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Toward postmodernism
An overview article titled “At the Crossroads of Architectural Exploration” appearing in a 1979 issue of the Lithuanian trade magazine Statyba ir architektūra (No. 5) was the first open discussion in the Lithuania press about postmodernist architecture. Events taking place for more than a decade beyond the Iron Curtain could no longer be ignored, but the question arose: how should Soviet Lithuania react to them? The anonymous author of the piece grappled with a common problem plaguing Soviet ideology: devising the “correct” way to assess Western postmodernism. The author’s final analysis, though critical, was unable to mask a certain amount of curiosity:
Postmodernism is foreign to us, but the creative explorations and theoretical concepts of the postmodernists are rather interesting.
Postmodernism was already present in Lithuanian architecture, however, and it was already understood as a mark of Westernization.
Postmodernism emerged in Western architecture in the late 1960s, first and foremost as a critique of modernism and as a social and political project that identified itself chronologically as that which follows modernism. In their criticism of modernism’s universality and functionality, postmodernists began to emphatically use references to historical styles, a diversity of materials and textures, bright colors, shiny surfaces, and other methods that modernism had written off as poor taste or even kitsch.
The aim was to move from the global to the local, encouraging a search for regional identities. In Western architecture, new approaches to form were dictated by technological innovation, resulting in extravagant material choices that became a prominent distinguishing trait of postmodernism. In Soviet architecture, meanwhile, innovation was impeded by continous economic hardship, a scarcity of materials, and lagging technology, so that postmodernism in the Soviet space was very often purely formal in nature. What’s more, Soviet architects were still cut off from access to information or theory.
Nevertheless, postmodernism in the Soviet Union can still be viewed as its own form of resistance and rebellion against the standardization of architecture and the scarcity of materials. The 1970s and 1980s saw the emergence among graduates of the Moscow Architectural Institute of a non-conformist movement called “paper” (or conceptual) architecture that promoted a new aesthetic, poetic narratives, a continuation of the traditions of classicism, constructivism, and suprematism, and the creation of dystopian visions. Martynas Mankus, „Postmodernizmo idėjų raiška XX a. 8-ojo ir 9-ojo dešimtmečių Lietuvos architektūros darbų konkursuose ir neįgyvendintuose projektuose“, Mokslas – Lietuvos ateitis, 2014, Nr. 6 (3), p. 225–233. In Estonia, a group of young architects (the so-called Tallinn School, including Leonhard Lapin, Vilen Künnapu, and Jüri Okas), emerged in parallel to the usual architectural field, taking up interest in artistic practices that were viewed as a protest against the bureaucratization and standardization of architecture. Andres Kurg, „Talino architektūros mokykla – brėžiniai, parodos ir pastatai“, in: Maištaujantis oportunizmas, sudarė Viktorija Šiaulytė, Marija Drėmaitė, Vilnius: Architektūros leidinių fondas, 2014, 
Manifestations of postmodernism could be found in Soviet Lithuanian architecture as early as the 1970s, though these were not accompanied by rebellious alternative practices or manifestos. A prominent trend in the architecture of the 1980s was sculpturality and a refinement of form. Undoubtedly the most distinct example of this type was the Physiotherapy Centre in Druskininkai, designed by Romualdas and Aušra Šilinskas in 1981, based on plastic and organically cast concrete forms. Similarly fluid forms were used for the Banga Café in Palanga, designed by Gintautas Telksnys in 1979. Vaidas Petrulis, „Įveikiant funkcionalizmo ribas“, in: Marija Drėmaitė, Vaidas Petrulis, Jūratė Tutlytė, Architektūra sovietinėje Lietuvoje, Vilnius: Vilniaus dailės akademijos leidykla, 2012, p. 121.
