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National Opera and Ballet

Skopje, North Macedonia
1 of 21
Archival Photo

The Cultural Center in Skopje is one of the most important architectural ensembles built during the reconstruction of Skopje, after the massive earthquake that destroyed the city in 1963. The complex was one of the first significant achievements of the young group of Slovenian architects - Biro 71, won on an open public competition held in 1967.

The Cultural Center designed with the competition proposal was to be situated in the city center, on the left bank of the river Vardar. Designed on approximately fifty thousand square meters, it was to comprise a diverse cultural program – opera and ballet building, a philharmonic hall, music and dance school, cinema complex, trade section, all united with and open public platform. The buildings shared complex and dynamic geometry, which through a series of gestures of fragmentation descended from its highest edges towards the central, unifying platform. The buildings would have created a new artificial topography, a new cityscape that shows high level of sensitivity towards the river.

Due to the total extent of the reconstruction process, the exhausted financial funds as well as the complexity of the project itself, the development of the complex lagged. At the end, it would remain only partially realized with the completion of the Macedonian National Theatre (now National Opera and Ballet - NOB), the Music and Ballet School and the extension of the Stopanska Bank in the early 1980s.

The National Opera and Ballet building (originally Macedonian National Theatre) is the main building within the complex of the Cultural Center in Skopje, occupying the central position in the originally envisioned configuration. In terms of spatial structure, the building transcends the classic relation of figure (building) and ground, in a radical experiment questioning the functionalist paradigm. Built in a same material and color (white painted concrete), the building and the platform on which it is positioned enter into a dynamic relationship and can be experienced as series of surfaces that fold, crack and rupture in various intensity. In its final form, the standard architectural elements (walls, roofs, columns) can not be recognized. The irregular, fragmented geometry of the platform enters inside the building through the generous, expressive spaces of the foyer, culminating in the asymmetrical auditorium.

Dramatically different from the surrounding urban context, the Opera and Ballet Building initiated an avalanche of opposing reactions, making it one of the most controversial buildings of Skopje’s post-earthquake reconstruction. From today’s perspective, however, the structure was ahead of its time. Defying a precise stylistic label, the architecture of the Opera and Ballet Building occupies a category of its own. In its formal complexity, expressive interior spaces, and exterior massing, it could be vaguely related to Hans Sharoun’s Berlin Philharmonic Hall. Continuing the expressionist thought of the prewar years, the Opera and Ballet’s crystalline geometry can also be seen as a predecessor to an architecture yet to come – a forerunner of both the deconstructivist works of the 1980’s and 1990’s and the concept of architecture as topography.

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vldmr, May 30th, 2023
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