Sunday, September 15, 2013

Skopje [Urban Change] 1963 - 2013

One of this months covers.
Design by Aleksandar Ares, layout by K.K.W.
Dress design & 
Photo courtesy of Katerina Mikrut.
Urban Change in Skopje - Rise Of The Young Ones. By K.K.W

"Skopje doesn't have a straight forward narrative. A friend once told me that Skopje was '...shabby, but charming!...'. Let me try to scratch under the surface and maybe reveal one or two things about what makes the city what it is - a place of many intertwined small worlds, different yet compact."
(Tanja Stoimenovska)

This article is meant to give an over-view of the major changes to Skopje's urban landscape for the visual art project Rise Of The Young Ones. And while info about the city is available, there's only so much online, & few books here in NYC, to string together in complete exactness, all changes. 

Post card from possibly circa 1950.
Image courtesy of Matej Bogdanovski
"Any Major changes to a city's landscape / layout,  reflects either the concious or subconcious of the populace, or predates it. This is usually through the actions of one or more person (s) in conjuction with those in power (its educated and or dominant classes).  Along with this, War, Natural disasters, and Economics can often play a great role. And although its generally for the good of the city, its people and greater civic harmony, as an equation its never balanced."  (Aleksandar Ares)
Skopje center. Image by Meglena Visinska
Unlike New York City, and Bucharest for that matter, Skopje's urban landscape has two aspects - the rise of its modern architecture & its retro-antique buildings, with monumental-nationalistic statues [Skopje 2014 project]. This re-vamping of the capital, to make it more like other major European cities, has given RISE to a serious rift within the city & perhaps the country: 54% pro & 46% con [give or take a few #'s]. However, to understand something of the cities present and future, we need to go back to its recent past.

Skopje circa 1950  - The Old railway station
Skopje circa 1950's was a very different
place from the city of today.

After the earthquake of July 1963
After the earthquake of July 1963
One of the major factors of urban change in Skopje was a 6.1 earthquake on July 26, 1963 (when the country was a part of Yugoslavia). About 80 percent of the city was destroyed. Along with aid from the international community, a limited competition for the redevelopment  of the city was created. In 1965 the Japanese architect firm Kenzo Tange won 60% of the prize with 40%  going to the Yugoslav team. Tange's plan would have the city bound together with the symbolic concepts of its "gate" and "wall", serving both as programmatic features and metaphors for the urban form. The City Gate was characterized by the convergence of all traffic  systems, while the railway terminal was designed as an underground structure. Pedestrian zones, transit terminals, automobile parking decks would occupy different levels above it. 
The Kenzo Tange architect team -
circa 1965
Model for reconstruction of Skopje - Kenzo Tange
architect firm
"The transportation center would be joined by a central business district known as City Gate Center, to form the city main axis. Along the axis were clusters of buildings and include a number of office towers, a library, banks, exhibition halls, cinemas, hotels, shops and restaurants - all connected to the railway and bus terminals with elevated motorway's" (1. from the tumblr post by TSTSTSSS ).
Model for reconstruction of Skopje - Kenzo Tange
architect firm
Along with the redevelopment period, "Towards the middle of the 1960s, a group of Skopje-educated architects was formed, a new generation which marked its presence with a number of modern buildings inspired by contemporary architectural theory. Among this post-earthquake group are Ljubinka Malenkova, Georgi and Janko Konstantinovi, Petar Mulickovski, Blagoja Kolev, Trajko Dimitrov, Ljuben Najdenov, Radomir Lalovic, Kiril Muratovski, Zivko Popovski, and Zivko Gelevski; later joined by Vladimir Nikolovski, Ilija Gerasimovski, Miroslav Sidovski, N. Bocieva, Kiril Zarov, P. Mitkov, S. Hadzievi, M. Hadzhievi, V. Nikolikjeva, Nikola Kartasev, Mihail Grankov, T. Paskali, V. Zarcevi, D. Zarcevi, and P. Balabanov."
(From Macedonia Yesterday and Today by Jovan Pavlovski & Misel Pavlovski)

The  Glavna Posta - The Central Post Office of Skopje
Image courtesy of Robert Nate.
After this redevelopment period and the 1960's, Skopje would be classified by Brutalist architecture [started by Le Corbusier - which is an offshoot of the international style], which gives the city a retro-futuristic, fortress feel and look. Its also  In many ways I think this is a physical representation of what the people wanted, a sense of power & strength, which gives a feeling of security. In addition to this the style was in many ways cost effective. Of course, many critics consider (& still do) this form of architecture to be cold and problematic, which led to its falling out of use and favor.
Brutalist architecture. Image courtesy of Robert Nate.
Brutalist architecture. Image courtesy of Robert Nate
Like many other cities Skopje too embraced the revival of Bauhaus & the International Style, adding yet another powerful feature to its urban landscape that would help to redefine its cities. Much of this would happen before and after the Yugoslav Wars (which caused the break-up of Yugoslavia) A few major example is a modernist style government building in the center of Skopje, designed by architect Peter Mulichkoski (1970). Also the  News Publishing Agency -"Nova Makedonija" building (no longer in use by the agency), the  Glavna Posta - The Central Post Office of Skopje,  MRT Center (the national TV broadcast station, 1984) located in central Skopje.  

 the  News Publishing Agency -"Nova Makedonija" building 
(no longer in use by the agency). Image courtesy of Robert Nate

MRT Center (the national TV broadcast station, 1984)
 located in central Skopje. 

