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The Nature of Late Soviet-Era Architecture
Marija Drėmaitė
Late Modernism and Public Buildings
The clearest examples of the new architectural trends were found in public projects that benefitted from the special attention and financial support of the central government. The 1970s saw the proliferation of new buildings to house government institutions. In Vilnius, this wave of construction included such important sites as a central complex of administrative buildings consisting of the Lithuanian SSR Supreme Soviet Presidium Building (known today as the Lithuanian Seimas [Parliament], designed by Algimantas and Vytautas Nasvytis, 1978–1982), the Republican Council of Labor Unions (Česlovas Mazūras, 1979), and the Ministry of Finance (Andrius Gudaitis, 1978); the Ministry of Communications and the Central Telephone Exchange complex (Justinas Šeibokas, 1979); the Agricultural Economics Research Institute and Computing Center (Čekanauskas, 1970–1979); the headquarters of the Lithuanian Communist Party's Central Committee (today home to the Lithuanian Government and Prime Minister's offices, designed by Čekanauskas, 1976–1982); and the Political Education Hall in Kaunas (today the main building of Vytautas Magnus University, architect: Boleslovas Zabulionis, 1974).
All of these structures shared several traits. They were all designed by established architects from a new generation of modernists and they all represented the cosmopolitan architectural trends of late modernism (and were all obvious approximations of Western styles most popular at the time, incorporating elements of brutalism, plastic or expressive geometric form, complex composition, and a diversity of ornamental material that was available only for important government buildings). In addition, all of these structures were designed as large-scale urban complexes, not as individual, stand-alone buildings.
This trend was particularly pronounced in the urban planning of the 1970s, with the "conceptualizing" of large-scale complexes whose true nature only revealed itself within the overall urban context. The Administrative Complex in Vilnius, for example, which today includes the Lithuanian Parliament, was designed to become a dynamic urban core consisting of 9 buildings joined by a shared underground area for parking, recreational areas, new streets, walkways and pedestrian paths. Because they occupied such large expanses of land, these complexes significantly transformed existing city centers, often requiring the demolition of historic buildings.
Another type of public building that saw an increase in construction in the 1970s consisted of cultural and sports facilities. The new, large museums, cultural institutions, and sports complexes that arose during this period are a testament to ample government financing as well as sophisticated late modernist form: the Kaunas Art Gallery with its displaced, asymmetrically assembled cubic elements (architects: Liucija Gedgaudienė, Jonas Navakas, 1978), and the Revolution Museum in Vilnius (architects: Gediminas Baravykas, Vytautas Vielius, 1966–1980), the art gallery of the Šiauliai Pedagogical Institute (now a university) (architect: Aleksandras Petrikauskas, 1977); the Summer Concert Hall in Palanga, with its elements of plasticity, monolithic reinforced concrete, and brutalism (architect: Vytautas Gerulis, 1970), and the Vilnius Concert and Sports Hall (architects: Eduardas Chlomauskas, Zigmantas Liandsbergis, Jonas Kriukelis, and engineering by Henrikas Karvelis, 1961–1971).
