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1990–2000: The Architecture of Freedom
Marija Drėmaitė
The architecture of freedom
The economic transformation that followed the restoration of Lithuanian independence in 1990 brought about fundamental change in all areas of life, including the practice of architecture. With the liberalization of private economic activity in the final years of the Soviet period, newly established cooperatives exposed the physical and mental challenges inherent in the transition to a private architectural trade. Architect Algirdas Kaušpėdas, a direct witness to the events of this period, recalls how many who ventured into independent practice, while having ample funds and freedom, simply didn't know what to do with these resources after a period when everyone had been completely confined and constrained. „Belaukiant naujo maišto“, Marijos Drėmaitės interviu su Algirdu Kaušpėdu, in: Maištaujantis oportunizmas, sudarė Marija Drėmaitė, Viktorija Šiaulytė, Vilnius: Architektūros leidinių fondas, 2014, Another architect, Audrys Karalius, provides another insight into the era's prevailing inertial thinking and deep dependence on state-run design institutes as the sole source of employment. When Karalius opened one of Lithuania's first private architectural firms in 1988, his colleagues responded in surprise: "But where will you make copies of your blueprints?" Jonas Minkevičius, Algirdas Kaušpėdas, Audrys Karalius, „Disidentiškumo sąlygos / scenarijai Lietuvos architektūroje“,, 2013.
The new challenges of "free architecture" manifested themselves even more painfully with the restoration of independence. Not everyone succeeded in their attempts to liberate themselves from the principle of collective planning, or from their dependence on material provisions supplied by state-run institutions, not to mention adapting to a free market economy. Leonardas Vaitys goes so far as to speak of a "generation of orphans": a pool of talented architects, trained in Soviet planning institutes, who failed to adapt to the new economic circumstances. Romualdas Kučinskas, Leonardas Vaitys, Našlaičiai. Architektūros paroda: Katalogas, Vilnius, 2010.
Rapid success eluded even the more assertive enthusiasts, however. Kaušpėdas recalls that there simply was no work to be found in the early 1990s. Without commissions, most private architectural firms survived in the years before 1995 from trading in new Western products such as thermal insulation and finishing materials. Such business allowed architects to design in their free time, since whatever commissions existed were small in scope, usually interior design projects.
The architecture business only began recovering after 1995, with the most fundamental change being a new relationship with the client, who was now a private individual or entity, and not the state, as in the Soviet period. The demands placed on the architect and the nature of architectural work also changed. New business relations meant that architecture now focused on the customer – usually reflecting the views of the client, not the architect. Tomas Grunskis, „‘Kažkas atsitiko...’ Septynios pastabos apie architektūrinę laisvę ir laisvės architektūrą“, in: Laisvės architektūra, sudarė Tomas Grunskis, Julija Reklaitė, Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 2012, p. 15–34.
The identity and understanding of what it meant to be an architect also changed. The large planning institutes and their various subsidiaries lost their government commissions and financing, and soon began disbanding into small firms, while architects departed to establish freelance operations and find new ways of survival. The exalted creative artist, once considered to be "above society," became a servant to that society, perhaps even its assistant. As the identity of the architectural profession evolved, so too did the understanding of the professional's inner and architectural freedom.
The exchange and dissemination of new ideas was aided by a new flood of foreign architectural journals and the emergence of a new Lithuanian architectural press. In 1996, Karalius founded the PVZ press and began publishing the first Lithuanian architectural review, Arkitektas (Architect), which ran until 1998, and later the biweekly newspaper Statybų pilotas (Construction Pilot) from 1998 to 2009, which later evolved into the internet-based architectural and cultural publication in 2010. Also in 1996, Vaitys launched the new Lithuanian architectural quarterly Archiforma, which grew to serve as a chronicle of Lithuanian architecture and a venue for discussing cultural heritage and current affairs.
