Enactment of the Law on Architecture[1] (came into force on 1 November 2017), finally passed after ten years of preparation, was met with euphoria. What kind of changes, improvements or deteriorations has caused the appearance of the law? Or maybe nothing has changed? There were not many public discussions on this subject, nevertheless, the subject was really important. The regulations concerning architects’ attestations and their professional activities, formerly present in different legal acts, have been finally arranged into a single text in the Law on Architecture. This sounds good. On the other hand, one of the most important purposes and goals for enactment of the Law was, as stated in its first Article (called the Purpose and Goals of the Law): The purpose of this law is to regulate the public relations in the field of architecture in order to protect the existing and ensure the development of the new sustainable environment of appropriate quality, related to the originality and culture of the region, which would reflect public interests and have some persistent value. Therefore, it is worth to discuss how public relations in the field of architecture are regulated by the Law. In my opinion, the Law on Architecture has almost failed to provide any kind of mechanism for this regulation. Although it has formulated the criteria for architectural quality, but in our case, their proper characteristics are important, which are absent or interpreted differently by the Law. For example, if an object complies with the maximum development intensity (DI), development density (DD) and altitude parameters as are specified in the General Plan of Vilnius City Municipal Territory, can it be considered integral and sustainable in urban sense? It is hardly sufficient.

            Ten criteria for architectural quality are foreseen by the Law on Architecture, but only first two of them are the most significant and visible to society (Article 11. Architectural Quality Criteria), and they are:

1) urban integrity;

2) compliance with the sustainable development principle.  

Nikos A. Salingaros has formulated eight rules – common principles of interaction of urban  forms (Salingaros 2005: 86,87)[2]. These are the following:

  1. Couplings. Only the elements of the same scale can be connected steadily; a structure cannot contain unconnected elements. The couplings can be visual, structural, functional and geometrical.
  2. Diversity. A coupling requires the diversity of elements. Similar elements have weaker couplings.
  3. Boundaries. Different structures are connected by marginal elements. Couplings are formed between structures, but not internal elements.
  4. Forces. The interaction of structures on the small scale is naturally stronger than on the large, otherwise disintegration may occur.
  5. Organization. Small scale structures are arranged out of the clearly defined large scale structures.
  6. Hierarchy. Structures are developed gradually, starting with small elements and going to the larger ones. This hierarchic process generates order.
  7. Interdependence. Structures of different scales are interdependent. Small scale structures require all scales, but never the opposite is true.
  8. Decomposition. A sustainable structure cannot be too easily decomposed into smaller separate elements.

These rules by Salingaros often are used as principles of development for the quality urban environment. Different urban structures, such as streets, buildings, squares, green zones, etc., are connected to make a successful city, but the result depends on the geometric compatibility spatial couplings. Are these principles respected in Vilnius? Can an object squeezed into an existing residential housing block be considered integral and complying with the sustainable development principles? Can the issues of an object’s integrity and sustainability be left to solve for its contracting authority? Vilnius has many examples of such solutions; attempts are being made to legitimize them by organizing close architectural competitions. As the most obvious of such examples can be mentioned the competition by Hanner, UAB, for further development of the territory of former Žalgiris stadium.[3] The development intensity foreseen in the valid detailed plan of this territory is DI-2,2, but the development density of the same territory as provided in the approved General Plan of Vilnius is DI-3, therefore by organizing the competition it has been expected to increase the DI value (the development intensity foreseen in the competition projects is significantly higher). Why? Because the development variants suggested in the competition projects are up to 50 meters high (the General Plan of Vilnius recommendations for the development altitude of this territory are 35 meters). How can the organisation of such competitions be altogether possible? Have the competition requirements been approved by all necessary institutions, such as the Vilnius City Municipality and Architects’ Chamber of Lithuania?

