for Skopje Has Been Completely Forgotten
Solidarity for Skopje Has Been Completely Forgotten
Museum of Contemporary Art has been hosting the “Pre/Fabric – The
Growing Houses of Skopje” exhibition by Milan
and the Austrian, Katharina Urbanek, a project unveiling a little
researched chapter of the history of the capital. The exhibition,
which will be opened from March 13 to April 3, was a wonderful topic
to explore with one of the authors, the architect Milan Mijalkovic.
Mijalkovic, who lived in Skopje until the age of 17, has been living
and working in Vienna, Austria, for the last 17 years.
The unbreakable bond with his hometown has been shown through the project that uncovers the very core of Skopje - the city of solidarity. “Pre/Fabric – The Growing Houses of Skopje” is a collaboration with Viennese architect Katharina Urbanek, who also has her own architectural studio and teaches at the University of Architecture in Vienna.
What is the
story behind the “Pre/Fabric“
exhibition displayed at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje and
how many segments does it comprise?
The Growing Houses of Skopje” was the initial stage of the project,
while the exhibition was mounted using information from the book,
complemented by the prefab which was deconstructed to its basic
elements and displayed at the museum. The title itself (fabricstands for texture, i.e. material) attempts to convey that the
prefabs, those 17 quarters, are the fabric or the very core and
structure of the city of Skopje. In other words, it was the
prefabricated houses that formed the pre-structure (pre/fabric), the
original and basic fabric of the city after the 1963 earthquake. What
we exhibited at the museum was just one prefab, one tiny molecule.
It is a
multilayered exhibition. What are the layers meant to convey?
displays the deconstructed prefab, the elements and what they have
been through, which stands for the material aspect.
Visitors can see the mould, several coats of paint, burns, as well as
the notes with schematic drawings made by the installers who would
take it apart and reassemble it at a different location.
next layer consists of photographs taken by local photographer Goran
Dimov. We have also set up ten tables that exhibit excerpts from the
book providing information about each of the prefabs. All the tables
were assembled from elements taken from the prefabs, i.e. their inner
and outer walls.
Basically, the book
comprises four media: the photographs and six videos of the occupants
sharing their experience about life in the prefabs, including any
changes the houses underwent throughout the years; architectural
drawings made by taking manual measurements of the prefabs to obtain
their original dimensions, while learning of the changes through the
stories of their occupants; plans which show both the present and
original state of the prefabs; archival material taken from the
Archives of the City of Skopje, as well as other archives across the
world. Finally, the last medium that we added to complement all four
was the prefab itself, standing for the factual aspect of the
project, that which can be seen, touched or experienced.
the prefab, we tried to get a sense of its weight and size, and by
working on it, learn what it was like to build those 14,000 prefabs.
It took us three trucks just to transport the prefab into the museum,
which speaks of the tremendous amount of effort that went into
expanding the city with 17 new quarters, or modular settlements which
was how they were called at the time, by erecting this type of
basis did you choose the six particular stories of the occupants of
the six different prefabs which make up one of the segments of the
Our idea was to
present six different prefabs from the available fifty. We were not
interested in doing a comprehensive study, but rather chose the
prefabs that we found intriguing from several aspects. We attempted
to tell a different story with each of the prefabs: the different
economic strength of the occupants, the difference in decisions made
by the authorities then and now, the various cultural groups that
occupy the prefabs today, as well as contrast the different changes
that took place over the years.
For example, the
Mexican prefab underwent the least amount of changes that included
only the addition of a wall and a staircase. One can see from the
interview how much love and commitment went into conserving the
prefab. Even the family was planned to agree with the conditions the
Quite unique changes
were also made to the Austrian prefab, where the original prefab was
preserved and constituted the ground floor, but the roof was removed
to build two new houses for the children.
One of our primary
goals was to present the different aspects of the prefabs brought
about by the difference in their growth: for example, the changes the
prefabs in Shuto Orizari underwent compared to the changes made to
the prefabs in Kozle. The project uses examples of prefabs
originating from Austria, Finland, USA, Mexico, Great Britain and
What was your
starting point for realizing the project? What were you trying to
communicate, especially here, with the exhibition at the Museum of
Contemporary Art in Skopje?
The most important
thing was distracting the attention of the public, especially the
expert public, from the representative architecture, particularly the
center of Skopje, Kenzo Tange’s master plan, the “Skopje 2014”
project, etc. In other words, the idea was shifting the focus onto
the everyday life, which seems to have taken second place around
After taking a few
walks with my partner in the project, Katharina Urbanek, it became
clear to us that the prefabs were the atoms of the city. They are
what makes up the city, and not the central city area with its
representative buildings which are already the focus of attention.
