Exhibition: September 29, 2018 – January 13, 2019

HYBRID TBILISI. Reflections on Architecture in Georgia

Release: DAM online


Radisson Blu Iveria Hotel, 2008, Graft Architects & The Biltmore Hotel, 2016, unknown architect. The vacant building in between is currently being rebuilt as a hotel extension with casino. Photo © Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk

Together with renowned Georgians, the various levels of this contradictory city are explored at a particular stage of a transformation that oscillates geographically and intellectually between Europa, Russia, Turkey and the Arab states, between East and West, between the 19th century, the Soviet Union, and an optimistic 21st century. With its feverish urban construction activity and its wild night life, the city is attracting international attention.

Almost forgotten, palaces, administrative buildings, churches, and museums built by European architects in the 19th century are falling into disrepair. Next to them stand Soviet-era structures attesting to Stalinist and Constructivist trends, and even hyper late-Soviet formal experiments, such as the Ministry of Highway Construction, a true icon of Soviet Brutalism. In the transition period thereafter, self-built, life-threatening “kamikaze loggias” proliferated on pre-fabricated buildings. Later on, with a new Messiah as president, entire streets were reconstructed, spectacular newbuilds signaling a bright new future. Today, in the era that followed, it is the private investors who rule, building on a grandiose scale. Tbilisi, the small Caucasian would be European.

City Walk – Collages on the Kura
In Tbilisi, you quickly find it nigh impossible to track down something that constitutes “typical Georgian architecture.” The appearance of the built environment in the city on the banks of the Kura River is too heterogeneous and contradictory for that. In addition to the medieval churches and the old town with its Oriental influences not to mention the Historicist quarters south of the Kura, one can find almost every significant architectural style of the last 150 years in its original condition in Tbilisi – making the city an inexhaustible trove for travelers with an interest in architecture.

Concert and Exhibition Hall, 2011, Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, Photo © Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk


Modern boutique hotels opposite decaying Art Nouveau buildings, improvised single-family homes behind new apartment towers, abandoned vast parking garages from the Soviet era – there are just a few of the endless possibilities to discover something new around every corner. Yet a glance at the details also reveals a cosmos of its own time and again. There are plenty of surprises in store behind historical front doors. The ubiquitous will to create something individual, which one can discern among the residents, is particularly impressive. No two buildings are alike, and there are no uniform appearances or colors – possibly an obvious reaction to the decades of Soviet socialist urban planning for the new man that still characterizes the city’s peripheral districts to this day.


The famous Soviet Ministry of Highway Construction, 1975 by George Chakhava, now the headquarters of the Bank of Georgia. Photo © Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk

Large/small, old/new, spacious/compact, rich/poor, tall/low, straight/slanted, modern/historical, steep/flat, colorful/gray – these are not pairs of opposites, but adjectives that describe the buzzing, fascinating and eclectic impression that Tbilisi makes on its visitors. Hybrid Tbilisi, indeed

The historical, political and building developement of Tblisi

The history of Tbilisi until 1920 Legend has it that King Vakhtang Gorgasali came hunting in the area and shot a pheasant.The bird fell into a hot spring and was boiled. Thereupon, the king decreed that on the spot a town be built, which he named “Tbilisi”, meaning “warm” in Georgian. This occurred in the year 458 CE. Tbilisi has had a town charter ever since, and in the late 5th century became the capital of the east Georgian kingdom.

Neglected downtown art nouveau villas were often built by Central and Northern European architects, Photo © Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk


Tbilisi has experienced much suffering in its eventful history – alongside Armenia, Georgia is an enclave of Christianity in a part of the world dominated by Islam. For centuries it was pillaged and burnt to the ground by belligerent neighbors. From the 6th to the 11th century these were the Sassanids, Byzantines, Arabs and Seljuks. The 12th century became Georgia’s “Golden Era”. From the 14th to the 18th century the country was laid waste in forays by the Mongols, Ottomans, and Safavids. This is why there are no civil buildings built before 1790 left standing in Tbilisi.


