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Interfaith Centre Kosovo

Pristina, Kosovo

During Kosovo Interfaith Week in May 2013, a ceremony in honour of the Holocaust victims of Kosovo took place at the site where the sole synagogue of the country’s capital Pristina once stood. This moving event was held in the presence of the Prime Minister, the President of Kosovo, the regional leaders of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths, and international ambassadors.

Since then, a unique project brief was presented for a site a few kilometres north, arranged within a spacious walled garden containing two buildings. The older of the two is a simple 18th Century two-storey barn. The other, a 19th-century two-storey stone-faced gabled roof structure. This small building was the very same synagogue, relocated whole from where the ceremony took place.

After the end of World War II approximately 50 refugees, a fraction of the original Jewish community of Kosovo, returned to Pristina. The synagogue underwent necessary renovation work and continued to be in use until its demolition in 1960 - The Soviet Union, following an unofficial policy of state atheism was aiming to gradually eliminate religious belief within its borders, leading to the demolition of numerous churches, mosques and synagogues.

However, the tightknit local community (both Muslim and Jewish) subsequently brought, piece by piece, the entire demolished structure and reassembled it near the old bazaar. Despite this painstaking endeavour, the structure was never re-consecrated as a synagogue and gradually fell into disrepair.

The site offers a unique opportunity to weave the narrative of the Jewish community in Kosovo, pertinent local interfaith encounters, and a re-invention of public space in Pristina into an exciting and lively tapestry of contemporary cultural activities and historically resonant spaces. It will also become the permanent home (both gallery and workshop) for a local war widows’ craft organisation.

The project is not a museum or a monument, but facilitates a place that welcomes a variety of communal activities, where books or rather shelves are the starting point. The project involves the creation on-site, with the local community, primal casts of structural concrete modules which are then erected along the site’s perimeter walled garden, weaving into and out of the 2 buildings and binding them together. These form armatures for events ranging from book fairs and exchanges, to art and craft fairs, food and music.