Sunday, November 04, 2012

OLD TBILISI: Urban Heritage Preservation: Identity and Spirit of Old Tbilisi. November 2010- September 2011 (

( The British Council, in consultation with co-organisers and local partners, has designed the project to address the gap between the EC norms and UNESCO requirements and the existing methods of dealing with the problem of protecting cultural heritage in Georgia generally and in Tbilisi specifically in order to successfully manage the cultural heritage preservation processes.
One of the aims of the present project is to support the trans-national mobility of people working in cultural heritage through the provision of 6 European experts to share knowledge and their experience of urban heritage and the ‘Spirit of Space’ within Georgia. The 6 winners of the competition will travel to Europe on a study tour to explore first hand how European cities have dealt with the dichotomy of urban architectural development and urban heritage.

This project also encourages intercultural dialogue through debates and awareness raising activities exploring the differences and similarities between European concepts of urban development and preservation and those in Georgia. The project works with architectural students, professional and government officials in Tbilisi thus encouraging dialogue at all levels.
The main aim of the project is to increase awareness of the cultural value of professional, effective and sustainable management of the urban heritage processes in Georgia based on European (Germany, Norway, UK) experience in order to save significant part of this unique cultural heritage for the future Georgian generations as well as for the international community. The aim of the project is also to develop an effective international network and deepen the understanding of public officials as well as general public in the management of the Urban Cultural Heritage processes.

With the student study tour, which will link Georgian students with European academic and cultural commentators, the project will provide a wider access for young European architectural students and professionals to engage in the debate around Georgian urban heritage and architectural preservation.

Based on the analysis and needs identified by ICOMOS Georgia and other independent experts (e.g. Prof. Maia Mania, Academy of Arts and G. Chubinashvili National Research Centre for Georgian Art History and Heritage Preservation) regarding the present situation in reference to the urban space, ‘identity’ and ‘branding’, it was identified that preserving of the urban heritage turned to be at risk from a lack of understanding of international norms, mismanagement practises, a lack of awareness within the Georgian public and low capacity within the professional architectural sector.

Tbilisi Historic District faces a considerable risk of losing its identity due to the push to give in to the demands of the investors on the one hand and the lack of understanding the economic and cultural benefits of preserving the identity of the city on the other. Interventions are often led by people who lack the appropriate knowledge and skills aiming for pure profit rather than revitalisation and improvement of communities with profit being achieved through appropriate renovation and conservation. Some archaeological remnants are dated back 5th century i.e. the date when the city was founded. Layers dated 17th and 18th centuries are widely represented as well. Medieval religious, fortification and residential buildings are also part of the Historic District. The majority of the buildings dated from 19th and 20th centuries are distinguished by inherent cultural values. They represent the spirit and daily activities of their inhabitants at the same time reflecting the merge of the Georgian and foreign traditions of architecture as well as craftsmanship. It is this very spirit of the place which needs to be explored and invested in so as to support the development of Old Tbilisi as a monument of culture.

The project would address these issues by:

• starting the policy dialogue in the area of urban heritage preservation, conservation and revitalization with participation of local players and European experts
• raising awareness of the existing problems in urban of conservation and creativity
• creating an urban development agenda for the re-use of the urban heritage in the historic centre of Old Tbilisi
• introducing the concept of The Preservation of the Spirit of Place
• bringing together people working in the cultural sector; conservationists and restoration professionals to promote inter-cultural dialogue and trans-national mobility thus building capacity and knowledge
• establishing a network through network events organised in each country during exchange visits
• gaining of deeper understanding though workshops organised with the participation of 4 countries
• increased levels of understanding developed amongst high level officials as well general public through awareness raising conference, workshops, exhibition, dissemination of the publications


During the past decades, particularly after the country re-gained its independence in the late 80s of the past century, Georgia has experienced the process of transition to the free market economy. This has been a dynamic but painful process and it has had a direct effect on the development of the Old Tbilisi infrastructure and the formation of the cultural environment of the country in general.

In the given circumstances, with Georgia’s ambition for tourism development, increasing investment and contributing to the economic development of the country, it is crucial not only to preserve buildings but preserve the spirit of place through safeguarding the tangible and intangible local heritage. Georgia has little experience with regards to this innovative concept, a concept which supports sustainable developments throughout the world. European expertise will therefore contribute to this process and support the sustainable development of Old Tbilisi.

