Skopje is a strange place. An unsettling mishmash.
In 1963 the city suffered a devastating earthquake which destroyed nearly a large portion of the city. Japanese architect Kenzo Tange was hired to complete a new master plan for the city. A massive amount of building stock was constructed of concrete in the Brutalist style.
Unfortunately the affinity for these structures has proven to be short-lived. And so today there has been a different sort of destruction-almost on scale with an earthquake, but instead man-made: Skopje 2014. This government-led building initiative with ambitions to “return grandeur” to the city has resulted in vast amounts of new local construction. But whereas the post-earthquake reconstruction was connected to some larger global relevance––representative of the architectural zeitgeist, a forward-looking ambition connecting the reconstruction of the city to so many others doing the same––Skopje 2014’s architecture is some strange breed of neoclassical. And strange indeed. Over-scaled colonnades topped with even more over-scaled pediments. The classical language sits oddly within the city and feels starkly hollow and strongly misguided.
Before my arrival I wondered if I had given myself enough time here, marveling at all the relevant buildings. Instead I’m left disheartened and discouraged. The buildings that remain are strange almost unrecognizable versions of themselves. A once sculptural raw concrete stair now painted white, neutered and clad in marble. A half-hearted attempt at upgrading.
And yet opinions are divided on this “baroque-ization” of the city. Multiple public protests have been held in opposition of proposed changes to the GTC Shopping Center, a major shopping mall located off the city’s center square (a public space already aggressively transformed in the Skopje 2014 campaign – now occupied by a towering statue of Alexander the Great astride a rearing stallion). While much of the city has been irreparably altered or wiped away, perhaps it’s not too late for some of its mid-century concrete icons…