Professor Algimantas Mačiulis considers the first Lithuanian postmodernist building to be a club with an arc and portal motif designed by the Šilinskas’ in Palanga in 1979. But when Mačiulis referred to Šilinskas as the pioneer of Lithuanian postmodernism, Šilinskas responded that he never had postmodernism in mind for his design, since he didn’t know what postmodernism was. Algimantas Mačiulis, „Naujasis manierizmas“, in: Archiforma, 1996, Nr. 2, p. 22. Thus, architects repeatedly acknowledged and emphasized the formal side of Lithuanian postmodernism. Nevertheless, the year 1979, much like 1959 before it, marked a turning point in Lithuanian architecture.
In Lithuania, postmodernism was viewed as a new style with a Western, for some even “anti-Soviet”, flavor. It became fashionable to be a postmodernist, helping to shape a certain formal architectural language: decorativity, large-scale geometric forms (circles, squares, triangles), bright exterior colors, geometric imprints in façades, diversity in finishing materials (as much as was possible under conditions of Soviet scarcity), and complex compositions consisting of fragmented volumes.
The interior of the Astoria Hotel restaurant (Algimantas Šarauskas, 1983; since dismantled) and the Academy of Sciences Physics Institute vacation complex in Preila, on the Baltic coast (Gintautas Telksnys, 1978–1985) may be considered the first pure examples of completed postmodernist projects in Lithuania. Designs for a 1981 design competition for rural cultural halls were also impressive, featuring repeated portico and arc motifs.
The postmodernist movement was closely connected with the emergence of a new, young generation of architects. The trade magazine Statyba ir architektūra launched a new feature section for young architects in the early 1980s, including polemic articles for the first time. The most significant event came in 1982, however, with the publication of the Urban Construction Design Institute’s (UCDI) Young Architects’ Design Catalogue, which the architect and commentator Audrys Karalius called a “bomb”:
The very existence in the Soviet Union of this small, black and white publication hinted at unprecedented courage, and the architecture of the young [contributors] verged on the audaciously anti-Soviet… […] This powerful, postmodernist bomb propelled new blood into young minds… […] In the Architecture Department auditoriums, one could always hear the threads of Marxist-Leninist doctrine beginning to fray. This simmering cauldron finally detonated the SIKON architectural student competition in 1983 (now considered the longest-running in Europe). Audrys Karalius, „Prie architektūros kapo: Kodėl laidojame tai, ką turime geriausio“,, 2016 03 18.
The works showcased at the competition, the brainchild of architecture students enrolled at the Vilnius Engineering and Construction Institute (Audrius Ambrasas, Gintaras Čaikauskas and Audrys Karaliaus) had much in common with the rebelliousness of “paper architecture.”
The Lithuanian postmodernist school
Postmodernist innovation in 1980s architecture is associated with the young generation of Lithuanian architects whose work began appearing in the mid-1970s. Gediminas Baravykas (1940–1995), who not only actively designed and participated in competitions, local and international, but also launched the young architects’ branch of the Soviet Lithuanian Architects’ Union and encouraged a broad engagement with architecture, is considered the ideological leader of this generation in Vilnius.
Together with his young colleagues Kęstutis Pempė and Gytis Ramunis, Baravykas authored an original design for the Šeškinė shopping center in Vilnius from 1978 to 1985. The complex consisted of red brick buildings arranged around a partially enclosed square, with a pool and clock at its center. The complex featured numerous postmodernist motifs of a historic nature: unique second story galleries raised on columns, open concrete stairwells, and small stores reminiscent of Old Town shops. This was a new approach to design that ran directly counter to plans used in modern, functionalist buildings.
Pempė and Ramunis later worked as a creative team for many years, with one of their first significant projects being the State Auto Inspectorate Complex in 1985. This oblong rectangular red brick building also featured many elements of postmodernism: in place of the strip windows commonly found in modernist structures, they revived the use of a rhythm of small, square windows, stepped accents, rounded corners and external stairways, and sloped glass endpieces on the main building.
