NUT Minsk 2010
On 27–29 October 2010 Färgfabriken joint with its Belarusian partner Gallery “Ў” carried out an extensive program on urban topologies in Minsk for city hall representatives, architects, urban planners, students and other interested participants. The aim of the initiative was to identify ways to strengthen positive values and transform challenges facing the city of Minsk.
City parks threatened by flashy constructions and anonymous module suburbs emerging at breakneck-speed. These are some of the challenges and opportunities facing Minsk, the Belarus capital city.
The starting point of the project New Urban Topologies (NUT) in Minsk was a reception hosted by the Embassy of Sweden where a dialogue among the Swedish and Belarusian participants took off. A seminar at the Gallery “Ў” and a excursion in the city of Minsk followed. At the seminar the Swedish Ambassador to Belarus Stefan Eriksson underlined the importance of strengthening the Swedish–Belarusian relations in the field of urban topology.
The director of Färgfabriken, Joachim Granit, spoke on the projects of Färgfabriken and the history of Sweden, from the 1800s urban slums to 1960s massive housing projects to the segregation of today, whilst NUT project director Thomas Lundh explained the working methods of Färgfabriken, which are focused on gathering of different kind of professionals for an exchange of experiences and ideas. Cecilia Lindahl from the Office of Regional Planning in Stockholm also underlined the significance of participation from stakeholders of different sectors at different levels, whilst Ludvig Elgström from the City Planning Office spoke on the challenge of a growing Stockholm, with new housing and infrastructure. Ebba Högström from The Royal Academy of Technology explained the education system for architects and urban planners in Stockholm and highlighted some recent research projects.
Aliaksandr Akentieu, head of the general plan workshop “Minskgrada” described the main directions of the territorial development of the city of Minsk and the centralized planning process that is a heritage from the Soviet times. His colleague, Siarhei Bahlasau, head of architecture and design within the same project, spoke on the historical centre of Minsk in the modern city. Lastly, the artist Artur Klinau proposed a marketing concept for Minsk, focused on promoting Soviet architecture for foreign visitors.
Minsk by Bus
The route through the city included several sites that all had been picked by the vice president of the Belarusian Union of Architects Mikhail Haufeld with the aim of showing a wide spectrum of what the city of Minsk is today. On the basis of the presentations during the seminar, informal discussions and the sites shown during the bus excursion Färgfabriken and the Swedish participants summarized it all into four themes. “Livable Spaces“, addressed issues such as street life, green areas, recreation places and diversity within architecture and city planning. “City of History––Looking Into the Future“ focused on heritage preservation, renewal of industrial areas, the recapturing of the past and the values and identity for Minsk. ”Exchanging Ideas” included topics such as global versus local, urban strategies and urban education and how to include the opinions of the city dwellers when developing the city. ”Sustainable Mobility” targeted alternative transports, how to create a healthy city, local production and decentralized connections within transport infrastructure.
Then followed a workshop where four groups, consisting of both Belarusian and Swedish participators, intensively discussed and developed the chosen themes. Finally they came forward with interesting results which we’re presented later the same day.
The participants in the group that focused on the topic “livable spaces” decided to address the unused industrial area surrounding the white plant on Krasnoarmejskaya Street. The team members did not want to demolish existing buildings but instead turn them into centers for sports activities, contemporary art, social facilities, and housing for students and guest researchers from other parts of the country.
The group that focused on the historical city and its prospects for the future came to name their proposal “The River of Time”, an analogy for the flow of history. As a case study they had chosen the large and old industrial complex in red brick on Oktyabrskaya Street, where there are almost no workers today. One idea was to turn the industrial plants into lofts, another to build new structures on top of the old. The group also wanted to extend the river by widen it and construct additional watercourses, insert more green areas, build a new tramline and tram station and perhaps also introduce old-fashioned horse carts. The aim was to create a boiling street life with room for creativity and meeting places. The participants that discussed exchanging of ideas decided to look at the city from the perspectives of experts, citizens and decision makers. Firstly, they discussed the diversity and individuality in architecture from the viewpoint of an inhabitant. Stories were told of how people create their own space in front of their apartments by adding flowerpots and how you deal with that as a neighbor if your taste differs. The team members suggested that, as people seem to want to add individuality to anonymous buildings, the city should provide unfinished structures to which the people could add their creativity.
The participants focusing on the subject of “sustainable mobility” discussed intellectual infrastructure as well as transport infrastructure. It was stated that the two existing metro lines are functioning well, as does the railway lines. With a high-speed train line however, inhabitants from the satellite cities could be brought closer to the central city.The team members also suggested better transport infrastructure between the suburban areas. They were concerned about traffic jams and pollution and suggested a prohibition of private cars in the historic center of the city. Moreover, the team saw a need for environmentally friendly transportation, they wanted to continue the construction of bike lanes and insert a new aerial cable car.
One of the important discussions that came out of NUT dealt with the branding of Minsk and the directions for the development of the city. Today, new architectural projects are compared with the ones of Dubai and Las Vegas. The residential housing is focused on large cheap multi-story buildings in the outskirts of the city. Parts of the city center and some religious structures are being meticulously rebuilt. But many of the participants expressed a particular animosity towards these directions, asking for residential areas and architectural monuments at a more human scale and new ideas within the built environment rather that a rebuilding or repeating of the old. Among most local participants there was an expressed desire for an extended dialogue between decision makers and citizens, as well as a wish for a greater transparency within the planning process. A wish for international collaboration was also articulated, both among students and professionals.
Participants and contributors in Minsk
Belarus: Gallery “Ў”; Committee for architecture and urban planning under the Minsk City Executive Committee; Belarusian Union of Architects (BUA); The Ministry of Culture Committee Historical and Cultural Heritage Protection and Restoration; Belarusian National Technical University Architecture department; Belarusian State University Department of Arts and Centre for Visual Arts; Minsk voblasts Committee of Architecture “Design and Production Architecture and Planning Bureau”; Town Planning Department; A number of local architects and students.
Sweden: Färgfabriken; The City Planning Office in Stockholm; The Office of Regional Planning in Stockholm; The Royal Academy of Technology in Stockholm; The Swedish Embassy in Minsk.
The text is an shortened, and partly re-written, version of the report “New Urban Topologies Minsk” by Rebecka Gordan.
TheChişinău and Minsk Experience
The result and the experience from these two cities are gathered in the book The Chisinau and Minsk Experience.
The book’s thematic chapters include presentations from seminars, bus excursions, and workshops. In each chapter the reader will also find interviews with participants conducted throughout the span of the visits, as well as shorter freestanding statements and comments on the presentations. The book also includes essays written by contributing authors in retrospect.