Panels, photo essay by Tatevik Vardanyan
Squares, circles, stars, flowers, ovals, lines and repetition on industrial scale, this is Armenia’s legacy of Soviet panel architecture still evident 25 years after independence. For many, these buildings are bland, monotonous, ugly and dangerous places to live, with crumbling concrete foundations and falling lifts.
However many of these buildings also have amazing designs and beauty that take on different forms depending on the light. Separated from the decaying housing and industrial landscape they are situated in, they are a window to a different world that the soviet architects were trying to create.
Finding new buildings with interesting form and shape sometimes in the most obscure location is an amazing experience and being that a great deal of the most prominent urban architectural heritage in Armenia has been destroyed it is important to preserve the memory of what is now remaining.
These apartment blocks made of large concrete panels were put up at breakneck speed in the 1970’s to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of people moving into Armenia’s capital Yerevan from countryside.
The flats were given away for free to each family, in return the new factory workers should be dedicated to their jobs and country. Today people are stuck in this small warn out blocks, unemployed, in poverty and disenfranchised. Whilst the housing prices are affordable, many of the buildings are potential death traps due to substandard building materials used, due to speed over quality construction methods and corruption.
Due to high level of emigration from Armenia over the last 10 years most of the buildings are now sparsely populated something evident at night where only a handful of lights are illuminated on each building.
Whilst the Soviet utilitarian building designs are supposed to be something of the past, the harsh forms and lines of these old buildings have a great deal of influence in the many new buildings in the dubious urban development plans in downtown Yerevan.
During the Soviet period there was an urban planning which I don’t see in my city today. All the buildings are in wrong places, no urban planning, new and old, glass and concrete, different colours, designs and sizes are bringing a feeling of a chaos in what was a beautiful city skyline.
However in this chaos you can turn a corner, walk up a hill, open your window and still be delighted when you see the squares, circles, stars, flowers, ovals of these old panel buildings,… and then you can forget the mess all around.
(by Tatevik Vardanyan)