Tuesday, August 28, 2012

INTERVIEW: Georgia 2.0: People change architecture, architecture changes society - With Mika Macharadze

Georgia Online(georgiaonline.ge) It’s never too late to learn. This banal maxim is in fact not obvious for everyone. It’s interesting to watch those who are not too shy to admit that there something they don’t know, but are ready to learn with joy and perseverance. This rule applies not only to specific person, but is also very effective in relation to countries and continents. Its especially interesting when the changes are visible to the naked eye, are happening to your neighbor, and in this case: the country, because in our interview we will talk about Georgia, which is not afraid to learn, not ashamed of it, but on the contrary, is ready to demonstrate this with justifiable pride to anyone interested. Georgia is on everyone's lips: she is mentioned as an example; some look at the cutting-edge changes with envy and hatred "they say, we know them: all this is with the money of the West."

Why do we, architects, observe modern Georgia with interest? I think the answer lies in the fact that any talk of new Georgia, on the most part, resembles the discourse of modern architecture. I must say, this is not unfounded: new actual buildings are born as if at the wave of a magic wand, stirring up the minds of architects and critics around the world. Great work, done not only in architecture but also in the entire construction area is visual presentation of the new brand, Georgia 2.0.

I think that now it is obvious for the reader how interesting it is watch to Georgia with the eyes of its resident, our interlocutor, Micka Macharadze. He works an engineer and has a page on the social network Facebook, which tells about the new architecture of Georgia. We decided to ask him few questions to better understand the nature and effect of the changes that occurred in Georgia.

Micka, you administrate a public page Brand-New Georgia 2.0 in "Facebook". Why did you decide to do it, what motivates you, and are you related to the special issue of the architectural magazine MARK, dedicated to the new architecture of Georgia (№ 37, brand new Georgia)?

Unfortunately, I have no relation to the issue of the magazine you mentioned, but this particular issue of MARK inspired me to create a public page dedicated the new architecture of Georgia. The very idea of such a page appeared long before the publication of the issue of MARK about Georgia, and by the way, the definition “Brand new Georgia” was also born before the publishing of the magazine with that title.

However, this does not in any way negate the obvious merit and absolute professionalism of the staff of this particular magazine, talking about the changes in Georgia through the lens of architecture. Huge work is done by the European experts, who are attracted to the present and its manifestations. This kind of journals, articles, books popularize positive development in Georgia and, of course, serve to create a new image of the country. I'm trying to make my small contribution to this process, and I hope that many will be involved and interested.

Georgia is changing rapidly, it is becoming an open modern country. What, in your opinion, is the reason? What is the place of architecture and design in these changes?

"Rose Revolution" allowed Georgia to make an enormous leap forward: it laid the fundamental basis for further positive change and modernization of the country. Georgia was in urgent need of global changes – and they happened: huge number of reforms in all areas of public life was implemented, and political rhetoric of the country has changed.

Against the background of the collapse of the stereotypes and inevitable death of recurrence of the Soviet system, the restoration and construction of towns in Georgia started in completely new environment: unusual modern building began to appear, different from what people were used to in terms of meaning and content. Indeed, the role of architecture during changes is enormous: it is intended to emphasize the radical difference and transparency of the new system, to show the country's aspiration to become a new, recreated, Georgia. To achieve its objectives, among other things well-known experts in the construction field and architects from around the world were invited: M. Fuksas, J. Mayer, Michele de Lucchi, A. Domingo and C. Lázaro.

Georgia becomes an active participant in global processes in the world. Widespread introduction of world civilization experience in different spheres of the economy and social structure is taking place. Certain recreation mechanism is operating. Where do you see its foundation and underlying principles? Is there any reason for concern about the loss of identity, existing traditional values and cultural orientations?

In my opinion, if you distinguish one basic principle, which is the foundation for the subsequent modernization of Georgia – that is, of course, widespread eradication of corruption in all its manifestations. Overcoming corruption in many areas of the state life gave the green light for further development of the country, helped strengthen governmental institutions recreated by reforms and begun deeper processes in the society to transform attitudes and mentality in a positive direction.

I think, there are no reasons for concern about the loss of identity - the problem is largely contrived. In Georgia, for many centuries, people managed not only to create something new, but with special appreciation to preserve traditional values and the timeless cultural landmarks. Everyone who comes to Georgia can see this for themselves.

