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Skopje’s History on Fire

The archive at the Institute for Town Planning and Architecture Skopje, Republic of Macedonia, which has been foreclosed since 2014, was destroyed in a fire on April 21, 2017 – as the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta) ETH Zürich reported this morning via the newsletter from the journal e-fluxIt is not yet known how the fire was started, or by whom. 


Text: Damjan Kokalevski – 1.5.2017
Foto: Antonio Grujevski


City of Solidarity
In 1963, after the devastating earthquake of Skopje, the Institute became the birthplace of the new city. The natural disaster was followed by one of the most comprehensive rebuilding efforts in the modern history, where more than 60 countries took part. At the peak of the Cold War, Skopje, then part of the Non-Aligned Yugoslavia, was proclaimed the City of Solidarity. With planners, architects and politicians from both sides of the Iron Curtain, the city became a hallmark of international cooperation. Many countries donated equipment, prefabricated buildings and planning expertise to the city. The United Nations launched an urban planning competition in order to rebuild the city and brought an army of planners and architects to Skopje from all over the world. The city became a testing ground and prefiguration of a post Cold War, globalized world, expressed through architecture and urban planning. The United Nations commissioned renowned planners and architects like Kenzo Tange, Constantinos Doxiadis, Van der Broek and Bakema, Luigi Piccinato, and Adolf Ciborowski who, together with the Yugoslav architects Edvard Ravnikar, Radovan Miscevic and Fedor Wenzler, Aleksandar Djordjevic, and Slavko Brezovski, worked on blueprints for the new city. They were asked to deploy the most progressive and advanced architectural and scientific achievements to date. The Institute in Skopje was the place where this project took place between 1964 and 1967. In the following years many public, cultural and infrastructural buildings were built, such as the colossal train station by Kenzo Tange, the Opera by Biro 77, the University by Marko Mušič, the Student Dormitory by Georgi Konstantinovski, and the iconic post office – which was partially destroyed in a 2013 fire – by Janko Konstantinov. Skopje remains a place where in a close proximity one can see exemplary Brutalist and Metabolist architecture standing as a reminder of the belief in openness and progress achieved through international cooperation.


Wiping out all memories
Most of the valuable materials from the rebuilding of Skopje – original drawings, plans, models, photographs, records and proceedings – disappeared in the fire. The neglect of this knowledge is coupled with the rise of ignorance, nationalism and populism that plague the country. The knowledge, as well as the Institute, were abandoned for many years. Neither specialists nor the public of Skopje were interested, as it became “obsolete”. After the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the buildings of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were dismissed as “Communist architecture”. The final attempt to bury this history came in 2009 when the government of Macedonia launched a grand nationalistic project to violently rebuild the city, called Skopje 2014. It consisted of more than twenty, mainly governmental buildings and hundreds of monuments erected in the city center in a pseudo-classical style. It aimed to connect the Macedonian people to their mythical roots, trying, at the same time, to make it look more “European”. Its styrofoam ornaments and grotesque appearance are frightening and nightmarish. The project is ongoing, while the costs are out of control, with more than EUR 500 million already spent in an opaque and corrupt process, taking place in one of the poorest countries of Europe.

In Skopje, the world is losing the remnant of one of the few utopias that became a reality in the 20th century. Parts of the world heritage are being crushed before our eyes. Throughout the years, researchers and academics at the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture of ETH Zurich have worked with, lectured on, exhibited, published, held workshops in Skopje, and beyond on this archive. In light of such a loss, we reaffirm our belief that it is our duty to make this knowledge public and accessible.


> In archithese 3.2015 Balkan Beats you read more about the architecture of former Yugoslavia.

> The December issue archithese 4.2017 Ruinen will delve into the fascinating worlds of ruins.

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