In many cases, clients and architects alike experienced a "compensatory" decade in the years between 1990 and 2000, attempting to recover all they had been denied during the years of Soviet restrictions. The architecture of the 1990s was a reflection of many new factors: a desire to catch up with Western standards and to make up for lost time, the unrestrained dissemination of information about global architectural trends, and access to the latest construction materials and technologies.
A quite specific approach to interior design took shape in the 1990s, taking on exaggerated importance. Interiors now had to be grand, rich, and elaborate, to "let the architecture show." Colorful and extravagant interiors designed between 1991 and 1995 by architect Audra Kaušpėdienė for public and commercial spaces, including the first private Vilnius restaurants such as "Ritos slėptuvė" (Rita's Hideaway), "Naktinis vilkas" (Night Wolf), "Vidudienis" (Midday), the central Vilnius deli, and "Pizza Jazz" in Kaunas, quickly became "iconic" examples of this period. None of these interiors remain today.
Another seminal structure that, together with the competition that produced it, heralded the end of an era and the start of a new century of free architecture was the Lithuanian pavilion at the Expo 2000 World's Fair in Hannover, Germany. The project shed light on a new approach to architecture and its impact on society, laying bare the growing pains of the era. During the architectural competition for the pavilion, attention came to focus on the issue of public procurement after one submission by the "Privati ideologija" (Private Ideology) team (made up of architects Audrius Bučas, Marina Bučienė, Valdas Ozarinskas, Aida Čeponytė and Gintaras Kuginis) won the commission in 1999 with a declared budget of zero. The result shocked the architecture community, but the winners maintained that the zero price proposal had been an ironic protest against such architectural competitions that favored cheaper proposals over better ones. Darius Linartas, „Lietuvos architektūrinių konkursų tendencijos 1999–2009 metais“, Urbanistika ir architektūra, 2009, t. 33, p. 323–336. The result was still surprising, angering architects, without doing anything to change the public procurement process.
Private homes
A turning point and the first signs of change in the newly liberated architecture became apparent with the allocation of land plots for the construction of private homes. At the time, nearly everyone had developed a "hunger" for their own individual home, while the cost of construction materials was still relatively low and the maintenance of a private residence presented few problems. The coveted dream of many Lithuanians – to own a private home with a small plot of land (shared with no one) – was finally attainable. Thus, the greatest architectural transformation following the regaining of independence occurred in private residential construction.
The diversity of private residences built in the final decade of the 20th century is an illustrative reflection of society's changing tastes, values, and lifestyles. Initially, buildings adhered to old traditions: a two-story home built under a mansard roof and over a basement (under the Soviets, total residential living space per house was not to exceed 140 square meters). Over time, however, the size of homes increased. A desire to "make up for" Soviet restrictions and hardships led to the emergence of unregulated, unauthorized 500–700 square meter silicate brick "monsters", huge failures of architectural design.
Though these homes could be called unique symbols of liberated architecture, there were nevertheless expressions of the immediate post-Soviet era. A private residence on Miglovaros Street in Šiauliai, for example, designed by Palmira Petrauskaitė in 1998, embodied the owner's grandiose visions and aesthetic priorities, brought to fruition by a professional architect. In time, creative senses appeared to clear, giving way to a new understanding of the concept of a private family home and its needs. The "palaces" and "residences" of the first independence years were gradually replaced by smaller homes of considerable aesthetic variety.
Alongside custom-designed homes, there was also a multitude of original new houses constructed "without architects" – and also without access roads, water and sanitation piping, or infrastructure solutions. It was indeed a period of nearly unrestrained growth. The greatest amount of creative confusion manifested itself in these early years of independence, a period now ironically called "collective farm baroque."