Georgia is trying to create favorable environment for investment and development. However, most of the new iconic modern buildings are government agencies. How actively is business involved in construction of new Georgia? Is it ready to invest in long-term projects?

Let me start with the fact that the new and renovated office buildings and institutions are not just modern fashion creations of architects. They, among other things, include organized system of services and innovative services to make doing business easy. The state supports business projects, primarily with liberal laws, various benefits and developing infrastructure.

These conditions are favorable for long-term investments in the economy of Georgia, including in the construction segment. The last illustration of a good investment environment can be the intention of the American billionaire and media mogul Donald Trump implement several big projects in Georgia: a multifunctional complex of Trump Tower in Batumi, with a hotel, apartments, offices, entertainment and a high-rise building in Tbilisi (investment in the project was about 250 million dollars).

As we mentioned, a large part of what is now Georgian brand, are state centers. Clearly, this is due to the desire of the authorities to show the purity and transparency of the architecture of the new system, this is largely the orientation of visual images of chosen architecture. Does it help the citizens of Georgia to have fresh look at the relationship with the government, does this promote normalization of the relations of different groups of population?

You know, society has changed dramatically over the past few years. People are sympathetic to the reforms – they feel the comfort, visibility and accessibility of the new system. A good example is House of Justice, combining the services of several departments and more than three hundred services - you can get a passport, apply for citizenship, register business or real estate, obtain a certificate of marriage, and much more. This attitude of the state towards its citizens significantly facilitates their daily lives, eliminating the numerous bureaucratic delays. House of Justice - is a five-star service with maximum comfort and minimal loss of time. The average waiting time at service in the Houses of Justice is less than a minute, and the process of service in 98% of cases lasts from one to five minutes. The project is so successful that it became known far beyond the borders of Georgia and the Ministry of Justice is beginning to share its experience with interested countries.

In this respect it is very important to understand that public services and institutions are now perceived by people as simple and convenient service. This contributes to the improvement of relations between citizens and the state, and it changes the mindsets.

Creating new Georgia - is, first and foremost, the government initiative. Are ordinary citizens involved in this? What is their attitude to changes in country's image, to specific development priorities?

Of course, I cannot act as a sociologist, but I think the vast majority of Georgians have positive attitude towards the changes. Especially since, when it comes to global issues, (such as the country's integration into Euro-Atlantic structures) referendums are held, which determine the priorities for the development and course of the country. In my opinion, this is a very democratic procedure for making important decisions.

Answer to your question on the participation of ordinary people in Georgia in creating new country indirectly concerns few problematic areas, unfortunately, the fight against unemployment, affordable and quality health care - remain essential priorities. These and several other still unsolved problems impede the full participation of citizens in the new formation of society proposed by the government.

The modern architecture of Georgia of recent years, some created with the help of well-known foreign specialists, is figuratively speaking, scattered like "space stations" among the post-Soviet landscape. Does not that show contrived leap into the future, the one ignoring the views of Georgians about well-planned development the urban environment and traditional values? Do citizens adequately perceive new ultramodern buildings?

Probably, there is no simple answer to this question: there are constant heated debates among residents around new buildings. It is no exaggeration to say that for many people it is too radical, "newfangled" architecture. There is some concern that it may adversely affect the value of coloration and historic buildings of Georgian cities.

We all know that similar changes occurred in many European cities, including, and large and rich architectural and historical heritage, such as Paris and London. It’s enough to recall Pompidou Centre and experiments with high-tech in the center of the British capital. Now the controversies surrounding these cities gradually subside. Residents are beginning to look differently at these constructions. I think this change in people's minds will happen in Georgia too. People change the architecture, and the architecture changes society.

The new image of Georgia significantly increased tourist attraction to the country in the international arena. Which resorts in Georgia are being reconstructed at the moment? Is modern architecture of Georgia interesting for tourists?

Georgia always had great tourist attracting potential, based on its geographical location, natural diversity, centuries-old history and traditions, wonderful monuments that have survived to the present day, and, last but not least, Georgian cuisine and wine.

