Recollections of Yerevan’s Architecture

Photo:http://arvestagir.am/
Photo:http://arvestagir.am/

Imbued with a message from the past, the historic monuments of generations of people remain to the present day as living witnesses of their age-old traditions. People are becoming more and more conscious of the unity of human values and regard ancient monuments as a common heritage.

                                                                                                                          The Charter of Venice, 1964

Category: capital

Territory: 223 sq. km

Population: 1071,5

 Obeyed, nonsense, expressive, dust, outgoing[i]

When in 1923 the academician of architecture Alexander Tamanyan returned to Armenia, in the city the style of Persian-Turkic-tsarist was overruled. He tried to build a city of the Sun, a perfect city, where his general authorized buildings would have a view of Ararat.

For the city it is important to be the preserver of the historical memory. Today it is the priority of the great cities having a historical territory.

This analyses refers to some buildings both destroyed and “rebuilt” or altered which are considered the symbol of Yerevan, and also we will catch the attention of a reader to the two general parts of the center of Yerevan, Mashtots and Sayat-Nova Avenues’ architectural peculiarities and meaning of social-architecture and urban environment.

Architecture as a complex means of communication

Architecture is a top seismograph of social changes, due to which those changes become plainer, more demonstrated and more reproduced. As a reflection of social processes it effects people in a mid-verbal level creating an environment, which shapes an imagination about the own “I”, society and world. Actually architecture is a “complex” means of communication, which gets its meaning with the help of its materiality. In this case it is essential that the architect realizes in which development context the building is reconstructed, realizes his opportunities and limits, which must become the starting point of his activity.

In architecture one of the exclusively important problems is the dialogue of the new and the old. The new reconstructed building should speak to the historical one and be in touch with the existing environment. Here the starting point of perception of architecture, the peculiarities of the perception and realization of space structure, materials by the architect are also important. An interesting survey was made concerning the comparison of old and new in 2012 on the topic “The mental image of the Northern Avenue in the context of complete image of Yerevan”. We think that the events of recent years made conditions for the loss of capital’s individualism.

Social architectural environment of Yerevan                                                : Sayat-Nova, Mashtots Avenues (Closed Market)

For the development of the capital’s social-architectural environment the essential meaning had especially Sayat-Nova and Mashtots Avenues. Sayat-Nova Avenue (hereinafter street) was built in 1963 on poet’s 250th   anniversary. It was completely a novelty both with its solutions of architectural inside building and landscape buildings, which fully gave a new breath to the city and its residents. In Yerevan the street was for the first time covered with concrete tiles, in every 100 meters there were little cuprous decorative fountains and pools. In the forepart of the street there was a café with stylish mosaic portrait of Sayat Nova, which was definitely a novelty with its design for the city. The lawn was stretching along the width of the street with roses in white and red colors, fruit trees. The city was lightened up, there were many benches especially at the bus stops. But the eight-storied concrete buildings, outer walls of which were decorated by cuprous rings were the most novelty for the city. The street ended with the square, in the center of which there was a big decorative pool built with modern style, similar to Lake Sevan, where black and white swans were swimming, it was named Swan Lake. The islet placed in the middle of the pond was also a novelty, which was connected to the coast with the help of a small bridge. The street was accepted with huge happiness by the residents of Yerevan and jazz music played in the cafes conveyed unique mood. This street had an important role in the development of Yerevan and the characters living there. Afterwards these kinds of artificial ponds and little bridges became more in the city, which in this or that way imitated the solutions of Sayat Nova’s landscape.

As for Mashtots Avenue, here, first of all, the clay houses built in 1930-1940 were destroyed and instead they built five-storied buildings, as result of which the chaotic situation of the territory’s traffic altered to clear traffic direction.

In the beginning this street was known as Armenian, afterwards it was renamed Sundukyan, and later, due to Tamanyan, it became an avenue, which bore the name of Stalin, then in the snow melting years it bore the name of Lenin, and already in the 1990s the avenue was renamed Mashtots. In the motto language the destruction of communistic metatext happened, instead a new metatext was formed, within which already alienated communists yield the place to the national, beloved. Besides the renaming the alteration of the code was marked already in 1959, when Matenadaran, opened on the hill, was named after Mesrop Mashtots. After that in 1962, the statue of Stalin was removed and in 1967 the statue of Mother of Armenia was placed.

