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In quest of the most beautiful, a blend of history and modernism prevailed

  • 2010-01-14
  • By Linas Jegelevicius

NEW ARCHITECTURE: Klaipeda's search to identify its most beautiful post-Soviet building brought a flurry of votes; the Orthodox church (pictured) received 4,651 ballots.

KLAIPEDA - For nearly two months readers of Klaipeda’s daily newspaper Vakaru ekspresas have been in a fierce quest in search of the city’s most beautiful building. The contestants were subjected to only one rule – the structure had to be built after 1990, which marks the proclamation of Lithuania’s independence.

Which kind of building is more beautiful: a state-of-the-art glassy commercial building, the newly erected Rice Museum or maybe a recently built Byzantinesque Russian Church, glimmering with golden domes?
The contest has revealed that Klaipeda’s residents opted for those buildings that pay tribute to the city’s history. All three winners of the contest curtsy to Klaipeda’s history. As the architects of the winning buildings acknowledged, when designing the structures, they all had to delve into meticulous historical research, to review pre-war postcards with the city’s panorama.
However, the historical heritage was not duplicated – the architects searched for the golden mean between past and present.

More importantly, the contest has shown that the seaport’s residents favor constructions with a historical flavor rather than with the outlook of the much-anticipated city’s skyscrapers. Interestingly, the Pilsotas, a 34-floor condominium, the tallest of its kind in the country and built in the southwestern part of Klaipeda, did not receive public recognition in the contest at all. The contest’s outcome could be considered as a major setback for the city’s developers and architects who support the idea of erecting more skyscrapers.

Due to the economic downturn, their building has been put on hold, and since sales of apartments in the tallest building have been unexpectedly sluggish from the beginning, some revision of the city’s development could be expected.
“There’s absolutely no need to expand Klaipeda [upwards] instead of [outward] when we have so many uninhabitable, desolate areas just outside Klaipeda. Maybe some developers and architects foresee it [Klaipeda] as a city of hustle and bustle, but to me and my would-be architectural projects it will always remain a small sea town,” says a convinced Dainora Abelkiene, the architect whose merchant building in the Friedrich passage was voted the most beautiful in the city.

The winning building accumulated 8,573 votes, barely outstripping architect Vytautas Palionis’s creation of block houses in Giruliai, a serene area on the outskirts of Klaipeda, which received 8,532 votes. Third place went to the Rice Windmill on the Dane riverbank – a project by architect Snieguole Stripiniene. It gathered 5,667 votes.
Architect Dmitrijus Borunovas’ designed Orthodox Church took fourth place with 4,651 votes and Rolandas Rakevicius’ trading center design “SBA idejos namams,” on Baltija street, took 3,000 votes and fifth place.

“I am very pleased with such an outcome of the contest. When I saw the online votes pouring in, in favor of my building in the Friedrich passage, I started thinking: Wow, Klaipeda’s residents are so architecture-conscious, preferring historically blended structures over the exceedingly tall buildings or the notorious skyscraper. Klaipeda is very nice for its rectangular tiny-ness, blended with red-bricked reconstructed historical buildings and smartly designed state-of-the-art structures. I foresee it to be that way in the future. I foresee Klaipeda prospering, thus allowing its residents to live in their own houses or nice cottages on the city’s outskirts. Let immigrants who will come to work in our seaport live in skyscrapers,” says winning architect Abelkiene to The Baltic Times.

She feels humbled by the acknowledgment, but she attributes it to the unique architectural wholeness of the Friedrich passage, situated by the Old Market. She is also credited with the design of other constructions, pubs and restaurants, in the popular hangout place which the Friedrich passage has been known for.

Anatolijus Stalbovskis, Dean of St. Mary Patron and St. Mikolaij parish, credits architect Borunovas from Russia for the splendor of the recently built Orthodox church in the southern part of Klaipeda. The church was fourth in the contest.
“The church is an outstanding example of the Russian, Byzantinesque architecture. It is appealing for its otherness and splendor. No doubt, it stands out among other Klaipeda churches. What is beautiful? Ask a child and you will hear an answer. Religious architecture, no matter whether it is an Orthodox church, a Buddhist temple or a Muslim mosque,  reflects what human kind possesses the best of – talent, finances, scrupulous work and, finally, the prayers. All is necessary in togetherness in order to build a splendid church. I wish our church were built on a hill, thus allowing everyone to enjoy the beautiful view of it and of the church complex near it,” Stalbovskis told the Vakaru Ekspresas.
Ramune Staseviciute, Chairman of the Lithuanian Architect Union’s Klaipeda county subdivision, welcomes such kinds of contests. She presumes that architects not always have the possibility to hear about their projects from the public. She took a close look at the contest, however, and favored the Rice Mill.

“The Friedrich passage attracts everyone as an attraction, a successful business project. The project of the Rice Mill could be considered as a wholeness of sophistication and solidness - that is why I put my vote for it,” said Staseviciute.