As a part of the design research Mortal Cities & Forgotten Monuments, the project Jump explores a new ‘open’ language of shaping cultural memory through architecture that goes beyond political, religious or cultural interpretations (and hence tensions, claims and ‘truths’) without ignoring or denying the past. Jump is a design intervention in the urban space of the city of Mostar (Bosnia-Herzegovina), destroyed during the war and now divided. The proposal is based on an open design language that transcends current societal fragmentation by being rooted in old traditions while constructively aiming at the future:
By gradually altering the square within the Central Zone layer by layer, citizens will slowly adjust to the changing public spaces of the city. Inserting a variety of references that allow them to read the history of the buildings that surround them will increase the probability for them to read their city again. By identifying with them, and by appropriating them, the citizens of Mostar might slowly find common ground again. The next step, however, is to reach a higher level, namely writing the city. In order for the citizens to actually be able to write the city again, we need to go back to the traits and codes of conduct that belong to living in a city and urban life. By recalling their own traditions, which never completely disappeared but may have been put on hold for one generation, the citizens of Mostar should listen to their own memories. These memories could be based on old urban traditions that were and still are the premises for the city to function, as ‘promenading’ along the Korzo and public street cabaret (Liskaluk) once were, and like jumping off the Old Bridge still is. This is the only way to write the city again.
Diving off of the Old Bridge used to be a ritual where young men dove off the bridge to prove their manliness and impress young women. Boys learned step by step how to dive and ultimately become skilled enough to jump off the Old Bridge. A diving contest is still held every year, where the most famous international high board divers take the plunge. This urban activity has remained a shared tradition and is practiced by people from all religious backgrounds. This public activity may be a perfect way to connect people once again.
In order to form a new operational architectural language in the ‘neutral’ zone, I propose a building that includes a diving school where citizens can learn, step by step, to dive from great heights with the plunge from the new Old Bridge as the final step. By designing such a place, an urban activity is made available to all the inhabitants of the city, regardless of their nationality, religion, gender, age, or sexual orientation. It is not just diving off the Old Bridge, but also diving itself that is an age-old tradition. Diving is something atavistic. It is pre-religious. Historians question whether jumpers found on pre-Christian paintings could actually swim. It may be that diving even predates swimming.
Shaping the public spaces to accommodate new urban and inclusive activities is essential. Especially in the present circumstances shaped by the destruction of the last war, room must be made for public activities. By creating a number of anchor points in public spaces, the area could develop itself further from there. On the elevated square, with the Gymnasium, the diving place, and a café as anchor points, a new Korzo could arise, with the history of Mostar in all its diversity as its background. The diving school will be located at the square, right at the spot where the old Hit department store used to be, which is currently occupied by the unfinished Croatian National Theater. The building will face the Gymnasium. This school, which teaches (although separate from each other) both Croatian, Muslim, and international students, is directly opposite the building. Because all groups and nationalities already use this building, and since this entire area already possesses a public history, it is a very appropriate location to construct a building where people can learn to dive from great heights. The building itself is more of a sculpture or monument than a building. Just like the monuments that commemorate the victims of the Second World War, it is relatively accessible and has no windows, doors, or roofs. It is an open public space and has four sides that are all directed towards a particular area of the square. The entrance is located on the north side of the square and consists of paving that resembles a carpet that leads up the huge stairs, with two wings that point in both directions. The steps are 50 centimeters high, which means that people can advance step by step—each time 50 centimeters higher—to a greater jumping height. These steps can also function as a grandstand to sit on or gather before the jumping, with the north side of Mostar as its backdrop. With every 50 centimeters they ascend, the steps also get 50 centimeters wider on both sides, so that they extend like wings. These two sides are meant for practice, up to 17.5 meters high. One side faces the Glass Bank Building and the entrance of the park, the other the Old Bank Building and the road towards Tito’s bridge. The end of the stairs reaches 18 meters in height and is the endpoint for practice before moving to jumping off the Old Bridge. This last step spans the entire length and faces towards the Gymnasium and the Spanish Square. At street level, the spectators are separated from the water by a wall of 50 centimeters height. In this way, both adults and children can witness the diver entering the water. At the same time the wall can function as a public seating area.
In Mostar, diving off the Old Bridge is a tradition that has its origin in the very structure of the city. Without the existence of the Old Bridge, the tradition would never have been there. Even after the war when the Old Bridge was demolished and before there was a stand-in bridge, there was a springboard from which people could dive into the river. The jump is a form of survival for the inhabitants of Mostar, it is something they can hold on to, because it forms the foundation of being a Mostarac or Mostarka, not just a member of some district. The sensation of weightlessness is the feeling of ‘eternity’, something without limits, infinite, oceanic. Furthermore, swimming is an important and meaningful part of diving. Swimming has to be taught or else one is bound to drown. Everything one undertakes to overcome this condition could be explained as the continuous battle against one’s natural instincts: to sink.
Swimming teaches us to keep our heads above water. Jumping off the bridge is an individual activity, but one that makes connections between men, as equals, through the courage to do so. The three-second jump towards the water provides a feeling of weightlessness and freedom where one becomes detached from everything around oneself, including one’s entanglement in the struggles of Mostar; an empowerment to conquer the city and the architecture for a moment and dive into the future with a new version of the old one in mind.