Heroes for One Day – Revisiting Three Urban Artefacts in Skopje by Slovenian Architects
Project by Nada Prlja and Daniel Serafimovski
at MOB-Macedonian Opera and Ballet, Bul. Goce Delcev 4, 1000 Skopje, Macedonia
Violeta Bakalčev / Minas Bakalčev (architects), Ivan Blažev (photographer), Yane Čalovski (artist), Martin Guleski (architect), Mitko Hadži-Pulja (architect), Dragan Hristov (fashion designer), Jovan Ivanovski / Vladimir Deskov / Ana Ivanovska – Deskova (architects), Vlatko P. Korobar (architect), Zoran Petrovski (curator), Dušan Perčinkov (artist), Ilija Prokopiev (artist), Nada Prlja (artist), Bert Štajn (writer), Andrijana Tilić (photogrpher), Daniel Serafimovski (architect) and Nikola Uzunovski (artist).
An ‘Archeology’ of Modernism
The exhibition HEROES FOR ONE DAY re-visits and re-evaluates the architectural, urban and social significance of these three buildings and their wider (and ever-changing) context. The exhibition builds on previous research – the original drawings models by the architects (Ravnikar, Biro 71, Atelier Music), photographs (Blažev, Gale) architectural drawings and research (Deskov / Ivanovski / Ivanovska-Deskova), combined with new material, such as models (Guleski, SIA) and essays (Bakalčev, Korobar, Ivanovska-Deskova, Štajn) that provide new interpretations of the three urban artefacts. This process of research and documentation, a form of ‘archeology of modernism’, includes a series of new drawings of each building (Serafimovski / SIA), providing a comparative study of the intended scope of the projects as ideas, the reality of the built works and their destiny within the context of the current/future reality of the city. The buildings have also been extensively re-photographed (Tilić / Serafimovski) and a series of art works (Čalovski, Perčinkov, Petrovski, Prokopiev, Uzunovski) have been included in order to reflect on the relevance of the city’s modernist heritage and the modernist vision, as a much needed alternative to the contemporary reality of Skopje.
HEROES FOR ONE DAY represents a dialogue with the modernism of the past – for another day in Skopje.
Initiators and creative directors of the exhibition and related publication, are architect Daniel Serafimovski and artist Nada Prlja, founders of the independent Cultural Agency and Gallery SIA in Skopje. The exhibition has been made possible by the Embassy of the Republic of Slovenia in Skopje and MOB, the Macedonian Opera and Ballet. The exhibition is part of the celebrations of the Slovenian National day and of 25 years of Slovenia’s independence – and is also within the framework of the cultural festival Skopsko Leto, 2016.
All images at MOB by: Andrijana Tilić
Three Urban Artefacts in Skopje by Slovenian Architects
As capital cities of two comparably sized countries (both former republics of Yugoslavia), Skopje and Ljubljana suffered severe earthquakes in the 20th century and have undergone complete transformations in the process of their reconstruction. Important architects and urban planners (Jože Plečnik in Ljubljana and Kenzo Tange in Skopje) have played a significant role in the cities’ renovation and reconfigurations. Within this context, in the immediate aftermath of WW2, Edward Ravnikar, one of the most important Slovenian architects, designed the Faculty of Philosophy and Natural Sciences, now PMF (the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, built between 1949-51) in the district of Gazi Baba in Skopje. Intended as the first of a series of several buildings within the campus of the newly created University of Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Skopje, but now a solitary figure positioned on the top of the hill, PMF is a genuinely monumental work, which remains undiscovered and largely unknown.
