Architecture of Tbilisi in Vibration of the Last Decades

SK version

Abstract

This article is focusing attention on how political situation in South Caucasian region in last  two decades changed the image of the architecture of Georgia. The article examines georgian architecture through several chosen buildings of late modernist architecture as well as through phenomenon of 90´s architectural transformation lokaly know as Kamikadze loggia phenomenon. This article shows how this 90´s political situation changed the image of the architecture of Georgia as well as introduce to reader main examples of Georgian late modern architecture. Last part of the body is dedicated to new perspectives of Georgian architecture and social transformation of the city into modern capital of prospective EU member.

 

Introduction

The year 1992 is the breakpoint in Georgian modern history. Is the year which divide Georgian 20th century into two autonomous parts. After seventy years as part of Soviet Union suddenly Georgia has become independent sovereign state. The historical moment which compared to situation in Czech and Slovak Republic opened new horizons of European integration and economic growth caused in the case of Georgia the biggest economical depression and total social collapse in the modern history. In this year economy of the country decreased to one fourth of 1988 level. Unemployment and money inflation raised into astronomic rates. Social deprivation led to political crisis which opened the way to civil war in the summer of 1992 in Tbilisi, and immediately led to war in Abkhazia in the years of 1992-1994.

Rich and prosperous Republic of Soviet Georgia and its capital Tbilisi suddenly fall into  the boiling pot. Image from the postcards of 80´s, which used to promote the most developed part of Soviet Union out of Moscow was in flames. Architecture is the most significant representation of the regime and prosperity. After the civil war in 1992 and consequential changes in society the image of the Tbilisi has rapidly changed. Undoubtedly important role in this story played also the change of postmodern paradigm. All factors together opened a way for self-organized transformation of public space and endless housing estates called now Kamikadze loggias.

Present days is Georgia dealing with process of european integration. Westernization of the city influenced the architecture as well. Era of unorganized 90´s self-organization seems to be finished and ready to be analyzed from social and cultural historical points of view. On the other hand, what seems to be for local citizens harmful scarp on the image of the city, for observer examines the moment when architecture vibrates under the pressure of external socio-political factors.

 

A: Georgian late modernism and Ministry of Highways

Georgian architecture and housing development was during the II. half of 20th century good example of soviet prosperous development. The design process and projection was organized in central state owned projection companies. Giprogostroj was central projection company responsible for design of public building and cultural heritage restoration projects, other big company was Gorproject responsible for housing development and urban planning. Rural development projection was organized through Seloproject. Similar process used to work also in Czechoslovakia. Similarly some of well known architects, who had good references was allowed to be organized under the central projection company in an autonomous regime.

Compared to situation in central European countries, the rise up of modern movement had no time to developed in Georgia. In 1923 the whole South Caucasian region became part of newly formed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Shortly after this, in the end of 20´s, country was forced to introduce official art and architectural style of socialist realism. Georgia had no direct contacts to western European discourse of modern movement, but still architects was able to study new trends. Khrushchev's de - stalinization of USSR1 in the late 50´s and beginning of 60´s has a strong impact on soviet architecture. In the need for cheaper and more efficient building process was introduce the term of ,,housing industrialization“. There was no more need for Socialist realism aesthetics and its inefficiency what officially declared open way ,,back“ to the roots of international modernism. Due to this, late 60´s and 70´s represents the most successful era of soviet architectural design as well as for Georgian architecture.

In Georgia the situation was strongly influenced by the decisions made in Moscow. Late 60´s opened the way to get on the train of European modern movement. Paradoxly in the  same time, West lost the optimism and faith in modernism. In Czechoslovakia 60´s are declared as golden age of architectural design which was hardly interrupted by Soviet intervention in 1968. If this is the year, when the dream of better and brighter future in Czechoslovakia was stopped, in Georgia is the year of the start of better times. Economic situation and social improvement led to think about marvelous design which had to come in 70´s. One of the best examples of such architecture is undoubtedly the Ministry of Highways in Tbilisi.

                                                      Photo 1: Former Ministry of Highways in Tbilisi on Marjvena Sanapiro (photo: Simona Rota)

Probably the well known architectural structure of Georgia recognized in the whole world was designed in 1973 by architect Georgi Chakhava2. Massive structure of vertical and horizontal beams stood on the edge of Saburtalo plateau. The site is steeply sloping into the Mtkvari river. This extraordinary structure is actualization of architectural ideas of such visionariness such was Yona Friedman´s Spacial City, Kenzo Tange´s Metabolism or work of Czech architect Karel Prager whose architectural thinking and realizations in Prague can be slightly associated to Chakhava´s work. Prager´s design concept for housing complex for Košiře district in Prague3 had the similar income conditions and comparable outcome architectural design as was finally realized in Tbilisi by architect Chakhava. Three vertical massive columns set in the steep slope bears and interconnects composition of two storey high horizontal volumes overlayed on each other. This administrative building became internationally famous. After its completion the whole architectural team and workers was honoured by the USSR price4. 

