Tbilisi’s architectural landscape is multicolored with rocks covered with balconied houses and ancient churches in Ortachala district, buildings of Art Nouveau style in Sololaki, and modern constructions in different locations throughout the city. But today I will introduce you to another side of Tbilisi- the alternative and almost unknown architectural image of soviet modernism.
The soviet modernist buildings are not included in tourist guide books and booklets; even Tbilisi residents are rarely familiar with them. Thus, this low awareness makes this topic extraordinary and particularly interesting.
Everything started in 1955, when Nikita Khrushov, the first secretary of the USSR, passed a resolution about minimizing construction expenses, ultimately meaning that buildings should no more be decorated. As a result, the epoch of Stalinist architecture came to an end and a new direction – the soviet modernism -replaced it in all republics of the Soviet Union, including Georgia.
There was no longer place for curved wooden balconies, flower ornaments and detailed exteriors in the soviet modernist era, which is more oriented on strict and simple forms. The only decorations are mosaics and bas-reliefs, mostly inspired from space motives. Astronauts, aliens and flying spaceships- “Space War” architecture -demonstrated the Soviet Union as the supreme government, which had sent Yuri Gagarin into space. In order to have deeper insight into soviet modernist architecture, I have chosen four buildings which are of special interest for their architectural importance and impressive design. These constructions are: The former Ministry of Highway Construction, the Celebration Palace of Rites, the VDNKH Exhibition Complex and the Archeology Museum.
PHOTO: GIORGI DADIANI
The former Ministry of Highway Construction
The building which housed the Ministry of Highway Construction is one of the iconic examples of soviet modernism. This unique and innovative project by architect Giorgi Chakhava was accomplished in 1975 and soon became the focus of some significant print media: The New York Times, The Guardian and Domus. A feature that makes Chakhava’s project particularly unique is its synthesis with nature. The Ministry of Highway Construction building was inspired by the Caucasian forest and traditional Georgian architecture. While describing his method, entitled:
“Space City,” Chakhava depicts the Caucasian forest as an example of the harmonic world. The author was impressed by the steep slopes, where trees raise their branches towards the sky, which are connected with the earth by long stems and make free space for other plants. This regularity of nature as an example of the harmonic world inspired Chakhava to project the Ministry of Highway Construction with concrete forms blended with rocks, and floors distanced from the ground and located in the air. This impressive building located at #29a Gagarin Street houses the headquarters of one of the Georgian banks at present, but it is available for outside viewing.
The Palace of Rites
The Palace of Rites, another building with an interesting design, was built in 1984 and, like the building of Ministry of Highway Construction;
it was also influenced by Georgian architecture. The author of this project, Viktor Jorbenadze, was interested in Georgian architecture and even dedicated his work to the Mtskheta
trio – the Jvari Monastery, Svetistkhoveli Church and Bebris Tsikhe Fortress. Jorbenadze’s personal interest was reflected in his project for the palace and it is especially well shown in its apses which make up the extent of the building. This project has similarity with Georgian churches, but conceptually it differs significantly from them. Jorbenadze saw it as a temple of the future, but with dissimilar perspective – the place for wedding ceremonies and nuptials. The Palace of Rites, in conception and design goes far beyond simple soviet modernism and, to my mind, it is one of Tbilisi’s most remarkable architectural landmarks worth seeing.
The building is located at #21 Bochorma Street. It is privately owned at present and can be best viewed from Ortachala Bridge.
The VDNKH Exhibition Complex
The VDNKH Exhibition Complex was opened in 1961. Pavilions were added at a later date, increasing the number to 11. The exhibition space, designed by architect Levan Mamaladze,is the
finest example of soviet modernism. One can see here not only constructions, but also sculptures and mosaics. Here you will find one of the best preserved mosaics in Tbilisi on the wall of
the eighth pavilion near the main entrance. The mosaic, inspired with visions of space, puts together a cosmonaut, a worker and a diligent woman against a background of a flying spaceship and sputnik. The same motive continues in the sculpture in front of the seventh pavilion. Apart from mosaics and sculptures, it is also interesting to view the yard, hothouse, arches and architecture of the pavilions. The complex has preserved its original function and often hosts a variety of exhibitions and events. The exhibition complex, located at 118 Tsereteli Avenue, is a recreation zone at the same time, which makes this venue even more attractive.
The Archeology Museum
The Tbilisi Archeology museum is one of the most recent buildings of soviet modernist construction in the city. The museum was established in 1988 and offers a selection of monuments found on the territory of Tbilisi. There are more than 10,000 exponents, the most ancient items from this collection being bronze objects found in an old Delisi dwelling, dated as 4,000 years old, which are regarded as the oldest bronze objects in the world. Unfortunately, this museum is currently closed, but its architecture is as significant as its collection. The project by architect Shota Kavlashvili is a mastaba-shaped construction with a very interesting bas-relief on the front façade – an alien in a form of an embryo. The museum is located on the outskirts of Tbilisi, on the hill near the David the builder statue.
Buildings blended with rocks, temples of the future, cosmonauts, flying spaceships and aliens. If you are visiting Tbilisi, I think, you should aim to catch at least a glimpse of the soviet modernist architecture of the city, which will surely make a deep impression on you.