Later on, other Slovenian architects were to play an important role in Skopje, with the realization of two competition-winning projects from the time of Yugoslavia: MOB (the Macedonian Opera and Ballet, built between 1971-80) by the architectural studio Biro 71 and UKIM (the University Centre of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, built between 1974-78) by Atelier Marko Mušič. These ambitious projects defined large scale building ensembles and city-like structures that, despite remaining incomplete have, since their realisation, become symbols of Skopje as a Modernist city and a part of the collective memory of its citizens. These radical modernist buildings, with their clarity of architectural thought could be seen as ‘heroic’ as the result of their intended scale and the idealist vision of the future city that they represented. Yet they remain incomplete works, that have contributed to the reading of Skopje as a fragmented and ‘unfinished’ city – a collection of isolated, individual urban artefacts now destined to varying degrees of oblivion.
Foreword Traces of the future
by Minas Bakalchev
The buildings of modernity remain polemical, are still under question and are the subjects of doubt. We perceive them as the signs of excess from a particular socio-political system or aesthetic mode, an experiment from the past. They are under question from an ideological point of view, but also in relation to their content, form and materiality. Nevertheless, they remain part of our reality, they are the foundations of the contemporary city, they communicate the paths of contemporary life. Through the example of three crucial architectural works by Slovenian authors from the period of the modernisation of the city of Skopje, the exhibition ‘Heroes for One Day’ (previously ‘Drafting the Future’), aims to establish new interpretations of the achievements from the period of modernity.
Daniel Serafimovski and Nada Prlja started with their endeavour of following the traces of modernization of the city, initially with an ‘open archive’ project, based on the participatory collecting of materials, artefacts and recollections about Skopje (Skopje Open Archive, 2014), followed by the exhibition about the Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje by the cult Polish architects, the three Tigers, (Tigers – MSU / ‘Tigers – The Power is in the Team’), the group exhibition ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at the City’, which encompassed new/other ways of looking at the city which is in a state of constant change – and most recently with the exhibition “Heroes for One Day’. As much as recreating the research subject, they also recontextualised it in the paths they proposed. In fact, the project concerns the material imprints of a period of continuous transformation and recontextualizion: the post-war reconstruction of the city with monumental artifacts in the silhouette of the city, the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences by Edo Ravnikar, then the urban artefacts of the post-earthquake rebuilding of the city with the Macedonian Opera and Ballet, by the architects Marian Urishich, Stefan Kacin, Jurij Princes and Bogdan Spindler, and the University Centre “Ss.Cyril and Methodius” by Marko Mushich. But those physical artefacts are precisely the ones being the reason to make a complex stratification of many materials, figures and interpretations related to their presence.
The three buildings offer a different interpretation of a single city. The Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences stems from a still romantic vision of a heroic city with the necessarily symbolic role of education, а building that enters and redefines the silhouette of the city. The University Centre provides a different reinterpretation of the historical urban texture, a kind of anti-monument aiming to blend with the created and the natural environment of the site, being the inspiration and background of revised architectural and urban elements. The building of the Macedonian Opera and Ballet reassesses the edge of the city and the river, the architectural object and its background, suggesting a continuously created topography of the building / surface / natural border. None of them is fully finished, they are fragments within themselves as well as urban fragments in the context of the city. Finally, they are a reason for reaction, challenge, dialogue, aggregation and destruction, layering and confrontation, extension and denial.
However, they are traces in our reality, part of our everyday lives, inserts of a worldview, a testament to the permanence and contradictions of the city’s architecture. But most importantly for Daniel Serafimovski and Nada Prlja is that they are a cause to create an assemblage of documents, images, stories about Skopje. A kind of Merzbau-composition that looks at the city and its materials not only retrospectively but also prospectively. It is in the multitude of elements, tangible and intangible traces, the positions in which the continuity and reality of the city is perceived.
But what do those traces represent? Are they material residues, particles from an event, messages or signs of some presence or activity, a trail imprinted in an uncertain territory?
