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How did the architecture of Kyiv take its form and why is it globally unique

The architecture of modern Kyiv is exceptionally diverse. Postmodern and high-tech buildings stand right next to monuments of architecture built already in the 11th century.

We are in a conversation with Glib Ushakov — PHD in architecture, a lecturer on the Cultural Project education platform — about how the architecture of Kyiv took its shape, how was it influenced by historical events, what architecture styles can be found in the capital and why the architecture of architecture is unique on a global scale.

Translation: Ryszard Benda

How did the architecture of Kyiv take its shape?

The architecture of Kyiv developed in a non-linear manner, against the continuity of flourishment and decline of styles. Today the urban structure of the capital consists mostly of historical structures designed throughout different historical periods.

If we were to look at the whole history of the city, we could observe a continuity of several periods of quick development leading to creation of an urban environment consistent in its structures and styles:

  • Middle Ages (Kyivan Rus, flourished in the 12th century)

  • Baroque (flourished in the 18 century).

  • Classicism (flourished in the first half of the 19th century).

  • Capitalism (flourished in the beginning of the 20th century).

These are the periods of greatest flourishment of the city’s architecture and the city as a whole, when Kyiv developed in a manner similar to the most important cities of the globe. From the historical and cultural perspective, it was in the Middle Ages when Kyiv was the most significant in its history.

Throughout the history of the city, we do not really witness systematic development, but rather a process of adaptation to multiple catastrophes which caused quick and massive destruction of large parts of the most precious districts, as well as the death of large numbers of its residents. These terrible events include:

  • 1240 – Kyiv captured and destroyed by the Mongol empire commanded by Batu Khan.

  • 1811– massive fire at one of the key districts of the city – Podil.

  • September 1941– Russian saboteurs blew up the area around the Khreshchatyk during the German occupation.

Many different political and other events and processes influenced the development of Kyiv. In spite of all these difficulties, a unique environment with authentic architecture landmarks emerged. Global architecture trends were introduced here to mix with pre-existing traditions, most importantly of wooden architecture.

Photo: the Golden Gate, the main defensive structure of ancient Kyiv.

In the 20th century, that is when the development of industrial zones and residential districts was most intense and rapid, much of the historical urban structure and many significant architectural monuments, often dating back to the Middle Ages, were lost. Most of that took place during the so-called “godless five-year plan” of 1932-1937, when the Soviet authorities deliberately destroyed dozens of Kyivan churches.

Kyiv has an incredible potential for restoration of historical areas and reconstruction of particularly significant monuments of architecture that have been lost. The path to harmonious development of the modern city structures, taking the necessary preservation of the historical city into consideration, is possible.

Architecture styles in contemporary Kyiv

The chronological development of the Kyiv urban structure features a wide range of styles, such as authentic wooden architecture from the Middle Ages, baroque, classicism, eclectism, modernism, neoclassicism.

In the 21st century the city is witnessing a new construction boom. A great number of residential districts, as well as business and shopping centres, are being built now. One can particularly notice numerous tall multi-storey buildings, that considerably change the panorama of the city. Even though the city features some buildings that seem out of place from the urbanistic or aesthetic point of view, Kyiv can be a place of excursions showing not only historical themes, but also presenting clear examples of tendencies and ideas corresponding to global trends. Fortunately enough, there are plenty of architecture venues, build after Ukraine gained its independence, in line with contemporary tendencies of global architecture development.

In the 1990’s the ideas of postmodernism gained much influence. The historical urban structure was reconstructed in a modern fashion, highlighting the cultural context and blending the modern architecture with historical forms.

  • A bank on the Peremohy Avenue

  • A residential building on the Ivan Mazepa Street

  • St Basil the Great’s greek-catholic church at the Voznezenskyy Descent

  • Reconstructed „Besarabian city blоck”

  • The „Illinskyy” business centre

  • The greek-catholic Patriarchal church of Christ’s Resurrection

Architecture sites where technological innovations, as well as modern structural and engineering solutions are apparent in their architectural form, are a continuation of the development of modernism – high-tech. The following buildings were built in the 1990's and 2000's:

  • The south terminal of the railway station

  • A shopping-business centre ”Parus”

  • The „D” terminal of the international “Boryspil” airport

In the 21st century new buildings, conceptually inspired by deconstructivism and featuring sharp compositional solutions and complex forms, most particularly in the form of irregular polyhedra, are built in Kyiv.

  • «Sky towers» multi-function cоmplex

  • Kyiv document office “Hоtovo”

  • «Diadans» residential cоmplex

At the beginning of the 21st century Kyiv sees the rise of buildings featuring nature‑like bionic curved lines. These are typical for biomorphism:

  • Taryan Tоwers

  • “Intergal City” multi-function cоmplex

At the turn of the 20th century the architecture of Kyiv was influenced by global tendencies in architecture. Postmodernism and high-tech are particularly pronounced.

