Tinatin Gurgenidze lives and works in Berlin, her work concentrates on a sociological approach towards architecture and urban space. She studied architecture and urban design in Tbilisi and Barcelona and is currently working on her PhD thesis concerning the post-Soviet mass housing settlement of Gldani in Tbilisi, Georgia. In addition to authoring several publications and lectures, Tinatin is co-founder of Tbilisi Architecture Biennial, which took place for the first time in 2018.
Buildings Are Not Enough
Adaptions beyond mere survival
By Tinatin Gurgenidze
The formation of the spaces is a process that involves the residents and the buildings. Politicians design buildings according to what kind of society they want to establish.
— Lali, Gldani resident
October 2018 saw the first edition of the Tbilsi Architecture Biennial, entitled “Buildings Are Not Enough”. In 2013 the biennial co-founder and curator Tinatin Gurgenidze started to research the Georgian capital’s Gldani neighbourhood, interviewing residents and documenting the ways in which they have adapted the buildings where they live. Designed as part of a 1970 Soviet government masterplan, this district on the urban periphery was intended to house 147,000 inhabitants, from both the city itself and from rural regions. There is no official figure for how many people live there today, but unofficial sources claim it is around 170,000. With no additional investment coming from the state in response to this growth, residents began to reconfigure and adapt their spaces. As this photo essay shows, Gldani’s architecture stands as a record of these changes, which began immediately after the collapse of Soviet Union and continue to the present day.
3rd Micro District, 76th Block, 3rd floor, Flat no. 6
In 1989, towards the end of the Soviet regime, informal extensions to tower blocks were officially sanctioned for a brief period, allowing inhabitants to extend their flats (at their own expense). Lali’s family extended their home and built the balcony during the 90s. Even though she thinks the extension was a good decision, she is still afraid it might fall apart because of its unstable construction.
“This flat has influenced everything – our careers, motivations, desires. But even though I love this flat, I do think that this space somehow binds us and doesn’t allow us to be free.”
“The formation of the spaces is a process that involves the residents and the buildings. Politicians design buildings according to what kind of society they want to establish.”
Lali, Gldani resident
Residents constructed their own garages during the late 90s when car theft was a common occurrence. Nowadays, owners rarely park their cars inside them and instead use them for both business and private purposes.
Converted garages in the periphery are the cheapest commercial spaces in Tbilisi. Revaz rents one that houses My Village, a shop selling dairy products and vegetables. Though he has many customers he works every day just to earn money to survive. He hopes to eventually rent a larger, better maintained space.
“I do not have any desire to come here. If this place had been in better condition it would have been different. When I think of going to my ugly working space in a garage I start to feel desperate.”
“Nowadays we fight to survive. I would not call this place an income source, but a survival one.”
Revaz, My Village shopkeeper
The Cartographic Institute
Following conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia in the early 1990s, around 200,000 ethnic Georgian and Abkhazians left their homes. The majority of these internally displaced persons (IDPs) now reside within Georgia in former public administration buildings that were never intended for residential use.
Only a small part of the former Cartographic Institute of Gldani built during the 1970s retains its original use, now 102 IDPs families from Abkhazia call the rest of it home.
Tamta spent her whole childhood here and can recall how the hallway would flood whenever it rained through the leaking, damaged roof. She and the other children saw this as an opportunity and turned the flooded hallway into a playground.
Tamta’s parents bought their dwelling some 16 years ago from a private owner and adapted the space to their needs, taking advantage of the high ceiling to create a duplex apartment and even attaching a balcony. Today it is hard to imagine the space ever existed as anything other than a living area.
Typically, the ground floor areas of the blocks lack light and privacy, but residents have found a way to compensate for this disadvantage: almost all ground-floor dwellers have claimed the land in front of their apartments and turned them into gardens.
Urban gardening began as a strategy for survival in Tbilisi during the 90s, when residents began cultivating areas to grow their own food. In some areas, like Gldani, this is still a very common practice, with the resulting produce and spices often shared amongst neighbours. ■