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Searching for the (In)Visible
Interview with Milan Mijalkovic

The parking garage located between Sts. Cyril and Methodius St. and Macedonia Boulevard in Skopje took two years to build (from July 2011 to September 2013), a time when everyone’s eyes were wide open, anticipating the unusualness. Once the construction fencing was lifted, the quest for the (in)visible started. Opinions began flying around, intensifying with the appearance of the parking garage in the “ArchDaily”, the world's most visited and most prestigious architecture website.

The quest ends with Milan Mijalkovic, our special guest. Along with PPAG Architects, he is the author of the much talked-about façade, at the sight of which you interrupt your walk or open the car window to have a look.

Would you give us the firsthand story of your much talked-about façade? To what degree is it important for the here and now, when the eye-catching and prize-winning façade of the parking garage has been completed, we can see it, pause in front of it, take a closer look and go through our personal visual (and functional) impressions?

We received only a purchase price in the competition for the parking garage near the city post office. We were told we went a little overboard with the baroque. I would say that the public and business space in our proposal was as baroque as the façade. Nevertheless, they were so fond of the façade, they offered us to build it on another parking garage which was already in the stage of planning and had its own façade design. The design for the parking garage (without the façade) belonged to a company called "Gorichanka". Naturally, architecture is not intended to be told as a story, or there would be no use building it, but the story is very effective in creating spaces that bring about new perspectives. The story is very important for the here and now, and it is also a way of honoring the public. It attempts to make clear that things do not simply fall from the sky or grow on trees. It tries to explain the process.

What does the façade interpret?

What the façade interprets are mainly wishes: first, the desire for ornamentation, then the desire to be in tourists' photos, to be European, but also to be what it is not.

You offered conceptual architecture, revealing your exact inspiration / the correlation between the facade and the buildings of 19th century Vienna (you presented photographs that show this). You did not try to hide the sameness or similarity with specific building from another place or time, but rather left it out in the open for everyone to see, developing it in your own creative way. Is this an attempt at following old ways towards a new goal?

The starting point for the façade was an amateur photo showing residential buildings on a Viennese street from a tourist's perspective. This perspective was then multiplied and dissolved into several layers, resulting in a surface with a completely undefined boundary. In fact, what we did was simply rearrange the wishes or the process a bit differently, which of course brought about new thematization of concepts such as amateurism, trivialization, beauty or anxiety.

Your parking garage façade rejects or rather rectifies the division between what is important, less important or unimportant. Is everything that the eyes see equally important?

Yes, it is exactly that. Everything that the eyes see is equally important, and only through equal rights of the visual, can one oppose and overlook the factual inequality between the images and discover the social, cultural and political differences. However, seeing is only a small part of architecture.

In literature, for instance, the genre never determines a priori the literary value of the work. What about architecture?

International architecture competitions rarely make a reference to architectural styles. At the moment, styles are mainly being debated in the former USSR republics, with a few exceptions in Europe. Nevertheless, architectural styles are important for grasping the context and its surrounding issues. Baroque is used for its effect on the masses, as an attempt to discipline and moralize them, to create truth and inject art into the real space of the observer, as well as reality into deception. The question which arises is: why place all the attention on a particular style, and not on spatial solutions, spatial creativity and spatial answers? That is, nonetheless, another story.

Can rewards influence public opinion and to what extent? Did the majority find your parking garage prettier after winning prizes? Is the impression that the parking garage is suddenly liked by everyone (at least by the majority compared to the beginning) real?

The façade is not pretty, and because of this it can become prettier. The reverse would be disastrous. In fact, not only was I not aiming for beauty, but also deliberately tried to avoid it. Our façade was intended to be peculiar, unusual, standing halfway between the familiar and unfamiliar, hiding the uneasiness. In German, this is known as 'unheimlich'.

How does living at home and designing for abroad differ from the opposite, living abroad, but designing for home? How much does distance matter in this context?

I believe that designing for home quiets down the emotions. I do not think that distance helps see things more clearly. A great deal of important information and a lot more is of course overlooked or lost because of the distance, but designing and researching for home goes hand in hand with confronting, dealing with and sorting out of emotions. Internationality, on the other hand, is important for gaining and exchanging experience, and it is not myself to whom I am referring here, but rather to the recently missed opportunity of our home to undergo design, as well as the lost opportunity to learn from the experience of post-earthquake Skopje.

You say that small spaces open up great freedoms. What exactly do you mean by that?

A tent in a field offers far greater freedom than a sports field in Chile. Think about the spaces from your childhood: the space between the buildings, the houses and the prefabs in Taftalidze where I grew up was where I experienced the most powerful emotions and greatest freedoms. With regard to proportions, during my last visit to Skopje, I had a chance to visit the new State Archives where I felt like I could not breathe: the extravagance of the façade starkly contrasted by the meagerness of the space, that miserly space. Small spaces do not always open up great freedoms.

You have underlined many times that Skopje needs functions rather than façades, and in this sense you have been promoting a concept of combining seemingly conflicting functions which uses social mediation as a way of truly completing and realizing finished designs. When is a design truly completed? Is it when it is finally built, put to use, or..?

As an architect, I believe that planning and building until the very moment of project opening are the most demanding stages in design realization, but intelligent architecture continues to grow, change and takes its shape according to its users and their needs. A building, or more precisely, an architectural edifice does not end with its tearing down. Its true end comes with oblivion. There is a beautiful saying by an author whose name I cannot quite remember at the moment: 'Anything is possible if there is nothing, and nothing is possible if there is architecture'.

And finally, modernism or postmodernism?

Actually, I sort of despise postmodernism. Despite all its faults, I believe that modernism may provide a sound basis. We should keep up with the modernist practice of classifying and organizing things. Doubting everything, even the truth, is wrong.

Interview done by O. Kjorveziroska

Moj Klub. Magazin za tehnologii i moderno ziveenje
English translation: Milica Gjorchevska


Copyright: Milan Mijalkovic, 2020