All that we see, feel, hear, touch, and taste, can bring us experience. As we grow up and we get more experience from time to time, makes us open-minded and conscientious. Experience teaches us how to communicate, how to express ourselves, and how to be more tolerant.
So if experience is so much important in our life, can architecture create some path or opportunities to force us to experience?! I say yes.
Architecture makes paths and spaces that bring us somewhere to meet somebody. It starts from the houses we were born in, where we grew up, and where we have learned to love.
In my native town, where I was born, Tbilisi (the capital of Georgia) there is a historical center called “Old Tbilisi” which is known for its beautiful architecture and for its authentic structure of houses with a courtyard, called “Tbilisuri Ezo” (Tbilisian yard). Tbilisi as a city emerged in time immemorial and the rule of Persians, Arabs, Khazars, Mongols, and Byzantines, the city was destroyed and rebuilt many times. A trade route connecting Europe and Asia passing through Tbilisi played a key part. The old city buildings that have survived to our time mainly consist of residential houses and belong to the 19th and early 20th centuries. Tbilisi’s architecture is a successful mixture of local traditional forms and features from European and Islamic Architecture. The main characteristics of those houses is the balcony and courtyard. Famous Georgian architect, Doctor of Architecture, and full Professor Giga Batiashvili writes in his research (1): “However, the French empire style has influenced the design of the surviving urban structures. So it is the characteristics of the empire style that should be considered while trying to describe the distinctive features of these structures. This type of house has created the uniquely striking features of Tbilisi’s street. They are typically planned and built around an internal yard, which in most cases has irregular geometrical forms and one side usually opens to access from a street. Houses from this type of yard are named semi-Atrium houses. Yards are surrounded by covered wooden balconies which can often be found on facades. Traditional “Salakbo” (chatting) balconies function as a way of linking the houses together. Houses with this kind of structure give neighbors an opportunity to establish visual and physical contact with one another as well as with neighboring yards and streets. Thus the environment formed by the houses, the streets, and the gardens provides the same kind of function as a small square – a means of communication and interaction”.
In those houses, there live several families and they all feel like the members of one family. Above mentioned research proves that the main reason for the reunion is the balcony and courtyard. Those parts of the building provide a path and space for experience, as an expression of Experiential Architecture.
While my survey, locals were friendly and talkative, but to be honest they have remembered some of the disadvantages as well. I do not want to be too romantic and unrealistic, yes communication between neighbors is not simple at all, but I would say without frequent intersections people couldn’t introduce themselves and solve community problems. Locals were telling about existential problems of daily life, because of shared bathrooms and kitchens (all the houses had shared bathrooms and kitchens in the past, but nowadays most families have their own independent household areas).
“We could have argued in the morning, but for the evening we invited neighbors to dinner for the reconciliation, we always stayed friendly whatever had happened”- was telling one of the locals. The balcony and courtyard played the biggest role in the formation of the community system, increasing loyalty. Why the consumption spaces like balconies and courtyards impact so much? Because it is the path, way, or space that pushes you for a new experience. It forces you to meet your neighbors, while leaving your apartment or while hanging linen to dry. It is the consumption balcony, so you have time to meet people, talk with them, and feel like part of one big family.
Also one of the most characterizing things is that in Old Tbilisi you can find Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, and Armenian churches. It is no surprise that history and a trade route connecting Europe and Asia passing through Tbilisi have played a key part in such a cosmopolitan city, but the structure of residential houses formed the community and helped relationships to last. All those nationalities, different people with different beliefs and traditions live together in one city. My survey was during the Christmas period, some of the locals were Orthodox and celebrating the holiday and it was so nice hearing the wishes from neighbors with different beliefs. This is Tbilisi’s unique soul and Genius Loci.
Balcony and courtyard force people to interact, respect each other’s traditions, and deeply understand that completely different people with different beliefs and habitus can be as beautiful, reliable, and noble as you are. Community makes people tolerant and open-minded. I can say that the biggest part is played by the architecture that makes people explore experiences, feel more, and understand better. This is the art that makes people grow, feel, love, interact, and communicate with neighbors. This is my understanding of Experiential Architecture.
My name is Mariam, I am an architect, now I am working as an urbanist. I graduated bachelor’s degree in architecture in Georgian Technical University. I have participated in several workshops and projects and as I like new challenges, this competition was my new goal in my career.
●Maia Mania – “Tbilisi – a unique system of houses with courtyards” 2010.
●Giorgi (Giga) Batiashvili – “Identity and spirit of old Tbilisi” 2010.