The public building most emblematic of the 1970s, however, is the Lithuanian Opera and Ballet Theatre in Vilnius, designed by Elena Nijolė Bučiūtė in 1974 as a particularly expressive example of the changes taking place in architecture. The first design for an opera building in Vilnius was a socialist realist version drafted in 1955, but the project was later turned over to Bučiūtė, whose variation on the functionalist style won a design competition in 1960 – a surprising accomplishment for such a young architect who was both a woman and not a member of the Communist Party. Indrė Ruseckaitė, Lada Markejevaitė, „Asmeninis Elenos Nijolės Bučiūtės modernizmas“, in: Modernizmas: tarp nostalgijos ir kritiškumo, Architektūros leidinių fondas, 2014,
From the very first design stages, Bučiūtė developed the concept of a continuous, vaulting main lobby space surrounding the performance hall. The unusually open, vertically extended spatial proportions were an innovation in Lithuanian architecture that sparked debate among professionals about the potentially excessive size and height of the lobby space. Bučiūtė based her designs on her childhood memories of a Neo-Gothic red brick church in Rokiškis and the powerful, ceremonial, and extraordinary atmosphere she experienced there. Elements of the church were reflected in analogous details in the Opera House design: the volume of the performance hall mirrored powerful church walls; the vaulting space above the church altar was echoed in the panorama of Vilnius that unfolded beyond the large glass lobby windows; and the soaring heavens were reflected in the expansive ceiling soaring some twelve meters above the lobby floor. Indrė Ruseckaitė, Lada Markejevaitė, „Asmeninis Elenos Nijolės Bučiūtės modernizmas“, in: Modernizmas: tarp nostalgijos ir kritiškumo, Architektūros leidinių fondas, 2014, 
As planning moved to the detailing phases in 1968, the Opera House design's functionalist approach took on more elements of late modernism: more complex volumetric forms and diversified textures and the fragmentation of the stage space into a more detailed, multidimensional structure. Late modernism was also characterized by a movement to use architectural means to establish an emotional connection with visitors. It was at this time that the theater design team was joined by Bučiūtė's fiancée, the Moscow designer Yuri Markeyev.
Bučiūtė proposed using a finishing of red brick masonry, but her idea encountered resistance from those who felt that clay bricks were too simple for a public building of such prominence. At the time, gray dolomite was considered a more appropriate finishing material. Markeyev created industrial samples for the interior walls of the theatre using five different profiles of finishing brick, which he varied to create unique echoes of the finishing relief seen in St. Anne's Church in Vilnius, the Perkūnas House in Kaunas, and a historic church in Zapyšikis, near Kaunas.
Another intriguing interior detail was the warm light created from the yellow glass (unlike the expensive crystal commonly used at the time) that Markeyev selected to create different lighting models, even in wine glasses specially designed for the Opera House's main cocktail lounge. Brass, which Bučiūtė considered to be a traditional Lithuanian material, was meant to compliment the warm tones.
Countless details in the Opera House, such as the hanging brass ceiling lights in the ticket lobby, the ornamentation on columns and the main entry doors, door handles, ashtrays, and the decorative main curtain, were all expressions of Markeyev's nostalgic view of artistic crafts. Indrė Ruseckaitė, Lada Markejevaitė, „Asmeninis Elenos Nijolės Bučiūtės modernizmas“, in: Modernizmas: tarp nostalgijos ir kritiškumo, Architektūros leidinių fondas, 2014, This personalization of modernism – the encoding of subjectively selected historical symbols and traditions into numerous design details and a rather irrational decorative style – can already be considered to have been a harbinger of postmodern architecture.
Folkloric Regionalism
Alongside the aspiration to keep pace with the latest movements in Western European late modernist architecture, Soviet Lithuanian architecture in the 1970s saw the emergence of another trend, one that might be called the search for a regional identity. Vaidas Petrulis, „Regioninio savitumo paieška“, in: Marija Drėmaitė, Vaidas Petrulis, Jūratė Tutlytė, Architektūra sovietinėje Lietuvoje, Vilnius: Vilniaus dailės akademijos leidykla, 2012, p. 108–117 In many Soviet republics, the pursuit of regional architecture became one of the most popular means to combat the monotony of industrialized architecture.
In Lithuania, this approach became particularly popular in recreational architecture and coastal construction, in public buildings, particularly those located in the Vilnius Old Town, in interior design, and somewhat later in the construction of public facilities in smaller cities and towns. In the three Baltic republics, this movement became a local phenomenon: a "spiritual" architectural rebellion against
"soulless" modernism. Because it was rooted in folklore, the movement found favor with a Soviet regime that was already pushing a general cultural policy of promoting and reviving old (ancient, Baltic, ethnic) forms and imbuing them with new content to create a "people's culture," as a form of opposition to Catholicism.
