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Ministry of Transportation in Tbilisi

Tbilisi, Georgia
1 of 11Simona Rota

George Chakhava was the Minister of highway construction in the 1970s. Therefore, he was both the client and the lead architect of this project. There is a rumor that the design was copied from a proposal by the Czech architect Karel Prager for an unrealised building in Prague.

In 2007 the building was conferred National Monument status under the National Monuments Acts. The building and its interior was completely renovated and a new main entrance an underground lobby were constructed from 2010 to 2011. It now houses the headquarters of the Bank of Georgia.

Architecture

The wooded site lies in the outskirts of Tbilisi at the Kura River. It has a steep slope, declining from West to East. Big parts of the building are lifted off the ground, the landscape runs through beneath. The structure is visible from far, three major roads leading from Tbilisi to the north pass the site. The building can be entered from both sites, at the higher and lower end.

The structure consists of a monumental grid of interlocking concrete forms. Five horizontal parts with two storeys each seem to be stapled on top of each other. Three parts are oriented at an east-west axis, at a right angle to the slope, two are north-south oriented, along the slope. The structure rests on and hangs from three cores. They contain the vertical circulation elements like stairs and elevators. The highest core has 18 storeys. The building has a floor area of 10.960 sqm.

Concept

The design is based on a concept named Space City method (Georgian patent certificate # 1538). The idea is to use and cover less ground and give the space below the building back to nature. The architects reference was a forest, the cores are like the trunk, the horizontal parts the crowns. Between the earth and crowns there is a lot of free space for other living beings, which create one harmonious world with the forest. The Space City method is based on the same principle. This is supposed to create experience of psychological comfort and well being in the people.

The concept that the landscape or nature “flows” through under the building was used by other architects, too. Le Corbusier worked theoretically on the “house on pilotis” and realized this idea for example from 1947 on the Unité d’Habitation. Frank Lloyd Wright used a similar idea at Fallingwater in 1935. Glenn Murcutt used the proverb Touch This Earth Lightly literally in some of his designs. A current example is the Musée du quai Branly by Jean Nouvel in Paris, where a garden lays beneath a building.

The design goes back to ideas of the Russian constructivists from the 1920s. The architect El Lissitzky designed with his Horizontal skyscrapers (Wolkenbügel) 1924 a structure that looks very similar. He also divided the cores and office areas in vertical and horizontal elements as an antithese to the American concept of the Skyscraper.

The Style can be called “post-constructivist” and it is one of the best examples of this architectural concept in the city. Based on the use of fairfaced concrete and the sharp, geometrical volumes the building can also be considered as part of the Brutalism movement. The concept of the space city has strong connections to Structuralism. Between Brutalism and Structuralism similar buildings were also built in other countries, for example the Yamanashi communication centre in Kofu by Kenzo Tange or Habitat 67 by Moshe Safdie, both finished in 1967.

Udo Kultermann, a German author, sees also a formal connection to the user of the building. The structure represents in his opinion the internal use by the formal reference to streets and bridges.. Describing the building Nikolai Ouroussoff, a New York Times’s architecture critic, said: “Rising on an incline between two highways, the building’s heavy cantilevered forms reflect the Soviet-era penchant for heroic scale. Yet they also relate sensitively to their context, celebrating the natural landscape that flows directly underneath the building. The composition of interlocking forms, conceived as a series of bridges, brings to mind the work of the Japanese Metabolists of the late ’60s and early ’70s, proof that Soviet architects weren’t working in an intellectual vacuum.”