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News 14 Jun 13

Protesters Form Human Chain Around Skopje Mall

Protesters formed a human chain around Skopje’s iconic GTC shopping centre as architects launched a campaign to save it from the government’s planned faux-baroque makeover.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Photo by: Darko Duridanski

Thousands of people on Friday evening joined hands and made a human chain around the modernist 1970s building in a symbolic embrace to mark the launch of the “I Love GTC” campaign by the Association of Macedonian Architects, AAM.

“GTC must remain open, free for pedestrian movement, functional, authentic and urban. This building is an inseparable part of Skopje’s identity, of its architectural, historic and cultural heritage,” the AAM said.

Throughout the course of Friday, the AAM collected signatures for the preservation of the authentic modernist look of the building, while prominent artists, writers and architects made speeches at one of the mall's entrances.

Despite the recent boom in shopping centre construction in Skopje, the iconic GTC, located metres from the central Macedonia square, is still the biggest and most visited mall in the city.

Unlike the others, this state-owned mall has open entrances from all sides, making it an essential transit route for thousands of people traversing the centre of Skopje each day.

If the government has its way, many of the mall’s entrances will be closed up and it will be coated in a facade of pillars and domes inspired by classical antiquity.

 
  Photo by: Darko Duridanski

An additional floor will be constructed and sculptures will be placed on the roof.

“GTC is much more than a shopping mall,” said Nikola Pisarev from the Skopje Centre for Modern Arts.

“It is an umbrella for the centre of the city during rainy days, it is a refreshing passage during the summer heat, it is a bike trail, it is a place for dropping by and for meeting people, the heart of Skopje that beats constantly, dispersing its residents throughout the city centre just as the real heart pumps the blood throughout the body,” he explained.

“Its closure with windows and doors, for the purposes of baroque-isation, will result in a heart attack with fatal consequence for the city and its citizens,” Pisarev concluded.

Visualisation of the proposed new GTC facade

The government-appointed manager of GTC, Ago Abazovski, recently said that the choise of architectural style for the makeover was chosen in order “to fit in the surroundings” of the capital, which are being transformed by the controversial government-sponsored Skopje 2014 revamp.

So far, the only institutional glimmers of hope for the opponents of the GTC revamp have come from Skopje’s opposition-run municipality of Centar. Its new mayor, Andrej Zernovski, said he would do everything he could to prevent the controversial makeover.

More than 20 buildings, mostly inspired by classical antiquity, are already in place or are nearly finished as part of the Skopje 2014 plan.  The construction of a new national theatre, a history museum, a foreign ministry building and a concert hall are at an advanced stage.

As part of the grand revamp, dozens of statues and fountains are being erected to adorn the city. Almost 30 metre-high statues of Alexander the Great and his father, Philip, are already in place.

Photo by: Darko Duridanski

Since it was unveiled in 2010, the Skopje 2014 project has attracted controversy.

Supporters say it will transform the image of a city blighted by decades of dreary socialist architecture and neglect, restore a missing sense of national pride and create a more metropolitan atmosphere.

Critics, including the AAM, have complained about the cost of the project and the transparency of the contracts awarded to the architects and designers.

Many complain about the project's artistic aesthetics and the lack of public debate.

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Photo by: Darko Duridanski
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