According to Raimundas Arnas Dineika[4], it is the concept of architectural scale applied to architectural environment containing multiple objects (elements of environment) that forms the entire urbanized area as a composition of different (different scale) elements arranged in space. It is quite obvious that a territory planning document is necessary in this case to solve urban issued, but, for example, a part of Vilnius Šnipiškės neighbourhood (the downtown area in Vilnius General Plan) with the area of about 250 hectares is developed “on the spot”, without any detailed planning. (We can suspect that such a case still has never been present in the entire history of planning of Vilnius). But we are speaking of the very centre of the city, a territory of special importance, which back in the soviet times was re-planned for several times with competitions being announced in order to select the best possible development variant (e.g., the planning competition for Žalgiris residential district (Šnipiškės at present) in 1974, I prize won by architect Z. J. Daunora). The development program for Šnipiškės district was also prepared in 2005, but presently it is not a valid territory planning document. The flawed nature of such non-planning practice is obvious, for example, the design proposals (DP) for reconstruction of the residential house in Veprių Street, No. 4, 6, 8 by Hanner UAB [5](see fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Visualisation of DP for a residential house at Veprių St., No. 4,6,8 prepared by Užupio architektai, UAB and Vesta UAB  

Fig. 2. Existing residential house at Veprių St., 8

As can be seen from the illustration, the case is far from the reconstruction as the construction of a huge five storey residential building is planned after demolition of the existing wooden houses. The residential house situated at Veprių Street No. 8 (see fig. 2) however was recognised as the state-protected heritage object of wooden architecture, by the resolution No. 1-1117 of Vilnius City Municipality Council dated 26 April 2006.[6] Although the house is protected against demolition, the aforementioned design proposals have been brought to the Vilnius Council of Urbanism and Architecture under the Union of Lithuanian Architects [7] for consideration, possibly expecting with its approval to make it possible to reconsider the status of the wooden house and, by the way, to add additional, sixth storey. Has this been done for the sustainable development principle as mentioned in the Law on Architecture, or for the sake of square meters, which are so expensive to the contracting authority?

So, is the declaration of Vilnius City Municipality about the ten rules/ principles of Vilnius urbanism applicable to design proposals and territory plans working at all and especially in the reconstruction case of houses at Verpių Street, No. 4, 6 and 8 (and in many other cases, in Žirmūnai, Žvėrynas, Antakalnis, Šeškinė residential districts)? As announced by the Municipality (19 November 2020, Vilnius.lt), the aforementioned rules have been formulated recently by the city administration after a close observation of modern society, estimation of its expectations for urban development and discussions with specialists. Should demolition of wooden housing heritage or adding excess buildings into the existing infrastructure be considered meeting the expectations of the majority of Vilnius residents? Before the preparation of the General Plan of Vilnius City in 2016, the author of this article once asked the Chief Architect about the goal of the general plan solutions, its motto? As soon as the GP’s publicizing procedures started, the following motto was formulated in its explanatory note: “A strategic goal of the General Plan of Vilnius City or its motto is – Vilnius as a growing leader of the eastern Baltic Sea region and happy city, in which I want to live.” Personally, I am more interested in the issues of happiness and willingness to live, therefore while analysing the solutions of the prepared General Plan, first of all, I try to find what will make living in Vilnius happier. By the way, the concept of happiness is a broad one, it includes positive emotion, a spectre of emotions, feeling or emotional state expressed in different ways, such as satisfaction, inner peace, spiritual balance, cheeriness or huge emotional joy. It is a subjective feeling of plenitude in life achieved by satisfying the spiritual, aesthetical and physiological needs, also the needs of cognition and communication; it is a factual and imaginary equivalent of ideality and existence. Happiness is also related to the issues of the purpose and meaning of life. Thus, the motto of Vilnius General Plan is appropriate, but how does it reflect in actual GP solutions and further actions of the city administration? Can the examples mentioned in this article be treated as the said “doze of happiness”?

The declared principles of sustainable development cover many parameters of life quality, they are not just “harmony” of meters and square meters, they also include the necessary social infrastructure. Can it be ensured by construction “on the spot”? I am going to illustrate this with the aforementioned example of part of Šnipiškės district (downtown) in the General Plan of Vilnius Municipal Territory (approved in 2021).