The mid-1990s also saw examples of a peculiar "criminal romanticism" – the rise of small castles, petty estates, and mansions designed by unidentified architects and constructed using funds obtained by dubious (usually criminal) means. A symbolic example of such "artistry" and construction is the estate built for the organized crime boss Henrikas Daktaras in 1994 in Užliedžiai, a suburb of Kaunas. Paulius Garkauskas, „‘Daktarų’ Užliedžiai: kas laukia žaibiškai išsiplėtusio miestelio,, 2014 11 29. Many such châteaux designed for "nouveau riche" Lithuanians remained unfinished or were never initiated.
Because opportunities for building new homes within city limits were limited, a growing market for private homes propelled urban development to the outer city, feeding the growth of new suburbs, which in turn became the site of a new extreme: the mass construction of repetitive, catalogue architecture. Algirdas Kaušpėdas' firm "Jungtinių pajėgų namai" (Joint Forces Homes) also began producing standard catalogue homes in the late 1990s. Though the firm initially viewed such activity with skepticism, it later prospered from its business in standard designs, resulting in the construction of several hundred homes.
The multitude of cottage homes built in collective gardening zones surrounding larger cities, later adapted as permanent residences, were particularly varied in type. Often started using self-made plans without consulting an architect and using all kinds of "appropriated" materials, after independence was restored these homes soon grew to include expansions, greenhouses, and various different facilities and equipment. Some collective gardening communities developed into exclusively residential suburbs, though they lacked any service infrastructure.
Another subgroup of private housing was less prevalent, but it best represented a more sensitive approach to the surrounding environment taken by both client and architect and reflected the pursuit of a synthesis of contemporary and traditional Lithuanian architecture. This unique, superior quality architecture arose in more affluent neighborhoods and in the forests surrounding the larger Lithuanian cities. Examples included Gintaras Kuginis' 1996 minimalist white residential home in Vilnius' leafy suburb of Žvėrynas, or a private home – completed in 1997 and devoid of traditional pageantry – designed by Algimantas Kančas in Panemunė Park on the outskirts of Kaunas. 
From kiosks to shopping centers—a new typology of architecture
With independence, Lithuania began seeing new buildings that had not been constructed previously for various reasons. The restoration of independence produced an immediate boom in church construction. While the diversity of architecture and expansion of construction was not as vigorous as in neighboring Poland, Lithuania nevertheless witnessed a considerable increase in the number of new churches - nearly one hundred.
Given the overall economic situation and the rather conservative views of the principle client, church architecture in post-Soviet Lithuania continued to adhere to traditional lines, with a few exceptions. Examples of the more traditional designs include churches in Kaltinėnai, by architect Regimantas Andriuškevičius in 1996; Palemonas, by Gediminas Jurevičius, 1991–1996; Nemakščiai, by Vytautas Makaraitis, 1992–2000; and the Holy Mary Church in Alytus, by Kęstutis Kisielius, Kęstutis Pempė and Gytis Ramunis, 1992–2001.
Exceptions to the general trend included the Church of the Blessed Mary, Queen of Martyrs in Elektrėnai (architect: Henrikas Šilgalis, 1990–1996), and the Church of the Blessed Jurgis Matulaitis in the Vilnius suburb of Viršuliškės (designs by Gediminas Baravykas and Ričardas Krištapavičius, 1990–1996), built together with a parish house and rectory. Interestingly, both of these churches were built in newly constructed Soviet-era communities – Elektrėnai, an industrial city established in the 1960s, and Viršuliškės, a Vilnius suburb consisting of multi-unit panel apartments – which clearly helps explain why architects chose new and untraditional approaches for these churches.
The concrete structure of the church in Viršuliškės, for example, is dominated by the expansive volume of the building, with seven flying buttresses that seem to echo Vilnius' gothic style. The original design had included a freestanding bell tower with a crescent-shaped chapel, but neither was ever constructed.
In general, the trend of constructing churches in high-rise apartment districts was an interesting phenomenon that designers addresed with differing approaches. One example is the Church of St. John Bosco, designed by Vytautas Edmundas Čekanauskas, for another Soviet-era Vilnius high-rise suburb, Lazdynai, completed in 2001.