The traces are a product of the confrontation of architectural form with time. Aldo Rossi (1984) says that architecture becomes possible in the confrontation of the form with the time, a confrontation that lasts until it is destroyed in mutual combat. Hence, the unfinished, fragmented work is always more authentic than the pre-imagined. Because “only ruins express the facts completely.” That possibility to use the pieces of a mechanism or an architectural work, whose overall sense is partially lost, always remains attractive (Rossi, 1984). In that sense, this exhibition is an apparatus (apparecchio) of the memories, a tool for folding things into a kind of recreation, over-creation of an analogous work.
The traces are signs, records of a former existence, influence or action of an event. But, do they always connect us with the past? Modernism expressed the urge to project the future, wanted to free us from the ancient dependence to draw the vision for the future. Years later we see the artefacts of modernity from the past as traces of the forgotten future, a kind of an outdated future. But exactly through their possible recomposition we experience them as still open messages from the future, as proof that the sense of the big idea is still possible.
Traces are a path on a certain territory made from the passage of people and animals. In the film “Stalker” by Andrei Tarkovsky (1979), the protagonist Stalker uses a specific method of detecting the exact path in forbidden territory simply called “The Zone”. The disturbing scenery from the remains of modern society are settled in the “Zone”. Stalker is a leader by throwing objects, nuts and bolts, tied with remnants of cloth, he suggests the way because the “Zone” exhibits sensibility, and the road across it can be felt but not seen. The project “Drafting the future” acts in a similar way. This exhibition is a guide to the unfinished episodes from the past, in the region whose meaning differs from today’s obviousness, to which many of us are witnesses, but less are allowed to move in the enigmatic spaces of the border of the past, present and future.
Rossi, A. (1984). A Scientific Autobiography. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press
Serafimovski, D. (2015). Thirteen ways to see the city. [Online] Serious Interests Agency – SIA. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/events/849000728507497/ [Accessed 16 June 2016].
Stalker, 1979. [Film] Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, Soviet Union: Mosfilm
Tigers MSU / Tigers – The team is the power, The Architecture of Vaclav Klishevski, Jerzy Mokshinski and Eugenjush Wierzbicki (2014). Skopje: Embassy of the Republic of Poland
‘Cities’ within the city
by Vlatko P. Korobar
In the second half of the twentieth century, the urban development of Skopje went through two important phases which determined the course of transformations of its urban tissue. The first one was related to the period immediate after WWII, when the new societal order decided to manifest itself through the Modern paradigm in urban planning as a sign of its future oriented and progressive nature. It was set to change rapidly the city of the past. The second one was related to the period of reconstruction of the city after the earthquake of 1963, when the effort to build a virtually new city reflected the need to show the superiority of the country’s so called, “third way” in the then divided, bipolar world. This time, the extensive urban planning exercise was influenced by the critique of post-war urban planning and the late Modern paradigm in the design of urban space.
Both events were linked heavily with the involvement of external, mainly international experts who, although working with local planners and architects, had the leading role in the major decisions regarding the urban future of Skopje.
In the years after WWI, it was the ‘brotherly’ help among the new socialist countries of Europe’s East which brought the Czechoslovakian planners to Skopje to prepare the first post-war master plan. In the period after the earthquake, it was the international community that, through a UN led activity brought together a truly international team of planning experts and architects to prepare both the new master plan and to decide upon the future of the city centre.
It is within this context that we should observe the works of the Slovenian architects represented by three major buildings/complexes that have left a lasting mark in the urban history of Skopje. They can fully be understood and appreciated only through the wider social and planning context in which they emerged.
The earliest of the three works is the building of the Faculty of Philosophy and Natural Sciences designed by Edvard Ravnikar in 1947. At the time of designing the building, the new master plan was in its final stage and the site of the faculty building was decided upon in relation to the provisions of the plan. Namely, the master plan of Ludjek Kubesh, envisaged a new Republican (state) science centre on the Gazi Baba hill that was to showcase the importance of science and knowledge for the development of the new socialist society. The complex was to include the buildings of different university and scientific institutes and was planned according to the best rules of practice of Modern urbanism, as freestanding buildings immersed in an ample green area. Nothing felt more appropriate or natural, even, to express spatially the urban condition that was to emerge in the near future, than the marriage of modernist planning principles and the notion of science and knowledge as the driving forces of the new society.
