Urban-Architectural Solutions of the Đalovića cave and canyon


Urban-Architectural Solutions for the physical-urban development plan of the Đalovića cave and canyon

As the location in question is of special cultural and environmental importance for Montenegro, the government decided to organize a national competition for Urban-Architectural Solutions for the physical-urban development plan of the Đalovića cave and canyon.

This project was a competition entry and was awarded with the 2nd prize.

The natural beauty of Đalovića canyon is undeniable.

It consists of endless steep mountains, dense forests, and a recently discovered one-million-years-old cave. All these pristine beauties are amplified by a small church dedicated to St Nikola, constructed in the XVI century, tucked between rugged slopes. Its wooden roof (a particular building technique of this region) and a unique architectural composition located in an extremely remote area, inspired the projects’ approach in proposing a re-qualification of the canyon.

The project’s approach was to be very gentle with nature.

The aim was to amplify an interaction with the environment whilst avoiding any possible invasive intervention.

In other words, the projects’ architectural presence is primarily emotional rather than visual.


Who influences you graphically?

We aspire to be experimental in our approach, looking for the most effective presentation that can showcase the essence of our project. We believe that each graphic presentation should have a playful spirit, while maintaining seriousness of the architectural process. We hope that a keen observer will find both exuberance and a profound scrutiny behind our design. Our graphical style is certainly shaped by a wide variety of influences, yet each design draws inspiration from three fundamental sources.

SPACE AS OUR INSPIRATION. We operate from two very distant sides of the globe, Washington, DC and Podgorica, Montenegro. As a consequence, on daily bases we experience an extensive range of diverse influences, from an interesting sign on a random modernist facade, to an item we see as we walk down a neighborhood that has experienced rapid gentrification, to an intact landscape we see for the first time, anything can be the source of our inspiration. Wherever we are, we constantly wonder through the space that surrounds us, looking for a new finesse.

WORDS AS OUR INSPIRATION. Although it may appear naive and silly, but throughout each project design we go through an endless process where we share and read to each other random sentences from books that appear appealing at that specific moment. For instance, while working on one of our recent projects we found uniquely inspiring descriptions of space in the work of George Perec, exploration of human behavior in short stories written by Alberto Moravia, reflections on innate cultural bias on how we shape our material environment in philosophical sketches by Juni’ichiro Tanizaki, utopian projects in feverish dreams by Bogdan Bogdanović and thought-provoking observations Juhani Pallasmaa made on architectural theory.

THE SCOPE AS OUR INSPIRATION. We try to maintain a simple philosophy: each project should have its own identity. As such, for each project we experiment and customise the graphic design in search for a unique esthetic, which will reflect our essential intentions.
Lately, we have been actively expanding our collaborations onto the non-architectural world, working with artists and graphic designers that bring fresh perspectives into our projects.

What role does the layer of narrative hold within the project? How is narrative used as a design tool?

In this particular project we develop a fictional narrative which aims to stimulate imagination and offer an opportunity for anyone looking at the project to explore various activities provided by the future site.

At each stage of our design we are continuously contemplating on the intentions we have with a particular spot. We try to imagine people as they engage with the space, and we look for stories they may tell us so we can shape the environment to meet their needs.
Our drawings contain words that depict a multitude of scenarios, unfolding through an extended time span and enacted by several actors.
We use naive and informal narratives to describe new architectural features on site: a new road with a bike lane, a parking, a cable car, a restaurant with an organic garden, tourist info points, hiking routes, a walkway and a complementary system of structures. This way an architectural plan becomes a storyteller, more comprehensive for anyone that is interested to decipher it.

Our stories encourage imagination and serve the purpose to convey a wide-reaching message for anyone who is and will be part of this experience:
For architects / To inspire similar processes
For the community / Learning how to help architects understand the site more adequately
For governance /To stimulate related projects and further ideas on the site
For visitors / To advise how to make better use of what is offered to them

How did the research in terms of images gathered and samples help develop the concept and project?

