Commissioned by maritime captain Antun Sesan, Grand Hotel on the island Lopud (Croatia) was the first building designed by architect Nikola Dobrović that was realised in Yugoslavia. In March 1934 Dobrović moved from Prague to Lopud in order to plan, organize and supervise the construction of the hotel. Working within a comparatively low budget and under the restrictive conditions of building on an island, Dobrović sought to achieve the highest contemporary building standards.
The hotel is considered to be the first reinforced concrete building on the Dalmatian coast; all eighty rooms had balconies and were equipped with hot water, electricity, ventilation and automatic telephones; the building had a central heating system and its own power station. Savings were achieved due to the high economy of space and energy that included the minimal size of rooms, built-in furniture and the use of local materials. The most emphasized feature of the Grand Hotel was the quality of its total design, meaning that all the elements of construction, as well as the interior design and garden arrangement belonged to a unique conception of space and reflected Dobrović’s comprehensive approach to architectural design. The hotel was opened in May 1937, after the first phase of the construction, and fully completed and partly changed during the reconstruction in 1973.
Originally, the hotel ground plan was L-shaped, and only in the 80s, during a complete reconstruction, the initial structure was modified by adding a back wing, in the shapes which repeat Dobrović’s vocabulary. The hotel building is pulled back from the waterfront regulation line into the depth of the plot, in front of the hotel there is an axially composed park, a line of palm-trees with a gazebo at the entrance and a promenade all the way to the hotel access terrace, on the side of which open public spaces follow each other with various species of subtropical plants and park furniture made of reinforced concrete.
In the plastic unity, from the design of the landscape to the design of minimal in-built furnishings in hotel rooms, the park in front of the hotel and the building itself are the most significant Dobrović’s works. The contradiction of the modern age fate has linked to this creation of his, a tragic historical event: during World War II the hotel was the place where Jews arrested by the fascists in the Dubrovnik area were concentrated.
This building was a machine, in this case not only in the sense of stimulating a form. Functionalism, as an unquestionable component of Dobrović’s conceptualisation of contemporary time, is legible even in the machine-aesthetics of the building; form metaphorically similar to a machine. Functionalism is the main content of architecture: everything present in the form is not superfluous in construction. The machine character of the building is also in the technical aspect of function, from the drainage of the flat roof to the design of the services. The structure is skeletal, of reinforced concrete, the ground floor is open on columns, the roof is a flat, active deck, openings in the wall are ribbon windows. Dobrović consistently realised five Le Corbusier’s principles. The machine character of the house – ship is underlined by the captions achieved by reductions in the terrace parapets shuttering. At the entrance into the park there is a semi-cylindrical gazebo, commanding bridge with the letters Hotel Grand, and the really unique curiosum is the architect’s signature done in the same manner near the very entrance of the hotel.
The White Machine for Pleasure
Lopud is the middle island in the Elaphitic archipelago, at a distance of a single nautical mile from the mainland and seven miles from Dubrovnik’s harbor. The foundations for the island’s economic development were service-related activities, primarily maritime trade. The recession in the Mediterranean after the sixteenth century led to the quick fall of the frail island economy. From the seventeenth century through the nineteen-twenties, the island remained confined in something like a time capsule. The growth of a new service industry, tourism, incited economic restoration; for a period the island was what would be called today an exclusive destination.
Modern tourism started to develop on the island of Lopud with the opening of the Grand hotel. With its construction, the tourist offer of the island, in the unique natural phenomenon of the archipelago, rich with cultural heritage has been significantly improved. Creating a unique hotel - ship with a commanding bridge at the entrance to the line of tropical palm trees - combined hedonism and exotics which generated unprecedented formal and meaningful attractions in the life of a place by the sea. The white machine for pleasure, entertainment and voyaging in the geometrical wood of thin palm trees, is today the visual landmark in the silhouette of the picturesque place.
Dobrović, anticipating space problems in the near future, in his study on traditional Dubrovnik architecture, described the most important content guideline of his own work: “gardens are the vital urban parts of modern and future subtropical city, that in lack of vegetation, fruit and vegetables, should tend to expand and join as many green surfaces as possible. Once, landed gentry’s gardens, at their time the symbols of intimate segregation of the privileged, should in the spirit of modern democratic urbanism and within the new integral urban space combine with the public green zone, thus be put to service to the people. They should be strictly considered when setting the urban basis of new Dubrovnik. Grand Hotel is a fragment of this unique town sheme in the spirit of “modern democratic urbanism”; Dobrović’s original contribution to regional and urban planning, the building is pulled back into the depth of the site, and the park in front is open to public. The deck chair made of reinforced concrete among the trunks of tropical palm trees as the fragment of the realisation of the new town vision summarises in itself the tendency of the architect of the Modern movement, to serve the enlightened investor and at the same time to serve the needs of the public, thus achieving the physical frame of the democratic society of the future.
"Dobrović creates the basis of a committed, in the Frampton sense critical regionalism of Dubrovnik and Dalmatia: “as in earlier times, the architects should use the most modern means, materials, and structures, and be guided by the same spirit and rules of urban and architectonic principles that guided the old masters of this town. It is only in this way that it will be possible to create the specific artistic ambience of Dubrovnik.”
The Grand Hotel is a paradigm of developmental and social sustainability derived from a local community in almost all aspects. The only aspect they imported was the architect himself, a man with highly technological knowledge who hailed from a distant metropolitan environment where completely different rules reigned.