Ştefan RUSU

public space / projects

Block 89 - site-specific installation in the frame of Tbilisi Architecture Biennale

Proposed structure is an attempt to re-imagine the meaning of socialist habitat and the transformations in the societies occurred after the 89. The core element and the departure point of the installation is the entrance into a socialist flat building that explores the facets of soviet modernism; in this case was used as a reference the replica of an entrance into the social house from Gldani district, Tbilisi (1970’s). The other important element is the backside of the building, so to speak, the passage through the wall guides through a flexible wooden bridge that ends up with the jumping board.
Conceptually the wall divides the installation in two parts: before (Socialism) and after (Capitalism). The situation “before” recreates daily experience in front of a social house (going out for socializing (cooking barbeque, playing chess or badminton, etc.) or just hanging around as children do. The entrance into the building also bears the idea of a passage through the period of transformations that occurred in the Eastern Europe after the collapse of the communist bloc. The situation “after” deals with the unexpected situation in the social, economic and political contexts in transition period. At the mean time “backstage: of the wall has a passage that ends up with a jumping board used in sport (swimming/diving) that turn the things up-side down.

Tbilisi Architecture Biennial 2018 /BUILDINGS ARE NOT ENOUGH
curated by Tinatin Gurgenidze, Gigi Shukakidze, Natia Kalandarishvili and Oto Nemsadze
Web: http://biennial.ge/
Block 89 location: Dropped Pin near Gldani VIII Micro-District, Tbilisi

Aesthetics of temporality or late notes about Block89
Contribution to publication: Tbilisi Architecture Biennial 2018 /BUILDINGS ARE NOT ENOUGH

Standardized mass housing blocks were built across the world in all economic contexts, from the French banlieues and the dense residential districts of the modern Middle East, to American public housing. Gldani district is an example of such development, although the scale of the district designed by Georgian architects and then erected in Tbilisi is beyond comparison. The typical narrative of the construction and perceived failure of former soviet blocks, the most iconic of which was prefabricated panel buildings are notorious for problems such as faulty construction methods, lack of space and long-term maintenance lapses and the blocks from Gldani is no exception.

The idea of working with replica and reinserting similar aesthetics into urban context has a moral factor that deal with issues related to social erosion, alienation of the inhabitants and estrangement from the surrounding concrete reality. On the level of aesthetics Block89 also deals with soviet built heritage, but also with impressive achievements that constantly being rediscovered in the immediate living environment of East European context and Georgia as a former Soviet Republic is a notorious example.  

The intervention of Block89 in the context of Gldani district was motivated by several factors: lack of maintenance of prefabricated panel buildings, lack of conservation policy of built heritage from soviet era and consequently grooving negative perception toward standard mass housing. Given the fact that recently most of the sci-fi movies feature brutalist landscapes associated with totalitarian ideology, there will be no surprise if urban context from Gldani district will be chosen as a setting for a movie that incarnate social dystopia associated with the alienation, erosion and decay. In fact, this is the landscape resembles with any other micro districts from Ukraine or Moldova.

On a practical level the logic of this project was the reuse of existing prefabricated concrete elements, in this case a replica of the entrance into a socialist flat building that explores the facets of soviet modernism; in this case an entrance into the social house from Gldani district, Tbilisi (1970’s).
The idea of a passage through the entrance of social housing block is related to the former rituals but also has the meaning of a brake trough time and not so distant memories. The tradition of passing through the gates during the public celebrations/demonstrations was one of the most important public rituals as it was happening in the former events that celebrating important holidays for socialist societies (7th of November, 1st of May, etc.). The other important element is the backside of the installation, so that the passage through the wall guides trough a flexible wooden bridge that end up with the jumping board used in sport (swimming/diving) connected with the swimming pool filed with water. The functionality of the “backstage” consist in the fact that the public after experiencing the situation “before” are free to “turn the things up-side down” on the jumping board in order to survive and enjoy life in the situation “after”.

Initial plan was to create a permanent piece. Unfortunately, because of limited resources the project wasn’t realized in reinforced concrete, as it was proposed, following the principles of prefabricated technology, but only a replica, made out of painted wood. Some other factors led to the slightly distorted interpretation of the initial meaning and usage of the structure. The piece was installed in late autumn, which didn’t aloud the inhabitants and children the charm of using the pool and the installation was mainly perceived as a setting for uncertain scenery.

Obviously, the main resource for the installation is socialist architecture and the question about the role and significance it plays in contemporary society. The relation to the cultural heritage of the immediate past in the case of modernist aesthetics is directly connected with the present and future time, given the vitality and presence of recent architectural developments. The preservation of modernist heritage in the current socio-economic situation and urban context is problematic, in some cases even dramatic. In reality, very often there is a lack of social awareness of its historic significance and value as monuments. In spite of the time distance of the epoch, the strong semantic layer of the constructivist, socialist-realist and modernist architecture causes that it is generally associated with the repressive communist era. The legitimacy of preserving or even perceiving these buildings as monuments is still questioned in post-soviet societies.

Stefan Rusu
Chisinau, 21st of August 2019