Skopje 2014

SKOPJE __ A City Slips Away

Balkans, Macedonia, Overview

Skopje is a strange place.  An unsettling mishmash.

Skopje 2014 Panorama

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.

Skopje 2014

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.

Skopje 2014 - GTC Center

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…