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Skopje’s 1963 Quake: From Ruins to Modernist Resurrection

Updated: Apr 4, 2023

On July 26th, 1963, a massive earthquake struck the city of Skopje in the Socialist Republic of Macedonia in Yugoslavia at 5:17 in the morning. In an instant, roughly 80% of the city was destroyed and 1,070 people were killed (with over 3,000 injured and 150,00 left homeless). Just one day after the earthquake, Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito made his now famous statement in regards to the tragedy: “Skopje was struck by an unseen catastrophe but we will rebuild it again. With the help of our entire community, it will become our pride and a symbol of fraternity and unity, of Yugoslav and of global solidarity.” Just as Tito had said, an immediate global aid response began in the quake’s aftermath, all aimed at leading the city of Skopje towards recovery and eventual reconstruction. Coordinated by the United Nations, this global initiative towards helping this devastated city was the first major unified collaboration of the international East and West since the end of WWII, making this whole project a notably historic endeavor. Furthermore, the UN’s Special Fund raised millions of dollars towards the city’s reconstruction, which was, as one source puts it, “the first time that the Special Fund had ever provided such a large sum for the urbanization of any city in the world.” This global collaboration is all the more remarkable taking into account, as another source notes, that just a few months earlier the world was gripped by the drama of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the US and USSR were on the brink of nuclear war.

A view of the collaposed Officer's Hall in the city center of Skopje, 1963. Credit: Life Magazine

As reconstruction efforts in Skopje began to be coordinated in the months after the disaster, an international partnership was organized by the UN for coordinating the general Master Plan for the city’s reconstruction. This partnership consisted of, firstly, the local offices of the “Skopje Institute of Town Planning and Architecture”, who collaborated initially with the Greek urban planning firm of famous architect Constantinos Doxiadis, then soon after were given further assistance by the Polish trade agency Polservice and the Warsaw Town Planning Office. This entire complex group of international organizations were all overseen by the Project Manager: Warsaw architect Adolf Ciborowski. While this group was to manage the reconstruction of the overall city itself in a grand Master Plan, they decided that a special group should be brought in to develop a special City Center Plan that would formulate a showpiece and modern world-class downtown district for the city. Thus, in December of 1964, eight architect teams (4 Yugoslav & 4 international) were invited to participate in a competition for formulating this new plan. When the results of this City Center Master Plan competition were finalized in July of 1965, it was announced that the first prize would be split between two groups, with 60% of the award being given to the team of Japanese architect Kenzō Tange (creator of the famous Hiroshima “Peace Memorial Hall”), while the remaining 40% went to the Zagreb team of Radovan Miščević and Fedor Wenzler. So, while Tange's team and the team of Miščević & Wenzler worked together collaboratively to formulate the best plan for Skopje's city center, they also worked closely with Cibrowski and the Town Planning Instititue, while, even further, borrowing successful elements from the other non-winining proposals.

Competition model of the winning proposal by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange and his team. 1965, Photo Credit: Osamu Murai

In itself, Tange’s City Center Plan was a stunningly ambitious and inspiring concept for a futuristic Skopje that aimed to use optimistic forward-thinking architecture, paired with holistic infrastructural planning, to build, from the ground up, a modern 20th century city, akin to the hyper-planned modernist cities of Brasilia and Chandigarh. In a complete reorganization of the city center, Tange’s concept is typified by two major elements: its “City Gate”, a series of vast geometric towers meant as the new entrance portal and transportation hub of the city, and its “City Wall”, a series of imposingly tall residential blocks snaking along the perimeter of the city center. However, with all of the optimism and utopian ideals contained within Tange’s City Center Plan, as codified with Miščević & Wenzler, only small parts of it were ever realized in full, not only as a result of lack of funds but also as a result of the lack of Skopje’s enthusiasm to demolish further parts of the city in order to satisfy the plan completely. As a result, Tange’s concept was not used so much as a strict plan but was, instead, used as more of a broad inspirational teaching tool that the dozens of architects and engineers who took part in Skopje’s on-the-ground reconstruction could use for guidance. In this way, as Skopje’s reconstruction proceeded through the subsequent decades after the 1963 earthquake, it took on a whole host of fascinating and innovative forms, some of which fell in line very closely with Tange’s vision, while others took unique directions that Tange never could have imagined.

In this article, we will examine fourteen of the most remarkable and significant examples of the pioneering architecture that came out of Skopje’s post-earthquake reconstruction during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. For each of these fourteen sites examined, we will look at the location’s history and heritage in an effort to develop a clearer understanding of both the existing buildings as well as an understanding of what existed at each spot before the earthquake occurred. Furthermore, this article will also examine the current condition in addition to the future outlook of each site, something all the more critical in recent years as the result of not only some of these sites facing potential demolition but also as the result of massive alterations to some of these buildings from the Skopje 2014 redevelopment project (a government project that masked numerous Yugoslav-era buildings in neo-Classical/Baroque faux-facades). Through this examination, I hope that readers take away a greater appreciation of the vast scale of the work and the level of international solidarity that went into Skopje’s post-earthquake reconstruction, while also gaining a greater clarity towards the army of architects, artists and engineers involved, and the valuable historical and cultural legacy of unique modernist buildings created as a result. Keep in mind that these are not the only works of post-earthquake reconstruction in Skopje, as there were dozens of structures built across the city. This article is merely a small overview of some of the most notable examples and I hope to include more sites in a future article.

 

1.) Telecommunications Center

A recent photo of the Telecommunications Center in Skopje. Photo credit: Max Beauchez

Name: Telecommunications Center & Post Office HQ (PTT Center)

Author: Janko Konstantinov (with Dušanka Balabanovska, Lenka Janeva, Kostadinka Pemova and Mimora Kapsarova)

Years: 1972-1989


In 1936, the “Post-Telephone-Telegraph" Complex (or “PPT” for short) was constructed just a block from what is today called “Macedonian Square” right in the center of the city of Skopje, a stone’s throw from the Vardar River. Designed in the early modernist style by architect Jovan Ranković, this was Skopje’s first major centralized post office and center for the city's telecommunications. However, the PPT complex was completely demolished during the 1963 earthquake. In the post-earthquake reconstruction City Center Master Plan devised by Japanese architect Kenzō Tange in 1965, significant space was set aside for the recreation of the PPT complex in the same location in the city center that the original 1936 complex was situated. A design competition for selecting a form for the new complex was initiated in 1968. One of the designers to submit a proposal for this competition was architect Janko Konstantinov.


Born in Bitola in 1926, Konstantinov graduated with an architecture degree in Belgrade in 1952 and proceeded to travel to study in Denmark and then in the US. In the years leading up to Skopje's 1963 quake, he had been working in Los Angeles under famous American modernist architect Victor Gruen. Upon hearing the news of that devastating disaster, he immediately came back to his home country to aid in that city’s reconstruction effort. Compared to many of the younger Yugoslav architects who participated in Skopje’s reconstruction, Konstantinov was a seasoned professional who had, at that point, worked with numerous world renowned architects and constructed buildings around the globe. Konstantinov initially submitted a proposal for Skopje’s City Center Master Plan, which did not win. At that point, he started working with Skopje’s UN relief project, however, he soon left the UN after being hired as one of the main architects for the Skopje construction firm “Beton”. In this role, he began winning a number of notable tenders for reconstruction projects, with his earliest being the "Nikola Karev" High school, completed in 1968. However, compared to the PPT Center, his previous Skopje projects were mostly smaller in scale. When the jury did their final deliberations for the PPT Center competition, they awarded first prize to the proposal submitted by Konstantinov (along with his architect team at “Beton” construction).

This initial concept Konstantinov proposed was a series of concrete cylinders connected by bridges, having stylings clearly borrowed from the Japanese “Metabolism” movement (such as Arata Isozaki’s “City in the Air” and Kenzo Tange’s “Yamanashi Press & Broadcasting Center”). However, as Konstantinov’s winning design began to be further scrutinized by Skopje’s authorities and the curious public (largely on the basis of feasibility and cost), the city’s reconstruction coordinators thus felt that his concept was not practical and needed to be overhauled. As a result, over the next two years Konstantinov devised a new architectural concept for the PPT Center which borrowed certain elements from his original design but this time integrated elements of his architectural experience working in America, while also breaking up the whole facility into three distinct building projects that would be realized in three separate phases. Construction work on the first phase of this project, undertaken by “Beton”, began on October 19th, 1972 and was completed two years later in 1974.


This first phase of the PPT Complex consisted of a 54m tall tower connected to a 29m tall horizontal block, both of which contained a total floor space amounting to roughly 12,000 square meters. In a similar fashion to his first concept, Konstantinov composed the tower of prefabricated concrete panels formed into an assemblage of cylindrical towers and boxes. The only adornment of the raw concrete facade is its bush-hammered vertical lines, while its primary windows take the shape of circles and half-circles (a standard “Brutalist” motif). These circles are most accentuated in the tower’s recessed courtyard entryway, which contains three imposing 4m tall portholes overlooking the main entrance, itself flanked by four enigmatic oversized half-circle concrete benches. Meanwhile, the horizontal block component is similar in style and material composition to the tower (also containing portholes and a cylindrical tower at its northwest end), yet, in addition, it also contains a much more elaborate grid facade of bulging square windows on its broad sides, as well as series of arcades along its upper/lower levels and distinct curved awnings protruding from its cornices. This tower facility of the PPT Complex operated as a hub of the primary communication relays for Skopje, such as a telephone exchange, communication services, and other intercity/international relays. For his work designing this first phase of the PPT Complex, Konstantinov was bestowed with numerous accolades, most notably the coveted “Borba Award” for excellence in architecture in 1974, which was the highest such professional recognition attainable in Yugoslavia.

A photo of the Counter Hall complex of the Telecommunications Center in Skopje. Credit: Pavle Miljovski

Five years after the unveiling of the tower facility in 1979, construction began on Phase 2 of the PPT Complex, which consisted of a large circular building that would come to be referred to as the “Counter Hall” (as it contained a large counter for postal services). After two years of construction, also undertaken by “Beton”, the Counter Hall was unveiled to the public in December of 1981. Originally operating as the main postal headquarters for the city center of Skopje, the Counter Hall was a structure composed of eight individual concrete wedges that united to form a circle. While very different in its design approach, the Counter Hall maintained a stylistic unity with the Phase 1 complex through its cylindrical features, porthole windows and bush-hammered concrete facade. However, one of the most distinct features of the Counter Hall’s exterior are the wedge’s support columns, which are designed in a highly sculptural style similar to that of an elegant swan's neck stretching up and outwards, a feature that gives the complex a playfully decorative ambience. These wedges then unite at their center into a dome which is adorned with additional radiating concrete fingers, while the perimeter cornices of the wedges curve back gracefully and then descended to the ground with a curtain of glass. In addition to the illumination given through the glass dome and walls, the thin gaps between the wedges allow light to penetrate down into the interior of the Counter Hall, which itself was originally a grand circular atrium of white marble floors and white concrete walls. Spanning around much of the perimeter of this circular hall was a massive arcing service counter that, when paired with the upwardly radiating skylights, gave the space an almost sacred atmosphere. This sacredness was further amplified with five large fresco murals [5m x 5m] located behind the counter which were painted by famous Macedonian artist Borko Lazeski [profile page], all of which depicted energetic scenes of the pain and suffering of the region’s population and their fight for freedom against this oppression.

