The Baroque Garage

Posted by Ellen

As part of a recent downtown revitalization project, the city of Skopje, capital of the Balkan Republic of Macedonia sponsored an international design competition for a new multi-story parking garage. The call for submissions specified that the garage should hold 315 parking spaces and must be designed in a "baroque, classic, neo-classic, romantic, and neo-romantic style."

Clearly, the Skopje city fathers were looking for something fancy, but apparently there was also a political agenda. That long list of architectural styles they were interested in all point to a Western, Christian, bourgeois European history for Skopje–which never really existed. Also, the list is notable for its omissions: no hint of the oriental and Islamic traditions with which Macedonia was associated for many centuries, and of course also no hint of the country's recent Communist past. In other words, the government wanted a politically correct parking garage.

Winning architect Milan Mijalkovic, of the Viennese firm PPAG,  went neo-baroque in his design. He started with a snapshot taken by a young girl, Andrea Popelka, showing a bit of the baroque architecture typical of streetscapes in Vienna. The image was repeated, distorted, and abstracted to wrap around the garage in a multi-layered facade. Where there were windows in the streetscape, there are openings in the facade to allow light into the parking levels.

Parking garages have a history of their own in Skopje. After a devastating earthquake in 1965, Japanese architect s were invited in to help plan for recovery. They noticed that the city had few cars and little infrastructure for dealing with automotive traffic, and they suggested that this might be the city's opportunity to plan for the traffic that surely would someday fill the streets. They built numerous garages around Skopje's apartment towers. But it took several more decades for the cars to come to Skopje, and in the meantime, the garages were repurposed to store vegetables for the city's markets.