NUT Kharkiv 2013 – Destruction, Diversity & Communication

Färgfabriken’s international program New Urban Topologies brings together architects, academics, artists, and officialls from Sweden, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Middle East. The objective is to create conditions for dialogue regarding geographical, cultural and sociological conditions and to investigates how we can redesign and reformulate our common urban environment. New Urban Topologies was carried out in Kharkiv October 23 – 25, 2013.

Kharkiv in the Ukraine is a city looking for a new direction. The city, devastated during World war II, has since grown in leaps, from few inhabitants after the war, to 1,5 mill. at present time. The population growth is manifested in large tenement building areas, increasingly as towers, encircling the city in rings expanding from decade to decade. Since the transformation from a command economy to capitalism, Ukraine is experiencing a replacement of old and sometimes historical buildings by modern condos or office buildings, at times built on speculation and remaining more or less empty because of excessive price levels. At the same time, quite central areas of summer cottages, “datchas” on very small plots of land, are being renovated or demolished and replaced by modern one-family villas. While improving the housing standards in the city these two phenomena contribute to creating segregation between the economic elite and the ordinary citizens.

Kharkiv 520 web

Also, there is a need to preserve and restore the rather few remaining pre-revolutionary buildings as well as examples of constructivist architecture from the USSR era. Another issue of concern is new buildings – allowed by authorities because investors hold considerable means of influence – that block city views and street perspectives. Furthermore remaining heavy bureaucracy from the Soviet times, exacerbated by widespread corruption and deep mistrust of the authorities by the citizenry and of civil society by the government impede communications and transparency with regard to the transformation of the city.

Such were the issues that New Urban Topologies in Kharkiv, October 23 – 25 2013, set out to grapple with. New Urban Topologies participants in Kharkiv were of different generations and different walks of life; academics, practitioners, artists, activists and students. International participants from Beirut, Mostar and Minsk also contributed with their experiences, which led to many fruitful exchanges between the cities. Kharkiv shares a sad history of destruction by war with Beirut, Mostar and Minsk. In the two former cities armed conflict erupted because of ethno-religious differences. Kharkiv, also a city of many ethnicities, possesses potential assets in terms of multiculturalism. Another core area for improvement is consultation and communication between the administration, the professionals and the citizenry, a remnant of the fact that Kharkiv, Minsk, Mostar and Riga have emerged from authorita¬rian systems of government. One reason for the difficulties in this regard in the Ukraine is the juxtaposition of political forces which tend to lead to a stalemate in government action. On the positive side, all four cities are now at a stage of reconstruction, revitalization and reconciliation and can draw on each other’s current experiences.

“The older generation is educating the younger, but in the end I’m not sure who’s going to teach who.” Says Vladimir Bysov who’s being interviewed in the film.

This film was made during New Urban Topologies in Kharkiv. It’s describing the historical development of the city, current situation and possible future solutions – all investigated during the workshop.

Interview withVasylysa Shchogoleva

Tell us a little bit about your background?

Besides the university I’m also involved in “Architectural Adventures”, which is a collaboration between students, graduates in architecture and people from other related fields. The main aim of “Architectural Adventures” is to raise architectural awareness and culture among its users and creators (architects and designers).

What are your experiences from New Urban Topologies in Kharkiv?

New Urban Topologies became a possibility for collaboration with people whom I never met and those who I only knew by their professional skills, but never have succeeded to cooperate with before. During New Urban Topologies we got an opportunity to share our knowledge and experiences about our city, where we live our everyday life. Thanks to the excursions where we walked around together with the international participants, who were in Kharkiv for the first time, we were also able to see our city from a different perspective.

Can you tell us a little bit about the outcome of New Urban Topologies in Kharkiv?

New Urban Topologies brought an opportunity for dialog. This was strongly necessary for locals, who walk the same streets every day, visit the same cafes, rarely leave their own district. However, they have never talked about such topic as “Kharkiv” before and about the spaces that they actually share. Final discussion also highlighted some important key needs that are in the air among people in our city today: dialog between people of different professions and ages; dialog between government and citizens; Kharkiv’s entirety vision; professional critiques and reviews of changes that take place in Kharkiv; alternative proposals for the future of Kharkiv.

Why are these transboundary meetings important in Kharkiv?

It is important because it creates an open dialog in which alternative views of the city can be created in collaboration with people who live in the city but have different backgrounds. It helps us understand what our cities are about and what perspectives we could create for the development and prosperity. That seems to be possible when we all start to share our ideas, knowledge and experience. When dialog becomes international we can learn faster, through other experiences and through others outcomes.

Further reading

Download a pdf with more information about the project here.

Download a Russian version of the article here.