Instead of an Introduction

One of the walks around some garage buildings in Grigiškės was supposed to be anything special and had to bring just another series of photographs, maybe to become an extension to the garage picture series, which I made a few years ago in Purvynė, Nida, and near the Raganų Hill in Juodkrantė, or at least be some kind of response to the final design project Conversion of a Garage Structure in Palanga by “my| master degree student Kasparas Žiliukas. But after a closer look, as soon as I understood the real scale of this object, my imagination started to run wild and this simple walk with a camera later turned into a series of experiments with several different medias. The media experiments have been supplemented with a text, which is an attempt to comment the circumstances of the situation and experiment results, as well as to kind of protect myself from the annoying questions in my head “What the hell I am doing here?” or “Why do I need it all?”

Code 1A5M?3M has been chosen as a working title for the text, and it can be deciphered as follows: aqueduct – one; methods – five (most likely); media – three. The final title for the entire project has been dictated by the preliminary length of the aqueduct as measured during the research. It was 860 metres; so the GA – 860 – Aqueduct of Grigiškės of 860 metres length.

1A (ONE AQUEDUCT)

According to the publicly available information at the Official Records of Cultural Values, the structure of aqueduct in Grigiškės is a detached state-protected object of 800 metres length of the regional level (unique code 14741 provided in 1997), built in 1930 according to a design project of 1926. As foreseen in the initial design project, a monolithic reinforced concrete structure had to finish a water canal of several kilometres (the so-called “Grand Canal”). The canal had to collect waters from the Vokė brook and supply them for the needs of the nearby paper plant. First, the canal had to go underground, then – on top of the embankment and finally – in the concrete duct of 4.7 m width and 2.4 m depth, and gradually approaching the valley of the river Neris it had to form the drop structure of 25 m height. The dropping water had to run a small hydroelectric power plant.

Preliminary measurements with the help of Regia.lt have shown the length of the structure exceeding 860 metres; today it is stretched over 4 different land plots, two of them being formed for the aqueduct itself. The structure joins two other plots and 12 legal entities are officially recorded in the surrounding territory. On its second storey level, the aqueduct is connected to the cultural centre building of Grigiškes (maybe, we should consider the building a part of the aqueduct, or vice versa?), a private housing estate, parking lot of an international cargo transportation company and industrial territory of one of the largest paper producers in the Baltic States, Grigeo AB, are located alongside the structure. A few sections of the aqueduct structure have the heating network pipelines installed. Under the reinforced concrete structure of the aqueduct, 134 private brick garages and several shadow economy businesses (car repairs, furniture production) function, as well as private storehouses, a bathhouse, meeting hall, private greenhouse premises and even a shooting-range are situated there. The aqueduct goes near another water passage, the so-called Small Canal, there is a monument to the Red Army solders killed in the WWII in the adjacent territory. After a more thorough research, this typological functional list should become even longer.

Considering the circumstances, the aqueduct evolved into a bizarre and multiplex complex, where a bunch of economic, historical and even legal facts and circumstances collided, so I have found it impossible to cover or picture the entire complex in just one way.

5M? (FIVE METHODS)

Speaking about the methods applied in the process of the research /preparation for exhibition, I would like to call them “technologies” or use some other, more appropriate term. An inherent feature of an architect is experimenting with material, nature and techniques, while analysing their potential in practical, rather than theoretical forms. Recently, a concept of “artistic research” has been making its way into the field of architectural research, and its practices will be shaped in the nearest future. Although, so far, none of such practices have been formed, so with the question still open, I have chosen the art criticism term of “methods” in the text.

1M? Psychological method. This summer, I had a great pleasure reading the repeated publication of Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes. In this study (presented as a personal diary), the famous Frenchman tries to find out about its relationship with one specific photograph, while gradually explaining his approaches and final intents. In the book, from the very beginning, the author rejects photography with representative or scientific functions and the so-called “studium” method, and undertakes the hard-to-define and especially personal approach to analysed views/pictures, while at the same time looking for answers, a part of which can be found in his childhood. 

I think, I was lucky because in the book I found at least partial explanation to my question: WHAT THE HELL I AM DOING HERE? (in Grigiškės). Evidently, a part of my answers underlies in my native Vilnius Užupis, where I spent the first five years of my life. If seen through the lens of our present reality, Užupis would be a gloomy, shabby residential district with smoky chimneys, outdoor lavatories, dilapidated sheds for storing coal and water supply hydrants in the yards freezing in winter. But back then I did not understand this. Crumbling house corners and bumpy sidewalks were a daily routine of my quite careless childhood. Therefore, while looking at these chaotic garages of the aqueduct in Grigiškės, I experience some weird, hardly definable, but seemingly familiar and somewhat good feeling.