In its need, in the 18th century the Georgian nation sought protection from its powerful Christian neighbor Russia. In 1801, the Georgian kingdom was incorporated into the Russian Empire – Tbilisi became the capital of the Caucasian protectorate. Hotels and banks replaced the old residences and caravanserais. Baroque merchants’ villas were built ever higher up the slopes of Sololaki Hill. After the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917 Georgia declared its independence on May 26, 1918.

Early Soviet era: 1920 until 1955
Four years after the October Revolution, on February 25, 1921, the Red Army invaded Georgia and brought the country’s independence to an end. The country was initially declared the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Republic, and in 1936 a Republic of the Soviet Union. Soviet ideology introduced a trend towards monumental structures and the combatting of individuality to construction policy. Under the Bolshevist leader Lavrentiy Beria the city underwent unprecedented “modernization” in the 1930s. The newspaper building “Zarya Vostoka”, which was built in the Constructivist style, the upper station of the Funicular, and the edifice housing the Marx Engels Lenin Institute are among the few remaining examples of this decade. Befo- re World War II, there was a boom in housing construction in Tbilisi. The residential buildings down- town and on Marjanishvili Square, which were built in the “Stalin Empire style”, the Georgian National Academy of Sciences, and the Presidential Palace are the prime examples of post-War architecture. In the 1950s, apartment buildings were the most widespread feature.

Late Soviet era:1955 until 1990 In 1956, a war on “superfluous decoration” was declared. The Khrushchev era was characterized a radical revision of local architecture and its aesthetic principles. Architects endeavored to find original solutions, and new materials and technologies. Construction corporations were founded with a view to enabling the swift mass production of residential buildings. Quality standards with regard to construction took a back seat to quantity. Despite Brezhnev’s “Era of Stagnation”, given the trends towards expressive mega- structures the most interesting era was probably that between 1964 and 1982. Spectacular edifices were built: Georgia’s most famous building, the Ministry of Highway Construction, the Hotel Iveria, the Philharmonic and the new State University. According to the 1970 master plan, Tbilisi was intended to grow to a size of 1.2 million inhabitants. Hectic achievement of the objectives through the construction of satellite settlements led to uncontrolled growth and today’s problems on the city’s outskirts. Only a few extraordinary buildings such as the church-like “Wedding Palace” and the Archaeological Museum date from the 1980s.



"Kamikaze loggias" were called the illegally grown extensions. Photo © Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk

The period of transition: 1990 until 2003 The late 1980s, when the Soviet Union was breaking up, saw the beginning of Georgia’s most difficult period. Demonstrations and rallies were part of everyday life. Rustaveli Avenue became the place for political ambitions and euphoric passion. On April 9, 1991, on the basis of a referendum, formally announced its exit from the USSR and the independence of the Republic of Georgia. At the turn of the year 1991-92 there were civil war-like conflicts in Tbilisi. What was known as the “Christmas War” between supporters of President Zviad Gamsakhurdia and the National Guard lasted almost two weeks. As a consequence of the dramatic events the reconstruction of Rustaveli Avenue and Freedom Square was due, an enormous challenge for Georgian architects. Following the declaration of independence, urban development has been dominated by the mechanisms of private investors and a market economy. Municipal apartments were transferred to the tenants as private property, extensions were added without planning permission, the so-called “kamikaze loggias”. The authorities no longer conducted any major measures to improve living situation of the city’s inhabitants. Satellite towns and pre-fabricated buildings fell into disrepair. While the 2003 “Rose Revolution” ultimately was supposed to bring to an end the Mafia-like cronyism in politics, it did so only to create a new form of it.

