When concrete rebuilt an entire city: the Telecommunications Centre and Post Office of Skopje

We often struggle to understand why, during Cold War, Eastern Europe was hit by a huge wave of functionalist and brutalist architecture. The reason is very simple. That kind of architecture – strongly linked to concrete usage – was fast to build, polished, both minimalist and rich. Especially in Eastern Europe, architects were asked to create something quickly, cheap to build and even cheaper to maintain. Concrete was the natural solution for these requirements, obviously keeping in mind that the USSR was likely to prefer brutalism over more complex (at first sight) architecture designs.


In 1963 a big earthquake destroyed a majority of Skopje, killing many people. Macedonia’s capital city was almost erased from map. By the end of 1964, more than 14,000 new units housed some 70,000 people in a city that had mushroomed in geographical size. In the following months, the United Nations approved a sweeping assistance program that gathered some of the best architects of a generation — from Croatia, Greece, Poland and Japan — to execute a yearlong plan to rebuild the city center and create a new sprawling residential area on the outskirts.

Among the local architects who proved to be particularly sensitive to contemporary international trends (such as the use of raw concrete) was Janko Konstantinov. He, had worked with Alvar Aalto before moving to Los Angeles, and returned to Skopje shortly after the earthquake to give his help in the reconstruction.


His Telecommunications Centre and Post Office (built in different stages between 1974 and 1989) are among the most recognizable (and, unfortunately, most neglected) of the post-1963 structures in the city centre. The bold use of reinforced concrete and expressive forms reveal the architect’s sensibility to international trends on one hand, and the extent of the creative freedom granted to post-earthquake architects on the other. The curious round building of the Post Office may have been inspired by the nearby medieval fortress (as some historians believe), by an exotic flower (as it is popularly rumored), or may even be a very personal variation on Oscar Niemeyer’s Metropolitan Cathedral of Brasília (1970). Whatever the case, the result was brilliant.

Adjacent to the squat structure sits the Telecommunications Centre, an impressive volumetric composition made up of a long horizontal block, with a façade that betrays little of the building’s interior, and a massive vertical structure of cubic volumes and huge columns. In 1989, the complex gained its final addition, the Dispatching Centre: a glass box topped by a protruding roof that is supported by pillars. The Post Office is the sole remainder of an only partly implemented project for this area.

Today this makes it seem somewhat alien or isolated compared to its surroundings but it is nevertheless worthy of attention as a powerful example of what concrete can achieve when it comes to quick and solid construction. To think that concrete is just a grey burden for modern cities means to dismiss its importance as the material that was the key to rebuilding Skopje after the tragic destruction of the 1963 earthquake and allowed the creation of its important architectural legacies.

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