The Spanish House stands on the bank of the Sava River in Savamala, in the center of Belgrade. Savamala, the former fishing village was in the XVIII and XIX century called Bara Venecija (“Venice Pond”) due to the frequent floods. In those days, the inhabitants got around in small fishing boats. Before World War II, the Spanish House was a customs house, used by the port authorities. In the years after the war, the architectural fabric of Savamala has suffered greatly from increased traffic levels, and many buildings have fallen into disrepair. Heavy car and truck traffic remains a dominant element in the urban landscape. A rail line, still in use, runs directly through Savamala to the edge of the Sava River.
In the past six years, from 2009 till 2015 Savamala has developed into a district that sleeps by day and comes alive at night. The KC GRAD culture center opened in 2009, followed by Mikser House in 2012 – two local institutions that have largely shaped Savamala’s creative scene. At the same time Mikser House was starting up, the Goethe-Institut was independently beginning preparations for the Urban Incubator Belgrade project in Savamala.
The 350-square-meter Spanish House had long stood empty. Construction projects had been planned and initiated but never completed. The building currently consists of the old exterior wall, a cellar and a ground floor. The old facade is held up by large metal supports, the window openings boarded up with strips of lath or blocked off with makeshift grates of rusty rebar. The roof is completely gone. Also, the cellar is full of water, and the building is not connected to the public water supply.
The Spanish House is a historic customs house, built around 1880 and has been in a dilapidated condition since early 80´s. In 2005 after the introduction of free market reforms, a private investor intended to turn the building into a hotel. Due to financial problems the investor had to withdraw from the project after the building had already been gutted and partially reconstructed. The windows and roof were removed and the first floor was built, separating the flooded basement from the street level. The name Spanish House comes from the urban legend about the Spanish traders in Belgrade.
The House is located in Savamala district next to the Branko Bridge and it shares a garden with KC Grad, a cultural pioneer of the Neighborhood. In 2012, temporary right of use of the premises was conferred to the Goethe-Institut Belgrad by the Municipality Savski Venac with intention to turn the “shell” into a community place.
From 2013 to 2016 run by the Urban Incubator, the House was open to the public and transformed into a venue for various cultural and social events. In 2013 a temporary pavilion was built by Tim Rieniets and Nikola Banković in the house as a “place of enablement”. It hosted lectures, performances, concerts, debates, exhibitions and workshops. It became a place for multicultural and intergenerational exchange for both foreign and local artists, craftsman, activists, youth and neighbors.
After the pavilion was disassembled in 2014, supported by the Urban Incubator the House was turned into an urban garden by self-organized community, neighbors and students. Through collaborative actions they have established Zdravamala the urban garden, designed and build multipurpose furniture and organized various social events. The House continued to serve as a community venue place.
In 2015 the School of urban practices project run by the young architects from Belgrade and BÄÄÄM project of the Urbane Experimente e.V. from Kassel took collaborative residency in the Spanish House. They used the House site as an open, participative space for action and made it accessible to outside parties. The Spanish House become a public space, with artists, planners and neighbors all able to make use of its qualities. A place of both artistic production and experimentation, and place of social interaction.
In the late 2015 due to the local politics and big investment project Belgrade Waterfront, the building of a Hotel on the site of the Spanish House became hot topic again. The Goethe-Institut Belgrad have lost the premises to use the building. Since the beginning of the 2016 the building is abandoned and empty again. There is no evident information about the Hotel nor signs of a construction progress.
With its large-scale project Beograd na vodi (Belgrade Waterfront), the city government intends to turn Savamala’s 180 hectares (0.7 square miles) into an upscale area to fit the tastes of the project’s Middle Eastern backers. The current model shows a cultural center on the site of the Spanish House.