Ge­or­gian cap­i­tal boom rein­vents pub­lic spa­ces

Pretoria News Weekend - - METRO -

THINK of pub­lic spa­ces in big cities, and for­mal parks, bustling mar­kets and grand squares come to mind. Think again. In the Ge­or­gian cap­i­tal of Tbilisi, res­i­dents have re­drawn the map and come up with in­no­va­tive ways for lo­cals to con­gre­gate in their an­cient and fast-chang­ing city.

A box­ing ring was built on a bridge. Next to it, ar­chi­tects in­stalled art to amuse com­muters as they hur­ried over the river.

The grimy gaps be­tween garages were turned into a “sta­dium” where lo­cals could face off over domi­noes. In­side the dis­used garages, bak­eries, bar­bers and beauty sa­lons plied their trade.

It’s not how most cities do pub­lic spa­ces, but Tbilisi – which stands at the cross­roads of Europe and Asia – has a long his­tory shaped by di­verse mas­ters, all of whom left their ar­chi­tec­tural im­print on the Cau­ca­sus.

As the city shakes off decades of Soviet rule and rein­vents it­self again, devel­op­ers have bent once-tight plan­ning rules and a build­ing boom is un­der way – one that is chang­ing the face of the city and jeop­ar­dis­ing the open ar­eas where Ge­or­gians meet.

“Left be­hind (in) the con­struc­tion boom, pub­lic spa­ces are still im­por­tant and con­sti­tute a re­source, a big trea­sure to be pre­served,” says Nano Zazanashvili, head of the ur­ban pol­icy and re­search di­vi­sion at Tbilsi’s De­part­ment of Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment, a city of­fice. “The main chal­lenge of the City Hall is to pro­tect these ar­eas.”

The DKD bridge – which con­nects two Soviet-era res­i­den­tial dis­tricts – is a per­fect ex­am­ple of how lo­cals adapted cen­trally im­posed ur­ban de­sign to fit their own sub­ur­ban needs.

Flat dwellers in this north-east­ern sprawl live in the sort of anony­mous, con­crete blocks typ­i­cal of any Soviet city.

Beauty is not their sell­ing point, so in the 1990s ar­chi­tects in­stalled in­for­mal shops, a ho­tel and a box­ing gym on the bridge, which con­nects two iden­tikit mi­cro-dis­tricts.

The bridge build­ing was part of an out­door ex­hi­bi­tion cre­ated for the Tbilisi Ar­chi­tec­ture Bi­en­nial ear­lier this year.

Down­town, the cityscape makes for an eclec­tic back­drop.

Deco man­sions jos­tle with Soviet con­struc­tivism. An­cient sul­phur baths and tiny churches squat at the feet of fu­tur­is­tic sky­scrapers, while rick­ety wooden houses lean into the hills, their gaily painted bal­conies perched in thin air.

Much of this his­tory is fad­ing into obliv­ion, sag­ging walls propped up with out­size beams to stop whole ghost streets crash­ing to dust.

Other parts of town are bull­dozed and built over.

With Ge­or­gian in­de­pen­dence came a head­long rush to ar­chi­tec­tural dereg­u­la­tion, free of any su­per­vi­sion or con­trol, chang­ing the look, feel and use of once-sa­cred pub­lic spa­ces.

Take the garages – erected in front of flats to park cars in the 1990s, they were later trans­formed into ba­sic fruit and veg­etable shops, bak­eries, bar­bers and beauty sa­lons. Now they face a pos­si­ble next life. The mayor of Tbilisi, for­mer soc­cer star Kakha Kal­adze, launched an ini­tia­tive this year to re­place the “garages” with play­grounds or gar­dens.

So far, the plan has had lim­ited suc­cess.

But ar­chi­tect Nikoloz Lekveishvili says lo­cals are re­gain­ing the tiny spa­ces in be­tween to play domi­noes, soak up the green­ery and re­lax with neigh­bours. | Thomson Reuters Foun­da­tion

THE DKD bridge, which con­nects two Soviet-era res­i­den­tial dis­tricts in Tbilisi.

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