The Elementary School “Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi” is one of the symbols of the international solidarity for Skopje after the devastating earthquake in 1963. With strong belief in the importance of the high-quality education for the development of young individuals, the Swiss government decided to donate the design, finance the construction and to a large extent equip an elementary school. The Federation, the cantons and private citizens helped in raising funds for construction of a new school building, while the City of Skopje provided the building plot which coincided with the position of the elementary school “Petar Petrović Njegoš” – demolished in the earthquake, and cover the costs that exceeded the raised amount.
The design of the school was awarded to the renowned Swiss architect Alfred Roth (1903-1998) and the design process started as early as the spring of 1964. On September 9, 1966 the agreement was officially signed, whereas the construction started in 1967, аs a collaborative effort between the Swiss architect and engineers, the local construction company “Beton” and the city administration. The school was named after the famous Swiss pedagogue and educational reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827) and was officially opened on January 12, 1969.
Alfred Roth was an architect who had already pursued a career in the field of modern education and school buildings and believed in education as an instrument for social emancipation. Fighting against formalism in architecture, his beliefs and inclinations towards functionalism in architecture are reflected in his school buildings. Related to this, the elementary school “Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi” in Skopje was designed as an ensemble of several different, detached segments, each derived and corresponding to its function and the specific pedagogical demands: the three-storey classroom building, the two-storey building for the (special) laboratories and classrooms, the common room building with a central aula and the gymnasium. The main functional units are connected either by closed corridors or by open, covered porches.
Due to the division of the program in different volumes, the entire spatial organization of the school is asymmetric and dynamic. Following the Brutalist premise of “architecture as ethics”, the building is ascetically restrictive. The idea is conveyed through straight lines, clean surfaces and the aesthetic of the used material – mainly un-plastered reinforced concrete with colour accent introduced at certain points (in yellow, red and blue). Inside, the walls are monochromatic, painted neutrally in order to allow the school life to introduce colour.
The three-storey classroom wing is the most important and innovative segment of the building. Its spatial organization is based on corridor-less concept of designing school-buildings, that Roth introduced as early as 1932. The main idea of the concept was to eliminate the corridors on the upper levels, provide the desired double-side lighting and cross-ventilation for the classrooms. Additionally the building is designed with a novel seismic structure and a rare, at the time of building pioneering system of foundation. Namely, the classroom wing is conceived as a rigid box, its load-bearing system entirely made of reinforced concrete. What makes this segment of the school unique is the Swiss Full Base Isolation system, used to protect the building from strong earthquakes.
Alfred Roth believed in education as an instrument of human and social empowerment. He based his school architecture on the modern principles of education, and it were precisely the principles of Pestalozzi that he incorporated into his architecture, thereby shifting the standards for a school building. With the “Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi” elementary school in Skopje – one of the first schools erected after the earthquake in Skopje, Alfred Roth introduced his principles and triggered further research in the educational building’s typology.