Why is the architecture of Kyiv globally unique

Kyiv is not only enumerated along with the most important cities of the world, but occupies a distinct place among the historical capitals of great countries. Most of the monuments of architecture and the general historical urban structure of the city are gone. This does not diminish the historical importance of the city though. The archeological potential of Kyiv is of particular value. From among the most valuable archeological treasures, only a few of them are visible over the surface, while much more of them are still buried underground. Most of these have not yet been found and researched. They are the archeological remains of the city and truly outstanding buildings.

The architectural sites of global cultural importance include preserved buildings from the Middle ages – the Kyivan Rus period. The underground cave systems of monasteries in Kyiv and its area, starting from the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, are of invaluable cultural and historical significance.

The Kyivan examples of religious and civilian architecture in Ukrainian baroque style (the St. Sophia Cathedral, the Metropolitan Bishop’s building, the St. Michael’s Golden Dome Monastery, the Uspenskyy Cathedral of the Kyivan-Pechersk Lavra) have exceptional value to the world and European architecture heritage. These buildings do not copy the Western baroque, but demonstrate one of many local variations of the global style.

Left Phоtо: the St. Michael’s Golden Dome Monastery

Right Photо: the Metropolitan Bishop’s building

Architectural monuments unique on the global scale

First of all – the Church of the Tithes, expanded until the beginning of the 13th century, destroyed during the Mongol invasion in 1240. It is a complex of stone structures including the Church of the Tithes, palace buildings around it, unusually large rotundas and additional sculptures. Today, this complex is preserved as a monument of architecture and includes the remains of foundations as well as different variations on its historical layout. Hopefully, in the future these foundations could be covered with a transparent protection layer and open for excursions.

Phоtо: the ensemble of the Church of the Tithes before its destruction by the Mongols in 1240

Among the monuments available on the surface, the one that is the most important Ukrainians and for world heritage is the National Sanctuary “Sophia of Kyiv”, including a unique monument – the Saint Sophia Cathedral (11th century), its bell tower and other structures. Three other large churches, located between the Golden Gate and the Saint Sophia Cathedral were an inherent part of the complex and together they used to form a consistent composition. According to one hypothesis, it included the church of Saint Irina and the church of Saint George. Their foundations are preserved as monuments of architecture.

Phоtо: Saint Sophia Cathedral

The Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra was founded on a cave monastery in the 11th century. Its underground structures were preserved over a millenium and have been the foundation of the complex till our times. After the renovation of the main building of the complex – the Uspensky Cathedral – in the year 2000, its compositional consistency was restored. The gate church of the Holy Trinity, founded in the beginning of the 12th century and the bell tower are of exceptional value to the skyline of the city from the Dnipro bank. What is the most valuable about the complex is its exceptional cultural, historical and spiritual significance throughout the ages. This is why it survived in its complex form, making it a tiny city within a city itself. The Saint Sophia and the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra complex are already on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Phоtо: the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra

At the beginning of the 18th century the city fortifications from the Middle Ages were absorbed by the Kyiv fortress, which gave rise to an enormous earth stronghold. This complex consists of earth structures and numerous other buildings. Not long ago this unique complex of fortifications was partly preserved and partly demolished, so that other buildings could be built on it. Notwithstanding its status of a monument of architecture of national value, many preserved structures remain neglected and the risk of their collapse is real. Today it is vital to proclaim the whole territory of the fortress a landmark that must not be built over, but which must be uncovered and restored. Only a small part of that historical complex is a museum now, while other parts are also very valuable from the historical and touristic point of view. For example, the star-shaped fortifications around the massive building of the Mystetskyy Arsenal may be transformed into an appealing recreation zone with a historical context.

The Khreshchatyk complex was established in the 1950’s in an area that had suffered massive damages during the 2nd World War. This complex features unique architecture and a one of a kind style. Notwithstanding the use of different approaches to construction, it preserved its consistency and urbanistic composition. Its unique ceramic facades are exceptionally remarkable.

The National Sports Complex „Olimpiyskyy” is also among internationally recognized contemporary buildings of Kyiv. The stadium has an innovative roof structure based on a complex structure: tent cover in a distinct composition.

The architecture of Kyiv features a diverse range of styles: one can notice baroque, classicist and postmodern buildings. Their construction, adaptation and future has always been influenced by historical events, changes of ruling powers, new trends in architecture and the needs of the city's residents. Everyone, regardless where they are from, can find something to admire in the Kyiv's architecture.

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