The components/activities of the project envisage clear stages to introduce and share European experience through a high profile conference and workshops, an exhibition and exchange visits. The competition will raise further awareness within the public and architectural student body and the legacy of the project, an exhibition publication, will help sustain the project after the capacity building element is completed. This will be an asset not only for the local populations but also for participating countries and will support the trans-national circulation of cultural and artistic works and products.

Throughout its history Tbilisi has served as a crossroads for representatives of diverse nations and cultures. These nations and cultures certainly influenced the architecture of the city joining with Georgian national traditions and interpretations resulting in a very specific urban settlement known as Old Tbilisi.

Being a multi-ethnic and multi cultural place Old Tbilisi’s specific residential buildings connected with balconies and courtyards also created links to different parts of the houses, thus contributing to the creation of an open, sociable type of neighbourhood which was in harmony with the requirements of its inhabitants. This has resulted in the development of the specific, unique spirit which differentiates Tbilisi from similar cities in other Caucasus or Persian cities. This specific spirit needs to be taken into account when new urban development is planned.

Future generations will only see the Tbilisi urban heritage if the present-day interventions are conscious and if they contribute to the sensible management and maintenance of the spirit of the space as well as the infrastructure. Contemporary needs should be integrated sensitively without causing damage to the existing spirit of the area.

Activities envisaged by the Project

I. Kick off meeting in Tbilisi Jan 2010
Aim: The aim of this meeting is for the Project Organisers and local partners to meet in Tbilisi for one day to ensure all partners fully understand and agree their roles and responsibilities within the project, familiarise each other with working styles, understand expectations and have a clear understanding of the local context and working environment. The meeting will also allow for updates within the project parameters from other stakeholders and main players within the sector.

II. Policy dialogue conference
Aim: The aim of the 3 day conference is to raise awareness with leading government officials and professionals of the current risks to the Old Tbilisi and explore European experience in the preservation of urban heritage and re-use of traditional spaces. The conference will introduce the concept of The Spirit of Place and will review the current situation in Old Tbilisi in light of UNESCO and EU norms.

Audience: attended by about 100 professionals in the area of architecture and cultural heritage from Georgia. Representatives of the Municipality and Ministry of Culture, MPs, professors, students of the Academy of Arts and Technical University as well as representatives from construction companies.
Conference content: It is envisaged that the following topics will be explored:
i. Urban development policies and preservation of historic sites in relation to educational/cultural tourism
ii. The design of urban environment and the re-use of architectural heritage
iii. The role of the ‘Spirit of the Place’
iv. Urban identity
v. Genius loci
Speakers: at least 2 speakers from each partner country. The Directorate for Cultural Heritage of Norway will explore issues related to the Spirit of Place area with the British Council and The Goethe Institute providing speakers concentrating on policy and re-use issues. ICOMOS Georgia to assist in preparation of the conference and identifying national speakers. CGA to help inviting the appropriate audience and identifying national speakers.
Evaluation: pre and post conference qualitative data will be collected. A target of 70% of attendees will report an increase in awareness and understanding of the main issues

III. Capacity building workshops and competition for Academy of Arts and Technical University Architecture Department students

Aim: The aim of the workshops and competition is to build capacity within the next generation of architects in Georgia through exposing them to European and Georgian expertise. The competition will provide content for the proposed exhibition and identify the candidates for the European study tour.

Audience: 30 students to be identified to participate from the Academy of Arts and Architecture Department of the Technical University.

Workshop: Led by 3 international and 3 national consultants, over a period of 5 days

Module 1: module 1 will consist of an introduction to the competition, seminars and field visits identifying different historic, architectural, cultural, social, economic, values of Historic Tbilisi.

Module 2:
i. Introduction to urban conservation methodology
i. International conventions, charters, guidelines and positive case studies
ii. Major threats identified by World Heritage Centre (UNESCO) for Tbilisi Historic District
iii. Review of the integrated conservation concept and relevant declarations eg Nara document on authenticity, Xi’an declaration on Setting, Quebec Declaration, Spirit of the place etc.
iv. Presentation of the Community Based Betlemi Quarter Revitalisation Case study

The competition will be prepared with the local ICOMOS office.