Fig. 3. Fragment of the social infrastructure blueprint of the General Plan of Vilnius Municipal Territory (2021)

As estimated, about 15,000 residents will live in the Šnipiškės part (downtown in the GP of Vilnius) from the Konstitucijos Ave. to Žalgiris Str. (presently this territory contains about 2,000 apartments built or still in the process of construction, but the plan foresees twice as many or even more[8]). The notes to the explanatory note of the GP of Vilnius state that “attempts are made to ensure the goal of 500-meter availability of the nursery (except for the non-priority newly developed urban territories). The need for nurseries by population is 65-70 places per 1,000 residents. The need for nursery places is calculated by making an assumption that a residential territory of 1,000 persons must contain 65-70 nursery places. The optimal size of a nursery (according to the places available) is 200-270 places. Thus, the optimal size of the planned nursery must also contain at least 200-270 places. The nursery of this size can be fully used, when the residential territory is inhabited by average 3,600 residents.”

According to these guidelines, in the territory of 15,000 residents, 525 new nursery places and 2,295 school places must be established (of course, with some correlation). The GP of Vilnius however has failed to foresee these objects in the territory under analysis (see in Fig. 3). So, what kind of criteria have been used by Vilnius City Municipality in planning the mass development of this territory and construction of huge multiple apartment buildings? Or, maybe an assumption has been made that the existing nurseries and schools are sufficient, as the blueprint is dated back in 2017 (about 500 residents planned back then), although the period covered by the plan is up to 2030.

Similar situation is with the conversion of the Manufaktūrų Street and surrounding territory, where about 1,500 apartments have been or are still being built, where, as planned, around 4,000 residents will live (in the GP of Vilnius, the state of 2017 is captured with almost zero population (see in Fig. 3)). How the nursery and school problem will be solved in this territory? The situation is similar in the nearby Paupio block. It should be taken into consideration also that the social infrastructure includes not only nurseries and schools, but also health care, sports facilities, etc.

So, there are plenty of themes for discussion. Why now is the right timing? I think, because the Law on Architecture has been effective for over four years already and its amendments concerning remuneration to the Regional Architecture Councils (RAC) from the state budget have been under discussion presently. It is worth discussing whether the RAC formation principle as foreseen by the Law is rational, and how relevant is the public opinion in the process of approval of specific objects. Is the RAC capable of dissociating itself from the influence of friends, colleagues and contracting authorities (former and prospective) in passing its decisions? Or maybe in this case a certain balance is required, a counterbalance actually, to be formed of independent specialists and community representatives participating in the RAC activities.

The RAC mission and boundaries set for its activities are important. Can you still remember the purpose and goal for passing the Law on Architecture? Let me remind you: The purpose of this law is to regulate the public relations in the field of architecture in order to protect the existing and ensure the development of the new sustainable environment of appropriate quality, related to the originality and culture of the region, which would reflect public interests and have some persistent value. Thus the regulation of public relations in the sphere of architecture should be interpreted in a much wider sense than mere aesthetic issues of an object. The purpose of the RAC is defined even more clearly in Article 18 of the Law on Architecture: “Regional Architecture Councils shall be established with the purpose of analysing the issues of architecture, territory planning, immovable architectural and urban heritage, as well as other architecture-related questions, issuing recommendations and proposals to the state and municipal institutions engaged in architecture decision-making, as well as evaluating the quality of architecture.

5. Regional Architecture Councils shall perform the following functions:

1) issuing recommendations to the state and municipal institutions concerning the territory planning documents, design proposals of architectural objects, objects of immovable architectural and urban heritage, as well as objects specified by the present Law, concept solutions for architectural and urban ideas, design projects and architecture of buildings’ compliance with the quality requirements, and other questions related to the quality of architecture;

2) upon the request of interested parties or its own initiative, issuing conclusions and proposals regarding the territory planning documents, design proposals, concept solutions of architectural and urban ideas, design projects and architecture of buildings’ compliance with the quality requirements, and other questions related to the quality of architecture <…>”

So, the procedure for issuing recommendations, conclusions and proposals by the RAC is quite loose, and implemented mostly when addressed by the interested parties. There are no criteria for obligatory application to the RAC (i.e. when and for which objects the application should be obligatory). Should such criteria be approved by an appropriate legal enactment (the order by the Environment minister) and applicable to all municipalities, or should each municipality approve its own criteria is still a theme for discussion. Another question is how many RAC members have appropriate competence for evaluation of contemporary sustainable development.

