Focus 2019: Sustainability – Meet Niko
My name is Niko, I come from an ex-USSR country, Georgia. Soviet Union era left us with copy-pasted suburbs of crumbling concrete apartment blocks, designed for everybody while keeping nobody in mind. This resulted in a kind of informal urbanism and self-construction. So-called “kamikaze loggias” of self-built extensions popped out insecurely from the sides of 1960s concrete blocks, balconies got bricked up in the desperate need for more space, tiny garages were taken over as bakeries, wineries and hair salons, so on and so forth. These blocks are going to be there for the next 50 years at best, but right after they will be demolished and thrown away, creating a pile of construction waste, just to be replaced by another concrete block.
I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture after studying at Georgian Technical University, which is considered to be better than the other 3 universities offering architecture courses in the country, but architectural education in Georgia is also quite post-soviet. Maybe unintentionally, but I was taught to design and build the way the others did before, yet that was exactly what resulted in our deforested cities and polluted environment. I left school in 2016, with a diploma and a slight disappointment in our field. Architecture has become too much of a business and too little of an art.
I took a year to gain some experience and think of where do I belong in this profession. Problem-solving through design and planning was my favorite part, but I didn’t like the bigger picture. I didn’t want my buildings to become a pile of garbage at the end, neither did I want to pollute the city while building them, yet reinforced concrete seemed to be the only option.
In the end, after forcing myself to get out of comfort zone and post-soviet bubble, I enrolled at Politecnico di Milano in 2017 and caught a second wind. My M.Arch course is called Building Architecture, or if translated from Italian literally – “Architecture of Constructions”. Here, I filled two main gaps in my education. First of all, we intensively study structures and details of the buildings, which helped me to understand how buildings are assembled from start to finish. I could never imagine how a building would look like after completion because I didn’t know how it was made. Secondly, it made me realize that reinforced concrete isn’t the only option. I started practicing design with renewable, reusable and sustainable materials like bamboo and CLT. At this point, design became rather a tool than the result. I hope to have an opportunity to apply my knowledge to at least a couple of buildings in my homecountry someday.
Currently, I am working on a restoration project to push the limits even further. While sustainable materials are often used in new constructions, it’s still a question how to restore a building in a sustainable way. More than that, I decided to make an underground extension, in order preserve as much of original building as possible. But we only learn when we do something we don’t know, don’t we?