A guide to the New East

Hidden city: beyond its showy new architecture, Skopje is a bountiful Brutalist jungle

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“The capital of kitsch” is how the media branded Skopje when bizarre muscular figures, grand Romanesque columns and styrofoam neoclassical facades began to crop up in the Macedonian capital. The last time the country embarked on an urban reconstruction of this scale was after the devastating 1963 earthquake, when Japanese architect Kenzo Tange was invited to rebuild the hundreds of toppled buildings in a distinctive Brutalist style. Pockets of these original modernist buildings remain but today it’s the controversial “antiquisation” project that is stealing headlines. When Hungarian photographer Domonkos Németh travelled to Macedonia, he was intially drawn to the ostentatious new builds: “I took some photos inside the Macedonian Museum of Natural History and was struck by how the installations resembled the scenes outside — like the whole city was one big museum display.” This led the photographer away from the historical theme park and tourist trap to the city’s lesser-known delights. “I discovered that the Skopje 2014 buildings only take up a small fraction of the city. When you land in the city, it’s the older buildings you meet first. What I was really impressed with was the old bazaar right next to those pseudo-historical squares,” he says. While some communist-era buildings are obscured by neoclassical decoration, many more face demolition. Meanwhile, the array of new architecture, too, is falling into disrepair. Somewhere, the true Skopje hangs in the balance. 

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