Two nights before New Year’s Eve, more than a thousand Macedonians gathered in the snow to hold hands and form a ring around a large shopping mall in the capital city of Skopje. That may sound like the beginning to some strange joke, but the crowd was assembled in earnest, to express its love of the modernist building known as GTC, and to protest a government plan to give it a new, baroque façade.
The plan, known as Skopje 2014, sounds at first like a coup for a city: the construction of some 20 new buildings in the capital, including museums, concert halls, and theaters, as well as the erection of over 40 statues. Except in a city whose architecture is mostly modernist, all of the Skopje 2014 building is being done in a strictly neoclassical style, from a brand new triumphal arch to a towering sculpture of a man on a horse — presumably, but not explicitly, Alexander the Great — atop a column adorned with lions, music, lights, and a fountain. It’s no wonder the project “has been criticized for constructing nationalistic historicist kitsch.”
“This is a crime against public space, culture, urbanism, and art — against the city and the citizen,” Miroslav Grčev, a professor of urban design and the creator of the Macedonian flag, told the BBC.
Skopje 2014 has also run up significant costs, with the government admitting last April that it had already spent €200 million (~$240.5 million); the budget was originally estimated at €80 million.
And so, Macedonians gathered on December 29 to “hug” their modernist shopping mall, and to try and protect it from going baroque.
(To see a great set of photos from the protest, go here.)