One of the first examples of this style was the Vaidilutė Café in Palanga (designed by Gytis Tiškus), named after the priestesses of the ancient Lithuanian pagan religion. The café was a project initiated by Antanas Sniečkus, the leader of the Lithuanian Communist Party, and completed in only three months in 1968. In its scope, materials, form, and interior details, the building not only sought to interpret the local traditions of wooden architecture (timber for the café was prepared according to rural construction traditions and the final structure was covered in thatch), it was also incorporated into the surrounding natural context. The approach was a unique one at the time. In truth, this and similar romanticized designs elicited a mixed public response. Some criticized the designs for their naïveté and stylized approach, while others felt they were a unique form of Lithuanian national awareness and patriotism. Vaidas Petrulis, „Alfredas Gytis Tiškus: Klaipėda – tai raudona“, Archiforma, 2007, Nr. 3, p. 43–44
Over time, the movement spread throughout resort architecture. Clearly ethnically derived architectural forms, details, and materials were used by architect Vaidotas Guogis, for example, in his designs of several buildings for the Curonian Spit, off the Lithuanian coast in the Baltic Sea: the Dainava Inn in Pervalka (1971), the Ešerinė restaurant in Nida (1977), and the Kelininkas vacation complex in Pervalka (1977). The latter design incorporated the forms of traditional fishermen's houses, with accentuated porch windows and regional ornamentation details and color combinations (dark brown, white, burgundy red, blue). For a very long time, these approaches were considered contextual and reflective of the local environment, and the Ešerinė restaurant became an industry standard for the style.
There were also efforts to creatively use folk architecture forms in public buildings in smaller towns and rural areas. One example is the Kryžkalnis bus and service station, designed by Konstantinas Zubovas in 1974. Here, the new forms of architectural expression were linked to folk architecture traditions: a soaring tile roof and wooden ornamental details.
Similar buildings with pitched roofs, wooden detailing, and other elements derived from ethnic Lithuanian and local traditions were designed for many small Lithuanian towns right up to the end of the Soviet era, including such examples as the Bačkonys Pub in the town of the same name (architect: Edvardas Vytautas Beinortas, 1970), a community center in Rumšiškės (architect: Vaclovas Putinas, 1981), and the Merkys shopping center in Jašiūnai (architect: Algimantas Patalauskas, 1986).
There were also instances of less direct use of regional characteristics in architecture in the 1970s, including examples of designs that approximated critical regionalism by relying more on allusions to and feelings of local architectural motifs and materials to enrich the contemporary architectural experience. A good example of this is the main public administration building in Nida, on the Baltic coast, designed by Tiškus in 1973 and serving today as the seat of the Nida Municipal Government. The building featured a unique interpretation of the silhouette and color palette of traditional coastal homes, complete with the locally famous wind vanes, thus achieving a blend of new and traditional small town architecture. Another example is the Baltic Sea vacation residence built for the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences in Palanga in 1977, designed by Vytautas Dičius and Leonardas Ziberkas, which incorporated creative approaches to the use of pitched roofs and traditional materials and colors.
The tradition of regionalism in the architecture of Lithuania's larger cities was motivated by a new appreciation of the cultural heritage preserved in the country's historic towns and by the use and new interpretation of historical details. The reinterpretation of historical architecture in new construction became an important means to maintain the unique character of Lithuania's cities. These approaches were complex and quite varied, such as Gediminas Baravykas' take on the architecture of the Vilnius Old Town for his designs of the Maskva Cinema, for example (1966–1975), combining modern form with traditional tile roofing. The Nasvytis brothers, meanwhile, incorporated the volumetric spatial composition of the Old Town's signature courtyards into their reconstruction of the Vilnius Central Post Office in 1969, creating an "indoor Old Town street." Similarly, in their designs for the Academic Drama Theatre (1966–1981), they sought to replicate the same spatial composition and mood of the Old Town courtyards through the use of yellow brick masonry for both interior spaces and exterior finishing.
