MArch Unit 15 : Free Zones – Archaeologies for the Future : Nicholas Boyarsky, Louise Cann and Duc Le

Image: Kenzo Tange with the competition team and Skopje Master Plan model c.1965

“Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction is obliged to stick to probability, and truth ain’t.” Mark Twain

Unit 15 believes that Reality is Stranger than Fiction and that the search for these realities holds clues to the future project. As architects and urban activists we peel back layers of the Decollage City to uncover the foundations for new layers and insertions. This search for super-contextualism and new forms of materialism suggests new narratives for, and new  combinations of, found realities and relationships. A new stand-alone architecture is inappropriate for our times – re-use, adaption, re-framing, insertion and the layering of the new with the old are the future practices of the architect.

We invite you to leave aside our consumerist society that privileges profit and the individual above everything else and follow us to a city built on dreams of experimentation, self-management, socialism and the spectacle. This city is deeply conflicted with recent histories of war, natural disaster, genocide, corruption, pollution, and rampant neo-liberalism yet these epic conditions have not overwhelmed its citizens but rather stimulated them to activism, to develop new forms of social relationships based on the commons and to reject neo-liberalism. The empty husks of the city are full of traces and possibilities for a new definition of what architecture can be.

“The art of the epic theatre consists in producing astonishment rather than empathy… Instead of identifying with the characters, the audience should be educated to be astonished at the circumstances under which they function.” Walter Benjamin on BertoltBrecht

We will situate our search for astonishment in the city of Skopje in North Macedonia, unpacking the recent past, mapping tendencies and future trajectories to develop new strategies and structures that can interrupt and inhabit the fabric of the city. We regard this context as a melting pot of historical architectural interjection and layering. Originally an Ottoman trading post, Skopje suffered a major earthquake in 1963, the city was rebuilt according to a Metabolist masterplan with masterpieces of Yugoslavian socialist architecture. It is now the Las Vegas of 21st century Europe with wedding cake architectures and facades that have been wrapped around Metabolist buildings, obscuring the city’s former utopian vision. The diversity of Skopje with large Muslim, Roma and Albanian alongside Christian populations provides further sedimentation. We leave for Skopje on the 19th of October.

We will focus on the notion of Free Space as a radical alternative to conventional city building and living. Building on the ruptures and disjunctions within the city and its evident fragility, your interventions will start without programme, your search for astonishment will define this. We will investigate the role of the architect as urban performer and speculate how free spaces can choreograph, re-program and transform the city across multiple scales from the individual to the wider network. The materiality of your site will act as props for your interventions which will insinuate themselves into the city fabric building new relationships, narratives, and dependencies. The year will start with a collage workshop: Exquisite Skopje.

We are looking for curious, self-motivated and committed students who will be open to developing your architectural imaginations and forging personal narratives based on observation, experimentation and speculation. We are here to stimulate you, to encourage you to build upon your own architectural languages and interests and to ultimately push you further to form a strong project and to focus on design realisation.