A 2011 photo of the interior of the Counter Hall post offices in the Telecommunications Center.

After the 2nd Phase was completed in 1981, work subsequently stalled on constructing Konstantinov’s “Administrative Building” 3rd Phase of the PPT Complex as he had originally envisioned it. Imagined as a square structure with floating offices suspended from protruding concrete triangles, Skopje’s authorities quickly realized that the concept would be too costly and complicated to construct. With this breakdown between Konstantinov and the government on how his concept could be realized, city authorities thereafter handed over the design for the 3rd Phase Administrative Building to Macedonian architect Zoran Štaklev. Work on Štaklev’s design began in 1987 and was completed in 1989. Though the 3rd Phase of the PPT Complex was designed by Štaklev instead of Konstantinov, Štaklev still largely adhered to Konstantinov’s architectural style and vision, ensuring that the whole complex still gave the appearance of a unified whole. Laid out across an L-shaped footprint, Zoran Štaklev’s Administration Building resembled a ancient Greek temple, with its soaring curved cornices (akin to the Counter Hall’s) suspended by rows of concrete columns. Meanwhile, the facade set back behind the columns consisted of sheer curtains of glass that reached from the ground up to the top of the structure. In its original state, it operated as a communications dispatch center as well as offices for the state-run “Electricity of Macedonia” (ESM), which is today known as MEPSO.

A before (right) and after (left) comparison of the results of the MEPSO Building gettings its faux facade.

The PPT Complex stood as distinct and recognizable landmark in Skopje’s center for many years, with the Phase 1 & 2 sections of the facility acting as Konstantinov’s most famous work and existing as one of the most ambitious and innovative architectural exhibits of the whole Skopje post-earthquake reconstruction project. However, with the change in politics that came in the post-Yugoslav era and the development of the Skopje 2014 project in the early 2010s, many significant changes and tragedies befell the PPT Complex. Firstly, in January of 2013, a major fire struck the Counter Hall, leaving the building largely gutted and destroyed. All of Lazeski’s murals within the main hall were completely destroyed, standing as a significant loss for the country’s artistic heritage. Images of the complex just after the fire can be seen in THIS news video. In 2021, the Counter Hall was included on the list of “Europe’s 7 Most Endangered Heritage Sites” by the heritage group “Europa Nostra”. Sources indicate that numerous organizations in Skopje are petitioning to restore and rehabilitate the Counter Hall, but as of 2021, no such efforts have yet begun. Meanwhile, the Skopje 2014 project has resulted in a myriad of massive changes, the most dramatic being Štaklev’s Administration Building being completely covered in a white Baroque-style faux-facade. Sources relate that over 11 million euros were spent on this facade installation. Further inclusions consist of a 7 million euro multi-story parking garage named “Thessaloniki Congress” which was built between the Administration Building and the Counter Hall (which effectively blocks views of the PPT Complex Tower from the riverfront). Despite the marginalization the PPT Complex has undergone in recent decades, its architectural heritage and legacy have received renewed attention and appreciation in recent years, with large scale models of the complex exhibited at such venues as the Skopje City Museum in 2016 as part of a retrospective on the PPT Complex, as well as at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 2018 as part of an exhibition on Yugoslav architecture.

 

2.) “Cyril & Methodius” University of Skopje

A vintage postcard view of the “Cyril & Methodius” University of Skopje.

Name: “Cyril & Methodius” University of Skopje (UKIM)

Author(s): Marko Mušič [profile page] (with Meta Hočevar, Jernej Krajger, Borut Bučar, Marjan Mušič and Katja Repič)

Years: 1970-1974


The first major university campus complex constructed in Skopje was in 1949, as efforts after WWII were beginning to form a cohesive higher learning institution for the SR of Macedonia. Named the University of “Cyril & Methodius” (UKIM), this original campus complex was designed in the early modernist architectural style (by an architect I was not able to establish) and consisted of only four departments. This original UKIM campus was located along the Vardar River at the site currently occupied by the large parking lot for the Holiday Inn. This original UKIM operated for about 15 years until it was devastated by the 1963 earthquake, during which time large portions of the university completely collapsed. In the post-earthquake reconstruction process, establishing a new world-class university campus complex was one of the top points put forward to the participants submitting proposals in the competition for Skopje’s new City Center Master Plan. The subsequent winner of the competition in 1965, Japanese architect Kenzō Tange, made broad outlines for an expansive university complex that would relocate the institution across the Vardar River to a new setting just east of the Bazaar. Tange’s concept proposed an idea for three long complexes arranged in the Structuralist style laid out in a radiating orientation. However, as these were just Master Plan recommendations, much still was up for interpretation for the final architect commissioned to build the university.

A vintage photo of the 1949 UKIM campus showing destruction from the earthquake.

In February of 1967, an anonymous design competition for choosing a form for the university was announced which was organized by the university’s rectorate and the Association of Architects of Macedonia. Of the 13 proposals submitted to the competition by the October 1967 deadline, the one chosen by the selection jury as the first prize winner was a concept put forward by a Slovenian team led by architect Marko Mušič. At only 26 years of age and having graduated architecture school just the year before at the time of winning the competition, Mušič’s ambitious proposal was squaring up to be one of the most formative projects of his career and for the city of Skopje. After a planning phase of two years, construction began on Mušič’s UKIM campus in October of 1970, undertaken by the Skopje contractor “Makedonija-projekt”. Work was initially scheduled to only last two years but construction took much longer than expected, taking roughly double the expected time. The new university campus was unveiled during a ceremony on June 7th, 1974, with classes finally commencing in February of 1975. Despite the longevity of the project, many planned elements were omitted due to budgetary constraints, such as the sports center, indoor swimming hall, among other facilities.

A vintage aerial photo of Mušič’s completed UKIM campus in Skopje. Credit: jugoegzotika@Instagram

The UKIM complex which Mušič designed differed greatly from the broad plan which Tange outlined in his City Center Plan, with Mušič changing the format of the university campus from being three long radiating structures to, instead, three branching complexes oriented around a central square. The network of buildings which Mušič created are composed of prefabricated unadorned concrete panels constructed into an array of boxes, triangles and cylinders that appear as a geometric playground of dynamic shapes merging and interacting together to form a harmonious union. Avoiding the cold repetition often seen in concrete buildings of the era, it takes on a monumental atmosphere and scale, as its series of circular towers and intricately arranged facades come across as a daunting mountain monastery, imposing yet deeply inviting. It is this stylistic synthesis of Tange-inspired modernist forms mixed with traditional Macedonian architecture where Mušič shines in his creativity, taking the familiar tiered organic assemblages, architectural overhangs and wide processional stairways one might see at ancient monasteries like Saint Jovan Bigorski and reinterpreting them with new materials and new architectural perspectives. As the final product, instead of a space of religious sacredness, Mušič gives us a space of educational sacredness… austere in its unadorned concrete facades, yet complex and visionary in a way that inspires the mind. While many sources describe Mušič’s style here at the UKIM center as “brutalist” in its architectural stylings, the buildings themselves are not the cold or dark edifices one might expect from such an abundance of concrete… in fact, their interiors radiate with light which pours in through hundreds of skylights that adorn every corner of the complex, from its atriums, to its classrooms, to its presentation halls — all further evidence of Mušič’s synthesis of sacred and institutional architecture.


The great Macedonian architect Georgi Kostantinovski, who himself created numerous works for Skopje’s post-earthquake reconstruction, is quoted in a 2013 essay making the following remarks about Mušič’s efforts here designing the UKIM campus:

The drama of spatial volumes created by the three faculties does not leave the human spirit indifferent… here one feels as if one were in a world where something beyond one’s conscience is happening/occuring. Who is capable of enticing such an intense emotion as one finds oneself within such an unusual, and highly exciting environment? It is an object that belongs to education. And perhaps rightly so! In this way, Macedonia with full dignity has honoured the holy brothers, Cyril and Methodius - whose name the University Centre bears with dignity and pride.

Over the decades, the UKIM campus which Mušič created has been a cherished and integral component of Skopje’s educational landscape and a substantial symbol for the city’s post-earthquake reconstruction. While some repairs and modest changes have been made to the campus’ structure over the more than 45 years since its unveiling (such as a bronze statue of Cyril & Methodius by Boro Mitrekeski being added to the central square in 1990), it still exists largely with its original appearance and arrangement intact. Mušič’s architectural concept for UKIM has been widely praised and awarded, being showcased as part of the 2018 exhibit on Yugoslav architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. However, one significant alteration to the environment of the university that is worth mentioning is a project that was put forward as part of the Skopje 2014 redevelopment project to build two new buildings within the university complex that would house the Faculty of Information Sciences & Computer Engineering and the Faculty of Physical Education. Both buildings were slated to be designed in a Neo-Baroque architectural style and were to be located in an undeveloped greenspace at the southwest corner of the university campus. The announcement of this project resulted in outcry and criticism by numerous student groups and architectural bodies. Despite these protests, construction work began in December of 2015 by contractor “Beton-Štip”, however, by July of 2019, all work on these new faculty buildings stopped as “Beton-Štip” filed for bankruptcy with less than half the project completed. Recent news articles on this controversy as of 2020 and 2021 relate that the future of these buildings is unknown, leaving the empty unfinished husks of these two projects looming over the UKIM campus with great uncertainty.


There is one final postscripts I’d mention on the architectural history of UKIM. Firstly, it is interesting to note that after the initial UKIM campus was built in Skopje in 1949, a second campus was completed two years later in 1951 for the Faculty of Natural Sciences & Mathematics, located on the southern slopes of Gazi Baba Hill. Also built in a similar early modernist style, it was created by another Slovene architect, Edvard Ravnikar, who was unquestionably among the most famous architects in all Yugoslavia. Ravnikar’s 1951 UKIM building survived the 1963 quake and continues to operate up to the present day. More can be learned about this institution at THIS link [page 107].

 

3.) “Goce Delčev” Student Dormitory

A vintage postcard view of the “Goce Delčev” Student Dormitory in Skopje.

Name: “Goce Delčev” Student Dormitory

Author(s): Georgi Konstantinovski

Years: 1969-1973


As part of the post-earthquake reconstruction of the “Cyril & Methodius” University in Skopje, city planners also made arrangements for the creation of a massive complex that would accommodate thousands of the city’s university students, a type of expansive accommodation that never existed before the earthquake. In the late 1960s, a competition was organized by Skopje authorities for determining what shape this dormitory would take. Architects from across Yugoslavia submitted proposals for this project and, like many such architects, significant numbers of them were so emotionally moved by this cause that they came back from studying abroad to take part in this endeavor. Among those in such a situation was Macedonian architect Georgi Konstantinovski, who was studying in the USA at the time with famous American modernist architect Paul Rudolph. After all submissions were evaluated by a selection jury, it was Konstantinovski’s concept which was awarded first prize in the competition. On the 25th anniversary of Skopje’s WWII Liberation Day, November 13th, 1969, ground was broken on this construction project and was completed four years later in 1973. The official name given to the dormitory was the “Goce Delčev” Student Dormitory, named after the famous Macedonian revolutionary. The complex went on to win many architectural awards and was highly praised by critics and government authorities during the time it was unveiled.