Ceremonial buildings. Wedding and Funeral Palaces
From its very founding, the secular Soviet state was known for its socialist ceremonies and rituals. In particular, the Soviet regime directed its attention to so-called civil ceremonies, a feature of the new society that was meant to accelerate the pace of society's secularization. Different milestones of life, usually commemorated in sacral spaces, were redesignated as domestic services and turned into civil proceedings: baptisms became name day celebrations and church weddings became civil services.
These new rites and ceremonies required new spaces and facilities – an obvious challenge for architects. Using the terminology of the day, architects were not only tasked with "configuring" the structures, but also with spatially modeling the proceedings of the new ceremonies, avoiding any associations with religious symbolism. Initially, existing buildings were adapted to new functions. In Kaunas, for example, the historic City Hall building became home to the Wedding Palace in 1967. The building was restored according to designs by Žibartas 
In 1968, however, designing began for the new Vilnius Wedding Palace (lead architect: Gediminas Baravykas). When it opened in 1974, the Palace was the first of its kind in the Soviet Union. From an architectural perspective, the Wedding Palace designs had to address two issues: a plan for the actual ceremonial rites and designs for their aesthetic surroundings. In Baravykas' view, the building should be an innovative, modern structure that was unparalleled in world architecture. However, Baravykas' colleague, furniture designer Eugenijus Gūzas, later revealed that the innovation of the design lay somewhere between "church and city hall" – in other words, fully within a traditional conceptual framework of ceremony.
From the outside, the building is a modern structure with sleek, sculptural and evolving features characteristic of late modernism that gradually blends into a surrounding "park" (the designation given by the regime to the grounds of a former Lutheran cemetery, then in the process of being closed). Inside, Baravykas actually designed the marriage ceremony itself, envisioning a buildup of dramatic tension until the final culminating moment of registration. The central axis for processions passing through the building was a ceremonial staircase-bridge leading to a solemn main lobby on the second floor, adjoined by two halls: one for weddings, the other for name day ceremonies.
The emotional impact that characterizes Baravykas' architecture was also reflected in his interior designs. Halls were tall, with unique lighting, and the central elements within (such as the ceremonial table and the stained glass work around it) were clear references to the composition of traditional sacral spaces. Indeed, the table at which the marriage ceremony was finalized corresponded to a church altar. Baravykas' ability to use modern architecture and monumental art to create a contemporary ceremonial structure was considered a tremendous success, for which he received one of the highest Soviet honors – the USSR Council of Minister's Award –in 1976. The Wedding Palace was also lauded by an article in the Soviet publication The Best Architectural Works of 1975–1976. Лучшые произведения советских зодчих 1975–1976 г. г., Москва: Стройиздат, 1980, p. 187–194
Wedding palaces gradually became adopted by most of the Soviet republics, but purpose-built facilities for funeral ceremonies were unique to Soviet-ruled Lithuania. As efforts to secularize rites and rituals intensified in the early 1960s, authorities began to organize the transfer of funeral memorial services from homes and churches to special public facilities (memorial halls) that were soon established in most cities.
In 1968, the Urban Construction Design Institute was commissioned to design a new structure dedicated to nationally significant ceremonies: the funerals of high-ranking Communist Party leaders. The Vilnius city government allocated a plot of land surrounded by forests on Olandų Street, despite the fact that the site was once a Jewish cemetery. Though a decision to close and remove the cemetery had already been taken, the site was still full of gravestones and marked by the original cemetery gate.
The young architect Česlovas Mazūras was given the intriguing yet complicated task of designing a structure without precedent in the Soviet Union as well as the dramatic narrative of the ceremony to take place inside. After considerable deliberation, Mazūras says that the choice was finally made to base designs on two examples of sacral Western architecture, Le Corbusier's Ronchamp Chapel and the Convent of La Tourette in France that had completely enchanted Soviet architects. Mazūras was also very impressed with Kenzo Tange's St. Mary's Cathedral in Tokyo.
