Home News How architecture became one of Ukraine’s key defenses

How architecture became one of Ukraine’s key defenses


In September 1941, German troops finally broke through central Ukraine and posted decrees in Kiev announcing the establishment of the new occupation authorities, but the peace lasted only a few days. Less than a week after the occupation began, a children’s toy store on Khreshchatyk, the capital’s busiest shopping boulevard, the Kiev equivalent of Fifth Avenue or the Champs-Élysées, exploded. Soon, the city hall and the Communist Party headquarters collapsed. From Khreshchatyk, the fire spread to old houses and apartment buildings in the city center: the Soviets were bombing Kiev, razing their own city to the ground, a ferocious counterattack that was commemorated in very different ways in Russia and Ukraine.

Walking through the center of Kyiv today, along Khreshchatyk, past the grand Independence Square and the luxurious Tsum department store, you can read the history of post-war and post-independence Ukraine in the buildings that follow.

The marble of Stalin’s skyscrapers, the concrete of the cheap Khrushchevka residential complex, the glass and chrome of the oligarchs’ new buildings: each of these materials records destruction and reconstruction, wars past and present. In the third year of this epoch-making war, which has destroyed some 210,000 buildings, according to statistics, A recent New York Times survey — Russian forces continue to violate international law by targeting civilian areas. When cities become battlefields, architecture becomes an act of defense and resistance.

A stimulating and much-anticipated exhibition currently underway in New York frames Russia’s attack on Ukraine as a war on the built environment, and shows how architects, designers, and temporary collectives are fighting back in physical buildings. “Building Hope: Ukraine” The exhibition, on view at the Architecture Center in downtown Manhattan, brings together models, maquettes, and videos documenting more than a dozen grassroots initiatives in the field of housing and infrastructure in contemporary Ukraine. In the west, there’s snap-together furniture for displaced-people camps; in the east, there are student-designed, quickly-constructed playgrounds—and, throughout, design is given a dual focus as both an emergency measure and a long-term national project.

The Ukrainian government and army have embarked on a massive reconstruction project. The devastated Kiev suburbs of Bucha and Irpin have become major construction sites. Architect Norman Foster has been hired to draw up a new master plan for Kharkiv, a city with an extremely high density of modern buildings that is bombarded almost daily. But the exhibition focuses on the informal, bottom-up efforts of Ukrainian architecture. It features work by architects from home and abroad, but also some of Ukraine’s most important artists – not to mention Kiev’s revellers and DJs. The world’s leading electronic music scenethey have Aid in reconstruction efforts As the record spins.

In February 2022, Vladimir Putin launched an all-out war against Ukraine, but in reality Russia has been at war with the country since 2014, when it seized Crimea and invaded the country’s easternmost regions in response to Ukraine’s democratic, pro-European independence revolution. That less-intense war meant that Ukrainian architects and urban planners experienced displacement and destruction when millions of citizens began fleeing from east to west two years ago.

In Lviv, Ukraine, the company Drozdov & Partners and volunteers Students of the Kharkiv Institute of Architecture They quickly erected cardboard partition units for hundreds of homeless people, adapted and redeployed Japanese architect Shigeru BanThe non-governmental organization MetaLab has designed a co-housing project for those who have lost their homes in the war. Kohati, Combining the Ukrainian words for “love” and “house,” the installation includes a modular, quick-to-assemble wooden bed of the same name, which can now be found in vacant government buildings and makeshift shelters.

In Lviv and other cities in western Ukraine, your house is relatively safe. In Kiev and eastern cities, your house must double as an emergency shelter. Every Ukrainian knows the rule of two walls by now: When the air sirens sound, if you can’t find somewhere safer, you’ll want to take shelter in your apartment, so that if the outer walls are hit by shells, the inner walls can catch the debris. (The bathroom is usually your best bet.) You’ll tape up the windows—as the graphic designer Aliona Solomadina notes in this view of LaGuardia Plaza in the Architecture Center—but it may not be enough. The shockwave from an artillery blast can shatter windows 1,000 feet away, and thanks to Russia’s relentless assault on Ukraine’s electrical infrastructure, winter can come right in.

Windows are the most vulnerable part of a buildingand one of the most expensive to build. Before the full-scale invasion, Ukrainians bought their windows from now-closed factories in Donbass or from Russian exporters. Today, thousands of second-hand or repurposed PVC windows are shipped from Warsaw to Kiev and on to the most dangerous areas, a project of Poland’s BRDA Foundation, which helps numerous internally displaced Ukrainians rebuild their homes. As this show explains, before the 2014 Maidan Revolution, collective architecture in Ukraine had a bad reputation – it sounded very Soviet and had no place in the turbo-capitalist Ukraine of the 1990s and 2000s. Today, amid existential threats to both social and built structures, the common good is back.

You have a roof over your head and you’ve learned the art of sleeping in your bathtub during air raids, but there are always other houses in your dreams: your dreams, and your nightmares. In 2022, the art collective Prykarpattian Theater brought together a dozen displaced Ukrainians and asked them to return their memories to the homes they had been forced to abandon. A porch, a gable, a simple concrete garage: these were the building blocks of an independent Ukraine they left behind. Together, the artists and refugees made small, delicate, fragile models of these former homes, which now fill the building’s central gallery—one of many new artistic efforts in Ukraine that reimagine culture as an archival practice to combat forgetting.

“We talked about the cities we lived in – / they / entered the night like ships sailing into the winter sea…”, Start a poem Ukrainian writers Sergey Zadan. Kiev and Kharkiv, Odessa and Dnipropetrovsk have already sailed ahead of us into the dark waters of this century. One of the values ​​of this exhibition is that it shows the Ukrainian war – Empire War, Culture Wars — not “over there,” not at the safe distance of our freedoms and bank accounts. The war has spread beyond Ukraine’s borders, into the European economy and the American political movement. It will not end soon, and it will reshape our own cities before it does.

Building Hope: Ukraine
The exhibition will run through September 3 at the Center for Architecture, 536 LaGuardia Plaza, Manhattan; Tel: 212-683-0023; Website: centerforarchitecture.org.

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