The purpose of this article is to present one of the inventions of the architect George Chakhava, namely, the use of elements of reinforced concrete as a building material for different kinds of architectural structures. Pre-fabricated panels assembled in various shapes and forms have infinite possibilities, on a small or a large scale. Apartment blocks or even piers of bridges can be built using universal elements that can create firm and reliable structures. These structures are autonomous, and do not require additional reinforcement. They can be easily erected on pad or strip foundations.
Apart from their technical specifications, these structures are remarkable from an architectural point of view, since they are not repetitive; although they share the same modular elements, each example is made on a different scale. Thus, every building is both unique and is at the same time a constituent member of the same system. This becomes clear when we study surviving buildings -bus stops- erected between 1970 and 1980. In the winter of 2016-17 four such structures existed on the road between Tbilisi and Borjomi, but our enquiries revealed that one of them (at the Nigoza-Kodistskaro turning) was later destroyed.
“The Building Element”
George Chakhava created and developed in detail the construction process of a panel, his “element”. He worked out methods of assembling the components, and created connecting joints. He also worked on the arrangement of a conveyer belt for the manufacture and quality control of elements. The patent for this invention was granted to George Chakhava in 1981. The name of the invention was “Building elements”. The document has attachments illustrating the principles of construction.
The practical advantages of assembling reinforced concrete panels:
Low cost material, compact size, light weight, easily portable, fast construction and easy instalment.
The panels do not require to be bonded in situ; no plastering or coating is needed.
The light weight material requires a simple lifting technique (e.g. a small building crane), can be easy installed and does not require qualified labour.
In an explanatory letter to the Soviet Central government Chakhava proposed that houses built in the cold climate zone (-40) should be insulated by filling the spaces between the walls with sieved earth, while in case a zone with a temperature of -50 degrees, sawdust should be added to the earth for insulation. This proposal was intended to the Baikal-Amur Mainline building project, where there was a great need for portable temporary buildings.
In 1977 a Polish journal published an article about a series of bus shelters by G. Chakhava. …”Some of them were erected of prefabricated elements of one type, thus revealing unexpected possibilities of construction. In a special publication George Chakhava describes a whole range of uses of elements, going far beyond the building of stop shelters. The latter, usually built as typical small architectural objects, are highly individualized and differentiated in expression.” (Wojciech Skrodzki,”projekt”, Visual art and design, 4/77)
Documents preserved in George Chakhava’s archive show that pavilions were built in Kartli and Abkhazia, and they may have been built on roads elsewhere in Georgia as well. We have no information concerning the condition of the bus pavilions in Abkhazia. Observations regarding those in Kartli should apply to all bus shelters, even if they are not known to us at the moment. As we have already noted, only four Chakhava pavilions were preserved in 2017, but we unexpectedly discovered later that one of them was gone, and that there was an empty space instead. Nevertheless, we shall discuss all four pavilions instead of three, in order to emphasize the importance of their preservation. We have given emblematic names to the bus stops we describe, based on the names of nearby towns and villages. These are the bus stop pavilions at Borjomi, Tezera, Nigoza and Qanda.The stops at Borjomi and Tezera are situated in section (8) between Khashuri and Borjomi, the former Nigoza and Qanda bus stops (E60) are situated at the 1 (E60) section of the Mtskheta-Gori road. The existing pavilions seem neglected and some panels are badly damaged, but in general their condition might be described as satisfactory. The panels were once painted, but the paint worn off with the passage of time. This creates the impression that panels are in a pitiful condition which is not entirely true.
Each one of these four pavilions are completely different. Some of are planned symmetrically, others not. They also differ in size, their roofs are flat or curved, and different colours were used for painting the panels. Tezera shelter apart, they were all decorated with mosaic tiles, depicting the Sun, flowers, birds and abstract patterns. It would appear that the shelters were decorated by the same unknown artist. The ceramic tiles are almost completely preserved, although some areas are damaged and some details are missing.
N I G O Z A (demolished in 2017)
The bust stop at Nigoza was situated at the roadside, close to the turning for Nigoza/Kodistskali. It was well preserved in the winter of 2016-17. The pavilion was larger in size; its elegant form was painted in white. It could well be that as a consequence of the construction of the new road, a more convenient place was selected for the bus stop, but why was it necessary to destroy the old bus shelter? We can think of at least two reasons why it should have been preserved:
1.The old bus shelter pavilion could be used as place for people to rest
2.It would have been easy to disassemble and transfer the shelter to the new position, which was why the construction concept had originally been created.