The student dormitory which Konstantinovski constructed is a dauntingly expansive complex that consists of four main towers nestled in the western suburbs of Skopje in the neighborhood of Taftalidže. Each of the four towers stands 55m tall and consists of 18 levels, with the capacity to accommodate approximately 1,200 students across 20,000 square meters of floor space. The facade of the complex is relatively simple, composed of unadorned concrete assembled in prefabricated sections. The form of each of the towers is identical, characterized by its rectangular footprint that soars at its short edges in dramatically angular spires that are punctuated by long cantilever balconies. Meanwhile, the broad facade bears deep recessed furrows that accentuate the tower’s strong vertical visuals. Konstantinovski put considerable effort into cultivating connectivity and student comfort in his design of this complex, making sure that the living space was vast, yet intimate, connected, yet private and welcoming, yet functional. Part of this connectivity was cultivated through not only shared common areas, but also through the creation of sky bridges between the dorm towers, which facilitated an ease of travel for students from dorm to dorm. Furthermore, all four of the towers are constructed around a central courtyard that provides ample space for social interaction and extracurricular activity. Original intentions for the complex planned for additional facilities to be constructed as part of this project, such as a sports facility, theater and cultural center, but these were never realized. Finally, it is also of note to point out that Konstantinovski’s “Goce Delčev” dorm bears numerous similarities to the famous “Tracey Towers” in Bronx neighborhood of New York City, which was created by his former teacher Paul Rudolph during the same exact time frame that Konstantinovski was creating his dorm complex here in Skopje.

A vintage image of students in a common area of the dorms.

Many interviews with Konstantinovski reveal that the “Goce Delčev” Student Dormitory was among the most beloved creations of his career. He kept offices at the architecture faculty of the University of Skopje until his final years, where he made regular visits to the dorms, constantly interacting with students and sometimes even making presentations there. In an interview that journalist Emilija Petreska conducted with Konstantinovski in 2013, she makes the following observations (her words here translated into English):

He ended the conversation by saying that he was glad that "Goce" was not seen only as a place to live. Konstantinovski was never more happy than when a student who was living in the dormitory came to his office and showed him pictures of his room. He says that "Goce" is a kind of architectural sculpture that should inspire students to create.

However, while many students who have spent time here relate fond memories of their years living in this dormitory, with many students even working on revitalization projects to enrich the space, many students found the accommodations falling into a state of neglect and deterioration in the post-Yugoslav era. A lack of regular maintenance over the 1990s and early 2000s led to many of the facilities within the dorms descending into a sub-standard state. This situation came to a head in March of 2014, when a post on the social media website Reddit showing a gallery of images of the decaying condition of the dorm went viral. These images had originated from a blog post by a student group at the University of Skopje called “Operacija studentski/Operation Dorm”, who were protesting the living conditions of the dorm. While some critics of this student group called their actions “unpatriotic”, news of the poor conditions at the dorm spread to news outlets around the world. However, despite the scandal,, one news article claims that the Macedonian Ministry of Education did not take action on fixing the situation until an incendiary feature piece was published in the British newspaper “The Independent”, which compared the dorm to a “horror film” location. Work began on renovating the dorm units in 2015, with some photos showing progress made available at THIS article, however, work is ongoing up to the present-day and much more is expected to be done. In 2016, student filmmaker Sandra Gjorgieva made a short film titled “Green Walls, Black Food” about the poor condition of the “Goce Delčev” dorms, interviewing not only students who live there, but also talking with the architect Georgi Konstantinovski. During Gjorgieva discussions with Konstantinovski in the film, he makes the following statements about the situation (translated here into English):

A mother takes care of her child, we, the architects, take care of our works and our arts. When I saw my child in that state, and I know exactly how it was, can you imagine how I felt. Terrible. There wasn’t a single square meter in the building that wasn’t thought out well. The students used to love living there, and the first generations have the most beautiful memories from the dormitory.
 

4.) Opera & Ballet House

A vintage Yugoslav-era image of the Skopje Opera & Ballet House.

Name: Macedonian Opera & Ballet

Author: Biro 71 (Štefan Kacin, Jurij Princes, Bogdan Splinder & Marjan Uršič)

Years: 1973-1981


The first major theater in Skopje was constructed in its city center on the north banks of the Vardar River in 1906 during the Ottoman era, commonly known as “The Turkish Theater”. It was a wood structure of a rectangular shape accentuated by an impressive multi-tiered hip roof. However, sources report that the theater burned down just ten years later in a fire during WWI in 1916. A second opera house was constructed on the same site during the Kingdom of Yugoslavia era in 1927 by architect Josip Bukovac. Inaugurated in person by King Alexander I Karađorđević (and named after him in the process), his new theater was fashioned in the Beaux Arts style, comprised of a highly ornate facade characterized by square domed towers, Neoclassical statues and abundant roof balustrades. After WWII, ASNOM declared that the King Alexander I Theater would be renamed the “Macedonian National Theater” (MNT). The first opera to be performed here under this new name was the Italian opera “Cavalleria Rusticana” on May 9th, 1947. The MNT operated successfully for more than 15 years, putting on dozens of operas, up until the Skopje earthquake struck on July 26th, 1963. After the quake, the MNT was left in such a tattered and unusable state that it was necessary that the complex be demolished.


The 1927 MNT building.

When it came to reconstructing the city of Skopje after the earthquake of 1963, including an expansive performing arts center for the city was a top priority for Skopje officials. In the 1965 City Center Master Plan for Skopje designed by architect Kenzō Tange, the location for the theater complex was moved from the site of the old MNT at the base of Kale Fortress to a more significant central space within the city center, with Tange’s plan even suggesting a broadly conceived architectural concept for the complex. A design competition for the new performing arts complex was initiated in 1967 (for Yugoslav participants only), with 40 architectural teams from across the country submitting concepts. Sources relate that the competition guidelines set no rules for submissions other than they be of a “contemporary architectural expression”. When the competition’s jury evaluated all of these entries the following year in 1968, they chose the proposal put forward by Ljubljana-based design firm “Biro 71” as the first place winner. The Biro 71 team was composed of the Slovene architects Štefan Kacin, Jurij Princes, Bogdan Splinder & Marjan Uršič, with this being the first significant commission in their careers. The winning concept put forward by Biro 71 for a performing arts complex, which was dubbed simply the “Cultural Center”, consisted of an opera/ballet theater, a philharmonic, a cinema, a music/ballet school, a Stopanska Banka building, in addition to shops and parking structures. Tange’s original planned layout for the complex envisioned buildings around a closed square, however, Biro 71 altered this configuration and instead oriented the buildings around an open plaza flowing down towards the Vardar River. This new orientation not only allowed an interface between its visitors and the river, but it also visually opened the plaza and its buildings as a new urban skyline to the pedestrians of the bustling promenade of “November 13th Quay” on the south side of the river. After three years of pre-planning, construction on the complex began in 1973 (undertaken by the companies “Beton” and “Makedonija-projekt”), however, due to budgetary constraints, only the opera/ballet theater and the Stopanska Banka were fully realized. After nearly seven years of work, construction on the complex was finished in 1980. After three more years of interior preparations and installations, the first show within the Opera & Ballet Theater was “That is a Man” (тоа е човек) by composer Ljubomir Branđolica on February 10th, 1983.


Originally designated as the “Macedonian National Theater” - MNT (but later known as the “Macedonia Opera & Ballet” - MOB), the complex created by Biro 71 consists of a massive performing arts theater that houses over 16,000 square meters of space. The exterior of the MOB is primarily characterized by its white stone surface, which takes the form of a dynamic collection of sharply geometric planes that rise gradually from the ground upwards away from the Vardar River. As this jagged arrangement of planes slopes down towards the river, it opens up into a large plaza of broadly descending stairs that echoes the fractal geometric patterns of the MOB. This mass of soaring white shards of fractured planes created by Biro 71 is noted by numerous sources to be highly reminiscent of the 1824 Casper David Friedrich painting “The Sea of Ice”, which depicts a dramatic scene of sharp piled Arctic sea ice tearing a large wooden ship apart. This painting, which is also said to have been the inspiration for Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House in Australia, conveys a particularly poignant symbolism in the case of Skopje — as the wooden ship in Friedrich’s painting is torn apart by the churning movement of ice beneath it, so too was Skopje torn apart by the moving earth beneath it on that fateful day in 1963. A further explanation for the distinct sloping character of the MOB complex is that in the original brief for the design competition, the description asked participating architects to have the buildings in their design get shorter the closer they were to the river, in order to increase airflow along the river corridor. With this in mind, Biro 71’s solution was an altogether innovative solution to this challenge.

A contemporary aerial view of the Skopje Opera & Ballet House. Credit: International Cultural Centre
A vintage Yugoslav-era image of Biro 71's Stopanska Banka wing of the performing arts center. Credit: jugoegzotika@Instagram

The interior of the MOB is accessed via a broad main entrance corridor that leads in from the direction of the riverfront, opening up like a funnel out onto the plaza. Once inside the MOB, the fractal geometry seen on the exterior continues within the interior space as well. Dark red carpets and marble floors usher theater-goers through crystalline hallways, swooping internal verandas and angular passageways, all of which is given further dimension as it is dramatically illuminated by spears of light which penetrate into the building through unexpected windows. The walls of the interior are of a pure white, emphasized by playful profile lighting as well as by large-scale modernist paintings by some of Macedonia’s most famous mid-century artists. The MOB houses two theaters, one which holds roughly 800, in addition to an experimental theater which holds about 200. The space of the main theater is particularly unique, with its streamlined folding sky-blue seats arranged in several rows of fragmented angles that rise up in an unusually steep manner to look out upon pure white walls and ceilings. Sources attest that this unconventional configuration of the main theater was an effort by the architects to achieve optimal acoustics for patrons seated in any position. The main stage itself is impressively wide and deep, offering maximal viewing and excellent scenography. Finally, recessed beneath the stage is an orchestra pit which can accommodate over 80 musicians.

Over the decades, the MOB became a central symbol and iconic landmark for the city of Skopje, with its distinctive roof shape acting as a singular part of the skyline along the river. However, while many residents of Skopje appreciated the building, it must be said that the MOB was among the most controversial of the post-earthquake reconstruction projects, with many feeling that its large imposing presence right in the center did not conform to the city’s flow or aesthetics. However, at the same time, there are other contemporary critics which call the MOB one of the greatest architectural achievements of Skopje’s reconstruction. The end of the Yugoslav-era saw a de-emphasis of the MOB, with a lack of regular maintenance leading to numerous elements of the complex slowly deteriorating, most notably the plaza and many exterior elements. As such, rumors began to swirl around about the future of the site, with some saying that it could be demolished, while others said that it was going to be given a Baroque facade as part of the Skopje 2014 redevelopment project. However, at the end of the day, neither of these things occurred (with courts blocking the potential for faux-facade installations), but, instead, two new Baroque buildings were strategically constructed in 2015 along the river within the plaza in front of the MOB, a move which essentially blocked the MOB’s visibility from the touristic November 13th Quay area across the river. The importance of the MOB was further de-emphasized by the government authorities when a replica of the 1927 Macedonian National Theater was built at its original location as part of the Skopje 2014 project, as the country’s opera and ballet companies began to transition to that new complex. Yet, despite this decreasing visibility and prominence of the MOB within the cultural cityscape of Skopje itself, the images and blueprints of the complex were showcased as part of the 2018 exhibition on the history of Yugoslav architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, something that gave the structure renewed international recognition.


