“Urania” – the stuff great cinema is made of

From a phase-out model to a modern architecture office and public space: The former cinema “Urania” in the Croatian capital of Zagreb has put the past behind it and experienced a change. With elaborate conversion work, the architects of Studio 3LHD created a new workplace for themselves and the public. Although they were strongly marked by the signs of time, the spatial qualities of the reinforced concrete construct were still high, which is why the existing historical fabric was brought to life. And the most popular PREFA product in Croatia played an important part in this process.

Outside view of the cinema, surrounded by houses and trees.

A change of scenery

When images were starting to “learn how to move,” “Urania” was still quite popular. It was one of many small cinemas in the urban blocks of Zagreb and was built at the local Kvaternik Square in 1939. After the cinema was closed in 2011, it was used as a warehouse for several years and gradually began to decay. The architects of the Croatian Studio 3LHD were all the more surprised when they saw the intact arches, columns and ceilings inside. “At first, we were a little sceptical about the state the cinema was in, but when we entered it for the first time, it was simply fantastic,” says Saša Begović from 3LHD, who were on the lookout for new office rooms for their studio at the time. They recognised the historical value of the early concrete technology as well as the good material characteristics and therefore decided to renovate the building and use it as their new office location. “You can say that this is a concrete monument of the early engineering technology of the 1930s. You simply have to preserve something like that.”

In this picture, a large black metal door can be seen, with stairs leading up on the left side. The whole room is pleasantly lit.

Light in a shadow cabinet

Bringing daylight into the rooms, which originally had not been designed for this purpose, proved to be a considerable challenge. On the ground floor, the side corridors of the movie theatre were transformed into open atriums that let light inside the building through floor-to-ceiling windows. “We decided to use small windows on the upper floor. If we had used bigger ones, it would have been necessary to have some form of protection against the sun,” Begović reveals. On the second storey, the main light source comes from above, where the roof was cut open in the ridge area to install skylights over the entire length. “Before, it had a classical pitched roof, which covered the beautiful curved ceiling. We exposed the ceiling and were on the lookout for a suitable material to cover this curved form on the sides,” as Begović elaborates. “Since we wanted to use the material on extensive areas and needed something formable, we decided on PREFA.” The lightweight materiality of Prefalz makes it highly versatile, which is why it offers an ideal covering for the curved roof area.

On the left is a brick wall, on the right a glass wall. In the middle is a tree with red leaves and illuminated by the sun.

Prefalz is popular

With their choice of material, 3LHD are certainly following a trend. “Prefalz is by far the most famous PREFA product in Croatia,” the responsible object consultant Zoran Jakopović reveals. “The long lifespan of aluminium gives people a sense of security. It’s simply a product for all time.” After all, this is especially important in Croatia, which is home to various natural qualities. Long coasts, high mountains and wide plains strongly characterise the climate and demand a lot from the building materials. Clay tile is the standard material for roofs, as the clay industry is generally very present. “Croatia basically isn’t a sheet metal country,” says Jakopović. But he believes that there will be a change in the material selection over the next 10 to 20 years. “The owners are looking for lightweight roof coverings that last for a long time and are stormproof. Therefore, the modern forms of cover that PREFA offers are very attractive for architects and investors.”

View of the ceiling with white struts. The sun is shining through the windows.

Multifaceted Croatia

Jakopović has accompanied several projects since he started working as PREFA object consultant in Croatia in 2005. At the time, the first building with a PREFA roof in Croatia was built in his hometown Varaždin. “I practically see the house every day. Even though that was already 16 years ago, it still looks new.” Apart from this, Varaždin is also home to Croatia’s largest project until now. The local sports hall was covered with a total of 7,000 m2 of Prefalz façade. Showcase projects like the Monte Mulini Hotel in Rovinj, the train station in Rijeka or the kayak and canoe centre of the city of Slavonski Brod followed. “In addition, we were also able to clad numerous public buildings, business objects and private houses with PREFA,” as Jakopović reveals. “It fills me with joy whenever I see our products in the mountains, in the cities and along the coast.”

You can see the roof of the cinema which is covered in Prefalz in the colour patina grey.

Cinema Urania - details



Building, location:

office building/public space, Zagreb




Studio 3LHD


INSTALIM doo, Marijan i Ivan Marković




patina grey

Further information

  • Text and Interview: Marco Steurer
  • Photos: © Jure Živković
  • Plan: © 3LHD