Vancaš was born on March 22, 1859 in Sopron, Hungary, where his father worked as a mail official. After his father was made director of the Zagreb Post Office in 1865, Vancaš went to Zagreb and graduated from the Real Gymnasium and then went on to study architecture in Vienna.
He graduated in the class of Friedrich Schmidt, a leading Viennese architect and a skilled professional who was well-versed in the Gothic style. Schmidt designed many buildings, including the Vienna City Hall.
Young and talented architect
Vancaš came to Sarajevo in 1883 as a young and talented architect, at the behest of the Bosnian government and it was here, in the city on the Miljacka River, that he spent the greater part of his working life. During his 38 years of working in BiH (1883-1921) he designed 102 residential buildings, 70 churches, 12 schools, ten banks, ten palaces, ten governmental and municipality buildings and six hotels and cafés.
Among these buildings, the following deserve special mention: the Cathedral of Jesus’ Sacred Heart, the Main Post Office, the Franciscan monastery, Hotel Grand on Titova St. (which is now the Institute for Payment Transactions with the Eternal Fire (Vječna vatra) in front of it, and which Vancaš designed with Karl Paržik), the cemetery on Koševo, the Music Academy….
For his designs of the National Government building (now the BiH Presidency building) and Sarajevo’s Cathedral in 1889, Vancaš received the Knights of the Cross Medallion from Franz Joseph I, and in 1898 he received the Order of St. George Medallion from Pope Leo XIII.
He exhibited his works at the World Expositions in Budapest (1896), Vienna (1898) and Paris (1900).
Creating Bosnian style
Vancaš studied Bosnian folk architecture and sought to implement such characteristic elements in his designs so as to create a unique “Bosnian style”. One architectural theorist, Professor Nedžad Kurto, helped Vancaš come to appreciate the values of the environment in which he was working and to transform them in the spirit of architectural trends in Europe and the world. Even in his early works Vancaš had a preference for the Pseudo-Moorish style, leading to a specific form of architecture called, “Bosnian Style”, which represented Early Modern Architecture in BiH.
Josip Vancaš was also involved in other activities. He participated in the political life of the city, serving as Vice-Governor and President of the Croatian Catholic Association. While he was a member of the BiH Parliament in 1911 he supported a resolution for the protection of cultural monuments in BiH. Given that he was born in Sopron, where such composers as Franz Liszt and Béla Bartók came from, Vancaš was a passionate music lover and founded a male chorus with which he performed as soloist and served as conductor.
On September 27, 1921 he moved from Sarajevo to Zagreb, where he later died on December 15, 1932.
Through his buildings, Josip Vancaš left his mark to represent the time in which he lived and, like other architects – Karl Paržik, Juraj Neidhart and Ivan Štraus, he made an enormous contribution to the development of architecture in BiH.
There is a street above Veliki park in the center of Sarajevo which bears his name.