SPPARC Architecture provides light at the end of the tunnel for city of Tbilisi
The world is slowly waking up to the trials faced by the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. A resilient city, Tbilisi’s turbulent history stretches back to 500AD when heir to a Georgian King began to fold a handful of churches into a basic masterplan, many of which still stand to this day. Over the centuries, Tbilisi has been invaded more than 25 times, suffered numerous earthquakes and been swept along a turbulent economic journey.
As time goes on, more and more of Old Tbilisi’s historical jewels are being lost as lack of preservation work and multiple earthquakes reduce these classical buildings to rubble. Last September The Architectural Review’s Nick Shavishvili issued a plea to developers to invest in the city, saving the original monuments and unique characteristics that have survived thus far.
Shavishvili claimed: “Georgia must find the money to rescue its banks and supply badly-needed city jobs by reviving its highly labour-intensive construction industry. The dilemma is how to do this at the same time as preserving the Old Town, one of the world’s oldest Christian cities. Successful restoration of Old Tbilisi – described by ICOMOS as a ‘city chronicler’ whose buildings ‘offer a fascinating narrative of its historic life from the 5th century AD to the present’ – should, on the precedent of other historic sites, generate plentiful tourist revenues and jobs’.
It appears that an answer to Shavishvili’s prayers may have been found in London-based design studio SPPARC, whose triumph in an international competition back in 2010 will see the practice breathe new life into the crumbling architecture of Tbilisi with new project ‘Mirza Shafi’. Having just secured Stage One planning for their concept, SPPARC are currently developing their 400,000 sq ft scheme, which will integrate retail, residential, hospitality and civic elements into a wider public access project, in collaboration with local architects.
Located directly above Tbilisi’s ancient heart, the masterplan will lead visitors to the new complex through the Botanical Gardens and into a cultural quarter conceptualised with independent artists and museums in mind.
SPPARC explains: “The success of the scheme is an architectural response that acknowledges the past, and successfully cohabitates with it by creating a character that reflects the classical architecture and cultural assets of ‘Old Tbilisi’ whilst defining a scheme with its own essential unique character, sense of place and destination that integrates into the established urban framework of the City and its green landscape.”