2M? Source research. I have found a couple of archives, where historical data about the aqueduct is available. The design project of the aqueduct with quite a large scope of graphic material is kept at the Office of the Chief Archivist of Lithuania (The Design Project of the Aqueduct Structure and Canal in Grigiškės, 1926. LCVA, f. 51, ap. 16, b. 40.). An early photograph of the recently implemented object (1935) can be found at Vrublevskis Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Science (LMAVB RSS Fg.1-985), which with the Library’s permission was used in the graphic part of the exhibition.

3M? Structural semiotics, formal level or formal component. This method is described in the text part about the application of the photographic media. Therefore, here I can just state in short: the picture series can be used for analysing the formal expression, composition, textures, factures and colours of the garages, their quality parameters, highlighting their similarities and differences by comparison, with the aim to answer the questions: how were they built? How is it pictured? How does it look like?

4M? Technical Construction Regulations. I would rather leave this method for more experienced certified design project managers. Nevertheless, even from an amateur’s standpoint and closer look at the aqueduct in Grigiškės, it is clear that chimneys of solid fuel stoves sticking out of the roofs of the garages would fail to meet any fire safety requirements, and even more unlikely the small businesses carried out in those garages have obtained any permits for utilization of harmful substances in compliance with the environment protection standards. The situation is made even more complicated by such functional mixture and ever-present signs of arbitrary construction. Whereas it is not worth even starting a discussion about such contemporary topics as A++, LEED certificate or bicycle routes and fast recharging stations in parking lots surrounding the aqueduct.

5M? Legal method. According to Visuotinė Lietuvių enciklopedija (the Universal Lithuanian Encyclopaedia), a large-scale privatization of the state property started in 1991 and was implemented in two stages. During the first, former state-owned property was privatised through the system of vouchers (1991–95) and, during the second, privatization process was carried out for money (from 1996 onwards). In 1991–92, almost all residential buildings went into the private ownership, as well as 99 per cent of former collective farms and state farms’ property and majority of small trade, public catering and household service companies. Back then, the process of privatization also encompassed large companies (mostly manufacturing) including the Paper Plant of Grigiškės (the present Grigeo). Today, it is openly admitted that significant political planning mistakes were made, cases of corruption occurred and some crime syndicates took part in the privatization process. Some objects that avoided privatization abroad still had been privatised in Lithuania. Allotment gardens (the so-called “collective gardens”) is one of such examples. After privatisation these small allotments started evolving into residential areas thus precluding them from more rational urban management and planning. Besides, apartments were privatised in low-quality and quite short-lived soviet residential districts resulting in non-functional residents’ communities and jamming renovation processes of these multi-apartment buildings.

Similar situation can be observed in Grigiškės. Back in soviet times, workers of the local paper plant were allowed to build their personal garages under the non-functioning aqueduct and in 1991- 92 – to privatise them. Today, the garages are used chaotically, without keeping any safety requirements, and a possibility to deal with them in a centralised way is very doubtful.

It is most likely that the 100th anniversary of the aqueduct soon will be commemorated in Grigiškės and its significance and value in the general context of technical heritage will be discussed. According to the engineering heritage enthusiasts, the aqueduct of Grigiškės is the only and unique structure of the type in Lithuania. Nevertheless, its future is still quite obscure. In the legal aspect, the restoration of the structure bearing a monument status and its adaptation for society’s needs (even hypothetically) seems a mission impossible.

3M (THREE MEDIA)

Initially chosen format of photography has proven to be useless for research (review, presentation?) of such a huge object. It has been also impossible to reflect complexity of the situation. Therefore, in order to fully demonstrate the design of the project and its changes, the impressiveness of the structure as it was in the initial stage, its further transformations and present situation, three different technologies – modelling, photography and filming – were applied. Each of the technologies were also treated as a medium, because it was not merely a “performance technique”, but also a basis of the message, necessary condition of communication or even an inseparable part of such message construction. Thus, with transforming media, the content of their message was also changed.

1M (MODEL)

The monolithic reinforced concrete canal is borne by an arcade of different height; each arc span is 7 meters. A part of the arcade has been demolished, another part – hardly accessible, therefore the exact number of arcs is unknown. The most probable number of arcs – 120 – is depicted in the model, which allows to observe in a single glance the whole scope of the initial design. The model does not present a realistic arrangement of the structure in the general plan and its later changes. It presents a generalised, undetailed object of the relative scale picturing the main idea of the long arcade.

I believe, such a generalised view has been especially appropriate to present the entire scope of the object. It repeats the initial view of the design, which can be formed according to the photograph of 1935. The newly constructed aqueduct had to be of impressive length and actually was a unique engineering structure of the type not only in the Vilnius region, then occupied by Poland, but even in the scope of the nowadays territory of Lithuania.

