Interview with Sara Simoska

Sara Simoska is an architect born in Skopje in 1992. She studied architecture in Skopje and in Milano, Italy. In 2013 she founded the architecture organisation MELEEM as a student. MELEEM organises workshops, lectures and projects about design and architecture. Their events can be found on their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/meleem.skopje 

49937692_391816611392495_6545247885263372288_nSara Simoska is also the founder of her own architecture bureau, Sara Simoska Arhitektura with which she won the Temporary Living Space competition in Italy, won 2nd category prize at the Dom Russia competition in Russia, the BIG SEE Wood Design Award 2018 in Ljubljana and is currently a nominee for the European prize for contemporary architecture Mies van der Rohe 2019. Her projects were published in national and international architecture magazines such as Archdaily, Designbest, repubblica.it, Forbes.ru, etc. She is also active in discussions about social architecture and inclusive cities.

Once Skopje was known as a city of modernism. How can we bring back this reputation to our capital?

I don’t believe we should try to bring back some previous reputation, but we should try to work on our contemporary reputation. I believe that we should embrace our city the way it is, with all its negative aspects and start dealing with it and approach the problems, one by one and not be ashamed to speak out about them on a local and international level. No matter if they are problems of function or aesthetics. I believe the international scene is interested in cities with problems and this is why Skopje is becoming a very provocative city for many professionals from different disciplines worldwide. It is boring to be born in a city where nothing really happens, nor changes. So I believe the current reputation of Skopje is as a city of problems and change.

What are the main influences from the modernism in Skopje- the functionality of Le Corbusier, the floating architecture of Oscar Niemeyer (some city plans resemble Brasilia, for e.g. the angle positioning of the city blocks in Karposh) etc.

I can speak about my perception of the residential areas in Skopje, in which I grew up and where I have witnessed the qualities and flaws of those urban spaces, which I believe is a more contemporary approach to urban space perception. Definitely, I have seen similarities in the urban planning of residential neighborhoods in the mentioned areas, but I have also seen the same in the EUR neighborhood in Rome, in periphery neighborhoods in Barcelona and Milan, around Moscow, where I felt very much at home. Finally, I could not state with certainty who was the one that was first in this, but I can perceive that it is a way of occupying a lot of huge space when new neighborhoods were built in a fast manner. It was the result of a need for many new residential apartments and a result of the industrialization of housing because big parts of those buildings were made from big, prefabricated elements like walls and entire stairs.

Some of the world wide known architectural achievements in Skopje and Macedonia were ruined in the last decade and a half (such as the building of the government whose architect learned from Frank Lloyd Wright). Do you think that the intellectuals in this country are active enough on this issue? It seems the ones from abroad are far more active. Explain us this situation…

We should not put blame on people about being responsible for what has happened. I believe that the people I know that are intellectuals have their own opinion about the entire situation and many of them are opposed, which I find positive. I believe what happened to Skopje was a huge lesson and gave birth to a discussion and educated many people. Unfortunately, very important buildings were as you say ‘destroyed’, but this, at the same time, was a huge marketing for brutalism. It was the first moment when architects started becoming more vocal about the importance of buildings from the 20st century. Architecture was a popular topic for many years, as it still is. This was connected as well with international interest in brutalism. So at the end of the day I believe it is a way of growing up and obtaining self-knowledge for the city and its citizens. I know you expected me to be a hater in this interview, but I am not that person. Although I do have very critical opinions.

You and some of your close colleagues are some of the few people that were always active in urban culture. Do you find our societal environment ungrateful and why?

We are not unique in the field of urbanity, but we are unique in the methods that we use. Our goal with MELEEM is to open topics to the wider public in a much more people-friendly approach. We want to start discussions and take action on the streets so that everybody, from the young to the old can actively participate. We succeed in this goal and in the last years we organized more than 10 workshops, lectures, and events, in cultural institutions and on the street. I don’t find our surrounding ungrateful. I believe students in architecture are recognizing our work, which is why with each workshop we organize- there are more and more students interested in participating, without getting any credit points for the university. Students are participating in our workshops about improving the city and public spaces and they are active more than 8 hours in 4 days per workshop. This is our main feedback and reward. We believe that we will nurture a new generation of architects and urban planners that will develop projects with a bigger connection with street life and people’s needs.

Our city was – in the period of this tragic destruction of our architecture – was visited by two architectural photographers- Jacopo Landi (who was in VCS) and Jeremie Buchholtz. Do you recommend that we should have this department at our universities?

If you think about photography department, as I understood the question, while I was studying at the Faculty of Architecture in Skopje, we used to have that subject, and I learned some basic information about photography. But I don’t think students should have 1000 subjects in faculty just to have them. Students could educate themselves by additional programs which the city of Skopje could offer. Like workshops, lectures, cinema, theater, festival, etc. In this way students would be much more interested to participate than during regular university programs. So I don’t believe additional subjects are necessary but the city of Skopje should invest more and stronger in an external university education, which is very important for the city, its youth and the local economy.

What is your dream project? What do you think about the link between ecology and architectural design? How can your dreams be fulfilled in this cultural landscape: for e.g. this mayor like the previous ones rejected the grant from EU for Skopje underground?

Right now I don’t have a dream project, because I make all my dream projects reality very fast. Or maybe I am a lucky girl, or perhaps my dreams are very realistic. I don’t dream about the linkage of ecology and architecture, even more, ecology or better said sustainable living is an inseparable part of architecture since Roman times and you can see this in Macedonian traditional houses etc. I am not well informed about political decisions, although they could affect us. But I believe my dreams can be definitely fulfilled in this cultural landscape. This city and country need proactive people like me that give ideas and involve other people in the projects. I am not a person who gives up easily at all. I just get challenged more when they say no to my project or idea.

interviewer Igor Pop Trajkov

photographs courtesy of Ms. Sara Simoska

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