Collecting narratives of change in Georgia

In a way, the Georgian capital wakes up every morning with a new face. Ambitious construction projects and major foreign investments are continuously changing the cityscape of Tbilisi. Among residents, this unstoppable development leads to an ongoing debate: What should be preserved and what should be allowed to undergo change? What is for sale and what is common property? What do we want to remember and what do we draw from?

Archives are more than just passive containers. They define what will be remembered and what will be forgotten.

Sebastian Pranz

In the project „Archive of Transition“, urban planners, architects and activists talk about what the changes mean to them and to life in this fascinating city in the Caucasus. The very different and impressively illustrated contributions directly document the multifaceted change between clinging to the past and setting out for a new era.

Our perspective shifted from the archive we were about to build to the city being an archive in itself.

Sebastian Pranz

A team of German and Georgian architects, sociologists and scientists and practitioners from other disciplines, led by Klaus Neuburg, Sebastian Pranz, Aleksi Soselia, Wato Tsereteli, Jesse Vogler, Fabian Weiss, made their way through the city of Tbilisi for almost two years in search of people, places and spaces that told them stories of a city in a state of permanent change.

Stories about persons, practises and places

One way of approaching the changes that Tbilisi is going through are stories in which people tell about how, for example, their living environment, the built space around them changed, like Matthias Klingenberg, who tells about his life on Tsagareli Street in the Saburtalo district of Tbilisi, to which he moved in 2012.

My feelings of nostalgia probably also had something to do with the time I spent with the mother of my daughter in Tashkent – a perfect family beneath a starry Asian sky … or something like that. In those days, at the beginning of 2012, Tsagareli was still a dreamy, little-used side street of small houses and aromatic gardens. It was the precise image of the Caucasus that a Western expat would paint for himself

Matthias Klingenberg.

The neighborhood is an example of the vast amounts of, in Klingenberg’s view, standardized, unimaginative architecture in Tbilisi, which is all about creating square meters of real estate for investors that change hands multiple times in a globalized world without ever resulting in residents settling there permanently and sustainably. In a related essay Surab Bakradse writes about „The degradation of public space“.

Other stories tell of famous bathhouses such as the Kings Bath House, the Museum of Modern Art by the painter Zurab Tsereteli, or the so-called Butterfly Monster, the largest construction project in Tbilisi of a Chinese corporation which has moved into Georgia, planting a sprawling butterfly of concrete and plaster on the Caucasian steppes.

Living city

Under the heading „Living city“, among other topics, people are presented, such as the parking lot attendants who watch over their assigned car parking spaces in Tbilsi day and night with their „Staianshik Sticks“. Fabian Weiss also explores the religious culture in the living spaces of the Georgians he visits by photographing their home altars, which are the center of domestic life for many families. In another article the writer Beka Kurkhuli tells the story of the Civil War in Tbilisi. In „Laboratoria 1918“ Levan Asabashvili talks about the biggest student movement Tbilisi ever saw.

Essays on spaces and places

Much space is given to interviews and tours with architects, urban planners, old and young visionaries, who talk about the urban corpus of Tbilisi and the life of its inhabitants within it.

In „Formula Tbilisi“, Vato Tsereteli talks both about his family’s heritage – with his grandparents he had taken long walks through the city and excursions in its surroundings from the time they were children – and about the city’s architectural heritage, which he preserves in an archive of incredible size: The archive contains around 40,000 medium-format negatives depicting architecture from the 1940s till the end of the 1980s, architectural drawings, diaries, paintings, and graphics. And he follows this heritage until today, offering walks through Tbilsi.

The immune system of this society lies in the polyphony of its ambitions – a polyphony nicely shown in the film The Way Home by Alexander Rekhviashvili. Here, three protagonists meet on a field heading to expel an enemy. After a short discussion each of them chooses a different direction, a different route, to approach the enemy and to meet at the rendezvous point. This strategy of disorientation, of anti-homogeneity, suggests the active engagement of many individuals – individuals acting on their own toward a common goal. It is an interesting approach to collective action, a mechanism of diffuse identities.

Vato Tserdeli

„Lost River“ is an interview with Tbilisi-based architect Merab Bolqvadze, who is advocating a new land use plan for Tbilisi. Rather than expanding the city’s boundaries, as was the case in the 20th century, his master plan aims to repurpose large areas of unused brownfield and post-industrial land within existing boundaries. Central to the plan’s philosophy is the understanding that the city’s future lies in the potential of its natural landscape – in preserving the mountains that surround Tbilisi and in returning the river to its citizens.

On the other hand the project „Layered City“, created by architect Nino Melikishvili, explores the development of urban space as it repeats the scheme and principles of the so-called “ancient number”.

There is much to discover in the „Archive of Transition“, visiting the website is itself like a walk, a rummage, following traces in a city that seems to wake up every day with a new appearance. The project also provides a good background to the current discussions about the sellout of the built space of the city.

Current discussions about the sellout of the built space in other media

The article series "Georgian Perspectives" provides insights (via Twitter: @doinggeography) and analyses of contemporary Georgian social life from a geographical viewpoint. This means that all articles examine the social space and the practices taking place within it. This includes both the built space and the non-built space and all communications about places and spaces. It is important to underline that the insights given here must always include views from the outside, as the author is neither a native speaker nor permanently living in Georgia.

Text: Stefan Applis (2020)

Photos: Archive of Transition, mostly by Fabian Weiss, e.g. King’s Bath Houses, Museum of Modern Art, Staianshik Sticks, house altar


Klaus Neuburg, Sebastian Pranz, Aleksi Soselia, Wato Tsereteli, Jesse Vogler, Fabian Weiss (Eds.). Tbilisi – Archive of Transition. English, 224 pages, 220 figures, 21.5 x 32.5 cm, Softcover ISBN 978-3-7212-0983-9

Visit further projects of Sebastian Pranz, Klaus Neuburg, Fabian Weiss et al. via Froh! e.V., a non-profit association that has made its goal to stir the processes of social formation and develop journalistic formats that open discourses about human values: