Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Q&A: Igor Toshevski

Special post cover:  digital augmentation
& layout by K.K.W
Original image courtesy of Igor Toshevski
Interview: Public Space in Skopje,
with Igor Toshevski. By K.K.W

...The endless charm of this city has always been its playfulness... Its unpretentiousness, its liveliness, its rough edges. It has seduced both its citizens and its visitors as they would enjoy a cup of coffee under the sunny skies, leaning into the chairs and overlooking the always busy Macedonia street (used to be called Marshal Tito, but that's a different story), where children's voices, as they run around, mash up together with grown-ups' conversations, music from nearby cafés, dogs' barking, and impatient drivers' honking. (Marija Mokrova, from her essay "Skopje...not mine anymore")

K.K.W: Igor, thanks for the interview I know your very busy.
Igor Toshevski,
image courtesy of Mr Toshevski.
IT: Your welcome K.

K.K.W: Every city has parks, however does Skopje have public spaces other then parks and do they have free wi-fi (internet), chess tables? Are any of them enclosed, giving protection from the elements, with comfortable seating?

I.T: Indeed, Skopje does have a few articulated public areas which provide more than one aspect for outdoor activities. Most of these spaces were conceived and built during the socialist period according to modernist standards such as Bauhaus, but are often left neglected. We call them 'SocBauhaus'. The truth is that little is done to restore or upgrade them so most of them now look like some sad reminders of a strange era. The new trends include wi-fi access almost everywhere, children playgrounds and even fitness equipment. However, they are now constructed in a hurry, often neglecting practical details which would make them complete, such as weather cover or comfort zones. Not to mention aesthetics…

K.K.W:  What are your, if any, favorite public spaces in Skopje?

I.T: The plateaus located between older apartment blocks are now being treated with more care and attention to practical detail (access for wheelchairs, forum-like areas, kid’s corner and new paths). As a continuation of the former modernist plans, such piazzas exist in the area of Taftalidze, Karpos, Aerodrom, etc. They’re pretty tidy and quiet, which is good for a change, as opposed to the city center.

K.K.W:  When it comes to public spaces in Skopje, what is your opinion of them? What should be added?

I.T: I hate it when ideology takes over. Most of the new areas have a tendency of projecting the romantic, anachronism values of neo-nationalism or some über Macedonian identity, instead on focusing on communication, comfort, multi-purpose venues and a more humane environment. We could do less with bad taste totalitarian décor and more with design which reflects the times we live in (digitization, mobile access, nomadism etc.). Contemporary art can help, but it’s regarded as a no-no. There were some pretty good ideas at the beginning (rent a city-bike, river cafes) but their implementation is relatively poor.

K.K.W: The project "Skopje 2014" has made some major changes to the city, but has it affected public spaces in a really negative way?

I.T: For sure. This new monumental look is inadequate in many aspects. One of them is disproportion. The sheer scale of this dilettante academism suggests “eternal values” which would inspire awe, but what it really does is insult good taste and instigates arrogance, power… It actually projects fear – something which not only does not improve contemporary urban lifestyle but results in division, segregation and sheer stupidity, if you consider that Skopje is a ‘mixed’ society 
in terms of ethnicity and religion. The Old Bazaar has been turned into a sound polluted discotheque while the center unmistakably reminds us of Las Vegas or Disneyland aesthetics. For the semi-illiterate masses, this, for now is still pretty attractive. Due to the poor financial standards, many of them have never even seen another foreign country or structures of such grandeur (frankly, even I am impressed by its scale). Kitsch, or turbo-architecture as it has being dubbed lately, has always clung tightly to contemporary life in Macedonia. What is obvious though is that even now, Skopje has become a mockery and a joke in the eyes of international architecture critique. It’s a question of time before this truth sinks in at home.

K.K.W:  In NYC many of the "modern" buildings have public space built next to them, some are outdoor some indoors (a city zoning law passed in 1961 gives incentives to private developers for doing this). Does Skopje have any public spaces like this, and do you think your city should pass a similar zoning law?

I.T: This law sounds like a great idea. The problem here was always the implementation of any law, as such. Even if we did have such an option, it would be treated as a formality and only the minimum standards would be taken in consideration, which is what is happening at the moment. Even worse, the city is suffocating. Literally. Parking space, for example, is a huge problem. Skopje was never intended to be a Capital and contain such a population (one million, and counting). But, instead of spreading out and creating not one, but several ‘centers’ and improving the communication network between them, the current concept is that of concentration within the one and only central part of the city. Skopje 2014 is exactly this. The border between this part of town and the rest is rather dramatic. But, most parts of the city still remain dark, derelict areas with no pavements, small parks etc. Not to mention bicycle tracks or green zones. As an illustration, it’s worth noticing the fact that Skopje still remains as one of the most polluted cities in Europe. Something definitely needs to change.

No matter how you conceive it, change does not come easy, and it will only happen through mutual understanding. Trying to bring attention to important matters is the only sensible course of action, in order to start a chain reaction that may lead to positive change. And if what was discussed here is responsible, then we alone will be responsible for the saying of. For people should never be silent as what they perceive as a problem in there country, or that of their fellow man.

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"Art is the reason, art is the way"     

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