Vladimir Djurović – about the flow of life & work

It comes by itself, goals or aspirations that I have for myself on a personal level. And I just look, and then they fit perfectly for the company as well: one way of looking at things, the same interest, the same passion, revolving around nature, and always almost sailing, but not on the sea. Just open and see where things are going, and it’s very interesting how many different winds you catch and it takes you somewhere very interesting… So I’m very open, I’ve become very open. And liberated, I’m not stopped by anything, I don’t know, I can’t explain it. There’s a very very close merge. Like Montenegro started as something for me, and now I see it could be a perfect place to take our clients and help them see the difference, help them to raise their awareness and help them do the right things through seeing an example where we really didn’t do much in a way. What you do a lot is not, is not to do – you know what I mean: It’s what you don’t do, that’s what we’re doing. Because I have a client coming: Hey, we hired you, we paid you, you’re telling us not to do anything, what is this? 

So anyway, it’s merging very closely. I’m almost losing the boundaries between things. And I’m loving it because it’s holistic. There’s no word and it’s not that, on the other hand, I have no life and I’m all work… On the contrary. I mean, I don’t work, I don’t feel I’m working. And when I feel I’m working, it means I’m working on the wrong project or there’s something wrong. So yes, it’s interesting. And I love doing environments that allow for these things to happen. And somehow also, over the 25 years, if you want, at work, this position now, you realise more and more that you can apply it and you can use it to make more of these connections, to push things more in the right way, to raise awareness as well, and to fully utilise what we have built until now for that purpose as well. You know, to put it to the best use possible and not to look at it as business… I’m always open and I’m always learning; the more connections, the more people you meet, when you’re open and absorbing and connecting, and seeing the connectedness of everything and everyone. And especially, when the right energy is aligned and how it feels when it’s right.

I mean yes, when I started, it was… OK, I grew up in nature, I grew up in forests. Our old house, we were in a pine forest. I used to leave the house in the morning and come back at night with my friends. In the forest all day long. But then, I went to the US and England and studied landscape architecture for 16 years, but at the beginning I was obsessed with doing beautiful gardens, design, design of beautiful gardens. And our school – it’s very funny how things happen… Because I went to a school called University of Georgia, Athens, School of Environmental Design. And all they taught us was about protecting and bringing back the environment and working with nature. However, we hated it. We were fighting it: “What is this university?” Because at Harvard, they were only teaching design. And we felt we were not given the tools to be good designers. Because we want to be great designers, we want to design, design, design. And I thought: They are really strange, what are they talking about, native ecosystem and restoring ecosystems and… Because we had no clue. We were so unaware in a way, so naive to not see what was happening. The environmental movement, of course, was happening even before, but we wanted everything new, we wanted to design special things. So I was going to be trained to be a designer. Like I said, obsessed with that aesthetic layer, with that layer that everybody sees: “O wow, great designer, look at this beautiful garden…” Yes, it changes with the season, it has natural aspects, but what you see on the surface was extremely important…How we build the reflection, the perspective from each corner, the materiality… I was obsessed with it because somehow it was what everybody wanted and… I don’t know… Even my family – I come from a family of interior designers. So everybody: design, design, design… 

And it took a long time, over two decades, for me to start first seeing, when I started traveling all around the world and realised that everywhere I went in the most pristine remote areas, clients would buy spectacular pieces of land and ask us to destroy them; us and the architects. And make this amazing land, I could feel the spirit of that place without knowing, back then in the beginning I was also discovering that I could. But then I know when we finished the project, it became about the architect, architecture, the landscape and blablabla, and the place is no longer there. It’s there, but not really… 

And now it’s all about how do we amplify the sense of a place, how you bring it to life, we need to disappear, we need to do nothing, you know. Or whatever we do, number one is to amplify that sense of a place, the place should speak. So it took me two decades, 20 years of projects and traveling, for that thing to happen, probably in Wadi Rum was the first realisation that everything we’re doing is wrong and the power when you don’t touch it, what you feel: the real truth, you know? And that teaches you the need that you have to be completely… You can’t be separated with nature. You are nature, you are part of it. And we were always out of it, wanted to dominate, wanted to put our mark, wanted… And now, we have to unlearn absolutely everything, stay back and start from scratch, listening, learning, observing, trying and really giving back all these natural systems that we destroyed all around the world. Trying in every project to bring them back, to the right place, to give back a sense of place and let it start happening again if we can.