A final note on the opera & ballet theater complex is that with the signing of the Prespa Agreement in 2019, a document which officially changed the country’s name to “North Macedonia”, the word “Macedonian” was subsequently removed from the name of the theater (the word itself being torn from the marquee at the front entrance), with the new name of the theater changed to the “National Opera & Ballet” (NOB). The official website for the NOB can be found at THIS link.

 

5.) The Museum of Contemporary Art

A vintage Yugoslav-era view of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje.

Name: Museum of Contemporary Art

Author(s): Wacław Kłyszewski, Jerzy Mokrzyński & Eugeniusz Wierzbicki (aka: Warsaw Tigers)

Years: 1968-1970


In the aftermath of Skopje’s 1963 earthquake, there was an outpouring of support and assistance from nations and organizations around the world which came in a variety of forms, such as supplies, building material, food aid, professional assistance, etc etc. One of the unique forms of support the global community offered to Skopje was a wealth of artwork. In fact, the International Art Association (based out of Paris) encouraged artists around the world to contribute to Skopje works of art as a charitable gesture. As these donated paintings, sculptures and other art pieces began to accumulate, a decision was made in 1964 that it was necessary to establish a brand new institution in order to accommodate this massive collection, which would come to be known as the “Museum of Contemporary Art” (aka ‘MoCA’). However, with MoCA’s collection continuing to increase through the mid-60s, the small exhibition spaces being used around the city to display the works were deemed insufficient and it was decided that a brand new museum was needed. Sources relate that MoCA’s first director, Dr. Boris Petkovski, offered the opportunity to design the new museum of famous French architect Le Corbusier, however, he turned down the offer. It was at this point in 1965 that the government of Poland stepped in to donate to the city of Skopje a new art museum to hold their MoCA collection.


To select an appropriate form for this art museum, the Association of Polish Architects in Warsaw organized a design competition in January of 1966 that was to last four months, with the competition’s criteria for the museum’s necessities outlined by Petkovski. Of the 89 proposals that were ultimately submitted, the concept proposal that was awarded first prize for this competition was a submission put forward by an architect team known as the “Warsaw Tigers”, made up of Wacław Kłyszewski, Jerzy Mokrzyński & Eugeniusz Wierzbicki, who were some of the most ambitious and innovative architects in Poland. The location chosen to construct the MoCA complex was selected by the Project Manager of Skopje's reconstruction, Adolf Ciborowski, and was on the highest point of the Kale hilltop overlooking the Vardar River just north of the fortress, thus making it an extremely visible and conspicuous object and increasing the pressure on the architects to produce a magnificent object that the public could appreciate and enjoy. Construction work on the art museum began in April of 1969 and was finally completed roughly a year and a half later, being unveiled to the public on November 13th, 1970, a day which marked the 26th anniversary since Skopje’s WWII liberation from Axis occupation. Sources relate that during the opening ceremony, Macedonian poet and linguistic scholar Blaže Koneski gave a speech and made the following remarks:

This kind of building makes you communicate with the world. It is not hidden in some Balkan alley, it instead stands upright to perceive the old and the new town of Skopje and the widespread areas surrounding it, all in just one glance. Let this building stand as a white swan opening its wings over the tranquil banks of the town of Skopje.
A vintage Yugoslav-era view of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Credit: MoCA Archive

When completed, the new Museum of Contemporary Art was an instant success and quickly became not only a strong centerpiece of Skopje’s post-earthquake reconstruction but also a symbol of Polish-Yugoslav relations and a testament to the city’s pioneering efforts towards earthquake-safe architecture. Spread across over 5,000 square meters of floor space, the MoCA complex is perched upon a hilltop prominence, almost as if it is a modern Parthenon sitting atop the Acropolis. In this way, the monumentality of the structure is emphasized while also acting as a distinct historical foil to the adjacent Kale Fortress. This “Parthenon” symbolism is reinforced further with the series of colonnades surrounding the base of the structure which rise up to support a white horizontal slab, itself characterized by its clean geometric lines and angles. The facade of this slab is adorned only with its panels of white polished marble, with the west and south sides being punctuated at their center with wide bump-out panoramic bay windows looking out over the city. Furthermore, the extreme overhanging edges of this slab make it appear from a distance as if it is floating atop the hillside, a feature which is heightened by the ground floor being set back and composed purely of sheer glass panes. In addition to the Parthenon, the Polish team seems to also be making references to Le Corbusier’s famous Villa Savoye at Poissy, France, a move that connects the museum to the earliest historical accomplishments of architectural modernism. As for the interior, it is laid out in such a way as to allow in maximum natural light into the space, exhibited through an abundance of skylights, open atriums, suspended gantry walkways and floor-to-ceiling windows. The most dramatic of these skylights can be found at the center of the slab, which itself sinks downward like a funnel in steep slopes of glass, completely illuminating the central huge atrium beneath. This abundance of brightness gains further energy through reflecting off of the interior’s white walls and white marble floors, a color scheme that cultivates unity with the exterior while also providing a pure blank canvas for the museum to mount its diverse collection of artworks.

A recent view of the interior of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje. Credit: Onur GÜNGÖR

Today, the Skopje’s Museum of Contemporary Art boasts nearly 2,000 works of art by artists from over 66 nations, making it unquestionably the most expansive exhibitor of modern art in all of North Macedonia. Not only has MoCA rose to a standing of international importance with its collection of art, but it has also become one of the most beloved museums in the city by the people of Skopje, both for its ambitious architecture and its historical heritage. In fact, the staff from the Polish Embassy in Skopje (along with help from the Macedonian graphic design studio "Serious Interests Agency") put on a show in 2014 at the MoCA dedicated to the Polish “Warsaw Tigers” architect team who built the museum, celebrating the architecture of the museum as well as their massive body of work in Poland as well. While the MoCA complex is no doubt among the most well-known post-earthquake reconstruction project donated to Skopje by a foreign nation (along with the “Universal Hall”, which is also written about in this article), sources relate that other notable examples are the Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi” Elementary School [Swiss architect Alfred Roth, 1967] that was donated by Switzerland, the Dramski” Theater [1965] that was donated by the United Kingdom, the Youth Cultural Center [1970] was donated by the USSR and Algeria, and the Kozle Children’s Hospital which was donated by Norway & Sweden.


The Facebook page for the Museum of Contemporary Art can be found at THIS link.

 

6.) Universal Hall

A vintage Yugoslav-era image of Universal Hall in Skopje.

Name: Universal Hall

Author(s): architect Jaroslav Stankov (along with his brothers Ljubomir & Vladimir Stankov and sister Kostadinka Stankova-Mutafova)

Years: 1964-1966


After the earthquake struck Skopje in 1963, there was a mass outpouring of aid and assistance from around the world to help this city in this dire time of need. Through these efforts, many countries donated resources and expertise for the construction of numerous facilities and institutions across the city. However, among these buildings that were offered up to Skopje as charitable gestures of goodwill, there is one particular complex that acts as a symbol of the global community uniting in the aftermath of this unimaginable disaster… and that is the “Universal Hall” along “Partisan Detachment” Boulevard.


Vintage view of the State Circus in Sofia.

The story of Skopje’s Universal Hall actually starts over 170 kilometers away in Sofia, Bulgaria, where a complex called the “State Circus” was constructed in 1962 on Solni Pazar Square. Designed by an architect team led by Jaroslav Stankov, the State Circus was an intricate and innovatively constructed domed exhibition hall that stood as a testament to Bulgarian architectural and technical progress. The circular hall was 43 meters wide with a dome that rose 19 meters tall, making it the largest performance space in Sofia. It was constructed around a prefabricated metal skeleton that was assembled off-site in a condensed form, at which point it was then brought on-site to Solni Pazar Square and expanded into its final shape, similar to an umbrella or Hoberman sphere. After the frame was erected, it was completed by adding glass, aluminum panels to the exterior, while the interior was finished with the stage and acoustical elements. This approach was a highly inventive and experimental method for erecting a dome and it was the first time it was employed in Sofia, for which more info can be found at THIS link. The overall style of the State Circus was of the International Style, with it standing as one of Sofia’s most cherished architectural landmarks during its existence.

After the Skopje earthquake struck in 1963, just one year after the completion of Sofia’s State Circus, Bulgarian authorities decided to make the donation of an exact copy of their famous State Circus to the city of Skopje as a sign of solidarity. While Bulgaria donated the architectural plans and building contractor (“Tehnoeksportstro”) towards this project, additional funding from governments and organizations from an additional 35 nations around the world completed the funding of the facility. Work preparing the site began in late 1964, just a year after the earthquake, with it being officially unveiled to the public on January 1st, 1966. The first performance at Universal Hall was “Victor or Children of Power”, a play by the Belgrade theater group “Atelje 212.


When completed, the Universal Hall in Skopje was nearly an exact duplicate of the State Circus in Sofia. However, there were some differences, with the seating of the Universal Hall (which is around 1,500 seats) being a bit smaller than was the State Circus, while the interior of the Universal Hall was also fitted with a much more extensive sound and acoustical systems. However, the most significant unique character of the Universal Hall was its special metal plaque that was fixed right at the main entrance to the complex, which reads as follows (translated here into English):

This Universal Performance Hall was erected with the help of the citizens, humanitarian organizations and governments of Afghanistan, Australia, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Guinea, Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Yemen, Japan, Cambodia, Cuba, Canada, Cyprus, Lebanon, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mali, Mongolia, Morocco, Monaco, Nigeria, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sudan, Senegal, Syria, Turkey, Tunisia, Uruguay, Ceylon, Chile, as well as foreign tourists the day of the disaster who found themselves in Yugoslavia. This building will remain as a permanent symbol of the international human solidarity shown during the reconstruction of Skopje after the catastrophic earthquake of July 23rd, 1963.

Strangely, despite Bulgaria’s significant involvement with this facility, they are not mentioned in the plaque. It is because of this massive assemblage of nations cooperating in solidarity to create this exhibition space that it was given the name “Universal Hall”. According to sources, during the operational lifetime of the Universal Hall, it has hosted over 5,700 events (such as operas, concerts, plays, ballet, symphonies, etc, etc) which have been attended by an estimated 8.5 million spectators. As such, its cultural importance to the people of Skopje is immeasurable, which is further compounded when understanding the hall as a symbol for international unification in the face of Skopje’s deadly earthquake in 1963. One news article even went so far as to relate the idea that many felt that “what is the Eiffel Tower for Paris, for Skopje is the Universal Hall”. Furthermore, the architectural significance of the Universal Hall became all the more critical when Sofia’s State Circus burned down in a tragic fire in 1983, leaving it as the sole existing example of this historical work.