The issue of architecture quality should be a top priority for the real estate developers and architects, it should be recognised as a public interest, therefore only the applications to the RAC made by non-governmental and other community organizations can be funded by the state budget. In other cases, the RAC activities should by paid by the contracting authorities.

But, now let us return to the 10 architecture rules announced by Vilnius City Municipality, which, according to the State Territory Planning and Construction Inspectorate (STPCI) are optional, as approved by any legal act[9]. It should be noted, however, that the rules fail to reflect a human factor. All these principles are orientated towards a lifeless structure, its appearance and match to the environment, etc. But the essential question here is how would a person feel after a multi-apartment tower is squeezed in the middle of the residential block, despite the fact that it is designated as “integral to its urban environment” and called a guest house. How such an object would influence the environment, improve the living quality, or rather would cause a bunch of new problems? How can such new construction development be the best possible solution? No reference can be found on this in the rules; besides, it is not a criterion of good architecture, although it is, in my opinion, essential.

Finally, I would like to conclude reminding about the rule of the precedence of factual content. In most cases, design projects are evaluated with a principle of precedence of factual content over the bureaucratic form being applied. For example, the rule allows for designing the declared guest houses as residential houses, etc. But this application is obviously against the regulations of Article 5 of the Law on Construction Essential Requirements for Architecture of a Building:

“The architecture of a building shall be such that

1) it would not contradict the basic building construction requirements as specified in the Regulation (EU) No. 305/2011;

2) the building could match the landscape;

3) it would comply with the purpose of the building;  

4) its architectural, engineering and technological solutions would be well-match together;

5) its architectural solutions would make a unanimous harmonious whole;

6) buildings would comply with universal design requirements as foreseen in respective normative technical documentation of construction, normative documentation for the building’s safety and purpose.

2. Architect shall be responsible for implementation of essential architectural requirements in the building design project.”

Thus, by applying the principle of the precedence of factual content, a provision stating that architecture of a building must comply with the building purpose is ignored, besides the application of construction technical regulations depends on the purpose of buildings. It must be stated that in such a way the society is misled, when one thing is designed, while the other is implemented.

[1] TAR, 2017-06-19, No. 10247.

[2] Salingaros, N. A. 2005. Principles of Urban Structure. Delfi University of Technology Netherland: Techne Press, p. 252.

[3]https://sa.lt/kas-iskils-buvusio-zalgirio-stadiono-aiksteles-vietoje-pristatomi-4 projektai/?utm_source=mailpoet&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=testinis-architekturos_6&fbclid=IwAR1Mipiekiy6_ixSJuHD4LM3tRA7js3CKjTXbX6KEzATh1V7YuSpATTRtlw

[4] Dineika, R. A. 1996. Integruotas architektūrinės aplinkos mastelis ir jo išraiškos transformavimas. Urbanistika ir architektūra. Nr. 1(21), 25-29.

[5] Information on the design proposals announced on 30 June 2021 (Vilnius.lt, https://vilnius.lt/lt/numatomo-statiniu-projektavimo-viesumas/visuomenes-informavimas-apie-daugiabucio-gyvenamo-namo-vepriu-g-4-6-8-vilniuje-projektavima/).

[6] Programme for Implementation of Protection strategy of the Wooden Architecture Heritage.

[7] https://www.facebook.com/architektusajunga/videos/999628554159237 (video record).

[8] Information taken form the Map of Vilnius Projects.

[9] The State Territory Planning and Construction Inspectorate’s reply of 8 December 2021 to the inquiry by the Public Urban Planning Commission of Vilnius City. 

This article is part of the project “Platform for the architectural culture and criticism – Zine”

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