In 2005 the building became abandoned, but finally the structure was adopted by local Bank of Georgia which in the terms of heritage restoration adapted building to become its headquater. During the time of abandoness was there organized public art project which dealt local public and local as well as international art participants with the topic of post soviet architectural heritage. This project helped to promote this architecture and remind its architectural qualities which are now, even after 40 year from its completion still breathtaking.

 

B: Transformation and Kamikadze loggia

The building of Ministry of Highway is preserved monument of the design of 70´s and a victim of well organized development of Tbilisi. After the fall of USSR and consequences of civil war Georgian society lapsed into the chaos. Urban development and urban planning was suddenly not needed. 

Postcards from 60´s till 80´s shows Georgia as the sunny pearl of Soviet Union. Summer holiday resorts on Black sea coastline in Abkhazia was a version of Cote d´azur of France. Hotel resorts in Gagra and Pitsunda was good examples of pure modernist aesthetics and modern urbanism of collective recreation. Summer ,,mediterranean“ atmosphere was presented even on the street of Tbilisi. Green city without visual smog, clear street lines, no unexpected development. In 90´s all of this disappeared. While the Black sea resorts was fading in Abkhazian war, in Tbilisi in the lawless time was created an idea of self-organized redevelopment of the housing estates which turned over modern urban planning.

Last decade of the 20th century is in East European countries associated with social and economic transformation from socialist state planned economy into free market – liberal economy. In all these countries is this transformation connected with unexpected deliberated urban development. New housing estates and private investment occurred in the landscape of the city. On the other hand, urban development in soviet time strictly run by central planning office was not ready to cope with such a massive investment. Privatisation of state owned land, in many cases meant privatisation of public space, public greenery or protected areas. This process is in Tbilisi common till nowadays and weak public society only hardly can fight against it.

Probably the most controversial phenomenon, which changed the image of the city was not connected with private land development, but private housing extensions. From middle 90´s till the first years of 21st century, hundreds of thousands of Georgians extended their living space of prefabricated panel houses as well as older flat development with self-organized extensions called Kamikadze loggia5. Self sufficient external structure of steel  only slightly connected to original concrete structure of the house. For each flat who wanted to participate in neighborh organized development was ready 40 sq. meters of new flat area extension. Some owners decided to build their new room, other several rooms or leaved it open as large scale loggia.

Some of these loggias on lower floors are even independent from original structure and connected to the street with external staircase. Materiality, size of windows and visual concept of each loggia was created by owners themselves. This new layer now covers almost every housing block in Tbilisi. Finally, the former visual quality of grey ordinariness6 of housing blocks was in less than decade attorned into neverending variation of materiality, shapes, colour and quality. This layer created new ornament of Georgian ordinarity – the new image of the city.

Photo 2: example of Kamikadze loggia. External structure parasitize on prefab panel house. (photo: Andrea Kalinová) 

Term Kamikadze Loggia was first time used by russian journalist who lined up connection between Tbilisi self- organized housing development, georgian regular family name ending (-dze, e.g. Dumbadze) and romantic as well as heroic aspect of japanese suicide warriors in WWII. On the first sight, there is obvious suicidal character of Kamikadze Logias. Rough steel structure inhabitate by new dwelling opens the question of safety. From time to time happened that this structure collapse. In one case the all side of 12 storey house collapsed and all Kamikadze loggias felt down one on to another. Officially no person was hurt or killed in this kind of accidence. 

If we look back in Georgian history and architectural typology, the occurrence of the phenomenon of Kamikadze loggias is not as big surprise. Loggia as typology itself, the open air covered porch or balcony is crucial form of Georgian architecture. Each detached house from ancient time through wooden huts in the mountains to modern family house of 20th century has this kind of architectural feature. Loggia is the main communication room. Open air corridor or great hall – sala terrena which can held all forms of family gathering. Even in great housing projection of 60´s – 80´s the loggia of the size of a small room was basic part of flat typology with the same importance as living room or bedroom. 