Yet, despite the Universal Hall standing as a cultural, historical and architectural landmark, the condition of the facility began to slowly decline in the years after the dismantling of Yugoslavia as a result of a lack of regular maintenance. As a consequence of this degradation, a huge chunk of the interior ceiling detached and fell into the seats in 2015, which resulted in city authorities permanently closing the facility for what were deemed to be safety reasons. It was at this time there was debate by Skopje authorities whether or not the facility should be torn down and rebuilt with a newly styled exhibition hall or whether funds should be spent renovating the original Universal Hall. However, the idea of demolishing Universal Hall was immediately condemned by numerous citizens, city organizations and architectural groups within Skopje. For a time, news seemed to indicate that plans were going forward for the facility to be demolished and that an egg-shaped concert hall concept proposed by architect Stojan Pavleski was going to be built in its place. However, official press releases by the Skopje authorities as of 2021 have changed course and announce that the Universal Hall will indeed be restored and refurbished, with hopes that work on this project is completed by 2028. That press release quotes primer minister Zoran Zaev stating: “Universal Hall will be reconstructed in its current shape and size, retaining its authentic appearance in order for it to continue to serve in the collective memory as a symbol of solidarity.”

 

7.) The Government of the Republic of North Macedonia

A vintage Yugoslav-era image of what is today the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia in Skopje.

Name: The Government of the Republic of North Macedonia

Author(s): Petar Muličkovski [profile page]

Years: 1968-1971


The verdant flat area situated directly across the Vardar River from Kale Fortress, long known as “Ilinden Quay” has long been a site dominated by grand civic architecture. In 1939, a high school complex was erected on this site, which was created by Skopje architect Sotir Tomovski. Facing southeast towards the city center, the front of the school was dominated by a subtly graceful flat curving facade designed in an early modernist architectural style, with it being among the first buildings in Skopje created in this style. Before WWII during the Kingdom of Yugoslavia era, the school housed two institutions, the “Cyril & Methodius” High School for boys and the “Queen Maria” High School for girls. Then, after WWII during the Socialist Yugoslav era, the school continued to operate but with the name of the boys’ school changed to “Josip Broz Tito” and the girls’ school name changed to “Orce Nikolov”. This site was considered so significant that a memorial bronze sculpture titled “Monument to the Liberators of Skopje”, honoring those who perished freeing the city from fascist forces during WWII, was erected in 1955 at the center of the large plaza in front of school, a seminal work crafted by Croatian sculptor Ivan Mirković. These two educational institutions functioned here at this site uninterrupted up until the 1963 quake, at which point the complex was so severely damaged that it was required to be demolished.


Vintage photo of 1939 high school

After the site of the former school was cleared, this prized and significant piece of real estate was eyed by the political authorities of Skopje during the post-earthquake reconstruction era. As such, this site was subsequently designated to be the new future location of a Central Committee Headquarters Building for the League of Communists of Macedonia. After a design competition was organized by Skopje’s political authorities in 1968, the first prize award was bestowed to Prilep-born architect Petar Muličkovski. The challenge for Muličkovski was two-fold, as he was not only being tasked to create the head of the government for the republic but, at the same time, this was the first major architectural project that he was to undertake in his career. Interestingly, it is important to note that this was not the first time that Muličkovski had submitted a concept for a high-profile political building. In 1961, he and architect Boris Čipan submitted a proposal in the competition for Zagreb’s Central Committee building, yet, while it did not win, Muličkovski no doubt used this Zagreb proposal as an inspiration for his Skopje concept. Construction work on the Skopje complex, performed by the local company “ RGO Beton”, began in 1969 and was completed by the end of 1970. It is important to note that through this construction, Mirković’s “Monument to the Liberators of Skopje” was left in place (and still exists at its original location up to present day). The building was officially handed over for use to the SKM in the beginning of 1971.

A 2000s view of what is today the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia. Credit: Porta3.mk

Upon its unveiling, it was known as the Central Committee Building, which operated as the center of political decision making for the SR of Macedonia. The complex is composed of seven square bodies of varying heights arranged in two offset staggered rows that are parallel to the Vardar River (which sits roughly 50m away). The square bodies themselves are formed of a central concrete core from which are suspended a series of steel beams. These steel beams support the primary floor space of each level, with the structure’s aluminum and glass facade hung from the exterior points of these beams. These suspended floors extending outward from the building’s concrete base gives the complex, or at least it DID in its original form, an effortless appearance of floating in place. These floating squares are all unified through a series of internal connections, thus creating intimate spaces not only beneath the building, but also in the recesses and courtyards formed between them. Meanwhile, the facade itself is composed of a systematic grid pattern containing rows of windows paired with decorative faceted aluminum panels. Meanwhile, the corners of each of the square bodies are notched with decorative indentations. These notches, which are framed with dark yellow square panels bearing modest geometric shapes, help to define the structure’s dramatic facade while also emphasizing its gravity defying properties. Above the subtle mansard-like copper roof of each of the square bodies are large pyramidal rooftop skylights that allow sunshine into the building’s core. As far as the building’s interior, while I would greatly enjoy describing it here in great detail, unfortunately I have seen very few clear photos of the inside of this complex, either in its original or present form.


While the building unquestionably appears very modernist and contemporary when seen in its original appearance, one might be excused if they are surprised to learn that its author, Muličkovski, went to great lengths to make symbolic gestures to traditional Macedonian folk architecture. Firstly, one source credits Muličkovski’s prime inspiration for the complex to be from ancient churches found across the Macedonian region, such as the Church of Saint Panteleimon at Gorno Nerezi and the Church of St. George at Staro Nagoričane. Furthermore, in looking at the appearance of the complex, many nods to traditional Macedonian building styles can be seen, such as the tiered structural organization, the classic bump-outs/upwardly expanding forms, internal verandas, overhead lighting and intimate courtyards, among other elements. As such, Muličkovski makes a clever effort at combining both modern and traditional architectural ideas, a fact which he was highly praised for by cultural critics and politicians of the era.


As the Yugoslav-era came to a close, Macedonian became an independent country and the former Central Committee Building became the new government’s headquarters, but was subsequently given the new name of “Building of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia”. The new government building kept the structure’s original appearance through the 2000s, however, when the VMRO-DPMNE political party initiated the “Skopje 2014” redevelopment project, the government building was one of the primary targets for this effort of installing Neo-classical/broque faux facades. Efforts were made to legitimize the redesign by putting together a public internet vote for several design variations on the government’s website in early 2012 (some less extreme, others very extreme). Not surprisingly, the Baroque faux facade idea (designed by architects Filip Bogatinov & Žarko Čauševski) won first place in the vote. Not long thereafter, Grecian-style statues started appearing around the government building as a prelude of what was to come. Petar Muličkovski was fiercely opposed to the idea of the redesign of his building, with one interview quoting him as saying, “If I had a bulldozer, I would demolish the new building, if they make any intervention without consulting me." A video interview with Muličkovski condemning the redesign of his building can be watched at THIS YouTube clip. Work on installing the new faux facade onto the government complex began in 2014 and the project was completed before the end of that year. Sources estimate that the cost of the project was around 16 million euros. In the process of adding this faux facade onto the building’s exteriors, all evidence of the distinct elevated nature of the building was hidden and concealed. After the SDSM party took over political power in the country in 2017, questions now remain about whether they will keep this faux facade on the government building, as many cultural experts and architectural critics are calling for it to be removed.

A recent view of the faux facade on the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia. Credit: Nadezhda Bogatyryova/Wikimapia

On a final note regarding the history of this location, it is important to mention the ultimate fates of the two high schools “Josip Broz Tito” and “Orce Nikolov” that originally occupied this site. Both of these institutions were rebuilt as part of the post-earthquake reconstruction process, however, this time they were erected as two separate institutions and both crafted in a concrete modernist style. The “Josip Broz Tito” High school was completed in 1972 by the architect team composed of Vasilka Petrovska Ladinska, Živko Gelevski and Slavko Đurić. Its coordinates are 41°59'42.0"N, 21°25'33.8"E and photos of the complex can be seen at THIS article by MARH. Meanwhile, “Orce Nikolov” High School was completed in 1970 by the architect team of Aleksandar Smilevski and Nikola Bogačev. Its coordinates are 42°00'22.8"N, 21°24'45.8"E and more info about the school can be read at THIS article by MARH.

 

8.) Macedonian Institute for Sciences & Art

Name: Macedonian Institute for Sciences & Arts (MANU)

Author: Boris Čipan

Years: 1974-1976


On February 23rd, 1967, the Macedonian Academy of Sciences & Arts (MANU) was established in Skopje, tasked with overseeing, cultivating, developing and nurturing the republic’s scientific and artistic cultural heritage. However, at the founding of this new organization, it was yet to possess any dedicated structure for conducting its operational functions. The first step of the process was determining a site upon which to construct the new complex, with the decision made to situate the building in the city center right at the north side of the Vardar River crossing today known as the “Mother Teresa Bridge” (unfortunately, I could not find a source which mentioned the bridge’s original name). With this decision made, the next step the Academy took was to organize an architectural design competition in 1973 in order to establish what shape their new headquarters would take. After dozens of submissions from architects across Yugoslavia were submitted, the Academy’s jury selected as the final winner of the competition Ohrid-native Macedonian architect Boris Čipan. Despite already being an accomplished designer after having crafted several municipal buildings in Ohrid, Veles, Štip and Bitola, the creation of the MANU building was nevertheless to be the most important work of Čipan’s career.


Completed in 1976 after two years of construction, Čipan’s MANU complex would come to be recognized as one of the most creatively ambitious and daring architectural achievements of Skopje’s post-earthquake reconstruction. It won numerous awards upon its unveiling, most notably the prestigious “Borba” Award in 1977, which was the highest professional distinction that one could be given in Yugoslavia. The MANU building sits on a square footprint (roughly 65m x 65m), with its front facade facing south towards the river. This front facade is characterized by a series of concrete verandas which jut outwards in a dramatic fashion, above which is a steeply sloping copper roofline (pitched slightly upwards). This configuration is no doubt inspired by traditional Macedonian folk architecture, a stylistic reference which is further reinforced by the distinct curved corbels evident on the eaves, supporting pillars and decorative niches around the building. Meanwhile, the rear north-end of the complex contains a stout tower covered in horizontal columns of glass panels and trimmed with a bush-hammered concrete facade, which is itself flanked by additional ascending bump-outs The ample use of concrete and glass paired with flourishes of traditional building elements comes together to communicate the importance of both architectural innovation as a firm respect for cultural heritage. These ideas are carried further inside the complex as well, where Čipan exhibits an entrance lobby bedecked with wood finishes that continue the traditional curved corbel motif in the space’s many railings, internal verandas and trim accents, however, he does this in a playful experimental way which is expressive and warmly energetic. The warmth of the lobby is completed with a massive modernist mural at its center by famous Macedonian artist Gligor Čemerski [profile page], which he made specifically for the building in 1977. An additional example of large-scale artwork made specifically for MANU is the set of two towering 10m tall stained glass windows by Macedonian artist Borko Lazeski [profile page] titled “Lights of the Past” which are installed in the central presentation hall of the facility. Just as in the lobby, this hall is also covered in fine wood paneling and decorative trims. The interior space of the MANU being dominated by wood finishes defies what one might expect from a large concrete building and, as a consequence, gives the interior a much more comforting homey atmosphere.

