Chronicling the city

12 Sep 2012

SPPARC designs new urban relam in Georgia's historic capital

A resilient city, Tbilisi's turbulent history stretches back to 500AD when the 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 into a dignified decay. However, the world is slowly waking up to the beautiful Georgian capital which has been on a tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2007.

It is well recognised that Georgia must find the resource 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 and  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'.

Instigated by The Capital Partners of Georgia who control a vital historic hill side position within the ancient Bath District with wide panoramic views over the City, London-based design studio SPPARC, triumphed in a privately commissioned competition of international practices to develop a new concept for the urban regeneration of this prominent site.  

The SPPARC scheme integrates retail, residential, hospitality and civic elements into a wider public access project which will lead visitors to the development through the Botanical Gardens and into a new cultural quarter conceptualised with independent artists and museums in mind.

Informed by the narrow sloped street pattern and fragmented scale of the ancient City from which the area originates, the mixed use project of galleries, museums, boutique hotels, apartments, villas and retail streets following the ancient silk route hugs a new green landscape.

In response to the brief and heritage criteria, the success of the scheme is an architectural response that acknowledges the past, and successfully cohabitates with it by creating an architectural vernacular and 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 landscape.

The Mirza Shafi concept has been conceived from the earliest stages of the design to integrate a comprehensive and distinct eco-based identity founded upon the historical, cultural and physical environment. This indigenous identity promoted by SPPARC has evolved into an architectural language influenced by an elegant and beautiful disintegration of the architectural fabric so prevalent within the City.

The form and surface appearance of Mirza Shafi is both sculptural and rich in metaphor. The proposed façade treatments are not designed as a homogenous solution, but rather each aspect of the building envelope has been considered in relation to its own context and how it fulfils its purpose.

Whilst each elevation responds to its context and offers the aspired variety, the proposals do retain a strong relationship to the schemes inspiration which delivers an elevational response that binds the scheme as a single composition.

The scheme recognises the dramatic hillside features of this unique location and exploits the natural phenomena of the sun, shade and views whilst creating open spaces and an interconnection into the botanical gardens to create a safe and attractive pedestrian environment. 

Landscaping and architectural form's have all been priority factors influencing the sustainable planning and design of the Mirza Shafi concept.  Recycled building materials, energy efficient and passive solar technologies intent to harmonize with the urban and rural qualities of the site have dictated the plan and section of the proposal.

The use of clean renewable energy sources, along with sustainable building practices are at the heart of the Mirza Shafi proposal.  The natural hot water springs on which the ancient origins of Tbilisi was founded ('Tbili' means 'warm' in Georgian) are utilised within the scheme as a geothermal source of heating and cooling for each building.

The infrastructure of the proposition ensures that the Mirza Shafi scheme will be entirely energy self sufficient whilst establishing the development as the first fossil fuel free zone in Georgia. Whilst the SPPARC Mirza Shafi project remains at concept stage, the principles of their layout were adopted by the Municipality in 2011. 

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