After surviving a devastating earthquake in 1963, Skopje was nicknamed the “city that rose from the ashes”. Yet the Yugoslav reconstruction projects that followed the tragedy did not impress local residents, who claimed that the city’s culture and history had been lost along the way. Japanese architect Kenzō Tange, who led Skopje’s reconstruction, saw the city as a canvas for his experimental modernist masterpiece. As a result, it was inspired by architecture from all over the world, transforming the city’s streets into a tapestry of historic, brutalist, and just plain extraordinary urban design. One of these remarkable buildings was the Central Post Office, an eccentric building that resembled a fortified, concrete castle with a spiky central dome.
Designed by North Macedonian architect Janko Konstantinov, who had previously worked with the legendary Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, the modernist building was relentlessly avant-garde and futuristic. The structure was built in two stages: the main building and tower, inspired by a nearby fortress across the city’s Vardar river, was built in 1974, while its central circular element, described as a brutalist flower or insect, was completed in 1982. Inside, underneath the dome, the building featured Cubist murals by Macedonian artist Borko Lazeski, depicting the horrors of the earthquake and posterior rebirth of the town.
A devastating fire in 2013 saw both the murals and cupola destroyed, leaving the building in serious disrepair, roofless, and exposed to the elements. While local and international conservationists are trying to fight for the building’s preservation, the future of Skopje’s Post Office remains uncertain, with the attention of city officials and urban planners fixed on the aftermath of Skopje 2014: a controversial project that promised to give a neoclassical (read: kitsch) makeover to many of Skopje’s present-day buildings.