Olga Papesh

Olga Papesh, born in Veles in 1933, was an engineer-architect, the recipient of the award “Andreya Damyanov” for her life’s work. She lived and worked until 2011. Her diverse output, ranging from design to the construction of the most important buildings in Skopje during its reconstruction, especially the remarkable buildings from the sphere of housing, make her one of the most important architects of the twentieth century.

Olga Papesh enriched her seemingly ordinary professional career with a subtly refined approach and staying away from a routine professional engagement. Following her professional development, but also all the engagements outside of it, again, deeply rooted in architecture and its social potentials, in her output we notice a polyvalent and multidisciplinary approach so rare today, especially not in the profit-driven design and construction enterprises. Until her last breath, she was not only an architect-designer but also, together with Mimoza Nestorovska-Tomikj, a voice of reason and ethics in this profession, a spirit of criticism and re-examination of the responsibility and potential of architecture, a woman who understood her profession in all its greatness but also its intrinsic dangers.

Olga Papesh left behind an outstanding oeuvre of creative-technical work in her various capacities as an architect. She graduated at the Department of Architecture at the Technical Faculty in 1960, attended many practical workshops and seminars in and outside of the country, pursued Photography, and upon her graduation, as a fellow of the Construction Company “Beton”, got a job at the newly formed engineering bureau at “Beton”. At this bureau, later transformed into the Institute for Studies and Engineering, in 1990, she finished her professional career. She was involved in the design of “Avtoturist”, “Mehanika”, the factory “Biljana”, as well as in parts of the projects for the Cement Plant and the Ironworks. After the devastating earthquake in Skopje, she was involved in the reconstruction and building of the city. Thus she participated in the team tasked with the main project for the National Educational Library “Kliment Ohridski” (“St. Clement of Ohrid”), Music and Ballet School Center “Iliya Nikolovski-Luy”, the main project for the National Radio-Broadcasting Company Skopje, as well as individual TV stations. When mentioning the name Olga Papesh, the first thing that comes to mind is the “Complex of Banks” project; though realized a bit later than the plan of Skopje by Kenzo Tange, it was so much aligned with the location, the conditions, and the program goals set for the reconstruction of the city that it received his personal approval.

Papesh also made substantial accomplishments in the planning and designing of collective and individual residential buildings, which to this day are landmark features of Skopje, Struga, Ohrid, and Kichevo. In addition to a small number of references in expert publications, we learn about the quality of her work from the older generation of the Skopje locals who grew up in these apartments and whose impressions and experiences drawn from this space resonate even to this day and can serve as a lesson for future architects. Adequate positioning of the buildings in the space they figure, as well as the space they are physically not in (connection with the rest of the city), a functional division and organization of the inside space poignantly shows that today the neighborhoods in which people live in her buildings stand as objects of value, or, at least, serve as the parameters the engineers can meet less and less. All the buildings designed by Olga Papesh, or in whose design and construction she participated, represent an enduring engineering and cultural heritage of Macedonia in the 20th century.

The life and work of Olga Papesh is an important page in the feminist legacy of North Macedonia for two reasons: first, the introduction of feminist principles (or women’s, at least) in the planning of the living space, and, second, her contribution to the public and social dialogue on the position and task of architecture and planning in the country. Namely, beside functionalism and skill in the application of the aesthetical as the functional (pure geometry, clear communication schemes), her work can be identified with an emphatically and intersectionally delayered viewing of the living space, which provided more space for the needs of the daily living; pantries, closets, economical loggias realized by way of the principle of a textbook-proof functionality, ecological and economical sanitary installations, naturally lit bathrooms that are ventilated and connected to the kitchen on the same installation wall.

Finally, though retired in 1990, she did not cease sharing her experience and her very precise and uncompromising view on the position of architecture in the new societies that emerged after the break-up of SFRY, as well as her view on the specialized planning institutions. Tirelessly, she advocated planning norms, blueprints, and institutions for their implementation for the purpose of a proper and fair development of the city, as opposed to the clientelistic approach, in particular in the last part of her life because of the nationalistic disruption of planning and construction engineering ensued from the project “Skopje 2014”.

Her highly important and indicative initiative for a historical, formal, and institutionalized distancing of the architects from the phenomenon that happened to Skopje has remained unrealized; it serves as an illustration of the parameters she believed architecture could reach – not only physical and spatial, but also social historical, and political.  

A Plateau in Taftalidze between the apartment buildings next to the coffee bar “Li” - Mlechen, Skopje

The apartment buildings surrounding the said plateau, close to the center of Skopje, accessible by public transportation, on foot, and by bike. There is only one concrete wheelchair ramp for people with a physical disability, which is often blocked off.