Not a lot is written about architecture in our country and whenever it is, mostly it is written by architects about each other, urban environment or topics related to professional matters. The individuals for whom all of this architecture is created have no chance to show their opinion at all. The most being done to illustrate the point of view of “ordinary mortals” is some kind of survey results which are interpreted by a specialist speaker or writer. This time, I would like to represent the ideas, thoughts, emotions and vision of absolutely different people, how they see the space that surrounds us and in which all of us live together.
“The city which was once small and green has turned into a concrete jungle. Not exactly skyscrapers, but high-rise concrete structures might definitely be displayed on Tbilisi’s coat of arms.
The summer sun heats everything with its abundant energy, including concrete walls and if earlier, one could breathe at least at night, now it has become impossible. When you escape from this super urbanized desert, you want to see neither metal, nor concrete. You try to go to some place, where you can find a shelter in a tent, wooden cottage, or any similar place. The main consideration is to choose a building which is natural, or has any connection with nature, and still is light and cool.
Such are those barracks in the town of Sioni. At first glance, they look as if they are going to crumble, however…in fact not a lot of people know that they have a concrete foundation, similar to the Sioni reservoir built in the second half of the last century. These barracks have been standing in that place for over a century and while a lot desire to live in a more comfortable, high-rise building, I will still describe their appearance.
The two-storey barracks with two entrances can be seen among lombardy poplars and pines. The swallows’ nests are located on the roof and covered with colourful leaves. Here you will definitely enjoy the cosy atmosphere. The barracks are grey with slate tiles around them and this ugly appearance is more revealed in combination with moss and leaves. Autumn is especially beautiful there.
The building themselves are deaf and dumb, but they have still got a certain sound – the sound of the environment where they have been constructed. It does not compare with the sound of the sea, but sometimes in windy weather one can sleep under the sound of poplar tree leaves hissing of sleep and wake up with another sound of morning breeze. I have never heard a sound like that. I was there only once or twice during winter and at the end of autumn. The barracks looked incredibly sad and lifeless in an empty courtyard, especially with their wood-attached windows. In summer one would not recognize this place. There are kids, fun, loud laughter, singing and dancing, games, and constant slamming of the gate. Complete silence settles in barracks closer to the morning, when the recovery process is in its active phase, so here and there loud snoring can be heard along with a baby’s cry and and until there’s loud snoring, a young child can learn crying and squeak of iron beds. In other words this is the “noise” of Sioni barracks.
Cosiness and comfort are not only created with some kind of environment and conditions. All the buildings have their own tenants, neighbourhoods and Sioni barracks are no exception. All of them are characterized with their own lifestyle and different emotions. Another thing to promote good-neighbourly and sometimes conflicting relationships is a common kitchen. I first saw it in Sioni in my childhood, but then already in Tbilisi, in Italian yards. This communal discomfort gives an incredibly social effect to the building. A common kitchen is a place for meetings, conversations and delicious scents, as well as the early good mornings and weather-related discussions, the first cup of coffee or glass of water. Water is undoubtedly a leader in the list. Sometimes it is being restricted and in high season it does not reach all the inhabitants, but it is always delicious and cool. Gasification process is in the same situation as our State’s Western integration – this topic is just being discussed. Electricity problems were finally resolved and disconnection of phases or the smell of burnt transformer have not been experienced by the barrack tenants for a long time
It is believed that German captives used to live in these barracks, building a reservoir was imposed on the war-losers. Then they settled in a small town, but no one knows exactly what happened. Legends suit old buildings a a lot.
I want to also mention a few words about lighting. This phenomenon can be absolutely experienced only in desert. Here we get shadows with the combination of trees and buildings and this is particularly important for all the residents or users of the buildings. Most of the Sioni barracks are surrounded with trees in one row.Some are poplar, pine and many other types. This eco-arc creates not only comfort, but also a shadow to get rid of devastating heat. The trees grow in a way that the yards and buildings do not stay without sun, vice versa the solar energy is equally distributed for barracks and the yards as well. The shadow of one linden tree is especially popular in our yard. I should also mention that in windy weather one of the highest poplar tree providing the most shadow, broke 5 metres from the bottom and fell from one side of the yard to another with terrible noise. Every place and building has its mystical ghosts or patron-base Angels, so one of them saved us probably. Always full yard was absolutely empty at that time. We survived.