A recent phot of the main foyer of the MANU building with the Gligor Čemerski mural in the center. Credit: MANU.edu.mk

When speaking of his work on creating the MANU complex, sources quote Boris Čipan making the following statements:

It is futile to look for analogies in content. The Academy is a monument of contemporary and future Macedonian science and art. I thought of a fortress and it felt immensely cold, while the colourful decoration of the Byzantine church would be pure demagoguery. I rejected all concrete analogies and indulged in the urge that has already settled many historical encounters with architecture. So, when the work was done, I was surprised to discover that the old Macedonian craftsman of the monastery lodgings at St. Jovan Bigorski had already created an impressive monumental work out of simple chestnut wood. [In that monastery], I saw ‘balconies neither in heaven nor on earth’ from the folk tales, and in the interior, instead of the cold emptiness of the feudal palace, the warm intimacy of the patriarchal Macedonian home”.

As Čipan notes in the above quote, numerous observers compared the MANU to the famous St. Jovan Bigorski Monastery, located high in the Šar Mountains. In a subsequent interview done in 2010 (just two years before his death), he made the following statement about that comparison: “It shows that if you have a good knowledge of your tradition, it subconsciously affects the idea you create. The tradition expressed in architecture can only be something that spontaneously comes out of man, from the subconscious.” A 1982 Yugoslav documentary about the architecture of Boris Čipan, viewable at THIS YouTube link, further explores the MANU’s connection to Macedonian architectural heritage.


Today, the MANU complex continues to operate and act as a significant institution in the realm of science, technology and art for what is today North Macedonia. When an exhibition on the life’s work of Boris Čipan was hosted at the MANU in 2018, promotional articles for the event declared that the MANU complex was “considered the pearl of modernity for the wider Balkan region”. Interestingly though, while Čipan was responsible for creating the Macedonian Academy for Sciences & Arts building, that Academy went for many decades refusing to admit him as a full member of their institution, despite being nominated numerous times. When the Academy finally did offer him full membership in the 2000s, Čipan was famously cited as respondingWhen I wanted you, you did not want me, now I'm too old for that”. As far as the present-day condition of the building, certain areas of the building’s facade exhibit small amounts of weathering and staining, overall, the complex is in a reasonable shape and condition (especially when compared to other Yugoslav-era structures from the same time period across the city). Its official website can be found at THIS link.

 

9.) The Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral

Name: The Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral

Author(s): Blagoja Micevski & Slavko Đurić

Years: 1975-1982


Positioned just west of the city center of Skopje is the "Sacred Heart of Jesus" Catholic Cathedral (Католичка црква “Пресвето срце Исусово“). The city's original Catholic cathedral, which dates from 1902, was destroyed in the 1963 Skopje earthquake and stood not at this location, but at a spot right within the Skopje city center (currently where the Mother Teresa Memorial House is situated). Interestingly, it was in this cathedral that Mother Teresa herself was baptized upon her birth in 1910. As this was the only Catholic house of worship in Skopje, the Catholic leadership immediately began petitioning for a permit to rebuild their cathedral after its destruction in the earthquake. However, it took the diocese more than a decade of deliberating with local authorities and officials before they were allowed to reconstruct their cathedral. Yet, they were not given permission to rebuild on their original central location, but, instead, Skopje authorities issued permission for the new cathedral to be built at a different location just outside the city center. As such, it was at this new location that work on the new cathedral finally began in 1975 under the direction of the architect team Blagoja Micevski & Slavko Đurić. After seven years of construction the work was completed in 1982 and unveiled to the public. The style and form of the cathedral was highly praised both by architectural critics and by the religious community, so much so that Micevski & Đurić were awarded special recognition from the Vatican for their work on the "Sacred Heart of Jesus" Cathedral.


The original 1902 cathedral

As was true with much of the post-earthquake reconstruction architecture that was created in Skopje, a large amount of it was of a hyper-modernist design that redefined the shape and image of the city. The new "Sacred Heart of Jesus" Catholic Cathedral was no different. The cathedral's form is dominated by its dynamic copper roof which is laid out along a cross-shaped ridge from which point the roof cascades down in a steep parabola to the eaves, giving the impression of a tent. Sources assert that this tent shape is symbolic of "the Old Testament image of a tent where Yahweh lives". Some suggest that Micevski & Đurić modeled their cathedral off of famous 1964 Cathedral of St. Mary in Tokyo by famous Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, which would make sense as Tange had a huge influence on Skopje architecture after he was chosen to help coordinate the Skopje rebuild project after the city's 1963 earthquake. Also, an additional exterior element of the cathedral is its dramatic concrete belltower, which is a fully detached modernist pinnacle rising over 35m into the air. The tower has a unique form, almost resembling an ornate scepter, with its most distinct quality being its belfry that is held within a chamber that resembles a bird’s wide open beak.

Meanwhile, the interior of the cathedral is just as impressive as its exterior. Firstly, the smooth white ceiling drapes downwards in graceful curves that appear almost as billowing as the divine tent it was modeled after. From the center point of this tent descends a tiered chandelier hanging right above the altar, assembled from a series of hundreds of bronze plates strung together in three circles. Created by nuns of the Covenant of the Sisters of the Holy Cross in Đakovo, Croatia, the chandelier is of impeccable craftsmanship, yet, at the same time, it is not gratuitously ornate or decadent in its stylings, presenting an air of restrained dignity. Then, on the wall behind the altar rises a series of soaring stained glass windows showing Jesus wearing a red cloak and surrounded by flames. This window was created by artist Ivana Ulman at the famous Čurilović glass studio in Zagreb. In addition, the three large doors into the church which are decorated with ornate bronze reliefs were all created by Croatian artist Alojzija Ulman. The final element of the interior of the church to remark upon is its large organ, which sources claim to be the first ever church organ installed in what is now North Macedonia.


The church today continues to exist in excellent condition and has a congregation numbering in the thousands. It is highly patronized, hosting not only regular church services and masses, but also weddings, special events and other ceremonies. In recent years, Pope Francis made a visit to the cathedral in 2019 as part of an “ecumenical and inter-religious meeting”. The official website for the church can be found at THIS link.

 

10.) City Shopping Center

A vintage Yugoslav-era postcard view of the City Shopping Center in Skopje.

Name: City Shopping Center

Author(s): Živko Popovski (with Tihomir Arsovski, Živko Gelevski, Dimitar Dimitrov, Blagoja Kolev, Radomir Lajović and Lidija Markova)

Years: 1969-1973


As Skopje became the capital of the SR of Macedonia after WWII, the city slowly developed into a significant economic hub of trade and commerce. While much effort was put forward in developing infrastructure for such activities through the 50s and 60s, the earthquake that struck the city of Skopje on July 26th, 1963 devastated the city and the progress it had made creating modern commercial spaces. During the post-earthquake reconstruction era of Skopje which occurred through the 60s, major plans were set in motion in 1966 to create a massive city center shopping center on a scale never before seen in the city. In determining the site that this shopping center would occupy, Skopje authorities followed the guidance of Kenzō Tange’s City Center Master Plan, which called for it to be situated right at the heart of the city along the Vardar River. Then, in 1967, an international competition was organized for determining what shape this shopping center would take, which itself received 23 individual proposals from around the world. The concept chosen as the winner for this huge project by the competition’s jury was a proposal put forward by a design team led by Macedonian architect Živko Popovski, who was considered one of the most prominent architects in the republic. The project itself was funded by a consortium of Macedonian industrial concerns who were keen on making their products available in a vast modern marketplace. The groundbreaking of the shopping center project began on October 11th, 1969 (a day which marked the 28th anniversary of the uprising in Macedonia), with the complex finally being unveiled to the public three and a half years later on April 27th, 1973.

A vintage Yugoslav-era postcard view of the City Shopping Center standing over top the 1959 towers.

The complex which Popovski created, which is often locally referred to as the GTC (Gradski trgovski centar), was a sprawling concrete commercial center spread across 114,000 square meters, all designed in a high modernist style of architecture which is often considered to be the first contemporary "mall" created in Macedonia. The GTC is unique in that it blends itself with the urban landscape, with its expansive layout of multi-layered terraces and numerous entrance points making it a critical transit route for local pedestrians as well as a cultural meeting point for people to converge upon from all over the city. Spread across five levels populated by over one hundred shops, this array of tight terraces are pierced at their center to create a deep glass covered chasm-like atrium that brings natural light deep into the complex and forms a sort of covered square for social congregation. Also unique is that Popovski integrated the shopping center directly in and around the five apartment towers built on the site from 1952-1959 by Aleksandar Serafimovski (which was the first high-rise complex in Macedonia), forming a novel commercial/residential mixed-use zone while also preserving this architectural landmark (which would have otherwise been demolished). In addition to the GTC interacting with the surrounding architecture, it also communes with the adjacent greenspace as well. The south end of the complex opens up to “Women Fighters’ Park” with a sweeping elevated promenade lined with planters that allow cascades of vegetation to flow out down the side of the building. As such, the GTC stands less as an obtrusive impediment to the park and more of an inviting continuation of lush greenery.


From the moment of its unveiling, the GTC was a massive architectural, commercial and cultural success, with the complex operating as the unequivocal center of life in the city during the Yugoslav-era. In 1976, just three years after its unveiling, famed Macedonian architect Boris Čipan penned an essay praising the GTC, making the following remarks about its importance:

That space lives from morning until late at night. A man shopping meets a friend and talks on a bench or at a restaurant. The evening is full of young people who have not yet been captured by the car or television. A children's chatter can be heard in the park and it flows through this space to the quay. A lone salesman or craftsman has the opportunity to take a break from the work at a sidewalk table by adjoining patisserie. In essence, this is the modern equivalent of the sentimental and already extinct life in the bazaar. Only in this way can the teaching of tradition be understood as the renewal of space for eternal human needs, and not through a materialized form… At the core of this ensemble is the important quality, which is the day-to-day symbiosis of life. Therefore, it has no facade and cannot be analyzed and priced based on the misconceptions of aesthetics. It can not be presented in an image or two-dimensional reproduction. It can only be experienced. In contrast to the architecture of form, which we want to transcend, he [Popovski] brilliantly illustrates the architecture of life.

However, despite the value that the GTC had within the Skopje community during the Yugoslav-era, the complex began to fall into neglect during the early 2000s. Then, in the 2010s, the city government of Skopje put forward plans to make drastic alterations to the City Shopping Center as part of the Skopje 2014 redevelopment project. As part of this proposed project, the complex would be covered in a Neo-classical/baroque facade. However, the plan was faced with harsh criticism not only from city architects and preservation groups, but also from many people from within the local community. As a result, a grassroots organization named “I Love GTC/Го сакам ГТЦ” was formed which worked against government efforts to transform the GTC, staging numerous protests and community actions. In a defiant effort, the group put forward a referendum aimed at stopping the work from being done, which fell short of success at the ballot box, however the government’s efforts to encase the GTC in an expensive faux facade was ultimately halted by the national courts, who put a suspension on any such works for the time being. As of 2021, the City Shopping Center still stands in its original form and has been protected from any dramatic alterations, however, its present condition is still far from optimal and much work needs to be done in order to bring the complex to a more preserved and maintained condition. The official website for the City Shopping Center can be found at THIS link.

