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Workshop "Public space supporting social life"

with Richard S. Levine / Levan Asabashvili/ Heidi Dumreicher, held at Tbilisi Academy of Art, May 2012

Main questions discussed in the workshop:
Is the (architectural) education in Georgia adequate and appropriate to the challenges of the present and the future? What is the future of architecture and urbanism? How should architecture reflect the local cultural identity? What in fact is the local cultural identity in a post-Soviet, Post Modern world? What is the Georgian heritage and to what extent should it be a guide for the future? To what extent should Western norms be appropriated locally? Must there be a choice between Socialism and Capitalism, or could there be another way more appropriate to Georgia and more appropriate to a sustainable future? Is there a new role for public life in public spaces that needs to be discovered and pursued? How can performance and art activities enliven public space, and how can such activities encourage civic engagement and empowerment and how can such empowerment open spaces of opportunity in enhancing the social and political economy? How does all this relate to design and what could or should be the role of design in shaping a sustainable future for Tbilisi and Georgia?

The actual work of the students focused upon ideas and recommendations for a few of the underground passages in the city- Soviet era remnants that had been built as a way of separating pedestrian moment from vehicular movement, giving people on foot a safe passage across busy thoroughfares. Today most of them are deteriorated and poorly maintained yet some of them still very much in use and many have spawned various sorts of shops and markets both formal and informal. The design activities focused on the sorts of interventions that might be pursued in these passages in light of the questions previously noted. The largest of the spaces was the Rose Revolution Underground - a huge, monumental space that had once housed a large variety of commercial establishments but now was littered with rubble and whose darker niches had become public urinals - a fate that was not uncommon among many of the passages. One of the students had done a study of actual public toilets in Tbilisi and had identified little more than twenty dirty and poorly maintained facilities that never-the-less exacted payment for their use, - this in a city that should have provided more than three thousand such facilities by any international standard. So the provision of public toilets was one of the many suggested new facilities and services that could be provided by these passages. As the appearance of markets as an activity in most of the passages had already been well established, there was a good deal of attention paid to strategies and designs aimed at improving the ways in which these markets worked.