Recipient of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2019.
Tatarstan’s Soviet period, beginning in 1920’s, saw much modernist construction and hierarchical centralised planning, with diverse urban locations made to look alike. Many mosques and churches were destroyed, leaving their associated public spaces functionless. The post-Soviet era, since the Republic of Tatarstan’s foundation in 1992, brought freedom of movement and an exodus from rural towns. Also, a return to private real-estate ownership enabled wealthy individuals and businesses to buy up large swathes of land, notably in scenic lakeside and forest areas, thus limiting the population’s recreation options in most post-soviet countries.
The ambitious Public Spaces Development Programme seeks to counter these trends and to offer an equal quality of environment to all Tatar citizens, regardless of settlement size – as well as reinstating a sense of individual place in each. From its inception by the President of Tatarstan in 2015 until the end of 2018, it had transformed 328 spaces across each of the Republic’s 45 municipal districts, covering 33 villages, 42 towns and two major cities, and embracing both Soviet and longer-standing historical settings.
There are ten different project types: water bodies; ponds; embankments; beaches; parks; public gardens; boulevards; squares; streets; and walkways. Most include infrastructure for cultural activities. Unified way-finding signage, furniture and ornamental features reflect aspects of each place’s culture or history, and are produced locally to a high standard, incentivising small businesses. The spaces are conceived for year-round enjoyment, including during dark winters and heavy snowfall, through eye-catching lighting and sometimes winter sports facilities. The snowfall offered a further challenge of limiting construction to the period from May to November.
Some projects are initiated by members of the community, others by the state. In all cases the design and implementation process is highly participatory, based on strong engagement with local citizens and extensive consultation of economists, anthropoligists, dendrologists and others. An architectural bureau initiated by the Programme’s curator has become a magnet for young local and national talent, with many of its recruits going on to set up their own practices to oversee one of the larger projects. The positive changes seen are social, economic, cultural and ecological as well as physical. The success of this initiative has led to the introduction in 2017a similar programme at a federal level.
Source: Aga Khan Trust for Culture - Aga Khan Award for Architecture