A Top 10 Guide to Georgia’s Best Soviet & Modern Architecture

The Sovereign state of the Caucasus – and Stalin’s home nation – Georgia was a critical part of the USSR. In the late 1970s, it stepped out from its Soviet shadow and into a new architectural age. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the ambitious and otherworldly designs became an explicit rebuke of Communism and a sign of Georgia’s struggle towards self-actualisation. Here are ten of my favourite buildings in Georgia.
Photo Credit: Frederic Chaubin
Photo Credit: Frederic Chaubin

1. Bank of Georgia Headquarters, Tbilisi - Architect: George Chakhava and Zurab Jalaghania, 1975

Five interlocking concrete blocks make up the Bank of Georgia Headquarters which sits along the banks of The Vere river. A throwback to some Russian constructivist designs from the 1920s, the building was originally the headquarters for the Ministry of Highway Construction. Its architect and client, the deputy Minister of Highway Construction, George Chakhava, wanted the building to cover as little ground as possible in order to give more space to nature. 

Photo Credit: Андрей Бобровский via Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Андрей Бобровский via Wikipedia

2. Batumi Technological University Tower, Batumi - Architects: Bilyk A., Pikul A. and M. Boot, 2011

Batumi is a city of striking contrasts. Quaint cobble-stoned streets sit against a backdrop of bizarre shaped skyscrapers, including the Batumi Technological University Tower - the first skyscraper in the world to include a Ferris wheel built into its facade.  

Eight shining gold cabins hang more than 100-metres above the beachside boardwalk. They would offer a spectacular view of Batumi’s skyline and the Black Sea, but they don’t work. The building stood empty and the ferris wheel didn’t turn for more than two years after its completion. It turns out that a skyscraper with a ferris wheel embedded on the facade wasn't suited to be an educational facility. Eventually the building was sold for $25 million in 2015, and there were plans to turn it into a hotel. Hopefully the ferris wheel will begin to turn one day soon. 

Photo Credit: Roman Geber via Unsplash
Photo Credit: Roman Geber via Unsplash

Palace of Rituals, Tbilisi - Architect: Victor Jordenadze, 1984

The Palace of Rituals incorporates elements of traditional religious architecture including: frescoes, a bell tower, soaring interior spaces, and the same stone used in many of Georgia’s mediaeval churches. Built in the 1980s by architect Viktor Jorbenaze, the building is full of sexual innuendos. The floor plan is an anatomical cross-section of a female abdomen, while the entrance resembles a vagina, and the side chapels appear to be ovaries. Seen from afar, the building resembles a giant cock and balls against Tbilisi’s skyline.

In 2002, the building was purchased by the oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili. He intended it to be his personal residence. He died suddenly in February 2008 without a will, sparking one of the largest estate battles in history. Ten years later, the government of Georgia officially accused former president Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili of ordering Patarkatsishvili's assassination.

Photo Credit: Jesko Malkolm Johnsson-Zahn
Photo Credit: Jesko Malkolm Johnsson-Zahn

The Sarpi Border Checkpoint Building, Sarpi - Architect: J Mayer H Architects, 2011

Checkpoint buildings are typically uninspiring. With their high fences and watchtowers, most leave little to the imagination. But, border checkpoints serve a dual imperative. They must “communicate contradictory messages of welcoming and surveillance.” It’s a delicate balancing act. While international airports are often showcases of progression, national identity and/or abundant wealth, land borders are largely excluded from this trend.

The Sarpi village border checkpoint marks the boundaries between Georgia and Turkey. Overlooking the Black Sea, the gleaming white futuristic structure has cantilevering terraces which can be used as an observation deck. Like the exterior, the interior is light and spacious. The checkpoint is emblematic of a modern progressive country that is shaking off its Soviet past and entering into a new architectural age.

Photo Credit: Berdo Maghularia
Photo Credit: Berdo Maghularia

The House of Parliament, Kutaisi - Architect: CMD Ingenieros, 2012

A 40-metre high glass eye with a huge concrete eyelid rises out of the earth in the centre of Kutaisi. The 100-metre by 150-metre glass and steel dome that is Georgia's national parliament building, is transparent for a reason - it’s meant to symbolise the democratic openness and transparency of a modern Georgia which has cast off its Soviet shadow.

The building was marred by controversy from the very beginning. Constructed on the site of a WWII memorial to Soviet soldiers; the monument was blown up in order to free up space for construction. A mother and a daughter were killed when the explosives went off. The building was touted as a boost for the economy of Georgia’s second largest city, as well as a way to bring the country closer together. But, some “believe that having the parliament in Kutaisi, while the rest of the government remains in Tbilisi, is inefficient.”