As an independent Lithuania embraced a free market economy, new structures emerged, such as shopping kiosks and petrol stations, which are rarely the center of any special architectural focus. The mid-1990s saw a true construction boom in such structures. In Kaunas, for example, the number of petrol stations rose from 14 in 1994, to 48 in 1997, to 80 by 2004. Because many of these were built following standard designs – with minor variations in names and colors – their architectural appearance was similar. Algimantas Mačiulis and Algimantas Nasvytis recall what an event the appearance of new petrol stations was: "We had finally reached the West!" Laisvės architektūra, sudarė Tomas Grunskis, Julija Reklaitė, Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 2012, p. 45–46. Some petrol stations were designed by more renowned architects, and in 1997 the Lithuanian architecture magazine Archiforma even published a special petrol station design review. Edgaras Neniškis, „Lietuvos degalinių apžvalga“, Archiforma, 1997, Nr. 4, p. 20–27.
Renovation and modernization (by applying new external finishing for greater diversity of color and form) also changed the face of monotone Soviet-era shopping centers, including Žirmūnai in northern Vilnius and older centers such as Girstupis, Topolis, Vitebskas, and Saulėtekis in Kaunas. Over time, new, large shopping complexes began rising in Lithuanian cities, first located further from the city limits, but later encroaching on urban centers.
Lithuanian architects recall how all of the new possibilities, materials and colors – everything that was new and untried – made clients and architects alike feel like children in a candy shop, wanting everything immediately. Architektas Tadas Balčiūnas, cit. iš: „Įtakos ir ideologijos“, in: Laisvės architektūra, sudarė Tomas Grunskis, Julija Reklaitė, Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 2012, p. 51. The result of such desires can be seen in many commercial centers constructed in the late 1990s: the Promenadas shopping center in Vilnius (architects: Saulius Gecas, Raimondas Pilkauskas, 1995), the first wave of the boom in the Maxima shopping center chain (1998–2000), the SBA furniture center in Vilnius (architects: Sigitas Kuncevičius, Artūras Jakutis, 2000), and the Vokė III commercial center (architect: Danas Ruseckas, 1998). A rather innovative example in this context is the concrete "Stiliaus fabrikas" (Style Factory), designed by Dalius Nainys, Simonas Gricius in 1999, located in the leafy Vilnius suburb of Žvėrynas.
New administrative and office buildings also appeared, one after another, with architects and clients working together to achieve an acceptable balance of presentation and functionality. Among official structures, the greatest changes were made to Lithuanian postal and court buildings. Another architectural challenge was the social welfare administration building in Vilnius. Banks also modernized, with commercial banks such as Lietuvos taupomasis bankas (Lithuanian Savings Bank) and Vilniaus bankas engaging particularly actively in the construction of new branches – with the latter opening new offices in Šiauliai, Kėdainiai and Mažeikiai.
Large private enterprises also began competing against one another to construct new administrative centers designed by a new generation of renowned architects. The office architecture of the late 1990s was particularly notable for an expansive use of glass and various innovative finishing materials such as stone, metallic fiber, and aluminum. Good illustrations of this trend are the Drauda administrative building, the Omnitel telecom office buildings in Kaunas (1998) and Vilnius (2000), both by Aidas Rimša, and an office building at 40 Goštauto Street in Vilnius (architect: Audrius Ambrasas, 2000), among many others.
The first glass skyscraper appeared on the Vilnius horizon in 2000 – the sharply angled, green glass 16-story Hanner company building, dubbed the "green pencil," designed by Audrius Ambrasas and Rasa Ambrasienė. The Hanner Building symbolized the start of a new wave of high-rise construction in Vilnius and an accompanying public debate about such questions as the proper Lithuanian "style" for high-rise structures and the planning, grouping, and arrangement of such buildings, with a view to avoiding any negative impact on the overall city skyline. Nevertheless, there were few efforts that succeeded in halting or placating the continuing desire to build tall, glass towers.
