The pearl of the Balkans – in the footsteps of Brutalism in Skopje!

In terms of architecture, Skopje is one of the most unusual cities in Europe, and maybe even in the world. It is said that this city has more brutalist architecture per square kilometer than any other city in the world. I invite you to take a short trip around Skopje, in the footsteps of Brutalism, which will make you see this city from a different perspective forever! Here, you will find an unusual mix of architecture, with old remnants from Ottoman times, modern buildings that pretend to be old, or copies of other famous buildings. Still, above all, it has some real concrete masterpieces built in the spirit of Brutalism. 

Kacper Król

Every trip to other places within the borders of our countries and outside involves proper research. This helps us properly plan, among other things, which places we want to go to, what we want to see or where we want to eat. Thanks to this, we can prepare better for our trip, and we know what to expect on the spot. Before my trip to Macedonia, I visited many blogs about the country and read many articles. In most of them, it was very quick to find damaging information about the architecture in Skopje, as that is what I am focusing on in this article.

For this reason, I did not have many expectations. At first glance, we can tell that not everything is going according to plan with regard to urban development. After all, a massive skeleton of an old building in the city center or an abandoned building surrounding a huge monument to Alexander of Macedon, all on the main square in the city, is not something to be taken for granted. The first associations with Skopje are the ships on the river, which were never here, the classicizing facades, and… the many monuments. Some may like it. For others, it is simply kitsch. In spite of these things, Skopje offers much more, and just as in life you shouldn’t judge seemingly people, you shouldn’t get discouraged after a walk in the city center. Loving Skopje is a challenging feeling! It is because of the witnesses of the past, which are hidden from the tourist gaze. 

Kacper Król

Background of Skopje Brutalism 

To delve more deeply into this topic, I spoke to architecture student Maria Marinkovic:

 “An essential, yet disturbing, reason for Skopje’s concentration of Brutalist and Modernist architecture is the 1963 earthquake that 80% of the city’s buildings. Following this devastating event, the first thing that happened was the development of many new neighborhoods that were consisted of prefabricated houses that were also donations from other countries (because of this great support from the other countries, Skopje was also called the city of solidarity).”

 – said Maria and added that: 

“After taking care of more than the 150,000 homeless citizens, In an effort to redevelop the area, Japanese architect Kenzo Tange was asked to lead a team of Japanese and Yugoslavian architects and conceptualize a modern city plan for Skopje. And because of this, the new city plan and the plan for the city center were created in 1966, thus bringing the era of Brutalism in Skopje”. 

Kacper Król

It happens that we judge buildings by their appearance alone, without going into the history and style. We also often have no knowledge of the subject and have trouble recognizing a particular type. So what are the characteristics of Brutalism?

“Brutalism can be recognized by the grandiose and complicated city buildings that were mostly administrative and public buildings. Interestingly, the use of concrete on the facades of the buildings as a form of final finish is also one of the aspects that set Brutalism apart. This concrete is called “Nature concrete,” and it was the favorite material of those times because it allowed fast construction of the buildings, it made it possible to construct any shapes and forms imagined, some of the building elements could be prefabricated, but it was mostly developed on the construction site, and all of this was allowed by that times technology.” – says Maria. 

The trail of Brutalism

As for me, Brutalism is also the most beautiful monument we can see in Skopje. This style was created on the vast rubble after the earthquake. For the rest of this article, I will take you on a tour of some of the socialist brutalism highlights in Skopje!

Kacper Król

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