Vanity projects and kamikaze loggias: Tbilisi’s architectural disaster

The centre of the Georgian capital has long been the plaything of outsize egos – but can its architecture biennial inspire useful debate about the city’s future?

The Bridge of Peace, Tbilisi, Georgia
The Bridge of Peace, Tbilisi, Georgia Photo © Mikhail Japaridze/TASS

Sprouting like malignant glass tumours across the historical centre of Tbilisi, Georgia, the trophy buildings of the country’s former president Mikheil Saakashvili are hard to miss. There is the heap of white “petals” forming the roof of his public service hall, which looks like someone spilt a bowl of prawn crackers over a pile of glass boxes. A little downriver stands the wavy roof of his Bridge of Peace, locally nicknamed the “Always Ultra” for its unfortunate resemblance to a discarded sanitary towel. Nearby sit the conjoined tubes of his concert hall and exhibition centre, left unfinished and abandoned, their chubby legs spread akimbo towards the old town. It is a surreal scene, a tragic parody of vanity projects gone wrong, all watched over by the presidential palace, an illiterate neoclassical pile crowned with a great glass egg.

“For nine years we had a president who was very interested in architecture,” says local architect and planner Irakli Zhvania, who leads “ugly walks” around the city highlighting the catastrophic results of corrupt deals, destroyed heritage and the privatisation of swaths of public parks. “It was a disaster.”

The carnage wrought on Tbilisi’s historical centre since the breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, and the influx of investment in the 2000s, has been the spur behind the launch of the recent Tbilisi Architecture Biennial.

“There has been very little discussion about architecture and urban development in Georgian society,” says Tinatin Gurgenidze, co-founder of the biennial. “People are starting to wake up to the fact that their environment is being destroyed, but there is no forum for discussing an alternative way forward.”

Co-curator Otar Nemsadze used to work in the urban planning department of Tbilisi city hall and is now a private consultant for the accountancy firm PwC, so he has seen how the machine operates from both sides. “We wanted to stir up public discourse about the future of the city,” he says. “If we help to kindle a fire from below, then change might finally happen.” […]

Source: The Guardian

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