The Ukrainian members of ФОРМА and the Pavilion of Culture, curators of the Checkpoint “Protected Lands” project at the 3rd Tbilisi Architecture Biennial, answer from Kyiv to KoozArch's questions, despite the numerous blackouts affecting the region, and expand on their interdisciplinary design practice. In specific, they address the ecological implications of the current Ukrainian war, along with their design response through the Checkpoint they exhibited at Tbilisi. Their highly political take speaks of the current dramatic conditions of their homeland, tackling from an architectural perspective the ecological damage and population's displacement that result from the war.
KOOZ Could you please start by introducing us to the office ФОРМА and its operational methodology in between “research and experiments in architecture”?
AD, IM, OP, AZ ФОРМА is an independent office based in Kyiv, Ukraine. It is driven by its vision to bring together research and experimentation in architecture. The work of our office takes place at the intersection of both disciplines, using various forms of projects’ presentation in a balance between theory and practice. The form of presentation can be completely different: from spatial development of strategies, master plans, renovation programs and buildings to books, interfaces, installations and exhibitions. Dealing with constant changes in ecology, economy, political and social systems allow us to think comprehensively and initiate cooperation for interdisciplinary growth.
KOOZ As a practice which works at the intersection of the disciplines and aims to initiate cooperation for interdisciplinary growth, to which extent this approach shapes the agenda and output of your work?
AD, IM, OP, AZ We do not have a narrow specialization in the team; at each stage of work we determine the directions in which a group of architects, researchers, graphic designers and invited specialists is formed. Every project starts with a search for a visual language, the study of technological possibilities, an economic analysis or historical research. This is similar to how exploration expeditions are formed to discover remote lands.
The project Checkpoint “Protected Lands” shows a fortification similar to those the Ukrainians made in the early days of the full-scale Russian invasion.
KOOZ For this year’s Tbilisi Architecture Biennale, you developed the project Checkpoint “Protected Lands”. What prompted you to focus on the importance of protecting the land before, during, and after the war in Ukraine? What kind of specific perspective did you attribute to this? (the environmental standpoint)
AD, IM, OP, AZ The project Checkpoint “Protected Lands” was created to show the fortification built in the centre of Tbilisi as part of the architecture Biennale. This fortification structure is similar to those the Ukrainians made in the early days of the full-scale Russian invasion, but it is not a decoration with a lot of details, it is more a political gesture in the form of a pure architectural statement. The dot in the centre of the city tests us once again for solidarity, memory, impatience and involvement.
In addition, we held a panel discussion as part of the overall project “Protected Lands” on landscapes as natural barriers and forms of land defence, which we revealed through conversations with researchers who show the unobvious consequences of the war. The main agenda was the impact of the war on the ecological situation in Ukraine, what new challenges our country is facing and what remains to be overcome. Until now mountains, ravines, rivers, lakes, swamps and impenetrable forests protected us from invasion and the rapid capture of our territories. Therefore, we, in turn, must take care of their preservation during the war and after the victory. The mould covering the fortification should visualize these two interacting components: how, on one side, our nature and topography are protecting us from the invaders and, on the other hand, are suffering from them.
The main agenda was the impact of the war on the ecological situation in Ukraine, what new challenges our country is facing and what remains to be overcome.
KOOZ The Ukrainian Pavilion is the outcome of collaborations, research and exchange. What role does interdisciplinary research and thinking played in the conception and design of the pavilion?
AD, IM, OP, AZ The research project “Protected Lands” in frames of the Tbilisi Architectural Biennial was started under the young institution from Kyiv “Pavilion of Culture”, founded in 2020 as a physical space but also a platform for interdisciplinary projects in architecture, contemporary art and music.
The Pavilion of Culture is a community of curators, researchers, and experts, overseen by a board of trustees. In terms of the architectural direction of the institution we collaborate to shape architecture and urbanism towards environmentally sustainable urban solutions. The creation of any project is based on interdisciplinary research. Therefore, the presented Checkpoint project, “Protected Lands,” turned out to be no exception to the approach of our institution. The project design was developed to shed a light once again to a reminder of the war in Ukraine – which we put at the centre of the Georgian capital – along with underlying the importance of protecting Georgian land from occupation. This can occur not only in an aggressive way but also in a “soft” one. The latter can be observed now in Tbilisi, where thousands of Russians sought refuge, not from the war in Ukraine but from their mobilization at home, along with displaced Georgians. This way we also wanted our installation to be an emotional vision for Tbilisi’s citizens themselves, as many of them are familiar with similar constructions after the invasion of Russia, which Georgia experienced in 2008.
We wanted our installation to be an emotional vision for Tbilisi’s citizens themselves, as many of them are familiar with similar constructions after the invasion of Russia, which Georgia experienced in 2008.
KOOZ How does the project challenge the notion and role of a checkpoint as a tool and device through which we can effectively protect our land? What does the term “protect” entail?
AD, IM, OP, AZ Despite modern technology, the need for a quick and effective response to a threat forced us to turn to the intuitive form of protection humanity has used for centuries; the most effective protection of defensive structures is provided when combined with natural obstacles, indeed people have long settled where the landscape could protect them. Modern checkpoints are almost similar in function to historical defensive fortifications. The checkpoint provides traffic control and safety and can be part of a more extensive system of fortifications with surveillance, cover and fire functions. We draw a parallel with the basic age-old ways of protecting our land and the importance of preserving them during the war and after. Our project is assembled from eight concrete blocks and soil. As a challenge, it shows that such rapid construction can defend territories, create barriers to invasion and establish the boundaries of regions. We also draw attention to the fact that this checkpoint provides cultural protection for our land, which cannot be destroyed by invading the territory.