Saakashvili’s era: 2004 until 2012 After the “Rose Revolution” a new era began in Georgia. In January 2004, Mikheil Saakashvili won the presidential election with over 95 percent of the votes cast. From 2004 onward his government undertook various reforms and introduced strict measures against corruption. However, there was a lot of concern about a trend to authoritarianism. Two years after the “Rose Revolution” there were the first signs that the old clan structures were re-emerging in government. At the personal instigation of the president, renewal measures were introduced in Tbilisi and indeed the entire country. Architects of international repute from Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain were commissioned for the construction projects. They were intended to create a coun- ter balance to existing Soviet-era context. Rike Park was one of the biggest structural experimental fields for the president’s aesthetic ideals. Throughout the country state-of-the-art highway service stations, luxurious hotels and extravagant, in some cases futuristic-looking administrative buildings were constructed. The August 2008 armed conflict in South Ossetia – the “5-day war” between Russia and Georgia, brought down Saakashvili; in 2012 his party lost its majority in the parliamentary elections and was no longer allowed to stand.



Public Service Hall, 2012, Fuksas, Photo © Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk


Urban development: 2000 until 2018 At the beginning of the new millennium a private construction industry emerged that first and oremost served the needs of the aspiring upper middle class, but also initiated various projects hinging on property speculation. Housing became investments that served profit maximization.The predominant type of structure built as a result, with the trend towards monumental edifices in Tbilisi, was multi-purpose high-rise complexes, where offices, hotels, fitness centers, casinos and clubs were all grouped together under one roof, like in New York. The structures (Biltmore Hotel, Axis Towers) were often over-sized and led to a reshaping of the homogeneous cityscape. What is meant by New Style in Georgia seems to be dictated by the capitalist world that is new to the country; high-end residential complexes stretch to the very limits of the land they are on. The multi-purpose “Rustaveli Residence” in downtown Tbilisi, which was commissioned in 2012, and recent Chinese construction projects such as “Hualing. Tbilisi Sea New City” demonstrate interest global players have in investing here. As does the Museum of Fine Arts, which serves as an exhibition venue, lifestyle center, and hotel at one and the same time, a hybrid cultural machine, which unites art and commerce.


Giorgi Khmaladze represents the next generation of internationally-studied architects with the three-tower project Alliance and Wyndham, Photo © Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk

Refurbishment of the old town: 2011-12 At the suggestion of the national ICOMOS committee, in 1999 Georgia proposed that the old town of Tbilisi be inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List in a drive to generate global interest in the fate of the city. The old town dates from the 19th century. Narrow alleys, buildings with open verandas and beautifully carved wooden balconies, not to mention a number of old edifices, make for a picturesque sight. Old buildings hang like grapes from the cliffs above River Kura (Mtkvari). Initial restoration of the old town took place in the late 1970s and embraced Baratashvili Street and the surroundings. The project received strong public funding. The second stage from 2011-2 under President Saakashvili saw the elaborate comprehensive renovation of the Kala district and Abanotubani. Entire districts (Marjanishvili) and boulevards (Aghmashenebeli Avenue) dating from the 19th century were radically recreated with replicas of historical buildings and a focus on facades. As of 2012, the new government initially continued the trend, but of late a change would appear to be looming. Much of what survived and accounted for the unique flair is now falling victim to gentrification or unprofessional restoration. The next generation Hybrid Tbilisi introduces a new generation of Georgian architects and designers and as examples presents four positions: Nikoloz Sebiskveradze and Dimitri Elikashvili from Sebo & Dito Studio, Nikoloz Japaridze from Architects of Invention, Giorgi Khmaladze Architects, as well as Nata Janberidze and Keti Toloraia from Rooms. They studied at the Tbilisi Art Academy, at Delft, Paris, and Harvard Universities, and did a doctorate in Moscow. Despite their young age these architects and designers have long since been internationally renowned. Their buildings are defined by diverse influences. Their spaces combine a 1930s western atmosphere with the charm of old Tbilisi. And not least of all, their interiors represent a “Georgian” blend of Asian and European elements – indeed, Hybrid Tbilisi.



