Seventy Years of Cooperative Centres as a Social Infrastructure

As we go through our daily routines we frequently overlook how important community is in our lives; we lose sight of our place within it, our relationships with other people, and how strongly this shapes our daily lives. But once this interaction is broken due to personal or social circumstances, it soon becomes obvious how much it is missed. It’s in times of economic, health or natural crises that indoor public community spaces suddenly become extremely important connective elements whose existence is crucial for the widest community.


The project focuses on the Cooperative Centre – a multipurpose public building most often set in a rural context. In villages, small towns and suburban areas they serve as venues for various administrative, economic, social and cultural activities. The cooperative centre has a specific architectural typology, whose purpose is to create an indoor public space that usually serves as a central space in the community, a place of social interaction and a hub that serves a range of local community needs.

Cooperative centres represent the remnants of the Yugoslavian project of building cooperative centres during the time of post-war reconstruction and the broader modernisation of society. The project was launched in December 1947, and within five years, with mass mobilisation, volunteer and shock work, the country saw thousands of cooperative centres built across its territory. The centres, which were primarily designed to serve the needs of the new model of cooperative agriculture and functioned also as cultural and educational centres in their towns and villages, took on an array of roles and uses in the course of their lives.


A network of 523 cooperative centres was planned for Slovenia and, as the research shows, more than 300 were built within a couple of years. The state-led project was conducted by the authorities at the federal, republic and district levels. It engaged technical staff, architects and artists who helped in finding suitable locations, preparing the type plans for the cooperative centres and providing guidance, all the way down to instructions on how to set up stages and arrange the space for the film projector. Realisation of this massive project involved the local people and veterans’ organisations as well as women’s and mass youth organisations.

The construction was straightforward, well­-organised and carefully documented. Complementing the construction process was the periodical “Cooperative Centre”, which reported on developments on construction sites, published information and educational material as well as architectural plans with instructions for construction. The project was also soon captured in propaganda films and photo-documentation; handbooks were published to help in the construction.


Seventy years later, many cooperative centres remain standing and continue to serve their purpose as local community centres – venues that bring people together for leisure and for an array of public enterprises. Some have been privatised, some demolished, but most continue to serve their original purpose. Some of the latter have been renewed, while others await renovation.


Cooperative centres open up broader issues of social cohesion, namely how we as a society can live together in diversity and avoid being closed off in physical or mental strongholds. Cooperative centres have served as important social infrastructures that enable and nurture basic social bonds. On the other hand they also reveal differences between Slovenian regions, life in small towns and villages, differences between urban centres and the periphery, and raise questions of (un)equal social development.


The exhibition highlights the various dimensions of this project of constructing cooperative centres in the given historical, spatial and organisational circumstances, both at the time of their emergence and today. Employing distinctive architectural elements it shapes the character and functioning of indoor public space, whose significance is underlined by the presentation of the project itself. Today, exploring the subject of cooperative centres offers us the chance to better understand the ways in which indoor public spaces can be set up as social infrastructures that have the potential to foster free interaction and association, communication and empowerment. How important they are for society only becomes that much more obvious when we are deprived of the possibility to participate and associate.


Arsenale della Biennale di Venezia
Campo della Tana, 2169/F
Venice, Italy

GPS Coordinates
45.434000, 12.355500

Opening Times
22 May–31 Jul: 11 AM–7 PM
1 Aug–21 Nov: 10 AM–6 PM
closed on Mondays (except 24 May, 5 Jul, 26 Jul, 30 Aug, 6 Sep, 1 Nov, 15 Nov)


Matevž Čelik Vidmar

Assistant to the Commissioner
Nikola Pongrac

Blaž Babnik Romaniuk
Martina Malešič
Rastko Pečar
Asta Vrečko

Pavilion Design
Obrat d. o. o.

Exhibition Design
Blaž Babnik Romaniuk
Anja Delbello
Nuša Jurkovič
Samo Kralj
Martina Malešič
Rastko Pečar
Aljaž Vesel
Asta Vrečko

Graphic Design
Anja Delbello
Aljaž Vesel

Architectural Models
Nuša Jurkovič
Samo Kralj

Vid Hajnšek

Jana Jocif

Urška Cvikl

Coordinator in Venice
eiletz | ortigas architects

Museum of Architecture
and Design (MAO)

With the support of
Ministry of Culture of
the Republic of Slovenia