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Mark Lamster

Tbilisi's Hotel Iveria: A Defense


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There's a piece on Oobject today that lists what that site claims are the fifteen worst “housing projects from hell.” Tbilisi's Hotel Iveria, which was never really a housing project in the formal sense, clocks in at #3.

"It demonstrates perfectly how people will do anything to individualize an oppressive modernist space with no identity," the editors write. Well, that's not really true. When it opened, in 1967, the Iveria was the pride of the Georgian Intourist system, an elegant slab with spectacular views across the city and the Mtkvari river. (The architect was O. Kalandarashvili.) It was in the International Style of modernism, but the distinctive balconies ringing its shaft were drawn from Tbilisi's vernacular tradition, where such balconies are a standard. (A whole neighborhood of these balconied buildings occupied the site of the hotel — at the foot of Rustavelli Avenue, the Champs Elysees of Tbilisi — and were demolished to make way for it, but that's another story.) It's worth noting that Tbilisi has a good deal of inventive Soviet era architecture, with the 1974 Ministry of Highways building (below) being only the most distinctive example.

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But let's get back to the Iveria. The now (marginally) famous/notorious image of the Iveria facade, jury-rigged with a patchwork of enclosures and laundry, is the product of political upheaval, not architectural failure. When Georgia achieved independence, in the 1990s, the process was anything but smooth, and we are still dealing with the consequences from those events. At the time, Tbilisi was flooded with refugees, who were given run of the Iveria. (There wasn't much call for hotel rooms.) What they made of it was extraordinary, a Lebbeus Woods project come to life, but with a sense of humanity rather than dystopianism. You can choose to see the negative in it, as the Oobject editors do, but maybe it's better to think of it as a celebration of individuality, communal spirit, and our capacity for adaptation. It's also worth noting that those refugees have been displaced once more, along with their renovations. The Iveria is now being reconverted back into a luxury hotel by SAS Radisson. If nothing else, this suggests that as a work of pure architecture, the Iveria is hardly a "hell." For what it's worth, I took the photographs above on a trip to Georgia in 2004 for a story on the fight to preserve Tbilisi's architectural heritage. It's a bit outdated, but I think it gives a flavor of the place, and its challenges.

Posted in: Architecture, Cities + Places

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