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Week 07// 05/11-11/11

We're now at the half way point to Christmas - and isn't the term going by quickly! The first international field trips have returned, and we cannot wait to hear back from them. Not only that, but the OSA Ritual deadline is nearing, and the team is so excited to see everyone's work.

DS4 Trip to Skopje, Macedonia// Rob Goacher

DS4 have just returned from the maddening city of Skopje, Macedonia. This intense place is an unapologetic montage of architectural styles and typologies from an Ottoman old city to a modernist urban core - designed by an international team after the 1963 earthquake flattened 70% of the city - to the kitsch neoclassical buildings, facades and statues of the past decade. To paraphrase our tutor Jason "time works differently in Skopje, architectural styles don’t follow the established timelines".

Sunday started early with us catching the bus from Oxford at 2am and after walking through the seemingly endless corridors of Vienna Airport we made it to Macedonia around midday. After checking into our hostel and being greeted by the resident Golden Retriever, we headed into town, changing money into denar and venturing through Tange’s City Wall megastructure to happen upon our first new neoclassical facade seemingly infested with insect nests. We continued into the city centre; past the schizophrenic Mother Teresa house and an under-construction golden domed church to be greeted by the imposing, controversial statue of Alexander the Great; the centrepiece of a number of neoclassical statues, buildings, facades and even a triumphal arch which the previous nationalist government threw haphazardly across the city centre under the banner of the ‘Skopje 2014’ project. After crossing the Ottoman era stone bridge; we entered the old bazaar and enjoyed our first Macedonian meal, with some of us having our first ‘Skopsko’, the Macedonian national beer. Our day continued with further exploration of the old city, ending in a bar next to the Alexander statue as its colourful lightshow illuminated the square.

On Monday we headed to the incredible, brutalist Goce Delchev student dormitories on the city’s western periphery. Here we met Damjan Kokalevski, a Skopje native who has recently completed his PhD on the post-earthquake masterplans and the Skopje 2014 programme. He guided us through some interesting buildings and sites including brutalist masterpieces and post-earthquake ‘barracks’. After a few hours and miles walking we stopped for lunch at a traditional Macedonian restaurant being treated to an expanse of delicious food and Rakia, a grape brandy. Here we were joined by Ivana, a local architect. We then continued meandering through the Karposh district, a residential area with unique typologies of addition, balcony enclosure and appropriation. Next stop was the zoo, where Ivana was working on a long-term masterplan. It had some unique modernist interventions but suffered from challenging circumstances. The day then grew to a close with more food and drinks.

Tuesday started with a hike up to the museum of contemporary arts, perched above the city and enclosed by the Kale Fortress. We again met Damjan and explored more of Skopje’s architecture; from Ottoman Hans to modernist museums and the state university. We broke for a late lunch; again with masses of food, after coffee shop discussions we headed for an evening lecture by Damjan at Skopje University, we met Macedonian students and shared our experiences.

On Wednesday we set off individually to explore areas of interest and possible sites; from casinos run wild with stray dogs to the transition between the city and informal Roma settlements, before meeting back up in the evening to enjoy for food and wine. Thursday started with further site investigation and discussion. We were able to explore the city more in depth, for example Zariq gained access to the Goce Delchev student dormitories and the interiors and views from the 15th floor roof were amazing. We completed our day with more food and drink, before setting off back to the UK on Friday morning.

Reflecting back; Skopje is an idolatrous adherent to some perverse architectural belief system. Its contrasting bounty will hopefully provide interesting projects for us all.

What's On

This week, we visited the Spellbound exhibition at the Ashmolean. It's a thought provoking journey through the human psyche, through superstition and ritual, and the belief that our small actions can change our wider circumstances. From demons trapped in mirrors to witch's bottles buried in the chimney to protect from curses, the exhibition posed questions about how we interact with our world, and the way we reach for higher powers for assistance in both magical ceremonies and everyday routines. Bringing the narrative into the modern day, our modern actions were also questioned - with a display of padlocks removed from a love lock bridge, and modern artworks commissioned to target our relationship to the suspicion of the 'other' - a dangerous attitude that is rearing its head once more in society.

Spellbound runs in the Ashmolean until 6th January 2019.

Student of the Week

Marianne Johnson is this week's student of the week. She was nominated for her beautiful drawing of the Clay Collective. This labelled top-down perspective gives us an in-depth understanding of how the workshop is used - we love its clarity and the level of detail.

Marianne Johnson

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