                                         Photo 2: examples of Kamikadze loggia. Variants of materiality or shapes has no limits, even elevation of the floor does not interfere (photo: Andrea Kalinová)

Georgians has great sense for living spirituality. Wine culture is the fundamental stone of the society. Loggia is the place where wine drinking connects social and natural aspect of life. In consequence Kamikadze Loggias extensions has added new layer to the broken dream of modernity, socialist utopia. As in the story of Phoenix. From the ashes of the dead utopia rised up new life. Kamikadze Loggia is symbolical acceptance of the traditional roots with repetitive aspect of layering, reborning and re-creation.

Discussion

Georgia was for decades associated with political destabilization, war in Abkhazia or recently by war in South Ossetia. Architectural heritage of this country was overlooked. Last decade Georgia did a lot of political and economical reforms which stabilized country and open the way to European integration. Citizens of Georgia claim themselves as european nation. Their culture is derived from ancient Greek mythology. Due to thousand of years of following European way of thinking, Georgia deserved to be observed as part of European story. Architecture as the most ongoing aspect of each culture is one of the points where to start our observation. In 2013 on 55th Biennale di Venezia, Georgia was fully represented by extraordinary storytelling. A temporary pavillion build in Arsenale as collage of Kamikadze loggias was a manifesto to upper mentioned phenomenon. This was for the first time, when Georgia as small country could have retell its own recent history of architecture and art. Young Georgian artist coped with the architectural topic and created this collection of critical thinking and manifestations closed in the form and name of Kamikadze Loggia. 

Ministry of Highways was part of this story as well. In 2010 during the transformation of the building from former use into new headquarter of the Bank of Georgia there was held short artistic festival. In The book Ministry of Highways: A Guide to the Performative Architecture of Tbilisi7 is possible to see work of participants of this extraordinary event. The new generation of young artists in Georgia had have strong attitude to cope with Caucasian architectural heritage as part of their modern national history and cultural memory.

 

Conclusion

Political and social vibrations of the last decades had strong impact on georgian architectural heritage of the 20th century. The situation in context of public acceptance of architectural heritage of 60´s to 80´s has common features in all east europeans post - soviet as well as post – socialist republics. Compared to central european discourse in this topic, in Georgia is obvious the lack of developed civil society. Drastic historical curve of the 90´s postponed this important feature, so needed on discussion, not only in the field of culture and architectural heritage. On the other hand, the social and economical development of the last decade created fertile soil for young artists and cultural workers who slowly developing so needed discussion and publicity.

 

Author: Mgr. art. Martin Zaiček

The article was wrtiten during author´s stay in Tbilisi on Artist in residency programme in 2015 organized and funded by K.A.I.R Košice in partnership with kindly host organization GeoAIR Tbilisi.

 

 

 



1   The crimes of the Stalin era, special report to the 20th congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. (1956). https://archive.org/details/TheCrimesOfTheStalinEraSpecialReportToThe20thCongressOfThe on 14.02.2015                                                                                                           2   Ed: Joana Warsza, Ministry of Highways: A Guide to the Performative Architecture of Tbilisi. Warsaw: The Other Space Foundation, 2011. p. 23-34                                               3   Hana Hrudová: Vize Karla Pragera na výstavě Město nad městem. In: Design magazin http://www.designmagazin.cz/udalosti/21812-vize-karla-pragera-na-vystave-mesto-nad-mestem.html on 14.02.2015                                                                                                                                                                                                          4   E d: Joana Warsza, Ministry of Highways: A Guide to the Performative Architecture of Tbilisi. Warsaw: The Other Space Foundation, 2011. p. 33                                                 5   Kamikadze Loggia: Georgia at the 55th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia                                                                                                                  6   David Cowley: The fate of the last generation of ultra-modernist buildings in Eastern Europe under communist rule. In Modernism: Between Nostalgia and Criticism. source: http://www.archfondas.lt/leidiniu/en/alf-02/david-crowley-fate-last-generation-ultra-modernist-buildings-eastern-europe-under-communist-r from the date: 06.01.2015                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         7   Ed: Joana Warsza, Ministry of Higways: A Guide to the Performative Architecture of Tbilisi. Warszaw: The Other Space Foundation, 2011. 216 pgs.                         

Photo credits:                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Photo 1: Ministry of Highways in Tbilisi, Author: Simona Rota, source: http://www.wallpaper.com/architecture/soviet-modernism-1955-1991-unknown-stories-exhibition-vienna/6166 on 19.02.2015                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Photo 2: Kamikadze loggia Tbilisi, author: Andrea Kalinová, January 2015                                                                                                                                             Photo 2: Kamikadze loggia Tbilisi, author: Andrea Kalinová, January 2015