In Soviet times, Georgia resorts were very popular. All tourist infrastructures built during the Soviet era, is outdated and is in a dilapidated condition. Given the high possibility of Georgia's tourism industry, the government planned modernization of this sector, as one of the priority areas for economic development. Massive reconstruction of resorts, the construction of tourism infrastructure, restoration of historic cities and monuments has started. Whole new tourist destinations are being discovered. Quantity of ski resorts alone has increased from two to six. New sea resorts appeared. Judging by the numbers, in the past seven years, the number of visitors to Georgia increased twenty-fold. Undoubtedly, the architecture attracts tourists. But it is not only the merit of modern buildings, but also historical monuments, rich cultural heritage, which is restored and made available to wide range of interested people. Obviously, for many who visited Georgia, the country became finding on the world tourism map.

The term of the President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili is coming to an end. In this connection, the question arises: how likely is it that after his departure selected and started by him the course of development of the country, including in the construction sector of the economy, will be continued?

I hope that the course will continue. Of course there are opposition forces that do not agree with the status quo and the new architecture. Moreover, some of the opposition announced the lists of buildings that will be torn down after they came to power, for example, "Bridge of Peace" by Michele De Luca in Tbilisi or the new parliament building in Kutaisi, designed by the Spanish architect Alberto Domingo Cabo. I do not think that the political forces beginning their campaign with statements about the destruction of already established and recognized buildings have any chance of winning. Although in our changing world, we cannot discard any scenario, but I do hope that no matter who becomes the president of the country, he will be, first of all, a wise man.

Georgia experiences beneficial expansion of foreign experts: architects, engineers, and designers are coming to the country. How do Georgian architects respond to this situation? Is such an impact on the whole construction market in Georgia positive? How actively are Georgian specialists involved in the happenings?

In Georgia, because of years of devastation there was a great shortage of specialists, particularly in the construction industry. So there was a need to attract foreign professionals. This contributed to Georgia's integration into the international construction context, acquisition of useful knowledge and learning new technologies. If we recall the experience of developing countries, often by engaging progressive experts, these countries made leap in development. This is a widespread international practice. Especially since Georgian specialists in all phases tried to actively interact with the invited architects and builders.

This was happening on initial stage. However, we can already state the positive results of this cooperation. More and more projects appear that are fully implemented by Georgian designers. This is strongly supported by the state. In Georgia, there are many talented architects who now have the opportunity to realize their projects, and, of course, this situation pleases.

A lot has been built and done - where do you see the basis for success of further development? What needs to change and transform? How do you see the architecture of Georgia in the near future?

I believe that key to success is not to slow down the pace of development, as in the construction sector of the economy and all the rest; in that case Georgia will have a chance to become a modern, democratic country with an open and free society. In my view, it’s necessary to change and transform, or rather tear down, "sleeping districts” built in Soviet era that disfigured the substantial part of the city. And instead design and build neighborhoods with modern architecture. Actually, at the moment, Georgia is like one big construction site, and I am sure that in the very near future, upon completion of all restoration and construction work, the country will become very attractive.

What new building you personally think is the most precious and valuable of all created recently in Georgia?

It is very difficult to name one specific building. But still, I would mention one building with a complex design solutions and ultramodern unusual appearance. For me, this is not just construction, but the embodiment of the future of Georgia. I mean House of Justice, designed by Massimiliano Fuksas in Tbilisi. Of all creations, this project is the most significant for me. This structure may be the embodiment of the victory of our country over the bureaucracy and corruption. Let us hope that many generations will be proud of it as a symbol of what happened in Georgia. I think in the short time House of Justice and other buildings opening across the country will be for many important and needed building, where they will want to come back again and again.

Jürgen Mayer (German architect, head of bureau J. Mayer H. Architects, and author of numerous projects in Georgia) in an interview said something like: "Architecture - is a catalyst, not the background of everyday life. This is something that provokes you to review the spatial conditions and characteristics. I always ask myself – how do we live? How do we relate to the surrounding space? I'm trying to find an architecture that would have the potential for the most unpredictable change." In connection with these above I would like to clarify: what kind of catalyst will the modern architecture be for Georgia, from your point of view?

The way we relate to the space around us affects the relationship with one another. In my view, in words of Jurgen Mayer it is particularly important that he defines architecture as a catalyst. Georgian architecture, in its modern form, can serve as a catalyst for the rapid development of the country; contribute to a revolution in the consciousness of the population, and stimulate the modernization of the state. Actual buildings, by world famous architects are undoubtedly "facade" of change; they serve to make Georgia recognizable. It is its manifesto of free country.

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