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If buildings could talk

November 2, 2017 Comments (0) Views: 637 Skopje, Virtual Memoirs

If buildings could talk: The Railway Workers’ Residential Complex in Skopje

If buildings could talk (IBCT) is a collaborative project that unfolds the delicate, inner traces of the erasure of collective memory from the local history, exemplified through concrete urban spaces (buildings and their surroundings) which are/were landmarks in one city/area.

This obliteration leads towards almost unrecognizable change of the local context affecting entire communities and various social strata as well as the overall urban tissue. IBCT attempts to speak creatively and interdisciplinary about local urban problems, sometimes relating to a single building or block – business or residential – in three different cities: Skopje, initiated by the partner FRU – Faculty of Things that Can’t Be Learned, Belgrade with the partner Supervizuelna and Zagreb with the partner Shadow Casters.

In Skopje, FRU concluded the project with a dedicated performance at their building-in-focus, the Railway Workers’ Residential Complex, Photo by Zoran Shekjerov (30.09.2017)

Through detailed analysis of this building/ block components, contextualized within its surrounding and historical developments, IBCT relates to the tendencies of (non)solidarity, degradation, (re)writing of reality – also showing also which the conflicts in those buildings/blocks that potentially open ruptures in the general societal structure are.

The overall theme of the project is the devastation of public space and social housing communities as a result of the rigid agendas of mighty corporations, corrupted national and local governments as well as an ideological urge to clean all the traces of the previous governing system thus obliterating the collective memory and phenomena of certain cities. This has resulted into virtually complete disappearance of the concepts of “community”, “communing”, “social owning”, “self-government of reality” thus disuniting the citizens into “strong” individuals not taking care of their own surroundings.

From the performance at the Railway Workers’ Residential Complex, Photo by Zoran Shekjerov (30.09.2017)

FRU decided to work on the Railway Workers’ Residential Complex, Supervizuelna decided to engage with the business– residential complex “Belville”, while Bacaci Sjenki decided to do research on the “Nada Dimić” Factory – “Moster/Penkala” factory. All of the buildings were considered in terms of their relevance to the envisioned goals on the one hand, and approachability on the other. All of them had been pillars of history, carved with memories of social turmoil, but were also abandoned to slow decay.

Inside the complex’s cinema, Photo by Zoran Shekjerov (30.09.2017) See here for more photos

Below, you can also read an excerpt from the publication If Buildings Could Talk, or what would be the part dedicated to the Railway Workers’ Residential Complex in Skopje. This building, a work of the architect Mihail Dvornikov was completed by 1946, and it was purposed for the Yugoslav railways (JŽ), the state railway company of Yugoslavia.

The building, constructed at the end of 1950s to accommodate the railway workers, represents a perimeter block for social housing with an internal communal courtyard. It’s divided into 13 sections – 10 were from the initial concept – a joint house which holds four apartment units in row, while 3 of them for multiple housing date from the postwar renewal of the city. These sections used to originally be connected by continuous balconies and also included numerous communal facilities (a cinema hall, canteen, joint laundry rooms, children playgrounds, green areas) thus stimulating the coexistence of the resident and helping to build up a community. The apartment units, through the staircase nucleus on the ground level (the entrance) communicate with the accessible street on one side, and with the inner courtyard on the other.

The programmatic diversity is one of its specificities – original distribution of the areas from 45% housing, 20% communications area and 35% communal areas, a multipurpose cinema theater, enclosing of the communal balconies and their conversion into housing space, inner courtyard with greenery.

Panorama of the Railway Workers’ Residential Complex in Skopje

It is the first multi-family apartment building in Macedonia and an example of the perfection of integration in the formulation of an apartment block. Its organization of the apartments and the contemporary and standard comfort was inspired by the developed and well-organized apartment construction in The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

It is a remnant of the beginnings of modernism in Macedonia, just a few years before the Second World War. Eventually, this State Railway Directorate – Skopje (as part of the Yugoslav direction) became privatized and that lead to destruction of its programming of 75% housing, 20% communications area and 5% communal area. With time, the multipurpose cinema theater stopped functioning; the communal balconies became gradually enclosed (although not all of them). The tenants take care of the greenery as being the only park in the neighborhood it is used by all of the inhabitants in the area (not all familiar with the specificities and house order of the building). The cinema theater and the yard nowadays are owned by all the tenants of the building.


The research-based performative art project IF BUILNGS COULD TALK in Skopje is a collaborative action actively including the local community in the very process of its creation as one of the rare examples of collaborative practices in Macedonia.

It is a multidimensional and multidisciplinary project which was conducted and conceived by the artist Filip Jovanovski, curated by Ivana Vaseva, in collaboration with the architect and researcher Dejan Ivanovski and the creative team actresses: Kristina Lelovac, Sanja Arsovska, Jasmina Vasileva, Dolores Popovic, Ilija Tiricovski, video production and Oliver Musovik, production. Participants: tenants in the building – Slobodan Kocevic, Ivan Dzijanovski, Tome Karevski. In the center of this project is the Railway Workers’ Residential Complex in Skopje, built as a rare example of social and communal housing in the frames of the post-war modern architecture.

Content contributor: Elena Dimitrovska 


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