Ravnikar’s building was the first one of the many that were meant to come. It is not by accident that it occupies the most prominent spot in relation to the ‘old’ city. With its symmetrical façade and the monumental flare,
it unmistakably exerted its function and its symbolic meaning. It denoted the new ‘acropolis’ where future men of knowledge were to be created. In later years a number of faculties were built in the area, but there was never an effort to connect them in a meaningful whole. Thus, Ravnikar’s building remained the most exposed and sole witness of a ‘city of knowledge’ that was to be, but was never completed.
The other two works of Slovenian authors are related to the post-earthquake development of the city. Although both of them are related to the master plan and the city centre plan, it is possible to view them as influenced to a different extent by each of these plans. It is a common mistake, even among the professional community, to perceive the post-earthquake planning of Skopje as a result of Tange’s plan. The major directions for future development of the city were laid down in the Master Plan which was prepared with the involvement of Polservice, Doxiadis Associates, Wilbur Smith Associates and the local Institute for Planning and Architecture in Skopje under the support of a special UN fund. The plan preparation itself utilised some of the most advanced planning approaches of the time. One of them was the thorough sociological study resulting in the conclusion that there was a functional and spatial divide between the old and the new part of the city on the left and the right banks of the Vardar River, respectively. This finding had a direct bearing on the distribution of major functional areas on the left bank of the Vardar River in the Master plan. It was one of the early cases in postwar planning where a sociological study was not yet another of the many studies that preceded the plan, but one which had a direct spatial impact.
It could be argued that the University campus of Social Sciences by Marko Mušič, although part of the plan for the city centre, was more substantially connected to the master plan and its goal to locate important functional segments on the left bank of the Vardar to fulfil the important role a vehicle of integration of the two parts of the city. It was located in a highly sensitive area, surrounded by the old bazaar and traditional residential neighbourhoods. It was to bring new users and a new activity in this part of the city that was to increase its attractiveness and reinstate its vitality. Despite the orthogonal disposition of the buildings and their constituent parts, it is fair to say that it is an attempt to reinterpret the concept of the surrounding neighbourhoods, with external and internal streets and squares. Unfortunately, the connections between the complex and its immediate surrounding were never fully established and it remained an urban island in its own right.
The Cultural centre designed by Biro 71 is the last of the three major works by Slovenian architects in Skopje. It stemmed from Tange’s concept for the development of the city centre which was regulated by two perpendicular axes representing the old north-south axis and the new east-west axis.
The new east-west axis, like a string of beads, incorporated the transport centre, the administrative and business centre, the government centre, the cultural centre and the shopping and trade centre along the Vardar River.
The design brief asked for gradual decrease of height towards the river to allow for increased influence of the air flow along the river on the microclimate of the surrounding areas. This was skillfully incorporated in the final design, resulting in an expressive spatial statement. The Cultural centre comprised of four major buildings housing the Macedonian Opera and Ballet, the Macedonian Philharmonic, the Faculty of Music Arts and a secondary school for music and ballet. In the original design the four buildings also housed a cinema, a supermarket, a restaurant and a bank, providing for a functional variety that was to secure the full daily cycle of activities in the area. The Cultural centre was only partially completed. Only two of the four planned buildings were built which, set apart, did not manage to establish the street-like nature of the communication lines towards the river and the open space along the quay. However, despite the early criticism, the Opera and Ballet house acquired a status of symbol of the city, with an architecture that was a forerunner of later architectural endeavours elsewhere in the world.
