To house refugees, Lviv wants to make beautiful buildings that last

LVIV, Ukraine – To stand in the cobbled square that is this city’s historic marketplace is to be surrounded by the influences captured i...


LVIV, Ukraine – To stand in the cobbled square that is this city’s historic marketplace is to be surrounded by the influences captured in brick, stone and plaster of intersecting cultures and empires that rise and fall.

The layout of the streets and squares of downtown Lviv closely resembles what they would have been in medieval times, earning it the designation of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is through the city’s architecture, however, that Eastern Europe rubs shoulders with Italian and German heritage, giving Lviv its distinctive visual identity.

Amid the war with Russia, the city’s challenge is to integrate tens of thousands of residents displaced by fighting in eastern Ukraine without sacrificing Lviv’s aesthetics or derailing its efforts to become a sustainable and liveable European city.

The displaced were housed in schools and sports grounds turned into shelters, first in open rooms with mattresses on the floor, then separated by Japanese-style wooden partitions developed during the Fukushima earthquake. Recently, hundreds of families have moved into containers set up in parks and vacant lots.

But with permanent housing costing the same as container housing – the equivalent of around $70 per square foot – Anton Kolomeytsev, The city’s chief architect, said Lviv will shift to apartment building, constructing low-rise buildings in mixed-use areas combining residential and commercial units with green spaces and recreational facilities.

“When we build a building, we have to think that it is built not for months, not for years, but for decades, for centuries,” said Kolomeytsev, 35, who studied and worked in Vienna, but says her work is shaped by growing up in Lviv. “We are in a very rich cultural environment.

He said the city would build five- to seven-story apartment buildings for displaced people that would combine beauty and utility while maintaining the compact nature of this city of 400,000 people.

Lviv is the furthest city where Ukrainian evacuees can escape the battlefields in the east of the country and stay in their home country. Several hundred thousand Ukrainians passed through Lviv, many crossing into Poland about 40 miles away. But city officials expect about 50,000 of those displaced to remain.

“We now understand that we are the city that guarantees the possibility for people from other cities and other regions to stay in Ukraine,” Kolomeytsev said.

The most vulnerable, including the war-wounded, would be able to make minimum monthly payments and own their apartments after 20 years.

The city also responds to much more fundamental concerns. New building codes require every new structure to have a bomb shelter and every apartment a security room with reinforced concrete walls and chemical attack shields.

On a recent afternoon on the outskirts of town, down a winding alley lined with walnut and cherry trees, a small group of construction workers drove iron stakes into the ground of a wire fence field.

An image of the completed structures shows buildings clad in white metal so delicate they almost appear to be floating on fields of grass. The vertical lines of the cladding blend into pointed roofs above large rectangular windows, while the asymmetrical entrance contains floor-to-ceiling windows flooding the interior with natural light.

Scheduled to open in two months, it will be able to accommodate 120 people – initially, pregnant women and their children.

The new construction is part of the planning of Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi, who said he envisions a new, more resilient Ukraine after this war and is revamping his city’s infrastructure to prepare for an almost constant state of conflict.

“We have to be ready for the next Russian invasion,” he said. “We have to put a lot of time and effort into improving the country.”

After being first elected in 2006, Sadovyi banned cars from squares and cobblestone streets in the historic city center, turning them into pedestrian walkways lined with restaurants and cafes. Before the Russian invasion, Lviv hosted more than 100 festivals a year, including a major international jazz festival.

Lviv, known as the cultural capital of Ukraine, has had many names as it has changed hands over the centuries. Over the years, the city came under Polish, Austrian, German and Soviet control, before Ukraine regained its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The city commemorated the 776th anniversary of its founding this month. This year’s festivities have been canceled and instead of city residents and foreign tourists being entertained by street performers, it is mostly displaced Ukrainians who stroll through the central market square and sit in the sidewalk cafes.

Buildings in the historic city center include cathedrals, castles, and buildings full of Renaissance and Baroque details. Even the most modest buildings have distinctive flourishes, and some are simply stunning, like the house of scientistsa neo-baroque extravagance with a huge wooden entrance flanked by twin Atlases supporting the balcony.

Even outside of the historic Old Town, hundreds of simple apartment buildings have entrances flanked by statues of Greek gods and ornate Art Nouveau curved wrought-iron balconies.

For new construction for those displaced by war, Kolomeytsev envisions something much less ornate, but no less graceful.

Low-rise apartment buildings would be modeled on a existing apartment complex with multi-level buildings interconnected with courtyards and paved walkways that intersect with raised lawns. The bright apartments have a balcony and large windows.

“We know how to build and we can build,” he said, adding that funding should be secured.

In parts of Lviv with a less appealing architectural heritage, such as outlying neighborhoods dotted with dull gray Soviet-era skyscrapers, Kolomeytsev said the city has also tried to embrace at least some of that heritage. He said that in some cases they replaced towering factories next to residential buildings with parks, while in others they undertook renovations retaining the best features of a building.

The city recently held a competition to renovate an aging Soviet-era landmark, the Premier Hotel Dnister, where one of its most famous clients, Hillary Clinton, stayed in 1997.

The winning design preserves the imposing Soviet architecture but lightens it with narrower vertical elements and more open space around the building.

“Their main idea was to preserve the architecture as much as possible,” Kolomeytsev said.

Back in his office, filled with light streaming through huge windows overlooking the square, he leafed through models of approved but not yet built projects – one of them a modern development around the Art Nouveau station.

“Of course now everything is on hold,” he said. “But after the return to normality, let’s say, we will resume these projects.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: To house refugees, Lviv wants to make beautiful buildings that last
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