Nutsubidze Skybridge, Tbilisi - Architect: Otar Kalandarishvili, Gizo Potskhishvili, 1974

On the outskirts of Tbilisi are three apartment buildings which are connected by a skybridge high above the ground. The steep terrain meant that the architects designed and built three bridges between the blocks. The bridges are used by the building residents to move easily between the buildings without going down to the streets below. 

Photo Credit: Giorgi Khmaladze
Photo Credit: Giorgi Khmaladze

McDonalds, Batumi - Architect: Giorgi Khmaladze, 2012

McDonalds is designed for efficiency. Beauty is not normally a consideration in the design of new fast food outlets. Yet, the McDonalds restaurant which opened in Batumi in 2012 combines both functionality and beauty in the most striking way. 

The cantilevering overhang acts as a shelter for the fuel station below, while serving as an outdoor garden for the restaurant diners above. The dining area is completely separate from the fuel station, ordering counter and food preparation areas - both physically and visually. The outdoor garden has a layer of vegetation and is enclosed from all sides to reduce noise and build ambience.

Photo Credit: Egor Myznik, via Unsplash
Photo Credit: Egor Myznik, via Unsplash

The Russia–Georgia Friendship Monument or Treaty of Georgievsk Monument, Georgian Military Highway - Architects: Giorgi Chakhava (architect), Zurab Kapanadze, Nodar Malazonia and Zurab Lezhava (artists), 1983

Along the Georgian Military Highway which connects Russia and Georgia is a monument which marks the 200th anniversary of a famous treaty. The Treaty of Georgievsk was signed in 1783, and saw Russia promise Georgia its own sovereignty and protection against enemies in return for allegiance to the Russian Empire. Just over a decade later, when the Persians invaded Georgia and Russia did very little to protect their southern neighbour.

The monument sits at the edge of a 600m cliff, and offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and valleys below. The vibrantly coloured tiled mural is divided into two equal parts, each depicting stylised scenes from the two countries. At its centre are a mother and child; their cultural background is intentionally ambiguous. 

Photo Credit: Mostafa Meraji via Unsplash
Photo Credit: Mostafa Meraji via Unsplash

Rike Concert Hall, Tbilisi - Architect: Massimiliano & Doriana Fuksas, 2011

Consisting of two tubular metallic structures which are connected together at one end, the Rike Concert and Exhibition Hall in Tbilisi’s Old Town is hard to miss. With a dedicated 566-seat concert hall, the $33 million dollar building is a work in progress. More than a decade after construction began, the inside of the building is little more than a shell, and is yet to open to the public.

Soviet spas, Tskaltubo - Architects: I. Zaalishvili and V. Kedia, 1950s

In the USSR, a spa weekend wasn’t a pampered holiday. It was a requisite, prescribed by the Soviet state. In their heyday, millions of citizens across the Soviet Union visited sanatoriums each year, on an all expenses retreat paid for by the state. 

In January 1950, Soviet architects I. Zaalishvili and V. Kedia created plans for a new sanatorium town in Tskaltubo, Georgia. The town would have 19 sanatoriums and 9 bathhouses, all surrounding a large park. More than 4,000 workers worked around the clock, almost 24 hours a day, to build the town. In December 1950, less than 12 months after construction first began, the first bathhouse opened to the public. Under the Soviet-mandated ‘right to rest’, Tskaltubo quickly became the most important sanatorium town in the USSR. Visitors came from all over the Soviet Union, with four trains arriving from Moscow each day. Joseph Stalin even had a dacha (summer residence) nearby.

Soviet sanatoriums were striking. Their vast size, neoclassical designs and intricate ornamentation were the peak of opulence and decadence. “Such buildings challenge the standard notion that architecture under communism was unsightly and drab. Today these icons of communism are crumbling, in varying states of decay, with just a few still welcoming guests. Read the rest of the story.

Bonus: Shukura Tsikhisdziri Bar, Batumi - Architect & date unknown

Shukura Tsikhisdziri is a restaurant and bar in a crumbling building. The upstairs of the building is abandoned as it is obviously unsafe. If you're ever in Batumi, I would definitely recommend grabbing a delicious meal and a drink by the sea here with a beautiful woman called Laila.

Architecture Across the Ages takes travellers to some of the most important – and most often overlooked – architectural sites across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Visit Uzbekistan’s towering turquoise mosques, see how Georgia shook off Soviet rule with cosmic-inspired superstructures, and witness the rebirth of Turkmenistan with its audacious white marble city.

Hordubal | Czechoslovakia | 1979 - Comrade Kiev

Hordubal | Czechoslovakia | 1979

International Ultrasound Exhibition | Lithuania | 1981 - Comrade Kiev

International Ultrasound Exhibition | Lithuania | 1981

12 April - Cosmonauts Day | Russia | 1989 - Comrade Kiev

12 April - Cosmonauts Day | Russia | 1989