HOTEL ORIENT / 14TH INTERNATIONAL ARCHITECTURE EXHIBITION
National Pavilion of Georgia / la Biennale di Venezia (2014) / not realized
“It is our duty to hand monuments on in the full richness of their authenticity”
The Venice Charter, 25.05.1964
What is national identity today for such a small country as Georgia? And what is it in the architectural sphere that speaks more directly to the needs and desires of society than the environmentally creative kind of art? All innovative movements down to the present have been nourished by the great political and cultural revolution that occurred at the beginning of the 20th century. Georgia’s national identity embraces not only traditional church architecture, houses with wooden balconies, and buildings of the Soviet period, but also the European architectural heritage. For before the Russian Revolution of 1917, Georgia employed European construction engineers and architects for the most part. As a result, European styles, as well as European buildings, dominate the cityscape of Tbilisi and have had a lasting effect upon it.
At the top of the list of such iconic monuments comes the imposing building that once existed on Rustaveli Avenue. This building was designed by Otto Jacob Simonson and Albert Salzmann, and lived in the memories of Tbilisi folk as the House of Artists. The historical and cultural value of this house has not, however, been investigated until now and the building not been systematically evaluated. Designed in classical style, it stood in the middle of Tbilisi‘s splendid boulevard which is dominated by monumental buildings in the European style. The representative character of the building qualifies it to be considered as a special urban phenomenon. The destiny of this Simonsons-Salzmann construction was really tragic. First it housed the court of Tibilisi (1867), then the luxury “Hotel Orient" (1895) later the "Inturisthotel" (1949 –1979) and finally in the 1980s the House of Artists. During the Tbilisi civil war in the winter of 1991-1992, this stately building served as a staff office and military hospital. Finally in 1994, this severely damaged building was demolished in doubtful circumstances. From the vantage point of today we might conclude that it had fallen victim to changes in the Georgian political regime and attendant complications.
Georgian cultural ministry of the time (March 1993) announced that "the building could be demolished provided it is restored in the original architectural form". But the design of the new building that is now emerging, a building whose function is to be a MUSEUM OF FINE ART, has ignored this provision. In this context it is worth noting one of the meanings of the word "facade", namely “pretense” if not “fake”.
My interest in presenting the Hotel Orient at the Biennale di Venezia is determined by two factors. In the first place, the theme of the upcoming Biennale of Architecture in Venice has been defined as "Fundamentals – Absorbing Modernity: historicism, identity and architectural evolution”. The second factor is of a more personal nature. Since the early 1990s I have been collecting documents, plans, photographs, and the like to which I happened to have had access. I believe that the time has now come to present the archival material about the former “Hotel Orient” to an international audience. Before its destruction during the civil war it had been a place of free and independent artistic activity. I am furthermore taken with the idea that the "Hotel Orient" was originally a place of transit, but towards what? Towards resignation? Towards promise? Or even towards a better world? After 20 years, however, I believe that I possess the necessary distance to dedicate myself to the subject, and to reveal the related classic controversial ideas and conceptions about this place.
The HOTEL ORIENT exhibition in the National Pavilion of Georgia would restore in a specific manner the original building, and renew its architectural vocabulary in order to recover the historical dimensions of the hotel. The focus relies on a unique album, part of the historical archival materials of the ambitious town planning project of 1992, namely the rebuilding and reconstruction of Rustaveli Avenue. On its 48 sheets there are drawn plans, sections and decorative details (facade - stencils). It is virtually the demand for an architecture, which no longer proclaims the abstraction of pure stereometrical forms, but admits once more varied pictorial forms, decoration and ornament, signs and symbols.
Irina Kurtishvili 14.01.2014
In december 1991 during the street fighting between the supporters of President Gamsakhurdia and his opposition the building was severely damaged and burnt down
Photography by W. Kurtishvili
HOTEL ORIENT, facade design on a scale of 1:100 / report of the building damage, dated 30.12.1992, sheet Nr. 10 / 62 x 86 cm, ink on paper
HOTEL ORIENT, installation in the Giardini, outside facade / simulation
EXHIBITIONSDESIGN / SCENOGRAPHY:
The starting point for the external aspect of the Georgian pavilion is a postcard of about 1900 showing the Hotel Orient taken in a perspective view somewhat at an angle to the front. This view is probably the only one to show the complete building, no longer extant. The creation of the outer walls of the pavilion will refer to this image. Fundamental will be the architectural drawings of the facade made in 1992 as a stock-taking of the war damages.
The entrance in Pavilion is somewhat unusual. After a staircase comes access to the real space on the first floor. This space is presented as an imaginary hotel lobby in the form of an installation: a reference to A. Salzmann's building as a hotel, the “Hotel Orient“ and to its later function as a House of Artists.
The exhibition design at first sight might give rise to the suspicion that it is eclectic. However, the fixtures that are employed not very prominently are there on account of their original function, but for their formal qualities as a kind of language of forms. They were thus chosen as a central theme as material of an artistic-formative nature. The central Greek column and the Art Deco-inspired decorations allow the lobby to look imposing; there are a couple of evocative oriental carpets on the floor and small round tables surrounded by Thonet chairs, in the Tbilisi fin de siècle style, as well as a combination of elegant seats in the French style; there is a contrast with consoles of the '50s and simple wooden furniture of the '70s with materials ranging from red to neutral tones. And, finally, all is discreetly lit by standard lamps of different decades of the 20th century.
Architectural drawings are presented on the walls in individually made plexiglass frames to enable the visitor to see the 1992 documentation (the historical album). Drawings, photographs and pieces of furniture are mounted in a visual collage which produces a vision of the “Hotel Orient“ over the century it was in existence.
HOTEL ORIENT INSTALLATION / INSIDE VIEWS / ARRANGEMENT SKETCHES:
In the preparatory process in studio Cologne
The project HOTEL ORIENT was originally conceptualized for the Georgian Pavilion at the 14th Architectural Biennale in Venice. The project was not commissioned, and was recommended to the adaptation to comprehensive museum exhibition. The Georgian participation at the Biennale in Venice was canceled. The project has been presented at the Literature Museum in Tbilisi from November 28, 2014 to January 18, 2015.