Sioni Barrack have aged and also gathered a group of ” holidaymakers.” From year to year, people keep visiting their beloved courtyards and rooms, barracks come to life. I notice another contrast between the capital and the small town, and I want to share it with you. The following is taking place in Tbilisi – number of areas where generations were brought up lessens and instead, new districts emerge, while on the other hand generations leave the districts and buildings, where they were born and new residents occupy them. After pointing out this difference, I am appreciating my old barrack in Sioni even more. It is really old and cozy, it has a history and legends, its own voice and strengths and weaknesses, and has that attribute which ties people to their place of residence – childhood spent there and generations! ”
“Well, here I am, living in a block of flats in the center of Tbilisi. This is not a tourist center with all the tourists and boutique cafes, but more like actual center: here we have lots of people day and night, permanent traffic jams, all possible fast food varieties… In many ways this place is very convenient: all the offices of the companies and institutions are somewhere nearby, downtown is just 5 minutes’ drive, we have a tube station 100 meters from my home and actually lots of my Georgian friends also live nearby… There are many houses in this area and they are trying to squeeze even more.
My block is neither white nor grey, it‘s more like a chess board, but without any regularity. This is because facade was never finished during the construction. Now if somebody buys a flat in the block, they paint the facade and we have a new white spot. All nearby area remains concrete gray. I like our common staircase, because every floor level looks different. I guess this is because each was made by the owners on that particular floor. You can easily recognize who lives in there. Some owners are wealthier so they installed additional door just near the stairs and have an additional area for themselves, middle class invested in cheap tiles and paint for the walls and those on budget simply laid some cardboard sheets on the concrete screed. Only “temporarily“, of course. I guess it somewhat helps to reduce the amount of dust getting into the apartment.
Many people want to live here so the buildings are constructed quite close to each other. This has some big advantages: some girls (sometimes pretty and with not so much clothes on) wave at us every morning. We wave back to them. We are separated with a yard which looks kind of weird. It is filled with some strange buildings, constructed without any order from the materials they could get. Those people living inside these houses never see any sun, because high apartment blocks surround the yard from all sides. It looks like developers of the area bought land for apartment blocks only. They’ve chosen not to think about parking areas or children’s playground zone. Because of that we have a constant small-scale war on the small parking lot near the block. There are maximum 20 places there and maybe 100 cars. It gets worse every day as more people move in.
Ground level of our apartment block was meant for some commercial areas. But we haven’t got any yet, so it’s occupied by homeless fellows. During the winter-time they sometimes started open fire there. It was quite scary as you could actually feel smoke inside. Police came several times, but there were many chilly nights last winter so those people tried to make themselves warm again and again. The flats are heated with individual boilers (central heating network is not in operation any more) and most of the flats have local air conditioners as well. All of them are installed by the owners without any order. Add all the clothes dryers on the chessboard walls and you can imagine the look of the facades. It’s like patchwork blanket really, beautiful.
But it seems like it’s quite normal here.
To be fair, it should be mentioned that there are some blocks of flats in Tbilisi, where the construction works are finished more or less, but the prices for flats there are extremely high.”
“There are places, environments and feelings caused by such environments that are of great importance for the people. These environments affect further development of the person. Such place for me is “Plekhanov” area, not because of its name, but mostly for old buildings, streets and real spirit of my hometown Tbilisi.
I was born and grown up in this beautiful place and have lived there for 21 years.
The street named St. Petersburg is most important environment of my childhood. Houses are shuddered, balconies are almost falling down but such oldness is the real character of Tbilisi.
The iron gate of my yard has bended lattices. The arch is long and at the end of its way there is a brick wall to see. My windows are facing this beautiful brick. There are many wooden stairs in the yard but they are not wound as in many so called “Italian Yards”. Stairs are old and shuddered and a massive iron pole is scaffolding it. That pole was installed many years ago and since then it has been protecting these hundred-year-old stairs.
I could endlessly talk about many details from my “ancient” living environment, but I will just point out that it is the most precious and delicate place in my life. Delicate because it looks like a little dilapidated island in Tbilisi crowded with tasteless high buildings.
To me, current Tbilisi is a little bit so-called “Alien Planet” where people are hiding themselves in newly built blocks and leading their totally isolated lives. My big wish is that citizens of Tbilisi would take more care of the places precious to us where hopefully “modernized” tasteless high buildings won’t be spread.”
The locations and people are totally different from each other. The main idea here is the presence of attitude, but not an exact point of view. Any space can create a private mood and emotion, memories and linking connection to that specific place. The people regardless of particularity of their views present them as the parts of their lives.
Architecture is not just a physical aspect but also the space of our existence. Architecture creates invisible and untouchable – impressions, feelings, memories… It has specific and abstract value and dimensions
Author: Tata Alkhazashvili
Photography by: Salome Barbakadze
English edit: Nutsa Namoradze