Q A N D A
The Qanda pavilion is a smaller, U-shaped structure in plan. The building has a curved roof, indicating that the elements can be used to create flat as well as curved roofs, which once more emphasizes their universality. The main structure at Qanda is well preserved, but one of the ‘windows’ is badly damaged. The main façade is decorated in the same style as the Borjomi pavilion, depicting the Sun or a flower Perhaps the repetitive pattern was used to show the connection between these pavilions. The inner surface is decorated with very different glazed tiles. Each tile is inserted into the double holes between the panels, so that the whole surface is decorated with colourful vertically arranged octagonal ‘spots’. The outer surfaces are sealed with the standard constructional details, from a distance creating the impression of white spots. The bus shelter is neglected, the paint is worn, and ceramic tiles are missing or damaged, but they could be easily restored.
T E Z E R A
The bus stop at Tezera is distinguished by its simple forms. It is situated right by the roadside and is probably the only one that still functions as a bus stop. The structure is symmetrical, was closed on three sides and has a flat roof. The shelter is not decorated with ceramic tiles unlike the previous examples. This does not, however, diminish its decorative effect. The shape of the panels and the rhythmically arranged holes on the surface are enough to make the surface not dull but playful. The panels are in good shape and could be cleaned and repainted.
B O R J O M I
The Borjomi bus stop is situated near a bridge on the right bank of the river Kura. There are two kinds of roofing elements. The roof covers two sides of the shelter, while the rest is open; the left rear corner is open as well. This shelter is distinguished by its open planning. The roof construction on the main façade joins three pairs of metal columns. The freestanding monolithic wall at the back is decorated with mosaics. The metal columns rest on a freestanding wall and hold the rear part of the roofing elements. This composition is not repeated in the other pavilions. Almost every element is preserved, but some have mechanical damage or an exposed metal armature. Paint has come off the panels, but in general the pavilion is in a good condition. It could be restored easily and returned to its function as a bus shelter. The relatively large decorative ceramic tiles are almost completely preserved, and it should be no hardship to clean, repair and restore the tiles.
The pavilions built using G. Chakhava’s innovative technique of “building elements’’ represent the best tradition of Georgia’s engineering and industrial culture. They are unique in their own right and distinctive from an architectural point of view. They are the result of George Chakhava’s concept of assembling panels and their mass production using the conveyor belt. Our research indicates for sure where these structures came from. The success of Chakhava’s invention lay in its simplicity and ingenuity, which can and should be revived. To restore the business of panel-making would be an unprecedented example of the regeneration of our industrial heritage.
George Chakhava’s name and his popularity secures the potential of his creations to contribute to the tourist industry. All of the buildings we have discussed must be protected by law and given the status of architectural monuments, as well as being restored to their previous functions. In order to fully explore their potential, the buildings should be cleaned, restored, lit and added to the local tourist route. Perhaps solar panels could be used for lighting the buildings, an approach in tune with George Chakhava’s ideas. Judging by documents from his archive, he was working on the advantages of the solar energy 40 years ago. The rehabilitation of the three surviving pavilions would not be too costly and their maintenance could be managed without burdening local budgets.
There were four of such bus stops on the road from Tbilisi to Borjomi, now only three are left. They should be put on tourist maps and boards provided with brief details about the architect.
Municipal administrations and the bodies responsible granting road building permits should be informed and educated to prevent the repetition of the Nigoza-Kodistskali bus stop scenario, when a valuable structure was destroyed. We believe that if the bodies responsible for roads had been appropriately informed, demolition could have been prevented.
We realize that it is not easy to preserve small architectural buildings in these days of rapid development. The only way to prevent destruction would be to grant them the status of Cultural Heritage Monuments. In our view there are more than enough arguments for these bus shelters to be preserved and their function restored in order to pass them on to the next generation. George Chakhava’ bus stops deserve to be preserved as monuments of architectural and engineering interest.
We would like to express our gratitude to G. Chakhava for allowing us to access the private archive of his father George Chakhava.
Our thanks go to Nini Palavandishvili, Nanuka Zaalishvili and Elisso Sulakauri for assisting us in our hunt for the material, and for providing photographs and support for the article.
P.S. The pavilion in Borjomi has been granted a status of a cultural monument! Many thanks to the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia!
Article was first published on Tbilisi Architectural Forum: www.tbilisiarchitecture.net
Text: Nino Tchatchkhiani
Transaction: Manana Odisheli