Kaunas International Summer School invites to establish a dialogue between the past and the future

Important | 2021-05-18

Although the Eiguliai neighbourhood in Kaunas was first mentioned in the 14th century, this area is more commonly associated with grey tenement houses and other Soviet buildings built here 40 years ago. At that time, the district was designed as a utopia reflecting Soviet-era ideas, but to what extent do they meet the needs of today’s population? How should the neighbourhood change to become more comfortable for its residents?

The participants of the International Summer School “MODERNISM FOR THE FUTURE: RE-TOPIA: optimistic between the past and the future” will seek the answers to these questions. The annual International Kaunas Summer School, organised by Kaunas University of Technology Faculty of Civil Engineering and Architecture (KTU CEAF) together with partners from the Bartlett School of Architecture, will take place in June-July, 2021.

According to the organisers, everyone, including students and young professionals, who find this topic interesting are invited to register and attend the summer school. Previously organised by the team of Kaunas European Capital of Culture 2022, this year’s event will be curated by KTU CEAF. In the interview below, KTU CEAF lecturer Laura Jankauskaitė-Jurevičienė, the curator of Kaunas Summer School is talking about this year’s topic and programme of the event.

Laura Jankauskaitė-Jurevičienė, KTU
Laura Jankauskaitė-Jurevičienė, the curator of Kaunas Summer School

The International Kaunas Summer School is being organised for the third time this year. How does this event look in the context of previous years?

As part of Kaunas European Capital of Culture 2022 Modernism for the Future programme, the International Summer School is taking place for the third time. In 2018, the heritage of Kaunas interwar modernism was studied, in 2019 the theme of the School was “Future resorts”.

This year’s theme was dictated by the changing reality in residential areas and today’s pandemic situation, which revealed an emerging trend: people are looking for rural areas, nature or attractive public spaces next to their home. All of our experiences in recent months forced us to critically and profoundly re-evaluate our relationships with friends, families, and communities, with our homes and neighbourhoods, and cities around us. With the Kaunas Summer School, we hope to bring together interdisciplinary international teams of young professionals who, in collaboration with the urban community, would define the problems in the residential areas and offer ideas to solve them.

Why did you choose the Eiguliai neighbourhood as your main research area?

Eiguliai reflects the architectural urban planning and social ideas of Soviet modernism. Soviet-era tenements and residential areas are now in crisis, as it is unclear whether it is better to demolish or to renovate the buildings, and if so, what renovation principles should be applied. We often see how various institutions are placed on the ground floors of residential buildings, changing not only the architectural expression of the building but also the urban structure of the neighbourhood. Areas around residential buildings – courtyards, public squares lose their function, attractiveness, often only fulfilling the need for parking.

Public spaces next to tenement houses form a sense of exclusion rather than a sense of communication and togetherness, which is relevant in these changing times. In 2017, Kaunas approved the Municipality’s Decision on the Management Programme for Tenement Residential Areas, which aims to promote the planning, design and arrangement of these areas. However, renovation of tenement buildings is often segmental and does not include renovation of the entire neighbourhood. Involving both the neighbourhood community and young professionals in such projects would provide more complex solutions. Thus, the Summer School aims to provide an arena for wider discussion, for asking questions, proposing ideas, and being optimistic about creating a RE-TOPIA between the past and the future.

The school is organised in collaboration with The Bartlett School of Architecture in the UK. What is the role of the experts from London?

Professor Edward Denison and Associate Professor Sabine Storp from Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL) play an important role. Edward Denison is a Professor and an independent consultant, writer and photographer specialising in global histories of architecture and the built environment. His work for various international organisations in places as diverse as Africa, China and Europe is regularly published in international print, electronic and broadcast media. In 2016 and 2017 he received the RIBA President’s Medal for Research for “Asmara – Africa’s Modernist City” and for “Ultra-Modernism: Architecture and Modernity in Manchuria” respectively. Sabine Storp is an Associate Professor at Bartlett School of Architecture. Her research is currently exploring the idea of architecture as inclusive practice with a clear focus on integrating community engagement as inclusive participatory design at all levels of project design and implementation. Both scholars have visited Kaunas a few times, they know the city well and have supervised previous modernism schools.

Is the school only for architects or can students from other fields participate?

The school invites students or young professionals from different disciplines with a background in anthropology, history, sociology, architecture or engineering to participate. Working in an interdisciplinary team, we aim to combine personal experiences from the participants’ environment to produce a creative result that acts as a multi-layered response so that neighbourhoods like Eiguliai can survive the crisis. The summer school is akin to a laboratory without borders, where all participants are welcome, all forms of creative expression are acceptable, to offer new, creative, attractive ideas to solve urban identity problems, and urban, architectural visions, while creating a dialogue with Kaunas residents and communities.

The Kaunas Summer School aims to provide an arena for wider discussion, for asking questions, proposing ideas, and being optimistic about creating a RE-TOPIA between the past and the future.

– Laura Jankauskaitė-Jurevičienė, the curator of Kaunas Summer School, KTU CEAF lecturer

What will make this year’s school exceptional?

Firstly, this year’s summer school is unique in that it will be held remotely – due to current travel restrictions and the uncertainty about the future, we, unfortunately, cannot organise it in a contact form. Secondly, the school programme will consist of two events.

On June 11, we will invite all school participants to a remote seminar where the school theme will be introduced and the participants will explore the theoretical aspects of the theme. During the introductory seminar, three guest lecturers will cover different topics related to our field of study: Vladimir Šlapeta, a professor at the BRNO University of Technology (Czech Republic), an architect and architectural historian who has curated various architectural exhibitions in the Czech Republic, such as “Brno Functionalists”, awarded the Berlin Art Prize in 1992, as well as the Brno City Prize and the Bucharest Architecture Triennial Prize; anthropologist Kristina Šliavaitė, Associate Professor at Vytautas Magnus University, who will talk about the social context of the Soviet era; Martynas Marozas, Associate Professor at the KTU FCEA, who will present the historical urban architectural context of Eiguliai.

After the introductory seminar, from June 28 to July 2, a remote week-long Summer School workshops will take place. Participants will take part in the activities that focus on reflection on the changes in society, culture, community, and environment that have damaged and may continue to damage the utopian vision of the Eiguliai district; toward the end of the week, they will propose new interventions that would respond to the changes in our uncertain future.

The summer school is akin to a laboratory without borders, where all participants are welcome, all forms of creative expression are acceptable, to offer new, creative, attractive ideas to solve urban identity problems, and urban, architectural visions, while creating a dialogue with Kaunas residents and communities.

– Laura Jankauskaitė-Jurevičienė, the curator of Kaunas Summer School, KTU CEAF lecturer

The Kaunas Summer School will also engage participants and the public in creative workshops to share their ideas with residents and develop innovative design proposals. Working in groups, participants will be expected to critically and supportively engage with issues of private and public space, spatial justice, equity, ecology, play, relevance, sustainability, connectivity, transport, infrastructure and the urban landscape.

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