A strong, young group of architects emerged in Kaunas in the 1980s. The new composition and unique forms of Eugenijus Miliūnas’ postmodernist works drew particular attention: the Rėda clothing store (1984), the Kalniečiai shopping center (1981–1988), and the Mykolas Žilinskas Art Gallery (Miliūnas, Kęstutis Kisielius, Saulius Juškys, 1988), considered to be the most illustrative example of postmodernist Lithuanian architecture.
The Žilinskas Art Gallery displays a link to historical architecture not only in its individual details, but also in the organizational principle of the entire building, whose prototype is the ancient Acropolis in Athens. The gallery itself becomes a temple of art, its entrance accentuated by a classical architectural accent: the portico motif. Žmogus (Man, 1986), Petras Mazūras’ sculpture of a nude male figure standing in front of the gallery entrance, caused some consternation for Kaunas residents over its “indecency.” In solidarity with Mazūras’ work, the building’s architects organized a demonstration, stripping off their clothes and taking a photograph next to the sculpture. The photograph has either disappeared or has been permanently hidden from public view.
In 1985, the War Veteran’s Boarding House (today known as the Panemunė Retirement Home) arose in Kaunas, with a design by another young architect, Algimantas Kančas, incorporating fragmented volumes, geometric forms, and historical references. Kančas integrated the red brick building and its closed courtyard and decorative elements into the surrounding natural landscape with a sensitive touch.
The young postmodernists of Vilnius also used subtle designs for projects in the historical sections of the city, particularly in the Old Town. The clearest example of this approach was the Laboratory Building for the Monument Restoration Institute (today the Cultural Heritage Centre, designed by Alfredas Trimonis, Audrius Ambrasas, and Gintautas Aldys, in 1989–1990). Their work displays an effort to harmoniously incorporate forms fashionable at that time into the surrounding Old Town: a triangular glass bay window, pediments, and a decorated plinth. The building’s café and its postmodernist interior became a trendy gathering place for young people.
Clearly, Lithuanian architects in the 1980s still attached importance to issues such as regionality, national identity, and uniqueness – traits that were well suited to the historical styles and unique interpretation of architectural heritage promoted by postmodernism. Complexity of arrangement and attention to context and urban history became universally adopted. Historical references can be found in every project featured in the Municipal Economy Planning Institute’s 1988 catalogue showcasing young architects. Jaunųjų architektų projektų katalogas, Vilnius: Miestų statybos projektavimo institutas, 1988.
An important feature of Lithuanian postmodernism is its continuation into the 1990s, after the restoration of Lithuanian independence. The Lithuanian market soon became flooded with new products, colors and untried materials, the incorporation of which into architectural projects became a real challenge. New status symbols of private property – banks, offices, retail stores – displayed the fruition of postmodernist seeds sown in an earlier time, and a new competition of details, materials, ornamentation, originality and interior opulence began.
The most striking example of this transitional period is the Hermis Bank (Pempė, Ramunis, 1995), the first private bank building in post-Soviet Vilnius. Its solidity and opulence was represented in its main, postmodernist, façade: a semicircular glass bay window, a triangular pediment with neon “sun” rays, a high plinth finished in granite, large massive cornices, and windows placed between vertical pilasters. The building seemed to be a declaration that, after many years of Soviet occupation, Lithuania would finally now enjoy high quality construction with new technologies and materials.
Another memorable structure is the Centrum complex (Pempė, Ramunis, Kęstutis Kisielius, Algimantas Pliučas, Artūras Asauskas, 1997), a collection of commercial and hotel buildings. Postmodernist details predominated in both exterior and interior designs: “antique” cornices, the curved volume of the main entrance rotunda, etc.