In the somber main building, consisting of large geometric shapes, the main emotional impact was to come from the interior spaces – windowless halls with mood and atmosphere created by lighting and ceramic artwork. An annex completed in 1987 incorporated a continuation of the general architectural concept in the shape of furniture designed by Lygija Stapulionienė, a sgraffito fresco by Nijolė Vilutytė, and paintings by Kazė Zimblytė
The success of the first Funeral Palace led to the construction of similar buildings in other Lithuanian cities. As in the case of the Wedding Palace, the principle soon took hold that the new structures had to be purpose-built and based on original, emotionally impactful designs. The Funeral Palace in Kaunas, built in 1978 based on designs by architect Alfredas Paulauskas, was held up as an example of just such a structure. Compared to its counterpart in Vilnius, the funeral hall in Kaunas was a more plastic, even literary structure (featuring a sculpture titled Liūdesys – Longing), and was considered to be more emotionally powerful. The dramatic feel of its interior space was heightened by black, violet and red ceramic work, sculptural details, local lighting, and torch-like glass light fixtures.
Funeral service halls built in smaller Lithuanian cities embodied the ideas of a folklorist movement that was slowly emerging within Lithuanian modernism. Architect Gytis Tuškus created a design for a small-scale funeral ceremony building that became the basis for identical facilities constructed in Klaipėda, Panevėžys and Šiauliai from 1973 to 1975. The overall silhouette of the monumental structure, reminiscent of ancient Egyptian as well as ethnic folklore architecture, consisted of two funeral halls. The two wings were joined by a symbolic feature, an openwork metal sun typically found in Lithuanian folk ornamentation. Tuškus notes that he had originally hoped to use a cross for this function but that idea was still impossible to implement at the time. Vaidas Petrulis, „Kartotinis 'šermeninės' (laidotuvių namų) projektas“, Architektūros ir urbanistikos tyrimų centras, Stained glass artwork incorporated into the interior reinforced a mood of contemplation and solemnity. These smaller funeral halls were very well received by the public.
The spread of wedding and funeral palaces was a part of a broader program of intensified atheistic education in the 1960s. Despite the political nature of the commissions, the unique reinterpretations by architects and designers ensured that these facilities and structures became true simulacra: pseudo religious sites for a secular Soviet society. In the case of the wedding palace model, we see an attempt to create a kind of Soviet church, while funeral palaces were meant to approximate a kind of Soviet cemetery chapel. Marija Drėmaitė, „Sovietinė ritualinė architektūra – santuokų ir laidotuvių rūmai Lietuvoje“, in:  Acta Academiae Artium Vilnesis, Nr. 73: „Sovietmečio kultūros tyrimai: aktualijos ir perspektyvos“, sudarytoja Milda Žvirblytė,Vilnius: Vilniaus dailės akademijos leidykla, 2014, p. 47–64.


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Sources and links

Лучшые произведения советских зодчих 1975–1976 г. г.
„Gediminas Baravykas. Kūrybos pulsas“
Sovietinė ritualinė architektūra – santuokų ir laidotuvių rūmai Lietuvoje
Alfredas Gytis Tiškus: Klaipėda – tai raudona
Archiforma, 2007, Nr. 3
Kartotinis ‘šermeninės’ (laidotuvių namų) projektas
„Regioninio savitumo paieška“
Marija Drėmaitė, Vaidas Petrulis, Jūratė Tutlytė, Architektūra sovietinėje Lietuvoje, Vilnius: Vilniaus dailės akademijos leidykla, 2012, p. 108–117
„Asmeninis Elenos Nijolės Bučiūtės modernizmas“
Modernizmas: tarp nostalgijos ir kritiškumo, Architektūros leidinių fondas, 2014,
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