The competition will make reference to the issues discussed during the workshop and will be focused on the rehabilitation of one particular area in Old Tbilisi – Betlemi Quarter.

It is envisaged that the competition will be for the most appropriate planning and design of a contemporary construction in an empty lot taking into consideration
i. The historical urban environment in the area – mixing the old and the new
ii. The functional, social and economic purpose of the building – educational tourism
iii. The rehabilitation of the historic area - issues of the city’s identity through the protection and reuse of heritage environment
iv. The spirit of the space

This local activity will be stimulated by the European experts during the workshop.

Participants will be given 5 further days to work on their project. They will be provided with the materials needed to make models and drawings. Participants will be acquainted and provided with all necessary studies and professional documentation on the operational area and during the competition process tutorials with lecturers and experts will be facilitated.

The competition will be judged by national and European consultants who facilitate the workshops above. The exhibits will be part of a wider photographic exhibition (see below). The 6 winning students will take part in the European study tour.

Professors from participating countries to conduct workshops specifically for students. The British Council, The Directorate for Cultural Heritage of Norway and The Goethe Institute to identify and provide identify speakers. ICOMOS Georgia to assist in preparation of the workshop and identifying local speakers. CGA to help inviting appropriate participants and identify the local speakers.

Evaluation: Qualitative and quantative data will be collected. A target of 80% of participants will report an increase in awareness and understanding of the main issues

IV. Website/Facebook site

Aim: Awareness raising, promotion of project and communication

The conference and workshop activities, concepts, presentations, results, etc will be placed on a micro web site with the possibility of the open discussions on the forum. This site will be linked to the organiser, co-organisers and partner websites.

NOTE: by the end of the project the content will be used as part of a hard copy publication for the distribution through the international universities and government institutions.

V. Exhibition

Aim: Awareness raising, showcasing creativity

Students from Academy of Arts and Technical University Architecture Department will be invited to take part in a photographic competition. Photographs, capturing the ‘Spirit of Old Tbilisi’ will be uploaded onto the micro site with up to 75 of the photos being curated for a 10 day exhibition to be held at the Goethe Institute in Tbilisi with the architectural drawings/models created during the workshops (activity III).

The best photos, selected by the UK, German and Norwegian experts, will be included in a publication (activity VII)

Audience: At least 250 people, including high level government and municipality representatives will attend the opening of the exhibition. The exhibition will be covered on Georgian TV, press and radio. Targeted promotion of the exhibition will attract apx 1000 students, young professionals and general public to the exhibition.

Evaluation: A target of 70% of visitors to the exhibition will report a greater understanding of Old Tbilisi, the challenges and successes in urban heritage

VI. Study Tour

Aim: to support the trans-national mobility of next generation heritage professionals and facilitate intercultural dialogue

Six students/young professionals engaged in the workshops and competition will be identified to participate in a study tour to Europe. The British Council, Goethe Institute and Directorate for Cultural Heritage of Norway will design and facilitate a 5 day visit to organisations involved in urban heritage preservation in their respective countries. Participants will have to commitment to establish close links with ICOMOS Georgia office, Academy of Arts and Technical University and other NGOs to lobby decisions impacting on Old Tbilisi at Tbilisi Municipality Old Tbilisi department.

Audience: Six students/young professionals from Georgia. Architectural professionals, urban heritage professionals and organisations in Europe

Qualitative data will be collected from the participants on return.

VII. Publication

Aim: to support intercultural dialogue and understanding of urban heritage issues in Georgia and Europe

A 100 page publication will be developed from the conference presentations, workshops, students reports from the visits, and comments from the website forum. The publication will be illustrated by photos and participants’ architectural designs. An e-version will be uploaded on the web page and hard copies will be disseminated at HE Institutions, Municipality and Ministry of Culture departments, Parliamentary Committee on Education and Culture of Georgia. Using the co-organisers global and European networks, hard copies and e-versions will be disseminated to relevant organisations and individuals working in the field of urban heritage in order to illustrate what difference European experience - sharing has brought to the third country in transition where the urban heritage problems complex. Approximately 1000 copies will be printed and circulated.

Audience: Relevant European and Georgian stakeholders in urban heritage.

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