Belgrade’s largest convention centre, once Europe’s largest, is a living encyclopaedia of the city’s modern history. It was built in a record time of 6 months for the needs of the OSCE Conference 1977, which lasted a marathon eight months. Almost by chance, and then under the command of Tito, did Belgrade come to get the most modern and largest convention centre in Europe. It was considered to be a technological marvel, and followed the first wave of construction of convention centres around the world and at home. With its design it is topical even today, but also because it urgently needs a thorough renovation.
Novi Beograd (New Belgrade) is an authentic space that was entirely built in the socialist era. With striking administrative buildings it became a symbolic centre of the former state. Sava Centre represents a kind of centre – the landmark of this part of the city represented a symbol of economic and political power of the former state. Today, Sava Centre is surrounded by new office buildings, but that does not diminish its architectural strength, which with its ultra modernism and giant glass surfaces consistently defies time and demonstrates that the spatial planning in those days was original and ambitious.
Sava Centre is located just off the main road to the city and is easily accessible by car and public transport. It is five minutes from the city centre and from the airport less than 15 minutes. A huge parking lot is sufficient for the needs of congress events. The low quality of public transport in Belgrade is at least partly solved by numerous and relatively cheap taxis. In the immediate vicinity are the Hyatt Regency, Continental and Holiday Inn hotels.
COLD APPETIZER Architecture and Aesthetics
In record time the architect Stojan Maksimović designed a functionally timeless minimalist project with a huge glass area of 8,500 m2 and the adjacent hotel, which was once part of the Intercontinental chain. For his postmodern work he has won numerous international awards. Convention Centre was a pioneer in design, a trendsetter and the source for many centres to later evolve in Europe. Unfortunately, the superior design also has major drawbacks, which at that time and with the technology of that time they didn’t know how to solve. Large glass areas are wasteful and very demanding in terms of energy and maintenance.
WARM APPETIZER – Staff and customer service
Employees in the Sava Centre are ‘old school’, who know how to extract the maximum from the dated centre. 135 reliable professionals remain a major asset for the centre, which with its current physical condition is no longer competitive with similar centres throughout the world. Therefore, the organisation of an event takes a lot of improvisation and good will. The general conditions of the centre are also reflected in the quality of service, which varies and is not the most convincing.
MAIN COURSE – Quality of facilities
At the time of construction, the centre was a prime example of the concept of multifunctional convention centre, to which functionality was to a very large extent outlined by the marathon OSCE conference. The three main conference halls in the middle of the building are surrounded by a series of smaller rooms for sessions. The main multifunction hall in this part of the building can accommodate 1,006 participants and can be partitioned into three smaller spaces. The largest concert-congress Blue hall can accommodate 3,672 participants. Also very interesting is the Amphitheatre hall for 515 participants, which is located next to the Great Hall. The centre also offers indoor and outdoor exhibition space. A part of former halls are now converted into a business centre with shops.
DESSERT – Catering and additional offer
As part of the story of the centre the restaurants and catering also appear a bit dusty and from some other era. If you are satisfied with a classic Serbian offer, the restaurants will satisfy you. More demanding congress organisers will have to look around for a bit more innovative catering providers in Belgrade.
To those accustomed to similar centres, the business centre with numerous boutiques, where one can dress in the latest fashions, will appear strange. It is an understandable business move of the managers, but in the global context it is rather unusual and more resembles some airport shopping area than an eminent convention centre.
FLOP – NEGATIVE SURPRISES
Lack of maintenance is evident at every step, both in the interior and to the exterior of the building.
TOP – POSITIVE SURPRISES
Timeless quality functional design of the centre.
FINAL IMPRESSION AND CREDIBILITY
Once the most technologically advanced centres is now in need of renovation. The centre is energy-consuming and extremely expensive to maintain. Investment in the renovation of the centre is estimated at 5 million Euros. The first part of the renovation is already happening in the related hotel Continental, which may encourage the urban elite to be more active.
Nevertheless, it is still a vital part of the Belgrade conference scene. Per year, on average, they organise 350 conferences and a number of concerts. With new international hotels and better air connectivity of the Serbian capital it is high time that those responsible also undertake renovation of the Sava Centre, which is crucial for the Serbian capital to finally break through to the top rankings of the international meetings industry.