 

11.) City Wall

A contemporary view of the City Wall in Skopje. Credit: Google Maps

Name: City Wall (Gradski Zid)

Authors: Horizontal Blocks (Nikola Bogachev, Slavko Đurić, Ljubinka Malenkova, Aleksandar Serafimovski, Simeon Simoski, Vera Kosevska), Type B Tower Blocks (Aleksandar Smilevski) and Type M Tower Blocks (Aleksandar Serafimovski, Vasilka Ladinska, Dimitar Dimitrov, Rosanda Minčeva, Slavko Đurić)

Years: 1966-1968


The winning 1965 City Center Master Plan formulated by Japanese architect Kenzō Tange for Skopje’s post-earthquake reconstruction contained, at its heart, two central components: the City Gate and the City Wall. These two concepts which Tange proposed were meant to operate as trans-historical symbolic structures, harkening back to the city’s ancient past, while also acting as a direct architectural reference to the towering walls of Kale Fortress overlooking the city center just across the river. Tange was an ardent proponent of “Structuralism” in architecture, which advocated that architecture be locally meaningful and symbolically significant as a means of allowing people to relate to their surroundings, an idea which contrasted to the early-modernist theory of “Functionalism”, which said that practical considerations should be held above all else. Instead of creating decontextualized modernist buildings that disregard local history and heritage, which was often a critique of early 20th century modernism, Tange wished to create a complex that would help residents symbolically communicate with their past and their identity. Furthermore, in addition to operating as a symbol of ancient history, the City Wall also lent itself to be understood as a symbol of “strength in the face of destruction”, as one author notes. As Tange had it laid out in his City Center Master Plan, the City Wall was to stand as a row of 6 to 7 residential apartment blocks stretching over 1,000 meters wrapping around the city center on the south side of the Vardar River. On the outside of this long row of horizontal blocks where the streets intersect the wall, tall tower blocks were situated which would act as symbolic watchtowers or bastions overlooking the gateways into the city center. In his conceptual models, Tange fashioned the City Wall horizontal blocks to be composed of three story trapezoidal bases upon which stood elevated rectangular blocks. This gap between the base and the body was intended to provide for improved airflow at street level. However, Tange’s intention here was to change once implementation of his concept started.

A diagram from Tange's model showing the plan for the City Wall complex in blue.

As thousands of residents of Skopje lost their homes in the 1963 earthquake, the construction of the City Wall residential complex was given priority in the order of projects to be constructed. After Tange’s Master Plan was awarded first prize in 1965, it went through various revisions and refinements for the purposes of making its implementation more feasible, a process that included not only Tange’s team, but also City Center Master Plan co-winners Miščević & Wenzler, the Skopje Institute of Town Planning and consultants from Polservice. While this group of teams worked on deciding the orientation of the City Wall within the landscape, the actual design the City Wall buildings would take was given to three teams of architects, one which would design the horizontal blocks, a second team which would design the “Type B” Tower Blocks and a third who would design the “Type M” Tower Blocks. Construction work on the City Wall began in 1966 and because of the massive scope of this project, five different Macedonian construction contractors were involved, which included Beton, Makedonija-Projekt, Granit, Mavrovo and Pelagonija. The City Wall project was completed after two years of work in 1968.

A vintage Yugoslav-era postcard view of several of the tower blocks along the City Wall in Skopje.

When finished, the City Wall complex consisted of 1,184 apartments spread across a mass network of roughly 48 blocks and towers, which all had the capacity to accommodate nearly 8,000 residents. The final design of the apartment blocks was altered and scaled back considerably in the final form compared to Tange’s original design, with all the City Wall buildings existing as identical 24m tall horizontal blocks. The facades of each of these horizontal blocks are characterized by column-like vertical elements that rise up and support a two level lintel-like flat bump-outs that stretch across each building’s entire length. A dynamic red line adorns the faces of these protruding bump-outs, reaching itself out to surround the entire length of the City Wall. This imposing yet engaging configuration truly enhances the “wall” quality of the assemblage, as if it is indeed a soaring barrier protecting the city from harm. Meanwhile, the bastion-like residential towers complete the City Wall complex, each standing at a height of 45 meters. These towers take the architectural form of the standard concrete tower block often seen across Yugoslavia during this era, adorned only by its bold vertical lines leading the eye upwards. Standing sentry next to each road entering the city center, they complete the Tange’s symbolic effort. In the wide valley-like space between the horizontal blocks and rows of towers, a greenspace corridor was established which was populated with not only parks, but also schools, playgrounds, open-air cafes, and other amenities to provide residents with a tranquil and relaxed space that would enhance livability (thus acting as a serene escape from the hectic city life just outside and adding yet another layer of symbolic meaning behind the name “City Wall”).


Of the many components which made up Kenzō Tange’s City Center Master Plan, the City Wall was the only one which was fully realized. The City Wall complex (known locally as “Gradski Zid”) has gone on to become one of the most important symbols of Skopje’s post-earthquake reconstruction and acts as among the city’s most beloved city center landmarks. Not only that, but it is also quite a coveted and exclusive place to have an apartment in modern-day Skopje. Through the process of changes that have occurred in recent years with the Skopje 2014 project, the City Wall complex has remained largely untouched.

 

12.) Skopje Train Station

A vintage Yugoslav-era view of the Central Skopje Train Station.

Name: Skopje Train Station

Author(s): Kenzō Tange

Year: 1971-1981


Perhaps one of the most notable and significant structures in Skopje to have been destroyed by the 1963 earthquake was the city’s central train station. Located just a few hundreds meters south of the city center, this previous station was unveiled in 1940 and designed by Skopje architect Velimir Gavrilović. The terminal consisted of a flat stone block facade, crafted in the early modernist style, adorned simply with a series of twelve gracefully rising thin arches. To either side of the bank of arches stood a set of subdued entrances which led into a massive ticketing lobby with high vaulted ceilings that stretched nearly 100m long. After WWII, an expansive mural spanning the entire lobby was painted on the high walls above the platform entrances. Painted by famed Macedonian artist Borko Lazeski around 1950, the mural depicted the struggle of the Macedonian people throughout the ages in a series of emotive and epic scenes rendered in a highly abstracted style, with it being one of the largest murals in Yugoslavia. A vintage photo of Lazeski’s mural can be seen at THIS Facebook link, while more information about the history and construction of Gavrilović’s 1940 train station can be read at THIS article by MARH. This station served as the primary transportation terminal for the city of Skopje up until the earthquake of 1963. As the quake struck, the majority of the ticketing lobby collapsed in on itself, leaving the structure in a state of complete ruin.

A vintage Yugoslav-era postcard view of Gavrilović's 1940 train station in ruins after the earthquake.

In the years after the quake, the rebuilding of the train station became a main priority of the concerted post-earthquake reconstruction efforts. When Japanese architect Kenzō Tange won the competition for determining Skopje’s City Center Master Plan in 1965, it was no surprise to see that a train station was at the heart of his design concept. However, in Tange’s planned layout for the city center, the new train station had several attributes which made it quite unique and distinct from its predecessor. Firstly, Tange moved the train station from its original location to roughly 1.5km east of the city center. This relocation brought the train station closer to the connection of the high trafficked and commercially critical Belgrade-Thessaloniki train line, while also reorienting the station on a north-south axis to allow better access and facilitation of trains coming to and from both of these destinations. Furthermore, the original plans for Tange’s train station had the complex contained underground beneath the grand mega-structure that he named the “City Gate”, which was to be a huge facility containing not only the train station, but an airport, a heli-port, a expansive highway interchange, bus station, etc etc… or in other words, it was to be a complex where every single mode of transportation imaginable would coalesce into a towering primary passageway into the city. In addition to the merging of transportation, the complex would also contain a series of towering blocks and skyscrapers which would create a very real and physical “City Gate” structure, thus operating both as a symbolic and physical entrance portal into Skopje.


However, as the edits and revisions to Tange’s City Center Master Plan were made through the late 1960s, his original concept for the “City Gate” was vastly reduced and pared back. Firstly, the “City Gate” concept was simply minimized in scale and complexity, however, as costs mounted and protests were made about the planned demolition of the historic Madžir Maalo neighborhood standing in the way of the project (which was very much still inhabited by thousands of residents), the project was reduced all the way down to a more modest above-ground train station (not underground as originally proposed), with nearly all hints of the original “City Gate” concept eliminated. Finally, construction on the project began in 1971. While the majority of the construction projects of Skopje’s rebuilding were assigned to Yugoslav architects, the train station was the one major architectural project in Skopje’s reconstruction that Kenzō Tange took on himself. After ten arduous years of construction, the project was finally unveiled when the first train pulled into the station on July 27th, 1981, having come to Skopje from the town of Kičevo. A video of this historic 1981 train arrival can be watched at THIS YouTube link, while more photos of the station’s construction can be seen at THIS article by MARH.


Tange's original City Gate concept

The station which Tange had designed, despite being pared back from his original concept, was still quite a daring and ambitious project. The most noticeable feature of the train station at first sight is that it is completely elevated off of the ground. Raised from street level 10.5 meters high via hundreds of earthquake-proof concrete pylons, the station effectively operates as a rail bridge upon which are situated ten rail platforms that stretch over 1,400 meters long. Sources report that over 70,000 cubic meters of concrete and 11,000 tons of iron were used in the construction of the station. From street level, the station stands out with its sleek and streamlined metal tube-like platform awnings that partially cover six of the ten platforms. Originally, plans called for this tube awning to cover the entire length of all ten platforms, however, mounting costs prohibited this and only allowed for a small part of just a few of the platforms to be covered by the awning. Meanwhile, the space underneath the concrete platforms is hung with amber colored glass curtain windows that give the complex a distinct radiating glow. Within this interior space of the station was housed not only the train station’s ticketing office, but it also housed a large post office, a bus station, a restaurant, car rental agencies, and numerous other offerings. As for the style of the interior of the train station, gone are the grand ticketing lobby, the high vaulted ceilings and the extravagant artwork which were found in Gavrilović’s 1940 train station. The interior of Tange’s complex is dominated by highly minimal unadorned spaces that are characterized by their unapologetically bare concrete walls and ceilings that rarely dare to exceed their utilitarian applications, all of which should come as no surprise, as Tange is widely hailed as one of the main figures of the architectural styles of Brutalism and Structuralism. Only splashes of orange fixtures here and there break up the visual continuity of the interior space.

A vintage Yugoslav-era postcard image of the Skopje Train Station.

While the opening of the new Skopje train station was rung in with great fanfare and celebration in 1981, it was targeted with criticism before it even opened. Many declared that such a grand and expansive train station vastly exceeded the needs of the small town of Skopje, which only had just around 350,000 people when it was opened in 1981. Estimates during the 1970s predicted that the station would see upwards of 18 million passengers a year, however, such projections proved to be significant overestimates, as sources relate that the station only recorded a mere 193,000 passengers in 2017. This lack of demand is further evidenced in the fact that only five of the ten constructed tracks running atop the station were ever fully operational. But interestingly, while the platforms themselves see little train traffic, the bus station component of the facility exists as one of the busiest locations in Skopje, hosting hundreds of buses per day. Meanwhile, many elements of the station’s exterior and exterior have greatly suffered in recent decades. In the post-Yugoslav era, the station fell into disrepair as regular maintenance was neglected by authorities for many years, leaving many elements of the complex in near derelict conditions. As a result, a much needed 2.5 million euro renovation effort was put forward in 2014 and 2015, which solved many of the station’s surface problems, but many other issues continued to lurk beneath the surface. For instance, the exterior of much of the station is covered in a dizzying array of advertisements, signs and billboards, making the whole complex seem more like a marketing agency's play-thing rather than it standing as a significant building created by an international architectural master.