Symposium with DOM publishers
Philipp Meuser, Architekt BDA, Verleger DOM publishers
Parochialkirche, Klosterstraße 67, 10179 Berlin-Mitte
Fri, October 19, 2018, 6 – 9 p.m.

Film 1: “Full speed westward. Georgia in search of its future” \ Director: Stefan Tolz, (2013, 90 Min)
Film 2: “When the Earth Seems to be Light” \ Directors: S. Machaidze, T. Karumidze, D. Meskhi (2016, 44 Min.
Film 3: “Pirimze” \ Director: Sophia Tabatadze (2015, 39 Min.)Moderator: IRINA KURTISHVILI, Curator of the exhibition HYBRID TBILISI
DAM Auditorium, 5 € \ 2,50 € reduced
Tue, October 23, 2018, 7 p.m.

GIORGI KHMALADZE, Khmaladze Architects, Tbilisi
DAM Auditorium, 5 € \ 2,50 € reduced
Tue, October 2, 2018, 8 p.m.

Film: 2+2=22 (The Alphabet), Director: Heinz Emigholz (2013, 88 Min.)
Moderator: JOACHIM STEINIGEWEG, Allerweltskino e.V & IRINA KURTISHVILI, Curator of the exhibition HYBRID TBILISI
Off Broadway Filmtheater, Zülpicherstr. 24, 50674 Köln \ 6€
Thu, December 6, 2018, 7 p.m.

Admission free, UAA Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft, Belvederestr. 60, 50933 Cologne
Thu, November 8, 2018, 7 – 9 p.m.

Art, Fashion, Music, Architecture and Design from contemporary Georgia
Moderator: MAHRET IFEOMA KUPKA, curator of the exhibition „Lara protects me. A Georgian Story“ (Museum Angewandte Kunst)
Museum Angewandte Kunst, Schaumainkai 17, Frankfurt am Main, 5 € \ 3,50 € reduced

Hybrid Tbilisi
Ed. Peter Cachola Schmal, Irina Kurtishvili DOM Publishers
264 pages, German/English, 2018. A Georgian translation of all essays is enclosed.

Hybrid Tbilisi
Reflections on Architecture in Georgia
September 29, 2018 – January 13, 2019
An exhibition by Deutsches Architekturmuseums (DAM)
in behalf of the Department of Culture and Science / Culture Board, City of Frankfurt am Main


Newest concept hotel Rooms Hotel Tbilisi, opened in 2012, Photo © Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk


Director Peter Cachola Schmal Deputy Director Andrea Jürges Curators Peter Cachola Schmal, Irina Kurtishvili Exhibition Design Mario Lorenz, Laura Risse, Katrin Mueller – Deserve, Wiesbaden Press and Public Relations Brita Köhler, Rebekka Rass Education Curator Christina Budde with Bettina Gebhardt, Arne Winkelmann Registrar Wolfgang Welker Head of Archives Inge Wolf Library Christiane Eulig Director’s Office Inka Plechaty Administration Jacqueline Brauer Installation Team Marina Barry, Paolo Brunino, Ulrich Diekmann, Enrico Hirsekorn, Caroline Krause, Ömer Simsek, Beate Voigt, Gerhard Winkler under the direction of Christian Walter Museum Technician Joachim Müller-Rahn Printing of the Exhibition Panels inditec GmbH, Bad Camberg Translations Jeremy Gaines (German, English), Tamuna Gurtschiani (Georgian) Editing Wolfgang Till Busse (German), Tea Tvalavadze (Georgian) Photographers i.a. Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk, Mario Lorenz, Peter Cachola Schmal, Sandro Sulaberidze, Irina Kurtishvili, Jesko Johnnson-Zahn, Achim Riechers, Guram Kapanadze, Marcus Buck, Tobias Hein, Louisa Chalatashvili, Dimitri Kavtaradze Guided Tours Yorck Förster Archives



Kulturexpress   ISSN 1862-1996


Oktober 4, 2018