_Canteen for the House of Recreation for Writers of Armenia_

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photo: Simona Rota

Jutting out towards Lake Sevan, a short distance outside of Yerevan, the Armenian capital, the canteen for the guesthouse of the Writers’ Union of Armenia is one of the prime examples of Soviet modernism. Completed in 1969, it still maintains its original function, which is to house authors seeking relaxation and inspiration.

Armenian architect Gevorg Kotchar, a graduate from the Vkhutemas school in Moscow, was commissioned to design the canteen in 1965. Shaped like a tongue jutting out towards lake Sevan, considered the pearl of Armenia, the canteen offers spectacular views. Not devoid of decoration, the external skin to the curved terrace wall is patterned to resemble fish scales.

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photo: YerevanProject CJSC

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photo: courtesy Le Monde Diplomatique

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photo: Markus Weisbeck

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photo: courtesy Le Monde Diplomatique

 Between 1920 and 1991, Armenia was part of the Soviet Union. The modern Republic of Armenia became independent in 1991. In that time many examples of Soviet modernism were built. Far from uniform and monotonous, Soviet modernist buildings display ingenuity and imagination. Regional differences are also present, reflecting the USSRs ethnic and national diversity.

According to Ruben Arevchatyan (author on many essays on Soviet modernism) “…. in contrast to the 90s, where very one-sided, anti-Soviet feelings were widespread … nowadays many are reconsidering the socialist modernist project, and rethinking the Soviet experience. A clear sense is emerging of what society gained and lost as it moved from one form of social structure to another.” He argues that many Armenians are gradually realising what it means when society loses the principles of egalitarianism and social justice. Translated into architecture, this means projects that are there to serve the public good, realised with public funding, each with a distinct social function aimed at giving everybody access to libraries, theatres, concert halls, education and healthcare. Explaining the renewed interest in Soviet modernist architecture, Arevchatyan rejects the idea that it is due to nostalgia, instead “there is a clear understanding that the USSR was not a model society, and that it failed for a reason. So it was not about romanticising. It is about developing a critical sense to understand the errors of the past as well as those of the present.”

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photo: Christopher Camargo

I was unfortunately not able to gain permission to republish the architectural drawings for the canteen. Here is a link to the Architekturzentrum in Vienna which obtained them from the Armenian national archives: plans and elevations. This website displays a rich database of Soviet modernist architecture outside the USSR. It is worth spending some time on that site, exploring the weird and wonderful Soviet modernist buildings. The database was put together by researchers from Architekturzentrum Vienna, who did extensive research and fieldwork, for the book Soviet Modernism 1955-1991 and an exhibition in Vienna in late 2012.
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photo: courtesy Le Monde Diplomatique