A final note worth mentioning on this subject is that of the ruins of Gavrilović's 1940 train station. After the earthquake, these ruins were left standing as an important monument to the earthquake, which was made all the more visceral as the hands of the huge surviving clock on the side of the ruined station was forever stuck at the time of the quake: 5:17AM. In later years, the City Museum of Skopje moved into the ruins and began presenting extensive exhibits on not only the history of the city, but also a sobering presentation of the legacy of the earthquake itself. The official website of the museum can be visited at THIS website link.

 

13.) Skopje City Archive

A vintage Yugoslav-era image of the Skopje City Archive. Credit: Georgi Kostantinovski Archive

Name: City Archive

Author: Georgi Konstantinovski

Years: 1966-1968


As a tremendous and violent earthquake struck Skopje in 1963, many of the city’s major governmental institutions were shaken and damaged, with many being reduced to rubble. Among those institutions damaged in the quake was the Skopje City Archive building, which had been established only 11 years earlier in 1952 as a branch of what is today referred to as the State Archive of the Republic of North Macedonia. This original archive building for the city was located in the Debar Maalo neighborhood near the “Karpoš” Cinema and, originally, plans were to repair and restore that complex. Yet, these plans would soon change with the arrival of architect Georgi Konstantinovski back to the city in 1964. After graduating from Cyril & Methodius University in 1956 with a degree in architecture, Konstantinovski began traveling and studying with other architects around the world. At the time of the earthquake in 1963, Konstantinovski was studying with famous American modernist architect Paul Rudolph at Yale University, but he quickly left this prestigious position in order to lend his services in the reconstruction of Skopje. Then aged 34, when he first arrived back in Skopje, he immediately took up his former post as an assistant professor at the Faculty of Architecture of the Cyril & Methodius University. In addition, he also reached out to his brother Dr. Miloš Konstantinovski, who had been the longtime director of the State Archives. Miloš explained to his brother that a great sum of money was to be spent to restore the damaged Skopje City Archive building at Debar Maalo, however, Georgi felt that he could use that same amount of money to build a whole new complex instead of just restoring the old one. After putting together a concept proposal for a new City Archive building, Konstantinovski presented it to the mayor of Skopje, who subsequently praised the concept and approved it for construction. Initially city authorities wanted to locate this new City Archive building in the city center, however, Konstantinovski himself insisted that it be located in a more open and free-flowing location, with his recommendation being west of the city center at the corner of Partisan Detachment Boulevard and Moskovska in the neighborhood of Karpoš. City authorities accepted Konstantinovski’s site proposal. Construction work on the City Archive building began in 1966 and was completed just under two years later in 1968.

A vintage Yugoslav-era image of the Skopje City Archive. Credit: Georgi Kostantinovski Archive

Skopje acquired one of its first architectural structures of High Modernism with the unveiling of Konstantinovski’s new City Archive building, with it being located west of the city center at the corner of Partisan Detachment Boulevard and Moskovska in the neighborhood of Karpoš. Entirely composed of bush-hammered concrete, the archive’s structure begins with its street entrance along Moskovska, which is composed of a looming rectangular portico that extends out significantly towards the street and is supported by two massive concrete columns. This elevated rectangular structure then extends back away from the street, with it then being bisected underneath by a similar ground level rectangular body that opens up towards the street with an array of wide glass doors and floor to ceiling windows. Then, completing the facility is a tall eight-level square tower that rises dramatically behind these two rectangular complexes almost as if it was a fortified castle keep. This “fortress” motif of the complex is reinforced with the concrete columns that stand as charismatic ornaments on every corner of both the rectangular structures as well as the tower. These columns (which are each topped with little inward pointing suspended square platforms) each stand slightly set back from the main body of the building, being connected through a series of concrete extensions, giving the archive building a highly imposing and formidable facade. Not only can we read this design as a symbolic reference to the archive being a “protector” of Skopje’s most important documents, but we can also see the architecture as an overt nod to the Brutalist stylings of his teacher Paul Randolph.


Through the decades, the Skopje City Archive has stood as a monumental and architecturally significant structure that stands as a testament not only to Georgi Konstantinovski, one of the country’s greatest architects, but also as a significant symbol of the work put forward in reconstructing Skopje after the 1963 earthquake. For his work on creating the City Archive building, Konstantinovski received numerous awards, including the coveted “Borba” Award (the highest professional recognition in Yugoslavia), as well as the SR of Macedonia “October 11th” Award. Also, as a final note, it is important to point out that after completing the Skopje City Archive building in 1968, Konstantinovski went on to construct government archive buildings for other cities across the SR of Macedonia, most notably at Štip (1976) and Ohrid (1979), both crafted in raw concrete in his famous and recognizable style.

 

14.) The Museum of North Macedonia

A vintage Yugoslav-era image of what is today the Museum of North Macedonia. Credit: Archive of Mimoza Nestorova-Tomić

Name: The Museum of North Macedonia

Author(s): Mimoza Nestorova-Tomić & Kiril Muratovski

Years: 1971-1976


Just prior to the earthquake in Skopje, there were three primary museum institutions in the city: the Archeological Museum, founded in 1949 and housed within Kale Fortress; the Ethnological Museum, founded in 1949 and housed within the Metropol Building; and, finally, the Historical Museum, founded in 1952 and housed within the Kuršumli An complex. However, as the earthquake rocked the city in 1963, both the Kale Fortress and the Kuršumli An complex were destroyed (the Metropol Building was spared). During the post-earthquake reconstruction planning phase, city authorities decided that instead of rebuilding new individual facilities for the two destroyed museums, the city would instead create a new mega-museum complex that would house all together the facilities for the Archeological, Historical and Ethnological Museums. Macedonian architect Mimoza Nestorova-Tomić, who was part of the Skopje’s United Nations reconstruction team, was granted responsibility for creating this new museum, which she planned on situating within the Old Bazaar (Stara Čaršija) neighborhood. In fact, Nestorova-Tomić was largely responsible for spearheading the preservation of the entire Old Bazaar neighborhood (an ancient Ottoman-era marketplace dating back to the 12th century), which it could be argued she single-handedly saved from destruction, as many of her peers within the UN redevelopment project wanted to demolish the historic settlement entirely in order to make room for more modern structures.

A vintage Yugoslav-era image of the museum (top) next to the ruins of Kuršumli An (bottom).

This Old Bazaar Master Plan, submitted in 1966 by Nestorova-Tomić (along with architects Timohir Arsovski and Atanas Bančotovski), placed the Museum of Macedonia at the north end of the neighborhood, adjacent to the ruins of the Kuršumli An historic site. Once the site for the new museum complex was established after her Master Plan’s acceptance by UN and Skopje officials, Nestorova-Tomić began working with architect Kiril Muratovski in 1967 on formulating a fully fleshed out architectural concept for the new museum. After receiving approval on a scale model of the museum in 1970, construction work officially began the following year in November of 1971. After exactly five years of construction, the Museum of Macedonia was unveiled to the public on November 13th, 1976, a date which commemorated 32 years since the WWII liberation of Skopje by Yugoslav Partisans from Axis occupational forces.


The Museum of Macedonia complex is accessed from the narrow streets off of the Old Bazaar, which opens up westwards in front of the Kuršumli An ruins into a large stone-paved plaza (~110m x 55m). The museum itself wraps around the west and south sides of the plaza within an L-shaped footprint, with its distinctive prism-like triangular forms dominating the facade. Nestorova-Tomić created this unique zig-zag triangle silhouette through arranging a series of 16 square bodies (with gabled roofs along their diagonals) in tip-to-tip rows along the plaza, which ascend slightly with each successive row. The tips of each of the triangle prisms are then cantilevered outwards in order to grant them an almost floating ambiance. As a result, this facade gives the impression of a mountain range looming overhead, unbound by the earth, being perhaps a symbol for the cloud draped mountains that surround the city. In terms of materials, the facade of these triangles is composed of recycled pieces of white Prilep marble that are arranged to look like solid slabs of stone, with sources indicating that the white color itself is meant to bring the museum “in harmony with the Bazaar”.


Meanwhile, novel design elements can be further found within the interior of the Museum of Macedonia. Spreading across 10,000 square meters of floor space held up with a concrete skeletal system, the complex is divided into two separate wings. Within each of these wings you find a similarly laid out atrium space which opens up into a series of square openings in the ceiling, revealing terraces looking out across the exhibition area. Rich earth tones and wood trim give these halls a warm ambiance. Hundreds of glass cases across each exhibit hall hold a myriad of historical treasures, from folk costumes, to archeological artifacts, to dioramas, to ancient pottery, jewelry, armor and much more. There are even some alcoves which are set up to recreate traditional rooms in order to allow visitors to better experience and visualize historical time periods.

A recent view of the interior of the Museum of North Macedonia. Credit: GoogleMaps

While the Museum of Macedonia stood as one of the most important museum institutions during the Yugoslav-era, it has fallen into considerable distress and degradation over recent decades. This neglect has largely been the result of the country’s government creating new museums as part of the Skopje 2014, with older Yugoslav-era institutions being marginalized in the process. In fact, the archeological exhibitions that originally existed within the Museum of Macedonia were relocated to the brand new Baroque styled “Archeological Museum of Macedonia” opened in 2014. This exhibit removal from the Museum of Macedonia left it in further disarray, on top of its already pressing need for repairs and renovation. In a 2014 review of the Museum of Macedonia by the “For 91 Days” project, the following observations were made:

We took one look at the building, and almost decided to cancel our visit. The place is massive and extremely old… and not the positive, dignified type of “old.” The building’s windows are shattered, its walls are cracked and dirty, and it seems more likely to house a family of squatters than a museum of any importance… I’ve rarely been in a museum so clearly in need of immediate renovation (or closure). The lights were dim, many of the glass cases were empty, and the atmosphere was unsettling.

A news article from 2017 related that some efforts for refurbishing the museum have been already underway, with more significant plans to renovate the complex in stages over subsequent years. However, I was unable to find any recent articles detailing the status of such repairs and recent photos seem to indicate that much repair work is still yet to be completed. When the museum’s architect, Mimoza Nestorova-Tomić, was asked about the poor condition of the museum in a December 2020 interview, she made the following comments:

Here is the wealth of Macedonia and we need to take very close care of it. That rich collection tells us where we came from. If we respect it with proper care, others will respect us. Our grandparents did not learn design, but they made quality buildings, beautiful fabrics, clothes, and fine jewelry. These important institutions must have a maintenance service. The lack of maintenance and poor organization is our systemic shortcoming. After many years of neglect, the costs are higher and the consequences more desperate.

In 2019, the museum changed its name to the “Museum of the Republic of North Macedonia”, in line with the signing of the Prespa Agreement and the nation’s official name change to “North Macedonia”. Its official website can be found at THIS link, while its official Facebook page can be found at THIS link.

 

Links, Sources and More Info

For anyone interested in learning more about this topic and/or is looking to see the sources and articles I used for assembling and writing this piece, you can find a full list of links at the following page located HERE.

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