As the New York Times reports Skopje Macedonia has been completely transformed from a 1963 earthquake that required the rebuilding of 80 per cent of this city. A thousand people were killed and another 100,000 were left homeless. Even though architect Kenzo Tange, “a pioneer of the 1960’s avant-garde Metabolist movement” was hired to create a redevelopment plan, his vision was never realized, resulting in a mix of brutualist concrete buildings and Soviet-style block housing.
“Hundreds of new sculptures were put up across the city, and many new buildings erected in the center of town. Dozens of false facades were added to Communist-era buildings, while scores of plaques appeared, attesting to events with varying degrees of historical accuracy.”
Ten years ago the party in power decided to rebuild the city in a way that would attract tourists, adding in three pirate ships on the Varda River in the city, installing a 47 foot high statue of Alexander the Great, and creating a decadent house in honour of Mother Teresa. In a country where the average wage is less than $500 a month, the 750 million dollars has transformed the city and not necessarily in a cogent readable way.
“The project cost hundreds of millions more than public projections and has been roundly derided by urban planners and architects, who say it was rushed into reality at the cost of structural integrity and functionality. ” A new government came into power in early 2017 which has halted all the projects including a London Eye type of Ferris wheel and “recladding of the city’s tallest glass building in a plastic foam and plaster facade intended to make it look neo-Classical”.
Even though temperatures can drop to 30 below zero in winter on the fahrenheit scale, $600,000 worth of palm trees were installed along the river banks of the city, with only five per cent surviving. While the old traditional bazaar area and its uneven patterns survived the earthquake, they are perhaps the only truth tellers in this redevelopment story. To become a city, you have to listen to and represent the citizens, their hopes and wishes. As one local architect ruefully notes that even though the city is bizarre and came at great cost, it is built “so poorly that it is unlikely to last”.