Architects Saulius Šarkinas and Leonidas Merkinas had already begun designing a house and museum for the artist Kazimieras Žoromskis in 1986, before Lithuania’s reemergence as an independent country, incorporating two different eras into the plan: the remains of an original 19th century Neo-Gothic building joined to a new structure using postmodernist details and compositional methods. The Soviet government had promised to build a museum and gallery, complete with a studio and land for a sculpture garden, for the renowned émigré Lithuanian artist who had donated nearly 500 pieces of his personal art collection to the Lithuanian Museum of Art, but the building was only completed in 1995, after the demise of the Soviet Union. Thus, many ideas were carried forward from the 1980s into the architecture of a newly independent Lithuania.
The drive to reach world architectural standards in Lithuania encouraged the creativity of a new generation of architects as well as new interpretations of historical architectural forms and ideas. Though Lithuanian postmodernism may have lacked its Western counterpart’s irony, audacity or irreverent “overuse” of historical references, the movement became firmly rooted by the late 1980s. By the 1990s, as the transition from a Soviet to a free market economy accelerated, new forms of expression and identity were also explored with postmodernist approaches.
Architecture competitions and urban design
Architecture competitions became an extremely important laboratory for new ideas and innovation in the 1980s, all the more so because Lithuanian architects gained access to international competitions for the first time. Projects submitted to various competitions afforded designers the opportunity to express their ideas more freely and to convey new concepts and architectural ideas without having to seek prior approval from design institute committees or construction councils. The increase in the number of competitions was a factor of both a relative liberalization of overall creative circumstances and an general intensification of the dissemination of architectural ideas, thus the contests appealed to young architects in particular.
In 1983, a group of architects led by Gediminas Baravykas and including Andrius Gudaitis, Leonidas Merkinas, Saulius Šarkinas and Gražina Pajarskaitė, participated in an international competition for the design of the Opéra Bastille in Paris. The group submitted a design featuring a complex of intricate geometric volumes with characteristic postmodernist elements. A similarly styled project was submitted by a group of architects under Jonas Anuškevičius for an architectural competition for the Arctic Centre in Rovaniemi, Finland, in 1984, and was awarded an honorable mention.
The number of local architecture competitions increased considerably. In 1981, a contest was opened for proposals to reconstruct Vilnius‘ main thoroughfare, Gediminas Avenue (then known as Lenino Prospektas), with the aim of transforming the street (or a significant portion thereof) into a pedestrian boulevard lined with public buildings and a system of smaller design objects (benches, lights, etc.) and green spaces. Algimantas Mačiulis, „Kurti menišką aplinką“, Statyba ir architektūra, 1985, Nr. 11, p. 20–22. In the latter 20th century, the idea of pedestrian streets (or entire zones) took hold in the West as part of a movement to humanize urban areas, recreating “healthy” pedestrian-only zones separated from motorized transportation. The first such street opened in Rotterdam, Holland in 1972, followed soon after by Erfurt (then part of East Germany) in 1973, and Šiauliai, Lithuania, in 1975.
The idea to transform one of Šiauliai’s main avenues, Vilniaus Street, into a pedestrian zone was conceived in the mid 1970s. The project’s architectural design and planning portion was led by Virginija Taujanskienė, while aesthetics were overseen by the city’s Senior Architect Vilius Puronas (who headed the project’s first phase, from 1974 to 1984). The plan preserved existing green spaces and set aside a 900-meter long stretch of street for pedestrian traffic, paved in bricks of two different colors and sizes and interspersed with small open squares. The entire street was then finished with originally designed small architectural works: recreation zones with removable cement vases, oak benches, lawn terraces with low retaining walls made from field stones, a wooden pergola, and sculptural accents. Original lighting designs for the street included hanging and globe lanterns. In 1979, authorities approved a common color scheme for finishings to be used in the city of Šiauliai, focusing on a red, yellow and whitish gray palette that corresponded to the colors of commonly used construction materials: red bricks and clay, yellow sand and wood, white limestone and chalk, and gray concrete. The colors were then used for painted façades and window frames, while aluminum powder was applied to metal façade details.