Conceptual way of representation, when the entire generalised view of the object can be seen at a single glance, is a strength of this modelling media. Whereas highly detailed models (usually used by enthusiasts of historical ships or war technologies), which make a huge impression on the audience by their accuracy and “real-life” impression, actually fail to depict the reality, but rather create its mock-up or decoration.

2M. PHOTOGRAPHY

A tradition of depicting objects in front and in profile coming from the portrait painting and construction drawing allows to fix undistorted, real size façade or general view of an architectural object. The series of such pictures make it possible to review a larger quantity of architectural objects or even urban developments. Thus, series of architectural objects viewed in front is a well-known way of picturing, which can be often observed in architecture photography exhibitions and other art projects.

In the presented short series, an exhibition visitor can see and even compare the gate arrangement solutions used in the garages, outcomes of garage marking and heating, rain water drainage, intensive use or non-use, and other aspects, which a spectator will be able to notice based on his/ her subjective experience or education. Used in such a way, photography from a mere picturing technique is turned into something different, an environment stimulating different activity, a medium bearing different message – a certain Medeleyev’s periodic classification table, a library collection, catalogue, herbarium or even Encyclopaedia Britannica of some kind.

With the help of photography medium, “architectural herbaria” is made allowing to compare objects of “similar” size, analyse their congruences and differences, form their typology, classify objects according to their colour, texture, material and details.

3M. VIDEO RECORDING  

The structure survey was carried out with a drone and appropriate video records made. Such way of surveying helped to avoid physical obstructions occurring in the complex object and to save time by circumventing the legal obstacles. Time was also saved as no permits for entering the territories controlled by legal entities were required, including also oral permits by local residents who appeared to be sceptical and not really welcoming the photographing process in their back yards. The drone surveying provided quite detailed, real time view. The drone flown at the height of 35 – 50 meters allowed also seeing the “fifth” façade of the aqueduct – its roof, which otherwise could have been inaccessible.

Another peculiarity of this video shooting was time dimension and fixed specific moment. Using the zoom technique, it was possible to identify and record certain incidents happening at the object, such as a dismantled car (failed to notice at the first survey), number of trucks and trailers parked that day or even a process of private gardening.

Video recording has appeared to be quite different medium in comparison to the model and “herbarium” of photographs: it provided many details, but any summarising, different angles at a time, absolute “real-time” moment without any historical distance.  

THE END

Now, it’s time to answer to the initially posed question: WHY DO I NEED ALL THIS? Most likely, it is my response to the recently heard statement: “<…> even from the broadest interdisciplinary perspective, the issues of history and theory of photography, cinema, video making and exhibitions are too loosely connected to the tasks of architecture studies <…>”. Seriously?! Maybe, under different circumstances, this quote taken out of its context would sound differently, even correctly. But right at the moment and under the present circumstances, I doubt it.

As this opinion was expressed by experts of the Research Council of Lithuania, I understood I cannot change it, so I did not even try to contradict or teach them the basics of media theory. But this unspoken hesitation (is it really so?) remained inside me. I believe, the experts were not right as concerns “the broadest interdisciplinary perspective”. Thus using this exhibition situation, I have tried at least approximately to demonstrate the functioning principles of media and their relationship with the represented object. This made my exhibition a bit didactic. But I really hope that preaching, which can be felt in the exhibition, will be counterbalanced by the impressiveness of this really unique object.

Coming back to the theme of architecture and media, I think, in these interdisciplinary (internet) times, photography, video art and exhibition curation are closely related to architecture studies, architectural research, creative activities and professional self-perception. The brightest examples of this are recent events, such as Venice Architecture Biennale, Architecture film festival in Rotterdam and the Advances in Architectural Geometry Conference 2021. In each of them, a certain connection can be traced: a curator’s role important in Venice, film director’s in Rotterdam and that of designer, scientist and producer working in the digital area of architecture.

Moreover, digital format becoming dominant in all public and private spheres, as well as its extensions – observation/ survey and recording devices, laser scanners, smart mobile devices, digital programs and DI (even this app now correcting my spelling), digital processing tools, such as a 3D concrete printer, and similar equipment, can form absolutely new connections, in which techniques are turned into media. Digital extensions take active part in creating and recreating architectural forms. Techniques turning into media gradually became inseparable part of processing of research results, generating ideas and final creative result formation processes. Therefore, understanding and conscious use of this area are absolutely necessary for contemporary architect. An architect understanding and managing as many media as possible is capable of deeper interpretation and better creative result.

Project was supported and presented by:

project was supported by: