For the architectural enthusiast who wants to experience contemporary architecture at its creative best, the answer may not lie in Dubai or Shanghai, but in the humble Caucasian republic of Georgia. In the past decade, the Georgian government under then-president Mikheil Saakashvili — 2013 Architizer A+Awards Patron of the Year — commissioned prominent western European architecture firms to execute dozens of public buildings with only one directive: build a distinctly new Georgia.
As the story goes, the Rose Revolution of 2003 peacefully replaced the Soviet-era Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze with the much younger and pro-Western Mikheil Saakashvili. Affectionately dubbed ‘Misha’ by the public, Saakashvili was a reformer who thought spatially: his Georgia would look quite different from the pallid rows of cement apartment blocks that had been erected under Russian rule.
The architectural interventions of Georgia are a fascinating case study of contemporary building design in blank-slate conditions. In the absence of a dominant architectural history, firms such as J. Mayer H. and Architects of Invention have had unprecedented opportunity to create truly expressive designs. The results, of which the following seven projects are only a very limited selection, speak for themselves.
The Sarpi Border Checkpoint is in many ways emblematic of Georgia’s architectural revolution. It stands as the west-facing gate of the nation displaying its values to neighboring Turkey and the European Union beyond. Architecturally, it picks up where Erich Mendelsohn’s Einstein tower left off: bold, sculptural, and proudly eccentric.
The Prosecutor’s Office in Tbilisi successfully unites two seemingly irreconcilable characteristics: the goal of Georgia’s reformed judiciary to appear transparent and accessible while maintaining the indomitable façade of law enforcement. Architects of Invention achieve this duality by having the glass-faced offices float within an impenetrable-looking safe-box.
The grandeur of J. Mayer H.’s Rest Stops in Gori is commensurate with the great sense of national pride in Georgia’s newly refurbished interstate highway system. The characterful concrete members bestride the landscape with an assuredness previously unseen in Georgia. They also often serve as a backdrop for Georgian wedding ceremonies.
The image of a reformed, post-Soviet, technocratic society could not be better symbolized than by the Lazika Office Building, which serves the triple function of municipal offices, public service hall, and wedding hall.
Unlike most of the projects in this collection, the Fuel Station + McDonald’s was planned by a local firm, Khmaladze Architects. The cantilevered roof in combination with the steel exoskeleton contrasts sharply with the Soviet-era blocks surrounding it, both in its highly developed construction and its metaphorical openness.
The Mestia Police Station demonstrates the comprehensive approach taken by Mikheil Saakashvili in his ambitious push to rebuild his country. Mestia is a town of approximately 2,600 inhabitants, yet still merits a handsomely idiosyncratic police station.
The Airport Building at Mestia provided J. Mayer H. with the opportunity for a quick etude — it took the micro-airport-terminal only three months from planning to completion.