Community in Lithuanian city. Mission impossible? 3

Monika Jašinskaitė, 2013-12-11
Unity Square in Kaunas. Photo by Erikas Ovčarenko, from

In brief: The huge disjuncture of inhabitants of Lithuanian cities is felt in each square meter of the city. What is the role of architecture in this situation? Does it decrease or increase this disjuncture? Can it serve as an element uniting the society and what should be changed for this to happen?

The author was encouraged to speak about the community by the reality of the Polish city of Kaunas size, Lublin. The first impression was made by low prices at public nutrition institutions, and the second impression was made by the city architecture – there are many unreconstructed houses in the old town, while multi-flat apartment houses have been reconstructed. Therefore, the situation in Lublin is contrary to Vilnius and Klaipėda, for instance, where the business zone is shining while dwelling quarters seem forlorn and unattended.

The author emphasises that the incentive for renovation was communities of apartment houses which are very strong in Lublin. It is evident that the process was encouraged “from the bottom” rather than “from the top”, like it is in Lithuania.

There is no understanding among people of our country; and this is why we are imprisoned by the bad situation – there is no unity among city inhabitants in order to change the living conditions, but unity is impossible as the living conditions are poor and everyone fights for his right under the sun independently.

Culture researchers of post-soviet Lithuania notice that we have been following the attitude of Le Corbusier regarding modern architecture – architecture should change habits and social relations of people rather than match people's needs or serve people. At the same time, Lithuanian architects obey laws of post-modern capitalism – they participate in processes of cheap construction and move the circle of capitalism in this way. The majority of customers think only about themselves, they construct quickly and at a low price, while the society and public interest appears in the field of their concern only when the regulations come “from the top”.

There are only few buildings that assure additional benefit to the public. One of such buildings is the central office of Swedbank in Vilnius designed by the architect Audrius Ambrasas. The terrace created on the southern side of the façade is a cosy space with greenery and seats, it is loved by Vilnius inhabitants who come to spend free time here.

Still, the building of Swedbank is an exception from the rule. The tendency prevails in contemporary Lithuanian cities to turn public spaces into private ones. Meanwhile public spaces seem to belong to no one, no street life may be traced in them: such are the rarely visited Independence Square in Vilnius with one of the biggest fountains of Vilnius, the forlorn Vingis Park, square bordered by Pylimo, J.Basanavičiaus and K.Kalinausko Streets in Vilnius.

It is rejoicing to see that there are many people at the monument to Gediminas in Vilnius or on the stairs of Sobor in Kaunas; meanwhile, the Town Hall Square is full of people only in the summer when outdoor cafes are open here, and the Unity Square of Kaunas is empty all the year round. The author questions why. According to urban planners, people are attracted by sitting places, benches, also, such spaces should be on the routes of intensive flows of people.

Thus, the author concludes that it would be rejoicing to see our architects using their tools not only for the benefit of the powerful forces of the public but also for the common people.

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