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Solidarity needed yesterday. Review of Kinga Nettmann-Multanowska's book "Warsaw draws Skopje".

28 of April '22

What should international solidarity look like? Was there above the curtain cooperation and assistance? How was Polish urban planning perceived in the second half of the 20th century? What role did the title "Warsaw" play in the reconstruction of Skopje? In search of all these answers, Kinga Nettmann-Multanowska' s book entitled "Warsaw Draws Skopje" was written.

Published by the Center for Architecture, the book is a unique and competent complement to the exhibition "Skopje. The City, Architecture and the Art of Solidarity" organized in 2019 by the International Cultural Center in Cracow. An exhibition in which the author of the book was directly involved. The book discussion, however, is more extensive and comprehensive.

To begin with, we should ask ourselves why Skopje should interest us at all.

disaster and hope

On July 26, 1963, the whole world learned about the earthquake in Skopje. The first tremors occurred moments after five o'clock. The force of the destruction hit primarily the capital itself. More than a thousand people died in the disaster, and about three thousand were injured. The disaster also led to the destruction of homes and neighborhoods. More bodies were found under the rubble, and residents of the capital had to find their way in a completely new reality.

This moment also showed the strength of the solidarity of the postwar world. When information about the tragedy of the Vardar River residents circulated the globe, the most distant cities of the world declared help. Aid teams, doctors, firefighters were arriving in Skopje. Materials and food were also sent, and large suburban settlements of prefabricated houses began to spring up around the city, arriving from all over the world. Solidarity with the Macedonian people was beyond the divisions of the Iron Curtain - it came as much from Poland, Finland, America or Mexico.

The story of Skopje shows how important the role of humanitarian aid was in a world that was just beginning to heal the wounds of the tragic Second World War.

autorka książki, Kinga Nettmann-Multanowska

Author of the book, Kinga Nettmann-Multanowska

Photo by Matylda Multanowska

polish urban planning thought

Kinga Nettmann-Multanowska focuses the largest part of her book on the story of the Polish team working on a new master plan for the city destroyed in the cataclysm. A unique story in which the tragic experience of rebuilding Warsaw made it possible to create a modern plan for a Yugoslavian city. A unique moment in the history of Polish urban planning, when Polish urban planners not only competed with the best studios in the world, but still won these duels after long hours of debates. It was the first moment in history after the war when international cooperation allowed the wounds to heal.

The story of the team working in Skopje under the direction of Stanislaw Jankowski is not just a discussion of plans and concepts, but a document of history and life. With exceptional care, the author recalls the process of creating the master plan with pioneering sociological research, so important in a multicultural and multiethnic city, the political context in relations between Poland and Yugoslavia, as well as other countries on the western and eastern sides of the Iron Curtain. We also get to know profiles of people, stories about everyday life (the story about buying a Jaguar from the British deserves a special mention here), building friendships and everyday life "in exile."

The publication is not without flaws, first of all, the chapter "Expansion of Skopje" could have been divided in a more logical way. At certain points, the stories of the studio members, along with all the historical background, could have been better separated from the section discussing the projects themselves. The greatest asset of this publication, however, is that Nettmann-Multanowska's book is not a detached study of a unique urban project, but a vivid chronicle of one of the most interesting initiatives of Polish urban planners abroad.


"Warsaw Draws Skopje"

© Center for Architecture

in search of lost identity

The book focuses primarily on the period from the 1960s and the activities of Polish artists, architects, urban planners and sociologists. However, there is no shortage of summaries of what has been happening in Skopje over the past few years. After 1991, when Macedonians gained independence, a cultural battle with Bulgarians and Greeks began. The result has been the renaming of the country twice (it is now the Republic of North Macedonia), the changing of the flag or constant conflicts over who can refer to the ancient heritage.

Macedonia, like other regions of Yugoslavia, still remains a cultural melting pot of sorts, with Slavs predominating. The lack of its own statehood for hundreds of years has led to the need to emphasize what can be called"Macedonianism." In her book, Kinga Nettmann-Multanowska devotes an entire chapter to Skopje's big makeover in Skopje 2014 - in which an antique setting made of plaster was applied to the brutalist and modernist facades for which this unique city was famous. Pseudo-tidiness, kitschy antiqueization, concrete restaurants in the shape of ships on the Vardar, or awful monuments to Alexander or Philip of Macedon that lack proportions and taste. These processes are the result of a search for their own lost identity. Macedonians don't quite know who they are, so they create self-improving narratives. Regardless of whether they expose themselves to ridicule.

"Warsaw draws Skopje"

© Center for Architecture

solidarity needed yesterday

"Warszawa rysuje Skopje" by Kinga Nettmann-Multanowska is not only a unique historical reportage that will allow to remember and remember the work of Polish urban planners in the former Yugoslavia, but also a picture of the essence of architecture and urban planning as tools of international cooperation for a better tomorrow. In the face of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the book's message is more important today than ever. As soon as the battle dust settles and the Russian fascists under the sign of Zorro leave the occupied territories, help in the form of urban and architectural know-how for the bombed areas will be necessary. Already today, many architects are declaring their willingness to help Ukraine. We need this solidarity yesterday.

compiled by Wiktor Bochenek

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