Dissertation Medal Winner
A Juxtaposition of Ideological Expressions: Evaluating the Urban Transformations of Yerevan (Armenia) during 1915-2015
University of Liverpool
Tutor: Iain Jackson
City masterplans don’t usually become emblems of national culture. But in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital city, the image of a seminal 1924 plan by Armenian-Russian architect Alexander Tamanyan has been so widely embraced that it appears on everything from bank notes and murals to the back of restaurant menus.
Analysis of this influential masterplan and its appropriation in various ways over the last century is a key part of Roy Khatchadourian’s dissertation A Juxtaposition of Ideological Expressions: Evaluating the Urban Transformations of Yerevan (Armenia) during 1915-2015. As well as exploring the specifics of Yerevan, his research touches on themes such as collective memory loss, the manipulation of architecture to express political values, and the impact of commercialisation and city gentrification.
Khatchadourian’s own Armenian heritage and the 100th anniversary of the 1915 massacre led to him developing the subject for his dissertation. Faced with a shortage of written sources of material, he undertook a field trip to carry out his own primary research, armed with his fluent Armenian and the help of contacts made through his employment at Tim Flynn Architects, which works extensively in Yerevan.
‘What struck me was that Tamanyan’s masterplan came out of nowhere,’ he says. ‘I became interested in what he was trying to achieve in his design and what were his points of reference in creating the masterplan.’
The dissertation explores the context and drivers for Tamanyan’s masterplan, which was created following the Soviet occupation of 1920. Influenced by the Garden City concept and the planning of Paris, New Delhi and Washington, the plan zoned the city into districts and created a grid with straight axial views to Mount Ararat. Key elements included a new Northern Avenue connecting the two main public squares of the city.
Two main tall buildings were proposed in each of the squares, inspired by the two peaks of Mount Ararat – the Opera Building in Freedom Square and the Government Building in Republic Square. This plan, says Khatchadourian, dictated the future architectural image of the city.
‘It became a very large phenomenon in the 1920s as the future of Yerevan,’ he says. ‘His introduction of a new style in the Opera and Government Buildings became the norm for Armenian architecture.’
In the Soviet Era (1950-91), a new, more modernist interpretation of Tamanyan’s masterplan emerged that moved away from the neoclassical style and medieval motifs of the original, and also increased the scale of development. Various designs for the proposed Northern Avenue were drawn up.
After independence in 1991, Armenians looked once more to Tamanyan’s masterplan in the quest for a new identity that, as before, erased specific histories from the city and replaced them with enhancements of others.
Khatchadourian considers how this led to the original vision being manipulated by members of the Armenian diaspora, and sometimes reduced to ‘mere surface branding’ as the plan changed from a way of representing space into an emblem for the city.
The mixed results can be seen in developments such as the long-proposed Northern Avenue, which was revived and a version finally built from 2002.
‘… developments in Yerevan seem to have been promoted to attract touristic interest and financial gains, with the cost of losing a carefully considered response to a city with rich history and culture, Tamanyan’s initial vision,’ Khatchadourian says.