Buildings Are Not Enough

Standardized Lives - Tinatin Gurgenidze

Gldani is often referred to as a separate city, a micro-town situated in the northern periphery of Tbilisi.This densely populated area sprang up some 40 years ago and was the result of a master plan that the Soviet government prepared for Tbilisi in 1970, and that included new mass-housing districts in the north and north-western parts of the city. Along with other periphery settlements of the same kind, Gldani also reflected an attempt by the Soviet government to counter housing shortages. But not only that, the construction of such settlements was meant to urbanize larger areas in the Soviet Union by creating cities of a million inhabitants. In order to achieve this goal, cheaper and effective construction methods were introduced, and houses were no longer built but mass-produced. The period that most affected the mass production of these prefabricated blocks in residential suburbs like Gldani was greatly influenced by Nikita Khrushchev, who re-jected the Stalinist architecture and called on architects, planners and engineers to develop "cheaper, better and quicker" construction methods.

Gldani was named after the village on whose soil it was built. The construction started in the 1970s and took about 20years to finish. The first residents to receive the flats in Gldani in the 1970s were mostly people from a number of regions and villages who came to work in various factories in the city. A few others came from older Tbilisi neighbourhoods. There is no official data about how many people live in Gldani now, but according to 2014 municipal election statistics, the local electorate was 132,358 (www.cesko.ge). Some unofficial sources claim that there are around 170,000 people living in Gldani today. If that is true, the population has clearly grown, as the settlement was originally designed for 147,000 inhabitants.

The author of Gldani's master plan, architect Teimuraz Bochorishvili, says this was an experimental project that came to "ЗНИИЭП” (Zonal Research Institute of Experimental Planning) in the late 1960s. As a young architect back then, Bochorishvili was given the opportunity to work on Gldani.

Gldani consists of nine micro-rayons, including the micro district "A". A micro-rayon or micro-district was a planning unit in the Soviet period that consisted of residential blocks accommodating 5,000 to 10,000 inhabitants, providing necessary amenities like kindergartens, schools, health care, grocery shops and a few public facilities like a cinema or library.

Many believe that because of the lack of funding, the original plan for Gldani was not completely realized, and many ideas were left on paper. Even though Bochorishvili denies this theory, it's true that many micro-rayons were built without basic facilities and were often converted into simple dormitory settlements.

Many radical changes can be seen in present-day Gldani, which exists in a new country and a completely different system. After the break-up of the Soviet Union and the shift from state regulation to market economy, the living conditions in Gldani changed drastically. The transformation processes differed from country to country, but in the case of Gldani its users adapted the design to their own lives instead of adjusting themselves to the existing architecture.

The society that had formed in Soviet times found itself in a new reality and a new system, dealing with new challenges. The most significant events occurred in the transformation period, when the state's lack of control created almost anarchical conditions. Post-Soviet society, which is still in constant flux, is establishing itself by reshaping its public and private spaces. New self-made constructions appear on the facades and patios of old Soviet blocks of flats. In 1989, the Soviet government of Georgia permitted the construction of vertical extensions - sometimes called "vertical slums" - on multi-storey buildings, which are clearly visible on Gldani's blocks today.

Some refer to Gldani as a ghetto, others say that it is like the “Bronx", in view of its diversity. What is definitely true is that a new Gldani has emerged - a dormant suburb has turned into a highly populated area with almost all the necessary infrastructure for its residents. Today, the district that was planned according to Soviet standards, and which originated in the Soviet era, has established itself in a radically different capitalist system in an independent country. Meanwhile, life is flourishing in Gldani. The urban area around the district's only metro station "Akhmeteli"- often claimed as the centre of Gldani - is packed with local businesses like exchange kiosks, shopping malls, street vendors, casinos or cafes. And the famous Gldani Shaurma is also nearby. It is almost certain that new developments won't happen in Gldani in the near future, for it will probably take decades for the attention of the state and investors to focus on settlements of this kind in Tbilisi.

Photo courtesy of Tako Robakidze, Gldani Micro district. 
The text was originally published in the frame of the project Archive Transition in 2015. www.archiveoftransition.org