[Work in progress]
URBAN AND ARCHITECTURAL IDENTITY IN SIBERIAN CITY
Continuity in the Development of Historical Environments as a Necessary Condition for Sustaining Cultural Identity of a Siberian City: Strategy and Approaches
“Heritage is a cultural process linked to activities of remembering and identity formation.”
Russia has experienced two major political turning points in the last century and a resultant systemic crisis of national cultural identification, including the denial of the values of the past and traditional cultural norms and concepts. The architectural environment mirrored this process: after the crash of the Soviet Union with its well-defined visual and mental ideology, many Russian post-Soviet cities developed erratically, witnessing systematic destruction of historical environments despite extant heritage protection principles and regulations. Citizens, seemingly, do not feel an attachment to their places, and the inconsistent development of the built environment and resulting changes in the structure of social processes is becoming increasingly visible. There is the necessity of finding local regional patterns and techniques, that have the potential to provide continuity of historical and cultural layers, a sense of belonging and identity, and to make reference to the past in ways that guarantee the diversity and survivability of cultures.
This research starts with the idea that identity could be unfolded through “congruity” of two or more layers of existence. Thus, among a variety of components within urban identity, this research emphasises “heritage” (or historical urban forms) in its understanding as a “process”, which already encompasses in itself many layers and the dimension of time. Thus, the theme of city identity is being unfolded in this research through understanding and analyzing congruent layers of heritage as a process (encompassing time dimension), and the social context and associated values and connotations of this heritage (or historical urban forms) of cities. The research questions the possibility of continuity in sustainable development as the first step in a possible way towards sustainable identity formation.
The urban environment can be both sensitive and fragile. It is also constantly evolving, with implications for defining what constitutes ‘historic’ and for the way material fabric representing earlier and contemporary phases is valued, adapted, re-used or disregarded. The city and its heritage never simply ‘are’. They are in a constant state of becoming, new layers added to old, creating an increasingly complex urban palimpsest. However defined, those historic parts of the city, their buildings, spaces and districts and their associated practices, lifeways, rhythms and rituals define the city’s character and identity. The historic urban environment, therefore, presents a constant and significant challenge to those invested in a city’s future, whether their focus is more on heritage protection (as heritage managers or conservation architects) or on growth and development (as developers, architects and arguably also politicians). The challenge can be summarised in the need to achieve a balance between these priorities. It sounds simple. But rarely has this balance successfully been struck and the relationships often remain tense, between old and new, preservation and growth, people and place. There is a need to develop a holistic approach to the preservation and sustainable development of local urban identity, incorporating the principles of integrating architectural heritage and associated community values into contemporary society and incorporating local cultures and identities through an understanding of the evolution of place and specific spatial architectural practices.
Yet there is an opportunity to develop a more holistic approach to sustaining local historical environments that addresses local cultures and identities through an understanding of the evolution of place. This research proposes a strategy and approaches to architectural heritage identification and management processes using Siberia as a specific case study. It establishes a theoretical and methodological framework for sustaining architectural historical environments by engaging local people using participatory design methods. The research questions are as follows. First, how can we conceptualise architectural heritage, its forms and the preconditions for its sustainable development, taking into account its experiential value and physical value? Second, what happens if we prioritise consistency in social practices, narration, and everyday life experience to achieve a sustainable development? Finally, how can these issues be addressed in architectural practice, how we can intervene with awareness according to what we have lived and experienced in historical city? The purpose of the research is to analyze and critique existing architectural and urban analytical theories and to apply these to heritage processes, adjusted to the particular conditions of Siberia and to establish a methodology for reconnecting local citizens with their regional heritage as part of a process of remembering locally specific cultural identities in a post-soviet environment. Heritage is a process, requiring looking ahead while simultaneously looking backwards. The research therefore questions how to effectively integrate local communities into this heritage process and investigates through a combination of the following methods: 1) looking to the past: through an analysis of the city fabric, searching for social traces and semiotic meanings of urban form; 2) looking to the future: using participatory design methods. A case study approach, encompassing desk studies, combined with on-site surveys, fieldworks and participation workshops is the adopted methodology.