Doctoral Project
Real Estate Fiction. Branding Industries and the Construction of Global Urban Imaginaries

Doctoral Project
Marija Marić
Prof. Dr. Philip Ursprung

The ‘entrepreneurial shift’ in urban governance, underway since the 1970s, accompanied by the globalisation of financial and real estate markets, has created conditions for the emergence of industries specialised in branding nations, places, cities, and in the last decade, also global, large-scale real estate developments. Occupying a position of an intermediary who communicates with all the stakeholders involved in the project-making, the role of a real estate branding expert has grown in relevance over time, corresponding to that of an architect and urbanist. Storytelling and language have become communication and design domains running in parallel with that of planning, while branding strategists themselves took over the design and development of whole architectural aspects of real estate projects, thus blurring the boundaries between the scopes of work of the two professions. The importance of the curated and total brand concept, followed by self-referentiality of the branding industries themselves, had gradually led to the creation of whole new fictional urban typologies, such as ‘smart cities,’ ‘Live, Work and Play’ developments or ‘lifestyle communities,’ existing solely at the level of a branding language, detached from the actual ‘spatial product’ on the ground.

Organised around the case of Belgrade Waterfront, a large-scale urban development conceived in the real estate–nationalism nexus of the post-socialist Serbia, but also its predecesor project Europolis, an ambitious urban vision of the 1990s Serbian Government under the regime of Slobodan Milošević, the thesis frames the two projects not as designs of architects and planners, but rather of their branding and communication strategists. Based on archival research, media analysis and around twenty interviews conducted with the stakeholders involved in the development of both Belgrade Waterfront and Europolis projects, as well as with the representatives of other global agencies specialising in real estate branding—the dissertation outlines the expanding scope of work and growing power of this new expertise in the making of contemporary cities. It also frames the ways in which branding experts, while working across distance and producing standardised branding narratives for different projects competing in global property markets, helped perpetuate the globalisation of the built environment, but also of the collective urban imaginaries.