In the 1950-1960s the complete period of Tamanyan’s school concept is hard to imagine without “Closed market”. This is the most important attribute of the avenue, by the example of which the markets of the 3rd part and Komitas were built. “Closed Market” belongs to the buildings of post war period, when the buildings were built in the style of victorious people, with rich decorations. It occupies five thousand square meters and was covered with pink tuff. There was a pool with small fountain inside the market, which had not only decorative role, but also regulated the micro climate of that area, neutralizing various heavy, disgusting smells, also people could merely drink that water, and all the arched halls and galleries were from the inside decorated with refined decorative patterns of Armenian paintings. It was the first closed market of its look, until that people used to the fact that the market should be open-air as a square market.

In the architectural solution of the market Grigor Aghababyan used a huge ceiling, which, at that time was less used. Soviet-Armenian architects “subsisted” from the best architects of medieval architecture, and when building new structures they put the medieval architecture examples on the basis of them. The architect did not just built a beautiful building, he created aesthetic, spatial, psychological atmosphere. Bonds were created, an urban tissue was created in which the role of the Closed market was very huge. From the end of the 1950s till the 1980s a society was formed, the representatives of which met in familiar places, and the Closed market was one of those places. This is just what is called effect of architecture. With the help of social memory based on some traditions the structure becomes iconic, forms the component of the given culture and becomes representative also for the world. Closed market was a tradition, an atmosphere, and that tradition was directly connected with the structure. They were considered the continuation of each other. According to the above mentioned point of Venice charter the reservation of a monument structure becomes more expedient, when it is applicable from the implementation point of view of some social factors, however, in the result of that application the decorative solutions and structure of the building must not be changed. In that case it is important to fix what the importance of the structure is, due to which parameters the importance is expressed, how one can carry the adaptation without ruining the parameters. As an architectural monument, the architectural identity, completeness, authenticity consists in its constructive system, inside area, decorative solutions, frontal solution of the building as well as the silhouette.

It seems the essence of the problem is very clear and definite. There was a structure which had a status of monument and was loved by everyone, it was an establishment, which, despite all the laws was altered losing cognizable and dear character and function and that was authenticity. Already a long time ago the tradition of a market shopping was replaced by shopping in the supermarket or doing everyday shopping from a small stall. Closed market as the immediate image of society and social regime has become the visiting place of “working elite”, in the best case the department of national folklore for the tourists.

Youth Palace as the best example of modernism

With naked eye one could see that when alive, the Youth Palace (Kukuruznik) had exclusive engineering solutions. As before that, after that as well we did not have and don’t have such kind of unique structure.

Everything started at that time, when the authorities decided to build Young Palaces in all countries’ capitals of the USSR. In the middle of 1980s the complex was already completely ready. The architects were Hrach Poghosyan, Arthur Tarkhanyan, Spartak Khachikyan, who got Komsomol Union award for the layout of the Youth Palace. The Youth Palace was built during the time when it was banned to have any access to the western world of architecture. It was like an opportunity to invade into the democratic world.

In the 1980s the Youth Palace had great role in the rock movement. Often many republican rock festivals took place, groups from Leninakan, Sisian, Kirovakan arrived in Yerevan. The pinnacle of Youth Palace’s rock clubs’ activity became the rock festival organized in 1987, which took place in territory of demounting cycling square. During these years there were approximately 50-60 rock groups in Armenia, and Yerevan had a reputation of Union center of Rock.

“Armenian project” institute carried research of Youth Palace’s situation. The problem was to make clear what was possible to do to adjust the building to the active seismic norms. In the result of calculations the specialists came to the conclusion that in order to strengthen the earthquake proof of the building some parts had to be fortified. However, after those surveys the owner had other wishes. The ceiling of the hotel rooms of Youth Palace was 2.5 meters. The owner wanted the ceiling to be higher according to the norms of superior hotels. It was suggested from the architects to deploy the hotel rooms in the lower part of the building, or to annex some rooms to each other in vertical or horizontal ways. Later a document was formed, according to which the Youth Palace was in an errant situation, was not subjected to restoration and by all means had to be crumbled. It has been already 10 years that 4 hectare territory of hill turned into a big building site. In 2010 a competition to build a new building in that area was announced[ii]. The winner project was discussed in building site council next to the Mayor of Yerevan, and despite some remarks, got an approval. However, because of some reasons that project was not carried out.