The 17 neighborhoods, which the prefabs helped create, are the very
fabric of the city.
quarters were created as a gesture of solidarity shown by the world
following Skopje earthquake and were intended as a temporary
residence. What do you make of the fact that people have been using
the prefabricated houses for over 50 years?
enough, the entire city became the city of solidarity during the
revival period, not just the prefabs. It is hard to believe how all
that solidarity has been completely forgotten. The mere topic is
rarely brought up, not even by the locals.
With regard to the
lifespan of the prefabs, research shows that Finish prefabs, for
example, were intended to last for around 50 years. American prefabs,
on the other hand, were never planned to be used as permanent
residence, but rather for accommodating the American army in the
military bases worldwide, and they were indeed designed to provide
Even as early as in
the post-earthquake period, urban planners realized, or rather
predicted, that the temporary prefabs would in time be replaced by
larger solid-construction houses, since the prefabricated houses were
initially built on plots of around 300 m2, while the
houses spanned from 30 to 65 m2 or somewhat more.
Unfortunately, I do not think they imagined it would happen the way
it does today.
prefabs are being replaced by entire buildings…
New buildings are
not the problem, but rather the fact that construction does not go
hand in hand with the advancement of other facilities and
infrastructure, such as kindergartens, schools, streets, sewerage
system, etc. The initial design of each of these settlements included
local community offices, supermarkets, bus stops, cinemas etc. Today,
all of these functions are either stagnant or non-existent.
personal level, as someone native to Skopje, what made you undertake
the Skopje prefabs project?
As an architect, it
was important to me to learn where I came from, find more about my
home town, and eventually, about myself. The first book that we did
with Katharina Urbanek, “Skopje: The World’s Bastard.
Architecture of the Divided City”, published by the Austrian
publishing house “Wieser Verlag”, contained a great deal of
information and topics that appealed to us, but the prefabricated
houses were the subject that we truly wanted to explore.
On our walks around
Hrom and Shutka, we came across prefabs that we had no idea they even
existed. Moreover, elements of former prefabs started popping up as
part of fences or in other places where they would serve other
purposes. We realized then that the prefabricated elements that once
made up the prefabs were still around. The prefabs were of value and
high in demand. People tore them down and turned them into weekend
houses all across the country. We would often come upon a Skopje
prefab in Dojran or Dolno Dupeni.
Growing up on
streets such as Varshavska, Meksichka, Vienska, or Nobelova in
Taftalidze, the neighborhood with the largest number of different
types of prefabricated houses, I had some background knowledge. The
project and our second book attempts to shift the focus from the
center of the city and its representative architecture onto the
this project and the two books, what is your personal contribution to
the city’s architecture? Which of your works is part of the
architectural image of present-day Skopje?
One of the theses in
our first book was that architects should be involved in the planning
processes so that better designs from the ones that were built would
be suggested. This includes the designs that made it into the “Skopje
2014” project, when the majority of the Macedonian architectural
community decided to boycott the calls for submissions, a decision
which was rather justified since the selection of the designs was
made by suspicious commissions and under questionable terms.
Nevertheless, I was curious to see the inner workings of the system
and try my best. An opportunity presented itself, and in
collaboration with the Austrian world-renowned “PPAG
Architects” studio, we submitted a design proposal for a
parking garage near the post office which we did not win, but came in
third. This, however, provided us with the opportunity to construct a
facade on a completely different building. Therefore, my contribution
to the architecture of Skopje is the facade of the “Macedonian
Phalanx” parking garage on Sts. Cyril and Methodius St., as well as
the story behind it and all the processes it set in motion. It was
published in the media, made its way into publications, even won
Another project, one
that we did with Sergej Nikoljski, at the invitation of the former
president of the Association of Architects of Macedonia, Danica
Pavlovska – Cigi, who has always been a great supporter of our
work, was a sculpture aimed as a materialized protest against the
“Skopje 2014” project, i.e. a two-ton concrete tent set up in the
park across the Assembly of the City of Skopje, right in front of the
very eyes of those who made the decisions related to the “Skopje
To mark the occasion
of the 50th anniversary of the Skopje earthquake, but also
express our protest against the “Skopje 2014” project, we set up
a concrete tent in the park, which ended up symbolizing both things:
a post-earthquake Skopje, a time when almost everyone lived in tents
and the pitching of tents as a form of protest.
It was very
important to us that the prefab which we displayed at the Museum of
Contemporary Art continued existing and serving its purpose. The
prefab that we bought in Singelich, removed from its original
position and exhibited in the Museum of Contemporary Art, was donated
to the “SEE” art group so that they could set it up again in some
of the suburbs of Skopje and repurpose it as a new space, a new art
center. “SEE” is made up of wonderful people who do fine work,
which is why I am very happy they reached us. The prefab which was
ours, if only very briefly, will become a new meeting point for
expressing and sharing opinions, ideas and art.
Interview done by Toni Dimkov
English translation: Milica Gjorchevska
Interview done by Toni Dimkov
English translation: Milica Gjorchevska