[artinfo] Skopje's History on Fire

e-flux Architecture architecture.mailer at e-flux.com
Wed May 10 21:21:54 CEST 2017

Skopje's History on Fire


The archive at the Institute for Town Planning 
and Architecture Skopje, Republic of Macedonia, 
which has been foreclosed since 2014, was 
destroyed in a fire on April 21, 2017. It is not 
yet known how the fire was started, or by whom.

In 1963, after the devastating earthquake of 
Skopje, the Institute became the birthplace of 
the new city. The natural disaster was followed 
by one of the most comprehensive rebuilding 
efforts in the modern history, where more than 60 
countries took part. At the peak of the Cold War, 
Skopje, then part of the Non-Aligned Yugoslavia, 
was proclaimed the "city of solidarity." With 
planners, architects and politicians from both 
sides of the Iron Curtain, the city became a 
hallmark of international cooperation. Many 
countries donated equipment, prefabricated 
buildings and planning expertise to the city. The 
United Nations launched an urban planning 
competition in order to rebuild the city and 
brought an army of planners and architects to 
Skopje from all over the world. The city became a 
testing ground and prefiguration of a post Cold 
War, globalized world, expressed through 
architecture and urban planning. The United 
Nations commissioned renowned planners and 
architects like Kenzo Tange, Constantinos 
Doxiadis, Van der Broek and Bakema, Luigi 
Piccinato, and Adolf Ciborowski who, together 
with the Yugoslav architects Edvard Ravnikar, R. 
Miscevic and F. Wenzler, Aleksandar Djordjevic, 
and Slavko Brezovski, worked on blueprints for 
the new city. They were asked to deploy the most 
progressive and advanced architectural and 
scientific achievements to date. The Institute in 
Skopje was the place where this project took 
place between 1964 and 1967. In the following 
years many public, cultural and infrastructural 
buildings were built, such as the colossal train 
station by Kenzo Tange, the Opera by Biro 77, the 
University by Marko Mu”iã, the Student Dormitory 
by Georgi Konstantinovski, and the iconic post 
office-which was partially destroyed in a 2013 
fire-by Janko Konstantinov. Skopje remains a 
place where in a close proximity one can see 
exemplary Brutalist and Metabolist architecture 
standing as a reminder of the belief in openness 
and progress achieved through international 

Most of the valuable materials from the 
rebuilding of Skopje-original drawings, plans, 
models, photographs, records and 
proceedings-disappeared in the fire. The neglect 
of this knowledge is coupled with the rise of 
ignorance, nationalism and populism that plague 
the country. The knowledge, as well as the 
Institute, were abandoned for many years. Neither 
specialists nor the public of Skopje were 
interested, as it became "obsolete." After the 
collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the 
buildings of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were 
dismissed as "Communist architecture." The final 
attempt to bury this history came in 2009 when 
the government of Macedonia launched a grand 
nationalistic project to violently rebuild the 
city, called "Skopje 2014." It consisted of more 
than twenty, mainly governmental buildings and 
hundreds of monuments erected in the city center 
in a pseudo-classical style. It aimed to connect 
the Macedonian people to their mythical roots, 
trying, at the same time, to make it look more 
"European." Its styrofoam ornaments and grotesque 
appearance are frightening and nightmarish. The 
project is ongoing, while the costs are out of 
control, with more than 500 million EUR already 
spent in an opaque and corrupt process, taking 
place in one of the poorest countries of Europe.

In Skopje, the world is losing the remnant of one 
of the few utopias that became a reality in the 
20th century. Parts of the world heritage are 
being crushed before our eyes. Throughout the 
years, researchers and academics at the Institute 
for the History and Theory of Architecture of ETH 
Zurich have worked with, lectured on, exhibited, 
published, held workshops in Skopje, and beyond 
on this archive. In light of such a loss, we 
reaffirm our belief that it is our duty to make 
this knowledge public and accessible.

-Damjan Kokalevski

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