Frozen colossus

Icebergs, dancing prima ballerinas, arks and submarines, the architecture of the city is so much more than expected.


Darkness, supple figures emerge from the obscurity, the play of lights and shadows begins, spotlights follow the motion of dancers and the building joins them in the act. Ballet is an art where movement, minimalism and lightness count, the same as in architecture. Although seemingly different, they have a lot in common, showed off they impress. An individual can steal the performance but if it will not harmonize with the surrounding, the final effect will be meagre; it’s a crowd or a surrounding that can give it a character or provide a proper background to shine.

Not only the act on its own but also its setting counts. Macedonian site of Opera and Ballet is situated in a building not diverging architecturally from the level of European concert halls, almost as if it was an ancestor of Oslo’s Operahuset. As both of the buildings refer by their construction to icebergs floating above the surface of water,they distinctively stand out with their geometrical shape from the surrounding. Dynamic lines of construction harmonize with the motion spectacle that takes place in its interior. Unfortunately Skopje’s Opera is lost among neoclassical buildings, in order to discover it fully; you need to squeeze in between muses to see its ensemble. The creators: Kacin, Princes, Spindler and Ursic had nothing to say as to disruption of their original plan. Initial architectural layout was distorted and flooded by pseudo-ancient urban collage; prima ballerina of Skopje cannot shine anymore.

Good project can be recognized by the fact that there is no bad seat in the audience, the hall designed in 60s has its futuristic outline, roundness of armchairs and their coloring remind the style of the era, teal walls clearly stand out from omnipresent whiteness. The auditorium remains lucid and minimalistic; the same as the rest of construction which dynamic body is very expressive as if the building froze in a pose. Diagonal lines distinctively stand out the space, thanks to them although good-sized, Opera doesn’t overwhelm. The interior is lit up by the whiteness that magnifies the impression of spatiality. All that makes the opera a hidden gem of the city.



Despite the fact that the earthquake from 1963 caused a lot of damage, one could say that in terms of architecture it was a catharsis for the city that could renew itself. Shortly after the tragedy, international competitions of different kind were announced, in 1960 the project of Office 71 won, which followed the construction of Cultural Center (later opera) in 1979. This realization integrated into Kenzo Tange’s  master plan of Skopje’s reconstruction after the earthquake. Although a big part of the plan was never realized, even from project’s description it is visible that the initial vision was disturbed by Skopje 2014 that wrecked Tange’s and Office 71 team’s plans, closing the space and cutting it out of the urban tissue. Instead of spreading out in front of the passer-by, the area is suffocating. And the building inspired by Casper David Friedrich’s The Sea of Ice gets lost in a colonnade interweaved by Greek muses.


Kenzo’s plan was spacious and it would have shaped Skopje as well-organized, modern city with open areas. Skopje, as one of a few European capitals can show off quite an amount of buildings in the spirit of futurism, brutalism and functionalism. The architects focused on providing citizens proper amount of light and space, by building edifices representing their functions in the construction. Strolling through Skopje it’s worth to get away from golden kitsch in order to appreciate avant-garde architecture of main post office, transport centre, dormitories and university,deprived of decorations they create quite a specific landscape of colossus reminding gigantic submarines with oval windows. In Tange’s plan these majestic giants were supposed to float along newly set axis of the city opening by the City Gate and closed by City Wall of blocks of flats surrounding old town, repeating the traditional pattern of medieval planning. Even though this urban experiment appeared to be partially a failure, visionary conception of Tange still makes an impression, under the layer of styropol there is a true spirit of modern city that Skopje was supposed to be, it would be a pity to miss it.

Aleksandra Grzyb

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