Image courtesy of Robert Nate

Modern architecture in Skopje circa 2000's.
Photo by Meglena Visinska

Modern architecture in Skopje circa 2000's.
Photo by Meglena Visinska
Modern architecture in Skopje circa 2000's.
Photo by Meglena Visinska
A government building in the modernist style,
with its facade now redesigned via the Skopje 2014 project.
Image courtesy of Robert Nate.
After the declaration of independence in 1991 with the push towards a more free-market economy would come further changes to the urban landscape. New seemingly radical designs would rise in opposition to the country's socialist past. With the country trying to propel itself into prominence & speak to the growing nationalism came the announcement, in 2010,  of the Skopje 2014 Project by the VMRO-DPMNE (ruling party, of which the President & Prime Minister are members). The project would see the rise of retro-antique buildings, with monumental-nationalistic statues and public art as well.

"The facade on this building will be changed, at a cost of 10 million Euro dollars, from classic 1970 – to a faux, or fake, neoclassical style facade. Personally, I see this as tragic. In my own city of Perth, Australia – a building from the 1960s which holds the local government council was once considered the “ugliest” in the city, and plans were made to demolish it. Now, the same building is one of the favourites in the whole city. You only get one chance to retain your architectural heritage. " [Robert Nate - from his post on Yomadic].
Porta Macedonia - part of the Skopje 2014 project.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
This re-vamping of the capital, to make it more like other major European cities, has given rise to a serious rift within the city & perhaps the country: 54% pro & 46% con [give or take a few #'s]. It has been criticized by some outside the country as well, not only for what is perceived as Kitschy, but also for what seems to be excessive spending (I.E - 10 million Euros for the re-modeling of one of the modernist government buildings in Skopje). And while its understandable why the government is done this, many feel the changes are robbing the city of some of its greatness.
Skopje 2014 Project. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
"I live in Skopje, and I must say with a great sadness in my heart, all that you saw is being brutally changed, and the face of the buildings is covered with some really bad “BAROQUE” style by the government. Skopje was never baroque! We were deep under the Ottoman influence. There were maybe 3, 4, maybe 5 buildings in “baroque”,  but those were the houses, or residential apartments for the European ambassadors. This is way so wrong what they are doing to this city. But the people that live in Skopje, can’t do anything!!!" [Goce - from the post on Yomadic by Robert Nate]

"I was there this summer...The fountain with Aleksandar the Great looks nice on the square..." [Pijlmans - Amsterdam]

Statue of Alexander The Great,
Macedonia Square - center of Skopje.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia. 
Aside from the urban changes, the project is aimed at re-vamping the perception of the country's identity with nationalistic statues  of Alexander  the Great, his father Philip II,  and others who feature heavily in the regions history. "historians are attempting to prove that there are historical links between the ancient state of Alexander the Great’s, Tsar Samuel, who was a ruler in the Medieval Balkans, and the modern Macedonia....Majority of Macedonians support the reformation process of Macedonian ethnic identity. Not surprisingly, thanks to his nationalistic statements on the issue, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski managed to win the early elections and preserve the coalition partnership in the new term..." [Dr. Erhan Türbedar].

Computer model of Cevahir Towers,
to be completed in 2016.
The 4 towers will be the tallest in the city.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
"Neo-Ottoman Turkey is using its soft and economic power to re-occupy Macedonia and the rest of the Balkans. Macedonians are generally blind and accept cash from anyone. Think long-term, Macedonia. Macedonians will regret the construction of these buildings." (Rob - comment from the article Macedonia's Tallest Towers Arise In Skopje on Balkan Insight)

"We managed to persuade the company to invest thanks to our low taxes, favorable construction land price and simple administrative procedures,” Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who attended the ground-breaking ceremony, said.(Macedonia's Tallest Towers Arise In Skopje on Balkan Insight)

"I don’t find it amusing, but merely a logical step forward. Amusing, would be Macedonia forbidding trade and investments with Turkey because of past Ottoman conquests and thereby rule, even though the Ottoman empire hasn’t existed for almost 100 years. Other notable examples one can draw upon, to an extent, are country relations and forward momentum, given the wars with Germany and Japan." (John. A- comment reply to 'If only' from the article Macedonia's Tallest Towers Arise In Skopje on Balkan Insight)

"Amusing how Macedonians like Turkish money and investment, yet disavow and despise their Turkish Ottoman past by referring to it as an 'occupation'. One often wonders had the Balkans remained part of Turkey, we too might have benefited from a powerful, democratic and viable state that Turkey has once again become." (If only - comment about the article Macedonia's Tallest Towers Arise In Skopje on Balkan Insight)

There's no doubt that Skopje is becoming a more interesting city with passing year,
due to the major urban changes its undergoing [Rise Of The Young Ones]. However, it remains to be seen the long-term effects of these changes. 

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