikola; Milićević, Stefan; Savić, Tijana)

This project is a cooperation between Reconstruction Women's Fund and Students from Faculty of Architecture, who participated in the Initiative’s workshop "SOS housing". As cooperators explain, the main reason for inviting students was "the action" that both sides possess and the wish to help people in need. For this project, that was Roma settlement and the need for flooded housing unit’s recovery. After reviewing initial design, construction started at the end of 2014 in Vidikovac, one of Belgrade’s suburban areas. The plan was to reconstruct one and build another house. The design was led by principles of low cost materials, prefabricated units, simple and fast for construction and with materials available at the local level (Dušmanović, et al. 2015). The total price for one house was 2194 euros, including the masterly work and transport of materials.

In June 2015, one of the houses, as well as several others, was burned in an arson fire.

Soon afterwards, with the help of the mentioned fund, authors published Book Models of temporary housing - From concept to realization on the example of Roma settlement. This book contains research on temporary and low cost housing types and materials, the detailed design of two houses, a built it yourself manual and honest thoughts of authors about design, process and results. The manual contains drawings, material specifications and the necessary tools for house construction. The design of the book, its drawings and explanations make it accessible to everyone, whether they are architects or endangered groups. With this book, the authors tried to share the knowledge gained through experience and to provide a manual for people in need of the easiest way to provide a safe home.

After publishing this book, authors got an award in the category of "Experiment and Research" at the Salon of Architecture. As one of the six selected projects, Tim 8 was invited to present their work during the Belgrade International Architecture Week (BINA) within the exhibition Belgrade Energy spots. They also got a chance to participate as mentors at the children’s workshop Models of temporary housing. The workshop was designed for children aged 5 to 10 years. Kids had a chance to design houses, create their own families and decide where they would like to live. They could choose rural or urban areas, or even draw their own surroundings (figure 5).


In the context of developing countries, natural disasters pose significant threats, creating an additional exposure for human settlements and increasing the level of their vulnerability. While searching for innovative, rapid and cheap solutions that could offer adequate answers to those challenges, organized student action and initiatives could serve as platforms for the exploration and identification of new knowledge, methods, solutions and mechanisms for their realization. At the same time, students’ actions and workshops could serve as opportunities for people with the same interests to meet at potentially continue to cooperate, as Tim8 did.


Aleksandra Đorđević is a Serbian architect and teaching assistant at Faculty of Architecture, University of Belgrade



Balkaninsight. Casualties Increase as Serbia Battles Flood Disaster. May 2014, 2014.

Bugarski, J., Đorđević, A., Dušmanović, A., Radosavljević, J., Zorić, A. "Student Initiative “New Housing Models for People Threatened by Floods“." In Resilient Cities, Urban Disaster Risk Management in Serbia, Report on the results of the case study research project, by J.Fokdal and C.Zehner, 20-23. Berlin, 2016.

Dušmanović, Ana, et al. Model privremenog stanovanja - Od koncepta do realizacije na primeru romskog naselja. Beograd: Rekonstrukcija Ženski fond, 2015. Also available at

Issuu. Novi modeli stanovanja za ugrozene u poplavama. 2014.

Salon arhitekture. Katalog izložbe 37. Salon arhitekture. Beograd: Muzej Primenjene umetnosti, 2015.

Salon urbanizma. Katalog izložbe 23. Međunarodnog Salona Urbanizma. Beograd: Udruženje Urbanista Srbije, 2014.

World Bank Group. Serbia Flood. Belgrade: World Bank, Europian Union and United Nation, 2014.



Figure 1: The Atmosphere at the Initiative. Photos by students Initiators.

Figure 2: Exhibition at Museum of Applied Arts as a part of additional program of Salon of Architecture. Photo by Đorđević Aleksandra.

Figure 3: Eco park Playground, Obrenovac. left - realization, Photo by Bugarski Jovana. right - project design – authors of the project

Figure 4: Book Models of temporary housing - From concept to realization on the example of Roma settlement. Photo by Stanković Jelena.

Figure 5: Models of temporary housing workshop, photo by Arsić Nikola.

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