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A portrait of Georgia’s Soviet architecture

As the birthplace of Stalin, Georgia has a complicated place in Soviet history, reflected in part by its towering Brutalist landmarks.

For some these monuments are a historic hangover – a reminder of the country’s Soviet domination. But for Italian photographers Roberto Conte and Stefano Perego Georgia’s Soviet architecture is an important feature of the country’s built landscape.

Georgia's Soviet architecture
The former Ministry of Highway Construction of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, by architects George Chakhava and Zurab Jalaghania and engineer Temur Tkhilava (1975), now Bank of Georgia Headquarters, Tbilisi. Photography: Roberto Conte

The pair travelled to Tbilisi and quieter corners of the country in to find Brutalist and Constructivist monuments thrown up in the 1970s, just as the Soviet era was beginning to unravel.

Conte was particularly struck by the Ministry of Highway Construction. ‘I saw it for the first time in the book Cosmic Communist Construction Photographed, by Frédéric Chaubin, when the building was still abandoned. I like it because it’s the result of so many different influences: the horizontal skyscrapers of El Lissitzksy, Metabolism, traditional Georgian architecture (particularly the roof) and George Chakhava’s thoughts about the use of urban land.

‘It could be easily labeled an “ugly” building, but there’s a lot to discover about it,’ he says. ‘And OMA’s recent Interlace Residential Complex in Singapore might well have been inspired by this architecture.’

Georgia's Soviet architecture
Former Auditorium of the Industrial Technical College (1976), Tbilisi. Photography: Roberto Conte

Much of Georgia’s Soviet architecture has undergone transformation to shake off its associations and bring it into the 21st century. Others buildings, such as Andropov’s Ears in Tbilisi, have been completely destroyed.

‘Considering our long experience in taking photos of abandoned places, we’ve become used to considering architecture as something that will not be standing forever,’ says Conte. ‘At least – not in the same shape. Our interest is to take photos of the actual conditions and to preserve images as documents.’

Read nextSoviet monuments: what should we do with ‘inherited’ architecture?



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