And now we’re starting to learn about how you would do that and how you would become and how our projects used to finish. You design it, you finish it, I give it to you: here it is. Ok, I used to follow up after, but my job was done. So with this new approach now, it’s just the beginning, because we’re just setting these seeds, and with it, replicating that natural system for nature to take over then. And you, you have to just guide it, somehow, a little bit, and protect it, shepherd it along the way. And then, the job is never finished.

To develop and reach that point where it doesn’t need anybody and it becomes a natural system that can take care of itself, without us coming back in and messing around with it, and the clients deciding, OK, there are some unwanted species coming from birds, let’s spray the crap out of it, you know, let’s kill… To keep an eye, to make sure that we don’t go back to what we’re used to doing. Not just us, everybody, the clients and all. So you have to stay to keep guiding it. And to keep guarding it. 

So it all started from the love for nature, and then the love for design, using nature a little bit, imposing on it, to now going back and learning. I wanna learn so much more about natural systems, about all of that, the ecological aspects. Funny enough about that, my university was all about that. More than 35 years ago they were so advanced in it and we wanted it different, we didn’t want that.

And with our projects, it’s not only us in a way. We bring on board new connections, always, in every mission, that’s the aspiration, we get so many people with us, specialists in different fields, because you know there’s so much to tackle in this new direction. We bring them, but then we have to somehow orchestrate it, to let the results stay on course and arrive to the desired direction, otherwise one of these guys can take it completely in one direction, but you cannot lose what the clients want and what the mission is. So you become a conductor. We’re feeling now we are more becoming like you have to bring all these people, and get it to harmonise and achieve results together. And it’s a learning for everybody.

You cannot design a beautiful park, and people come and sit, and pretend there is nothing wrong now. I mean, the damage we’ve caused for us now is so grave and dramatic that we have to address it while creating this special places, but not only for people. For all living species. Now equal. So it’s no more a park for people, and benches for the people and trees for shade and walkways… This is finished now. It has to be an environment that sustains biological diversity and all sorts of life. Otherwise, it has no meaning for me now. I want to be a bit … A bit categorical. With lines that work architecturally: there are buildings… You do all that, but in the end, the natural environment has to shine as the main important player. Instead of the design and the aesthetics. 

I look forward, like I said, to the last part: to push much harder in this direction and then to rise to the point where the clients arrive with us to this point that they want us to go there and we go much further, and not just us pushing them there. Which will happen. And even to sometimes get clients who already want that, and you come and you take them there, and further. Because we’re stretching them now. When they come to us, they don’t want any of that. But how much and how far can you stretch them? You know. But if they come and they are already more evolved or awakened somehow, or conscious, then I can go further. Because we always want to go much further. Further at every level. Out of the program, out of the sight, out of everything.

To go much further is to have a client that has a lot of land and is not so sure what to do with it. And maybe his goal is not to make a fortune. To develop something that can sustain, definitely, even economically and all of that: how can we do it so that everybody benefits? When nature benefits, when the community benefits, when everybody can benefit, locally and globally, somehow. Because every project has a lot of potentials. To be a seed that can be an example for the place, for other places, etc., etc. So if we can do more of these examples and sow these seeds everywhere…

… I can’t articulate all these things. I operate by feelings in a way, and it’s very clear to me that we’re at that point.

There are many other and easier places to run a business… Regarding all the difficulties in Lebanon… I mean, I have four types, and now we might enter the fifth type to sustain our electricity. Because we work on computers, we don’t have electricity all the time, the people we pay the money to generate electricity – the service where you pay and they give you electricity when government electricity cuts off – are not reliable either. And then we have our generator, so we have to turn it on when those two sources go bad. The generator fuel prices went crazy, the pollution it makes, the sound it gives… Poison, all of it. Now we’re looking for solar inverter. So it’s not easy to operate here, plus lots of international clients get scared… One of them from China told me that all his friends, on his level, are asking him are you crazy, in the whole country there’s less people than in the smallest village in China, on the end of the world, why do you go there and hire them, and the risk factor and blablabla…? So, of course, we can be anywhere, our work is international, we don’t have a lot of work in Lebanon … So we’re not here because of work.