During the time of the Soviet Union, the sanatorium existed as a space in service of the soviet worker and the socialist revolution outside the socialist, linear city—often in temperate climates, especially near the dead sea, central asia, and the caucasus, where Armenia is located. Sanatoria were the spaces of a required vacation to all workers. They would heal the worker so that they could have a better performance in the industrial process. The sanatoria contrast with the current concept of wellness which is based around the neoliberalism idea of the self above everything else.
Where communities, and local places are pushed aside in favour of capital. Taking into consideration these two extremes, and the context of Charentsavan, a city that has an infrastructure in place but disconnected to the rest of the world, we are proposing Alternativ. This project is conceived as a place where people who lack a support network in society can find one. Reusing the industrial zone of the city would extend beyond to the residential area. Drawing inspiration from the connectivity of the industrial past of Charentsavan and the partially ruinous state of its factories, we have reinterpreted different objects and placed them as screens, frames, that create different spaces, transparencies, and atmospheres.
The program utilises the screens to interlock and create different layers of privacy. It is divided as a way to provide safe spaces to those who need it, such as clinics and therapy spaces, Intermediate areas where people from Charentsavan and the people in the safe spaces can interact, such as galleries, gardens, gyms, etc. The different spaces are tied together and, at times, disconnected from a meandering elevated walkway. Finally, as a way to add to the sense of layering, the machinery is left on the ground floor, the walkway is elevated as to not interfere with the frames which at times are reused parts of the contents in the factory, and at times are newly proposed objects, reminiscent of the factory.
What prompted the project?
EK: Witnessing the inspiring perseverance of Armenian culture and the sense of unity of Armenian society in the face of immense economical and existential hardships. And realizing how a national unity might also implicate a societal expectancy of conformity.
What questions does the project raise and which does it answer?
EK: What is an alternative to a neo-liberal idea of wellness, where hyper-individualistically derived modes of mental and physical therapy are not utilized? How does this alternative not propose a hegemonic emphasis on the wellbeing of the collective at the expense of the individual, as seen in the soviet model of sanatoriums? How should the dichotomic positioning of the betterment of the individual and the collective be reperceptualized in order to reveal their inherent codependency? In the post-soviet Armenian setting, which individuals have come to be viewed as the propagators of such a dichotomy merely through their existence? In the face of these questions, we are proposing a physical literalization of an alternative theoretical framework of societal health where the marginal identities are physically centralized, and through a nexus of connections, they are afforded a safe space that is not secluded. Through our proposal we imagine a network of health that stems from a spatial and communal sense of belonging.
What informed the choice of Charentsavan as site?
JPC: Charentsavan was a booming part of the industrial process during the Soviet Union in Armenia. The town, created solely around the production process, was modeled after the linear socialist city paradigm. In this model, there is a linear zone allocated for factories and production spaces that was linked to the rest of the U.S.S.R. manufacturing chain. For example, people would make small pieces of machines and they would be assembled elsewhere in this socialist empire, often these products would be sent overseas, so Charentsavan was a significant player in a socialist process of globalization, which in itself brought a sense of pride in the town. There was another strip of the city that was allocated for housing. In between the housing and industrial linear zones, there is ‘park’ area that would house most of the social and significant spaces of a city, such as shops, cinemas, schools, clinics, etc. After the fall of the U.S.S.R. the factory complex fell into disuse and, as a result, the city that was built around the production process also suffered. There were cases of depopulation, and economic crisis in Charentsavan and similar towns all over the U.S.S.R. The choice of this town is meant to start a conversation of what can be done to reuse the industrial infrastructure built for the socialist utopia and to investigate Charentsavan and towns in order to bring back a sense of prosperity and connectivity to the rest of the world. The project tries to go beyond capital and brings a new humane sense to this town and can utilise similar programs and modes of designing to places that had the same problems after the collapse of a socio-economic backlash.
Lastly, the choice of the program came about a careful research of the site and we found that
around Charentsavan, there are numerous places that have spaces dedicated to wellness
which can be spiritual, physical, touristic, and medicinal, so Charentsavan itself could work as a magnet that could interact with these places and create connectivity again, but in a different way.
How did you approach the city?
IC: There was a collective studio attempt to learn the dance of powers and resultant dynasties that composed Armenia’s past by making manuscripts and “obyekts”. This loosely blanketed our initial perception of Charentsavan as we explored the city in person. We worked closely with students from the National University of Architecture and Construction of Armenia to understand the issues that the residents of Charentsavan faced from the fall of the Soviet Union to the present.
What lead you to the element of the screen? How do you define this between the physical and the digital?
IC: The spectral qualities of the factory that we perceived were found in the impermanence of the existing materials and structures. Our documentation of the space let us realize that, at varying scales, the colors and textures that informed our spatial experiences were held within a structural frame. This system perpetuates a cycle for materials to be held, collapse from age or stress, and be refilled. From tan, perforated leaves of paper crushed in between wood frames splitting at the joints, to shattered glass fragments, tinted yellow and blue and precariously clamped by metal supports, we catalogued the colors and sheens that bore marks of time and implied narratives. By drawing reinterpretation tiles that explored how to curate and inform the interventive screens, we used photo-collage as the primary method to index the found subtleties.
What tools were implemented in the development of the project, from concept to research to execution?
EK: We utilized tools of representation such as model making and collaging where we investigated how programmatic juxtapositions created new modes of socio-spatial connections as well as conducting historical research in order to get a better grasp of the national realities of contemporary Armenian society.
What informed the language of representation of the project?
IC: We were interested in the potential of gaps as a method of engaging the viewer to fill in what is not given by the drawing. This was inspired by our experience in the existing factory where the holes left by the decay and age of the structures and materials allowed a vagueness that we could project new opportunities for intervention. We chose to work with a deep contrast of color and texture, and simple linework to allow room for interpretation.