“Russia” cinema – the premiere center of Yerevan movies

“Russia” cinema also belongs to the clear, precise and confident architectural minds of Hrach Poghosyan, Arthur Tarkhanyan and Spartak Khachikyan, which is (was) considered one of the most modern buildings of Yerevan and for the project of which the authors received an award of council of USSR ministers in 1979. Unfortunately today it appeared in such an environment that does not let perceive the building as the authors have foreseen. Despite the fact that unlike the Youth Palace designed by the authors, the building of “Russia” cinema is standing actually in an insipid situation. It is interesting that formerly there was tone of the oldest markets of Yerevan with quite a dirty area but with unique coloration present in the territory of “Russia” cinema. “Russia” cinema was built in the place of famous “black market” in Communist Armenia, and in independent Armenia that enormous building was turned into a market.

About the decision to build a cinema instead of market, the architects were informed from the media and, being preoccupied by the innovations of the worldwide architecture, they decided to offer their project (1970-71). Something like the explosion of bomb happened. During those years everyone was working with Tamanyan style. The opening of the cinema took place in December 1974. Despite the stormy conversations about the cinema, next day movies started to be shown in the cinema. According to the words of eyewitnesses the general topic of the conversations was that Moscow did not let build such kind of big cinema-house in Yerevan, and the rulers succeeded in getting it, for naming the future cinema “Russia”. Of course, it is hard to say how much this story coincides with the reality. Maybe conversations of this kind originated by those who were disappointed by the name “Russia”, because there was already a cinema in Yerevan which bore the name of “Moscow”. Still many people loved the cinema very much. First of all the architectural solutions were attractive especially suspended roof which was unique. “Russia” was the best building of that time. The cinema has 2 big halls with 1600 and 1000 seats accordingly. In two-storied part, where now there are trade shops, there was also a hall with 280 seats, in other parts there were showrooms, dancing rooms, cafes. “Russia” was a complete cultural center. It was a tradition to organize premieres of new films in “Russia” during these years. The halls were overcrowded, it was impossible to buy a ticket. In 1980 “Return to Ararat” was showed in the “Russia” cinema, where for the first time Ararat was demonstrated from the Turkish side strangely for the spectators. It is evident that attending a cinema or a theatre was a special culture, and “Russia” was not merely a place to watch a movie but also a real center of entertainment. People usually went there 1-2 hours early in order to spend pleasurable time inside till the movie would start. Going to cinema became ceremony of 3-4 hours: going to a tearoom, talking a bit, strolling in the lobby, drinking coffee at the bar, getting to know the news of films and eventually watching a movie.

“Russia” cinema was privatized by the decision of Republic of Armenia in 2004. The owner became the company “Narek” which belonged to the “Sil Concern”, which paid 500 thousand dollars for the building. And today we have what we have. The sculpture and paintings of authors that adorned the cinema’s inner decoration are either not preserved or are partially saved, situated in an unknown place.

Summary

Of course, we can speak about buildings and traditions of Yerevan very long, however summarizing, I would like to mention that, as known, the cities are centers of individuality, freedom and variety, and in the structuring of the city one should be flexible, take into account the future possible changes. In all the centuries the genius of Armenian architects was the fact that they constructed buildings (secular as well as spiritual) which were impossible to forget but also impossible to precisely remember.

Besides the buildings the availability of social places as green areas, parks provided to residents and tourists of that city is also important. According to the head department of urban planning of New York Amanda Burden the personal perception is much more important than the design skills. The park is the place which can change the lifestyle, their attitude towards the city.

I think after this both the residents of Yerevan and urban authorities must view two important issues. The first one is which approaches of strategic planning, development, heritage conservation are most suitable for preserving the typical spirit of this city. And the next issue is what to do to cease the distortion of old buildings, how to save and rebuild the old remains of Yerevan, to provide the expedience of n


[i]  Five words about architecture of Yerevan.

[ii]  More than 1000 architects from 60 countries demonstrated projects. Eventually the Japanese architect “Kiyokazu Arai” from “Arai architect” company was the winner from 274 works. The presentedincluded “Intercontinental Armenia” hotel complex, an international business center, an apartment complex. The 95% of buildings’ windows planned by the project looked at Ararat. Besides that symbolically two peaks of Ararat were also used in the project by the architect. One of the peaks is the high-rise hotel, and the second is the apartment complex. According to the project the complex is completely open to the visitors from the side of Teryan street. Three main buildings are connected with square. A parking area for two thousand cars is provided in the same place.



Author: Hripsime Dayan. ©All rights are reserved.

Translator: Madlen Chakhalyan .


LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here