"My name is Ilija Gubić, I’m an architect born and raised in Serbia.
I started traveling with my family at a young age, before the war started in Yugoslavia. Once the violence broke out, I stayed at home and witnessed my country being destroyed — bombed. Since I saw cities being destroyed during my childhood, I have an urge to support reconstruction. I spent my formative years studying architecture in Serbia, and later moved to Italy, where I continued studying post-disaster reconstruction. Because Italy is close to Serbia it was not difficult for me to return home when needed, which made the transition much smoother.
After my studies, I joined the United Nations to work on “building back better”, to increase resilience of nations and communities after disasters. My job allowed me to live in Thailand and to travel to Myanmar, Maldives, Nepal, and other countries in Asia and the Pacific for short assignments – there are several cities in these regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change. At the end of 2013 Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded, hit the Philippines, leaving more than four million people homeless. I joined the UN team to support the reconstruction.
In 2015, I moved to New York to work at the UN headquarters on the New Urban Agenda, a document adopted by member states of the United Nations that establishes recommendations for urban development in the next two decades. The New Urban Agenda also addresses issues of cities and migration, “leaving no one behind”.
In 2017, I moved to Rwanda to work on sustainable urban development and green growth for the country’s secondary cities. Rwanda sees urbanization as an opportunity for national economic development. The country is urbanizing rapidly with a 4.5 percent annual growth rate among the urban population. Migration from rural to urban areas is intensified.
Whenever I move to a new country, I stay on the lookout for different experiences. In the beginning, I take on the role of an observer: trying to understand the local culture, exploring what kind of relationships I can build. When I relocate I also try to keep up with my hobbies. I paint, for example, and change the colors I use based on my impressions of the place I move to. I also explore 20th century art and architecture.
I am a migrant, with a far less agonizing migrant experience compared to many, and I never forget where I come from. I try to go home frequently and maintain regular contact with family and childhood friends so that I can stay connected to my roots, which helps me to keep going and exploring.
For anyone planning to move from their home for education, they should have a clear idea of what they want to learn and achieve. If they want better job opportunities, then they should know what kind of city could offer them. When there is an objective, it is easier to plan strategically and reach it.
During the decade-long war in Yugoslavia my family was hosting refugees: two families from Bosnia and Herzegovina. So I would urge anyone hosting migrants to offer as much support as they can, but also to take the opportunity to learn from the migrants, and create meaningful bonds with people coming from different backgrounds and different realities.
Migration and architecture are linked. Today, the world is witnessing a massive migration movement. The conditions are changing and with them the requirements in terms of housing, and urban development. Architects, along with other technical experts can respond to migration issues only when everyone works together in a coordinated fashion."