Welcome to my 2016 Eastern European Blog! Why a blog? Ah, freedom! A powerful word and the foundation of a blog…the first person subjunctive, well partially anyway. Free to say what needs to be said! An opinion piece, an OpEd with words like “I and me and we and us” along with some interesting facts and observations along the way! All flavored with some interesting pics! A window into a world unknown to most of us.
Most Americans believe that the world should learn from us, that “We are the greatest nation on earth!” Sound familiar? Well consider us learning from the world, transforming our perception of the planet’s people and places from “Ain’t that quaint” to “Now that’s something you don’t see every day!” Provocative! Imagine if you will…where we’ve come from and where we are going to. I’m here in this blog to discuss architecture and cities of course…being an architect, what else? Well, how about sustained and lasting city development that works, resilient urban fabric is one of the terms of the trade. How does urban fabric, cities of all sorts relate to social structure, business, the environment on a grand scale? Ah, that famous Triple Bottom Line again. Talk about infamous, but consider what will be said about our cities and architecture, our society in the next millennium or two or three for that matter? What legacies will we leave when we are as ancient as Egypt or Mesopotamia.
Of all the lasting and permanent icons of any civilization, the cities and their architecture defines a culture. It’s what we look back on, to consider who those people were. What made them tick? The one lasting indelible mark of a place’s substance. What will be said when our rocket ship of an IT age and all its trappings become dust and archaeology projects? When our cities have risen and crumbled more times than accountable, what lessons will be learned from our busy path. We are…so very busy! “How are you? I’m busy, so very busy” “I’m too busy to read your blog!” An actual quote! It’s an absolutely unique time in human history on every front. What will color the picture of who we are today, played out in tomorrow’s globalized cities. But hey, we Americans don’t fail, we win! Ut oh, sound familiar? A cheap shot maybe but consider this…how in the short time of several decades did we manage to create the Rust Belt? Yeah, that’s right, all those cities and towns slowly rusting away, turning in dust. How did we get here? And…”here” is where it is!
Why Eastern Europe? Why Ukraine?
I must get the questions “Why Eastern Europe?” “Why Ukraine?” exactly every time I mention my travels and this blog. On my flight here, a very nice German/American guy says to me… “Why Ukraine? Not exactly your garden spot!” Why Ukraine? Let me answer with a few questions of my own…”What is architecture?” “How does history affect architecture?” Maybe one step further, “How does culture inform architecture?” Now add in politics, money, business! Now a challenge…”Define sustainability and resiliency!” Maybe none of those questions are so easy…
Here’s one view nicely packaged in a nut shell. The Soviets and the US locked in a chilly war, both adopted a Brave New World philosophy exemplified by the modern movement in the post WWII era of nation building and rebuilding. Driven by completely opposing political views, economies and empowered working class, each side stood completely opposite the other. This translated into housing, infrastructure and city development defining each of our societies, our core values and our approaches. In the Soviet Union, the workers were the political if not humanitarian focus of Stalinist USSR, building mass high rise housing apartments, broad boulevards, huge parks, massive and elaborate mass transit systems, city center shopping districts, gargantuan plazas and squares, everything out of proportion and on a massive and grand scale. Their cities and architecture exemplified their idealism of their social system, huge, grand, forever! The collective of the working class founded everything with a focus on the workers, the hammer and sickle. The collective approach. The USSR built their Brave New World, the new paradigm based on their specific political philosophy, egalitarian worker’s revolution. If it was hijacked by Stalin and the other recent Soviet dictators, it was still a philosophical principal imprinted over the existing historic city structure, directly over the ancient architecture and streets or in many cases the rubble created by Hitler’s troops.
In the US, with the boom of the post WWII era, the workers had jobs, bought cars and houses and campers and TV’s and moved to the suburbs, with all that suggests. The American Dream was based in mobility, open space and freedom. A house, a garage, 2 cars, 2 kids and a lawnmower. Two opposite models of socio-political philosophy and city development based on similar goals, enhancing the life styles of the working class. Anyone familiar with architectural history and city planning will tell you that it could be boiled down to Le Corbusier vs. FL Wright, Radiant City high rises vs. Wright’s Broadacre suburbs. Check out those links! Opposing models creating either dense, consolidated cities or sprawling suburbs. Overly simplified, maybe but here’s that nutshell…the Soviets invested in the city center and the Americans in the suburbs. What in each of these city models has been sustained over time? Another way of asking the question…”What creates sustainable cities?” How’s that for a bit of hyperbole?