Our thoughts and the main idea for this particular location came from our visit to Đalovića canyon.

Although it may sound redundant, sightseeing is an essential stage of our design process. If possible, we generally start the whole process by visiting the location, and exploring it in great detail. This is particularly important when we try to understand the complexities of the natural landscape pertinent to our project. Montenegro is quite impressive when it comes to nature. Especially inspiring and challenging are the wild and pristine landscapes whose potential is yet to be discovered.

We were quite unfamiliar with this location, so we wanted to explore the sights and talk with locals who are well-versed in the nuances of this area. For this purpose, we went on a hiking tour with a guide who works for a non-profit organization which has an expert knowledge of this region. We climbed the mountain peaks, we walked through pristine forests and along the riverbank. We were shown protected endemic species of vegetation. The images we gathered, and samples we took from the location, became the baseline of our main concept.
Following this guided tour, we wanted to emphasize the beauties we saw, concerned that humankind is gradually losing empathy for nature. Djalovica canyon is a natural gem that warrants attention and sensitivity. Architecture should not invade or impose, but rather support the people in reconnecting with nature.

This is why nature is at the center of our approach. Our aim was to remain sensitive to nature, to admire it, listen to it, and never harm it. In our project the architecture remains behind the scenes, it is mostly functional and unassuming, light and diffused, rather than dense and overbearing. Untouched natural landscape amplifies even further our project’s appeal.

The images and samples we collected along the way have served as a tangible reminder of how inspiring and creative nature may be, giving us the much needed inputs and answers to all our architectural dilemmas.

What prompted the use of the map as primary tool to explore the path? What layers did you choose to include and why?

The project site is quite large (110 ha), and is characterized by a challenging terrain structure, with an extensive variation in altitude due to an impressively steep canyon. In the near future, the local authorities are hoping to make this area an attractive tourist spot for anyone interested to embrace the nature through a variety of activities, from hiking, to camping, to speleology. Maps offer a useful abstraction of what tourism has to offer, so we decided to develop a map in order to indicate all what we hope to achieve with our project. We opted for a multilayer map which contains past, present and future. As such we were not only developing new scenarios, but we were also trying to revoke good experiences from the past, such as (re)planting a plum orchard or reusing old trails made by locals. In order to reconnect some forgotten or underappreciated spots we decided to introduce elements that became central to our project:
A 3.5 km long light path leads you through the most beautiful scenery, from the church of St Nikola’s to the bottom of the canyon, along and over it. As such, this walkway path becomes an unequivocal gallery of natural beauties.
System of structures
Rather than suggesting big structures we opted for a system of small, modular wooden elements attached to the walkway.
We wanted to create a system that would allow a visitor to take a walk among a number of different natural perspectives, and through these man-made spaces enjoy the nature from inside out.
The structures are both short and long, tall and small, mimicking their surroundings. You can find them at the bottom of the canyon, along the river, in the forest, or on the top of the mountain.

Both elements, the walkway, and the structures are elevated, gently touching the earth thanks to light pillars which support them. Architecture adapts to the terrain’s morphology and even provides a simplified passage during the winter.
This way, nature remains monumental.

What is your take on the notion of 'the map is not the territory'?

Although we can associate with the logic present in Korzybski’s statement, we would like to take it a step further. No map can encompass the full complexity of a given territory. As such it prioritizes and accentuates certain features which can be seen as someone’s cognitive bias when trying to abstract reality.
Yet, our map is also a product of this specific territory. Through a series of fictional narratives and with the (re)introduction of specific architectural elements, the map suggests how this territory can be experienced and enjoyed. The map offers a way to assign purpose to the territory, without changing its complex character.
With our map we encourage the freedom of imagination, while at the same time reminding the observer that the terrain is all but tamed. As such, in this particular project we may exclaim that map has become an integral part of the territory.


ANDRI&ANA is a virtual collective lead by two freelancer architects Andrijana Vukovićand Ana Dobrašinović collaborating between Washington DC (USA) and Podgorica (MNE).