PRE-FABRIC, The growing houses of Skopje
Photo by Goran Dimov
The survival instinct of a city is fed by "ordinary heroes" of heritage preservation... and reconstruction
On July 26, 1963, at the height of the Cold War, a cataclysmic earthquake destroyed large areas of the city of Skopje. This natural disaster resulted in a wave of international solidarity and led to a joint humanitarian project that united worlds that were ideologically poles apart. The partial or total destruction of up to 80% of the built structures suddenly made 150,000 inhabitants – three-quarters of the population - homeless. The provision of housing space became the most urgent task. The goal of this first reconstruction phase was to ensure that a large proportion of the population would have a fixed abode by winter.
The settlements were to consist of prefabricated, mostly single-story houses; the first deliveries of prefabricated elements arrived in Skopje only ten days after the earthquake. By the end of 1964, a total of 14,068 dwelling units had been built that provided around 70,000 people with a new home. Roughly 2.500 houses were sent from other countries - 914 of them as gifts. An aid that has been inscribed in the city’s collective consciousness over decades.
The architectural import of these prefabricated houses has lastingly shaped the face of the city. After being inhabited for more than 50 years and despite undergoing repeated extensions and transformations, the basic structure of the settlements and the elements of the architecture from Finland, Mexico, or the USA still remain visible.
These growing, prefabricated houses of Skopje, have become the dense fabric of the city, a whole way of understanding the heritage in the form of physical, historical and emotional memories. The inner side of it, commonly hidden.
After all, we are being invited to understand how people live and transform the city: visiting their houses, understanding their experiences.
Come in! Heritage is alive and growing on tireless in front of us.
More at: Mijalkovic, Milan; Urbanek, Katharina (2018). Pre/Fabric. The growing houses of Skopje. Wieser.