In their initial design concepts these works could be comprehended as ‘cities’ within the city as they all strived to colonise larger areas in an urbane fashion, extending their influence beyond their utilitarian function. All three works were related to major planning exercises which dramatically revised the planning strategy of the city. Coinciding with these events they managed to seize the opportunity and become distinct marks of important periods of development of the city by their bold architectural statements and their architectural integrity. Unfortunately, today, they are perceived as signs of a period that should be erased or at least neglected. That is why they have been surrounded lately by new unsightly buildings in the hope that they will at least fall into oblivion. Luckily enough urban artifacts often endure despite occasional setbacks.
MNT, between fantasy and reality
by Bert Stein
1990. I am leaving Sarajevo forever. Soon after my departure the war begins and I would never go back there again. Those who know me know best know that my friends are the most important thing in my life. “First one outside, last one at home.”
In my new home, Skopje, I have no friends. But I have my skateboard with fluorescent plastic brakes, like Josh Brolin’s from the movie Thrashin’ and the famous fluorescent 80’s. I’m rushing along the streets of a city that is unknown and new for me, though Skopje is the city of my ancestors. The first thing I notice, while I’m “grating” the asphalt is the endless plain of Skopje, its large boulevards and bicycle paths that allow me smooth and long, long drives. That is quite unusual for someone born in Sarajevo and used to the steep hills and the narrow streets.
My lonely rides through Skopje on the skateboard or my BMX bike coated with stickers lead me from Debar Maalo, along the quay, across the Stone Bridge to “Kultura” in the building of the Music School. The child that loved people, becomes a boy that loves books. I spend hours and hours in the big bookstore “Kultura” and its big dark hall, while the old ladies behind the counters and the ficus plants besides the bookshelves, stare silently at me.
My bike waits for me outside and then, with a new book in my backpack, I head for MNT and its curved surfaces – excellent for rushing in and jumping off, and the countless stairways that break the plane and introduce me to new adventures.
In Sarajevo, the long, large stairs leading from my street to the former “Hajduk Veljkova” were a challenge to any good BMX rider. Immediately afterwards, we would head down to the Music Academy and the Catholic Cathedral and end at the Bazaar where we used to go past people skillfully. In my new city, the stairways in front of the MNT offer the same excitement, but this time without my best friend besides me with a smile, with an ice cream and a Coca-Cola at the local grocery store in that post-Olympic 1985.
Skopje again, its endless flat spaces, the old Stone Bridge, the “Kultura” bookstore, the plateau of MNT and then a new discovery – “Tabernakul” the new bookstore in the premises of MNT, and inside – a new world of alternative literature, comics and art, my first “Margina” no. 2, a magazine that changed my world view forever.
New friends enter my life, reducing the pain for the new situation in my former city,at least for a while, but the metal rains, bangs and cries, without any information about the fate of my former friends.
With my new friends, Timur and Vlado, we constantly challenge and prove ourselves – who is the bravest, the strongest and the best. Whether we’re on Vodno and race to the top, or we overcome our fears by entering the shelters through the center of Skopje or, behind the City Zoo, we climb the wall around the sty of the wild boars, with a plan to hunt them with spears, just as Rambo did in the eponymous movie of 1982.
In front of MNT again.
“Who is going first?” I’m asking.
“Timur is the tallest, we’ll climb up over him, and then we will help pull him up,” Vlado is suggesting.
Soon we are on the roof of the MNT and we are heading up. Those who know me, know best that I have had a fear of heights since I was a child, but Timur and Vlado still do not know me well enough and I have to hide my fear. We are on the top and we lie down next to the edge. As I look down, my legs are quivering. However, soon I begin to relax and enjoy the view from the height of my new city, pleased with myself for having overcome fear and for having achieved “the mission.”
With a childlike innocence, we imagine that when winter comes, we will take my plastic skis, which every member of my former group of friends had in the cold and snowy Sarajevo, and we will head down from the roof of MNT below… and then when we get to the edge …nobody knows.
But, there is one thing I do know – that the sky is our limit!
Project by Nada Prlja and Daniel Serafimovski for SIA Gallery, Skopje.
Past exhibition – Nikola Uzunovski