Power and Corruption in Skopje’s “White Palace” Party Headquarters: THE POLITICAL LIFE OF ARCHITECTURE

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Thursday, February 25th, 2021

Thursday, February 25, 20214:00PM - 5:30PMExternal Event, Zoom webinar
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This is the second lecture in a two-part series, “The Political Life of Architecture.” The two parts can be viewed together or independently.

The first part of this series, on the IMEL/Biltmore Hotel in Tbilisi, is available on our YouTube channel (search: CERESMunk).

Just south of Skopje’s central square is one of the city’s most opulent neoclassical buildings, known locally as the “White Palace.” Contrary to first impressions, this building inspired by classical antiquity is not old, but was constructed in 2012 as the political headquarters of the VMRO-DPMNE party. In this second talk on the political life of architecture, Suzanne Harris-Brandts tells the story of how the White Palace came to take on its opulent form and the power and wealth that it has afforded the VMRO-DPMNE party along the way. She breaks down three interconnected scales at which power is expressed relative to the party headquarters: (1) the Architectural, foregrounding the White Palace’s design and construction; (2) the Urban, examining broader city building and real estate extortion practices in Skopje funding the party, and; (3) the Historical/Regional, looking at the irredentist, ethnonationalist narratives expressed through architectural symbolism, supporting the party ideologically. Built during VMRO-DPMNE’s time in office (2006-2016) and amidst its undertaking of the highly contentious ‘Skopje 2014’ urban renewal campaign, the White Palace exemplifies the interconnected nature of power and space in North Macedonia. The nuances of how different forms of authoritarian rule operate spatially through the city’s built landscape and how they result in distinct approaches to city building are thus epitomized in the project. This research is based on data collected through fieldwork in Skopje, including site observations, media analysis, personal interviews, and focus groups. It is part of a chapter in the forthcoming book ‘Spatializing Authoritarianism,’ edited by Natalie Koch and published by Syracuse University Press.

Dr. Suzanne Harris-Brandts is an Assistant Professor in the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism, and a Faculty Associate with the Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at Carleton University. Her research brings together design and the social sciences to explore issues of power, equity, and collective identity in the built environment. Suzanne’s current book project, entitled ‘Constructing the Capital,’ draws from her dissertation uncovering the politics of urban development and image making in Eurasian capital cities. It examines city building campaigns in part-democratic/ part-authoritarian hybrid regimes, foregrounding the cases of Tbilisi, Georgia and Skopje, North Macedonia. The work demonstrates how architecture and urban design are manipulated for power retention in such regimes, while also highlighting bottom-up, community-based strategies to resist these actions. Suzanne received her PhD in Urban Studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is a licenced architect in Ontario and co-founder of Collective Domain, a design-research practice for spatial analysis, urban activism, architecture, and media in the public interest.

Videos of our public events are posted on our YouTube channel within approximately 10 days.


Dr. Suzanne Harris-Brandts
Assistant Professor, Carleton University, School of Architecture + Urbanism

Dr. Robert Austin
CERES, University of Toronto

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