If all of these structures discussed previously served to make amends for the consequences of official Soviet atheism and the architectural shortcomings characteristic of a free market economy, then the Palace of the Grand Dukes project (known in Lithuanian as "Valdovų rūmai"), designed by Napoleonas Kitkauskas, Adas Katilius and others from the Design and Restoration Institute, and constructed from 2002 to 2009, can be considered part of the search for the restoration of "historical truth" that has come to characterize many post-Soviet countries. At least that was the project's initial intention.
The idea to rebuild the Lower Castle Palace emerged in 1987, during an intense period of national reawakening and renewed public interest in the nation's cultural heritage. Comprehensive academic research of the former palace (including archeological, architectural, and historic studies and reviews of art history) soon followed. In an effort to secure public support, the former residence of the Lithuanian Grand Dukes was given the name "Rulers' Palace", or the Palace of the Grand Dukes. A competition for the Palace's reconstruction design was opened in 1994, the results of which provoked considerable debate over the appropriateness of the rebuilding effort.
Though the project was criticized for its artificiality, lack of academic justification, and the threat posed by new construction to any existing authentic historic remains, the Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament) passed a law on the reconstruction and purpose of the Lithuanian Grand Dukes' Palace in 2000, calling for the structure to be completed by 2009, in time for the millennial celebration of the first mention of Lithuania in historic chronicles in 1009. While the competition received many submissions with various visions of the rebuilt palace, organizers selected a historic representation depicting the structure as it may have actually appeared. Due to a lack of reliable data that could substantiate various conceptions of the palace's historic appearance, designs were based on archeological findings and two historic watercolor paintings by Pranas Smuglevičius.
In 2013, the reconstructed palace complex opened the Palace of the Lithuanian Grand Dukes National Museum as well as rooms and halls to be used for public and cultural events.
There were also additional plans to mark millennial celebrations in Lithuania – by constructing one thousand new schools, for example. In the end, however, in a sign of symbolic and symptomatic significance, only one school was actually constructed: the Lithuanian Millenium School in Šalčininkai (designed by Tauras Paulauskas and Romualda Šipalienė in 1998).
Generally speaking, the first decade of Lithuanian independence was a time of architectural maturity and liberation, during which social and economic chaos began to take on elements of order and clarity. It was a period that initially saw a slight imbalance between mental and cultural possibilities on the one hand and economic capabilities on the other: everything was possible, but not everything could be sufficiently financed. Later developments in the period revealed another problem facing architecture: a dearth of ideas and the existence of a fundamental conservatism.


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Sources and links

„Belaukiant naujo maišto“. Marijos Drėmaitės interviu su Algirdu Kaušpėdu
Maištaujantis oportunizmas, sudarė Marija Drėmaitė, Viktorija Šiaulytė, Vilnius: Architektūros leidinių fondas, 2014, straipsnis internete:
Laisvės architektūra
Sudarė Tomas Grunskis, Julija Reklaitė, Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 2012
„Daktarų“ Užliedžiai: kas laukia žaibiškai išsiplėtusio miestelio, 2014 11 29
„‘Kažkas atsitiko...’ Septynios pastabos apie architektūrinę laisvę ir laisvės architektūrą“
Laisvės architektūra, sudarė Tomas Grunskis, Julija Reklaitė, Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 2012, p. 15–34
Našlaičiai. Architektūros paroda
Katalogas, Vilnius, 2010
„Lietuvos architektūrinių konkursų tendencijos 1999–2009 metais“
Urbanistika ir architektūra, 2009, t. 33, p. 323–336
„Disidentiškumo sąlygos / scenarijai Lietuvos architektūroje“, 2013
„Lietuvos degalinių apžvalga“
Archiforma, 1997, Nr. 4, p. 20–27
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