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We Need Functional Spaces Instead of Facades

Interview with Milan Mijalkovic

The author of the unusual facade of the new parking garage that sparked off mixed reactions, located between Sts. Cyril and Methodius St. and Macedonia Boulevard, is local architect Milan Mijalkovic who is currently living and working in Vienna. The building has also recently made its way to the “ArchDaily”, the world’s most visited and most prestigious architecture website. The peculiar look of the new parking garage located between Sts. Cyril and Methodius St. and Macedonia Boulevard has drawn a lot of interest on social media, opening the discussion of whether the building is in a baroque style. The facade design belongs to architect Milan Mijalkovic (along with PPAG Architects from Vienna), a Skopje native, living and working in Austria. 

Our public is already familiar with Mijalkovic thanks to his controversially titled book, “Skopje, The World’s Bastard: Architecture of the Divided City”, published by the Austrian publishing house “Wieser Verlag”, which was followed by a Macedonian and an Albanian edition. The building has also recently found its way to the “ArchDaily” (, the world’s most visited and most prestigious architecture website. Mijalkovic has held several independent exhibitions in Berlin and Vienna and is the recipient of the “Star Human 2013” reward, offered by the Viennese architecture and urbanism magazine. The look of the parking garage is quite intriguing, appearing sort of surreal.

What inspired you to create this type of work?

I tried to interpret the wish for ornamentation, but without using banally and directly the language of historicism. The facade started developing from an amateur photograph showing residential buildings in a Viennese street from a street, i.e. a tourist’s perspective. This perspective was then multiplied and dissolved into several layers, resulting in a surface with a completely undefined boundary. The familiar is thus transformed into the unfamiliar without being entirely lost. Freud calls it suppression. What ensues, i.e. lingers, is the uneasiness.

How long did it take you to complete the project?

The competition for the parking garage opened in 2010, but it involved a different building, one near the city post office. After receiving only a purchase prize, we were offered to construct the facade from our design proposal on another parking garage which was already in the stage of planning undertaken by “Gorichanka”, a company made up of professors from the Faculty of Architecture and their teaching assistants. Construction began in March 2011, but we had the idea ready, which was all that mattered. The only thing left to do was adjust our facade to somebody else’s garage.

The competition called for entries in a baroque or neoclassical style. The result, however, does not seem to fit either style. Where would you place the design, stylistically?

The competition called for a facade in a ‘baroque, classical, neoclassical, romantic or neoromantic style’. The themes were not exclusively construction related, but involved certain literary movements as well. It seems as a mistake, which may well be the case. The expected design was intended as an ornament with a powerful rhetorical function, one that would surprise, amaze, and convince, above all. In short, it had to be the ultimate ornament, an ornament with an effect on the masses. I think we succeeded in doing that. The ornament started self-criticizing. Style-wise, the origins of the facade are traced back to an amateur photograph, a snapshot, which is in itself a very modern element. However, the residential buildings depicted in the photograph were built in the 19th century, implying historicism with neo-gothic, neo-renaissance and neo-baroque elements. All of this indicates a postmodern blend. Nonetheless, believing that the concept is as important as or even more important than the finished work brings us to conceptual architecture.

Was designing this piece a challenge for you, considering the fact that it stands out from the architectural style that has been dominant for the past few years?

In 2001, ‘Skopje, The World’s Bastard: Architecture of the Divided City’ was published in collaboration with Katharina Urbanek, which attempts to show the developments over the past 100 years, particularly Skopje in 1963 and 1964, by focusing on the division of the city. One of the conclusions that we drew was that architects should be involved in the design processes and continually provide criticism from inside the system in order to see the whole picture, i.e. what works and what does not, its weaknesses and possibilities. That was the challenge. Criticism is more effective when offered as help and coming from the inside.

What does Skopje need? Does it need more modern buildings?

The look of the parking garage is irrelevant now. It mattered only during the competition. It looked baroque or neoclassical, I guess. What matters now is its substance, the message, that which is hidden or intended, and it will reveal itself eventually. With regard to what Skopje needs, there are several things that we tried to address in the book. One of our suggestions was exactly that: the city needs functions rather than facades. It is important to continue developing democratic institutions and democracy in general, which we have been copying more or less along with the mistakes. As a young democracy, Macedonia has the chance to fix Europe’s mistakes. As architects, we can achieve this spatially, by combining seemingly conflicting functions, for example: the State Archives and a dual language kindergarten, or a green market and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is not make-believe; we have been living it unaware for quite some time now. Democratic institutions must be more than appealing to the eye; they have to be the place where space and function are being planned, continually developed and supervised. Residential living is another key aspect which must not be left to the private sector alone. A few well-planned residential buildings may improve cohabitation in the entire city. By planning, I am not referring to construction or physical planning only. Social mediation is crucial for a design to work and it begins with the completion of a building.

If you had the chance to influence Skopje architecturally, what would you change and what would you leave untouched?

Therein lies the danger, having one group decide what counts as significant or valuable, and what does not. In considering the significance of space, we must differentiate between things: the historical value validated by international consensus, the use-value that has proven itself over the years, and perhaps the esthetic value. It is important to recognize these or other relevant perspectives, as well as consider the separate location, relevant parties, functions, etc. for each case individually. Personally, I am not very fond of grand gestures. I believe that small spaces may open up great freedoms. Architecture and art are beautiful in the sense that they offer the opportunity for conveying the messages slowly.

One of your works is titled “The Tent: Sodom and Gomorrah”, which also comes across as a solidarity symbol (especially considering the number of tents pitched in Skopje after the earthquake in 1963). A stone tent or a parking garage?

Sodom and Gomorrah, the tent turned to stone that we managed to set up in front of the Assembly, is a collaboration with Sergej Nikoljski at the invitation of the president of the Association of Architects, Danica Pavlovska. The five-tone concrete tent, much like the parking garage facade, attempts to not only follow closely the processes of the system, but also address the system directly. The solidarity symbol set up before the Assembly is also a protest symbol. Since recently, from Cairo to New York, the tent has acted as an important space for criticizing the system. I believe both go hand in hand. What matters is the message, which needs to be passed on and translated into all available media, be that books, sculpture, architecture, even this conversation.

Your ideas are brave, insightful, avant-garde, and even controversial. In one of your projects, the Millennium Cross on Mountain Vodno takes the form of an upward arrow (or a minaret), while another installation shows Russian Patriarch Kirill with a rope around his neck.

The project involving Kirill was an architectural take on one of the activities of the Ukrainian feminist group “Femen”. It is an account of a call for murder, resurrection, martyrdom, and the new followers. The Millennium Cross project, on the other hand, was not meant as aggressive destruction of a symbol, but rather as something being attributed to it, a friendly appropriation, more or less. Each arrow is comprised of a cross. Your comment on my bravery is misleading. I am not concerned with the reactions to my work since it has never been my aim to provoke. Planned provocation is boring. My focus is rather on space that opens up other perceptions, in the way that you have spotted a minaret which has never even crossed my mind. I have the same expectations about the facade of the parking garage.

Interview done by Biljana Stojanovska
English translation: Milica Gjorchevska


Copyright: Milan Mijalkovic, 2020