A decorative, symbolic volumetric accent piece, a tower clock with a 2.3-meter tall thermometer, was placed at the street’s main intersection. At the top of the tower, a mechanical rooster sculpture fluttered and played a musical piece from “Lai gimtieji Šiauliai…” (by Vilius Puronas), a song about the city. Commercial signage along the pedestrian street was changed to adopt a uniform style of design, font, and color accents.
One of the most unique features of the new street design was the use of façade paintings (for commercial signage on the hunting store “Gamta-medžioklė-žūklė,” by Ričardas Nečajus, the Kumpis butcher shop, by Dalia Rimdžiūtė, etc.) A painting on one firewall created the illusion of the street pavement continuing on into the distance, complete with surrounding green space. An amphitheater was constructed near Rūdės Street and fountains along the main avenue were adorned with decorative sculptures.
Vilniaus Street in Šiauliai was the first pedestrian avenue in the Soviet Union, attracting a considerable amount of attention and acclaim, and its designers were awarded the USSR Council of Ministers prize in 1984. The variety of design, suggestive decorativity and an ironic use of detail made the Vilniaus Street project one of the first examples of postmodern public spaces.
Problems arising from an intense concentration of traffic in the city center of Kaunas also encouraged planners there to consider turning the main central thoroughfare, the 1.6-kilometer long Laisvės (Freedom) Avenue, into a pedestrian zone. While preserving the traditional rows of linden trees along the avenue, planners laid down a new pavement scheme (using five different types of concrete bricks) and lined the street with eight types of concrete curbing. The avenue was then finished with small architectural details (wooden benches, aluminum and bronze lighting fixtures) and green spaces (architects: Alfredas Paulauskas, Vanda Paleckienė, 1977–1982). A decorative fountain was placed at the Avenue’s main intersection with Simono Daukanto Street. The completed plan for Kaunas’ Laisvės Avenue, a significant design project in the 1980s, was also later recognized on the broader Soviet architectural stage.
In 1985, the main avenue in Kaunas’ Old Town, known as Vilniaus Street (and a continuation of Laisvės Avenue), was also re-zoned as a pedestrian boulevard. The plan for the street’s reconstruction also included originally designed small architectural details incorporating historical styles — telephone booths, street lights, benches, rubbish bins. The architectural choices and original small architectural features by Rimvydas Palys and Rymantė Gudienė blended organically into the overall context of the city’s oldest quarter, with Vilniaus Street becoming a recognized standard in Lithuania and throughout the Soviet Union. Almantas Bružas, „Pavojus senamiesčio dvasiai: mažajai architektūrai gresia išnykimas“,, 2016 04 01.
All of these experiments with public urban spaces, the transformation of roadways into pedestrian zones, and the creation of unified visual systems marked a new stage in postmodern urban planning and the design of public and urban spaces.


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Sources and links

„Pavojus senamiesčio dvasiai: mažajai architektūrai gresia išnykimas“, 2016 04 01
„Prie architektūros kapo: Kodėl laidojame tai, ką turime geriausio“, 2016 03 18
„Talino architektūros mokykla – brėžiniai, parodos ir pastatai“
Maištaujantis oportunizmas, sudarė Viktorija Šiaulytė, Marija Drėmaitė, Vilnius: Architektūros leidinių fondas, 2014
„Kurti menišką aplinką“
Statyba ir architektūra, 1985, Nr. 11
„Naujasis manierizmas“
Archiforma, 1996, Nr. 2
„Postmodernizmo idėjų raiška XX a. 8-ojo ir 9-ojo dešimtmečių lietuvos architektūros darbų konkursuose ir neįgyvendintuose projektuose“
Mokslas – Lietuvos ateitis, 2014, Nr. 6 (3),
„Įveikiant funkcionalizmo ribas“
Marija Drėmaitė, Vaidas Petrulis, Jūratė Tutlytė, Architektūra sovietinėje Lietuvoje, Vilnius: Vilniaus dailės akademijos leidykla, 2012
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