Checkpoint "Protected Lands", realized by Pavilion Kultury Architecture, Ukraine, ФОРМА.
Despite modern technology, the need for a quick and effective response to a threat forced us to turn to the intuitive form of protection humanity has used for centuries.
KOOZ Your pavilion tackles very important political and geopolitical matters through a study of the land, developing an argument around its cultural value that suggests the need for environmental protection. Can you please articulate your position towards the political and environmental entanglements in your work?
AD, IM, OP, AZ The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine since February 24 is destroying and directly affecting the political situation and ecological systems. At the moment we can only imagine the overall impact of the war on the environment due to the need for more accurate data and research.According to preliminary estimates of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine, Russia is conducting military operations on 900 natural reserves with an area of 12,406.6 square kilometres. It means thatRussian troops are moving into wild lands and protected natural areas. The movement of heavy equipment, the construction of fortifications along with fighting damages the soil, leading to vegetation degradation, pollution of water bodies and species’ extinction. The forests are full of fallen rockets and unexploded ordnance, creating a potential risk for people that will last decades. Deforestation is a direct consequence of the construction of military infrastructures, fortifications, at the cost of an energy crisis. Chemical pollution caused by shelling, soil pollution and the consequences of fires at industrial facilities all directly impact the changing climate situation and the undeniably dramatic events in our territories. Ukraine must already create effective, war-adapted environmental monitoring concerning its national climate goals. It is also vital to include ecosystem restoration and protection in Ukraine's recovery plan focusing on natural solutions and adaptation to climate change. All these issues are now on the country's agenda, and it is impossible not to raise them in our work.
We wanted to show that the war goes beyond the borders of territories and causes problems that have global resonance such as migration, hunger, energy, economic crisis and environmental changes in cities and territories.
KOOZ How did the installation seek to engage with the public and fabric of Tbilisi? What reactions were you hoping to obtain and how could these be catalysed into concrete action and effective impact on our natural environment?
AD, IM, OP, AZ The invasion of Ukraine poses enormous challenges for Georgia, a small country directly affected by the war mainly through immigration waves comprising citizens of Ukraine, Belarus and especially Russia. According to the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs between March and July 2022 over 300,000 Russians and 55,000 Belarusians entered the country. This has led to increased demand for housing, rising rental prices, inflation, oversaturation of the city's infrastructure and other urban problems. Our project sought to draw as much attention as possible to the war in Ukraine; our work aimed not only at the residents of Tbilisi but all the "guests" of this city. We wanted to show that the war goes beyond the borders of territories and causes problems that have global resonance such as migration, hunger, energy, economic crisis and environmental changes in cities and territories. Therefore, our installation stood on one of the busy streets of Tbilisi as a powerful reminder of these problems. We watched many townspeople learning the meaning of the structure, and someone got acquainted with the project by reading its description. This has remained the primary outcome of our work: to attract more and more actors to the city.
Iryna Miroshnykovais an architect and urban development researcher. She is currently working on her Ph.D. thesis exploring the socio-economic and planning features of Ukrainian monofunctional cities at Vienna Technical University’s Faculty of Architecture and Spatial Planning. Iryna is a partner at ФОРМА, one of Kyiv’s architectural offices whose work is focused on spatial development strategies, master planning, renovation programs as well as interface, installation, exhibition design. Furthermore, Iryna has co-founded the Pavilion of Culture, a cross-disciplinary institution where she curates architectural research.
Oleksii Petrov the founder and partner of the Kyiv-based architecture office ФОРМА. His practice spans urban research, architecture, stage and exhibition design. Oleksii is a co-founder of the Pavilion of Culture, a cross-disciplinary institution created in 2020 in the building of the modernist pavilion of the coal industry on the territory of VDNG built in 1967 in Kyiv.
Anna Dobrova is a cultural manager, curator and researcher in urbanism and architecture. She has an architectural background, which she gained at the National Academy of Fine Arts in Kyiv, the Technical University of Vienna, and multiple architectural and urban planning bureaus. While living in Vienna Anna became more interested in socially oriented architecture, which she practices through curatorial practice, educational workshops, art, urban interventions and participatory action research. Since 2015 Anna has co-funded NGO MistoDiya for urban interventions, research and curatorial practices. In 2018, Anna co-founded and curated NGO Metalab, an urban laboratory in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine. In 2020 Anna participated in building up the new institution Pavilion of Culture in Kyiv as a program and project developer.
Anastasiia Zhuravelis a researcher, curator, and social business entrepreneur. She graduated from Technische Universität Berlin of the Faculty of Planning, Building, and Environment in Urban Management. She is interested in critical urban studies in both her research and professional focus, emphasizing collective civic actions, urban governance and sustainable urban systems. Anastasiia is a co-founder of the Charity Foundation and NGO Laska and an associate at the Pavilion of Culture (architecture) in Kyiv. Before, she worked at CANactions School for Urban Studies as a program coordinator and gained professional experience living and working in different countries and cities; among them were Bangkok and Hongkong, where she worked in real estate development.