The attitude of the people of Kaunas to interwar architecture is changing. Residents of buildings that have become heritage objects take pride in their housing and take care of it responsibly. In addition, there are more and more people looking not just for living space, but for housing that stands out in its own spirit.
The first signs
According to architectural historian Vaidas Petrulis, the head of the Architecture and Urbanism Research Center of the Kaunas University of Technology, the first signs of a change in the perception of the people of Kaunas about what houses are valuable and what kind of houses they would like to live in appeared in 2015, when the architecture of Kaunas from 1919-1940 was awarded the European heritage mark.
“It was the first time that the interwar architecture of Kaunas was recognized not by local but by international heritage experts as a valuable and interesting phenomenon of architectural history. Journalists came, prepared reports – spread the news in the foreign media. The residents of the buildings erected between the wars thought that their houses might actually be valuable,” recalled V. Petrulis.
Those who look for inspiration in buildings beyond square meters and a roof over their heads note that wooden buildings are unique in the urban environment.
Kaunas in 2022 after becoming the European capital of culture, trainings were organized for the owners of heritage houses, excursions were organized around Žaliakalnis and Naujamiestis, where the interwar architecture buildings are the most, and foreigners also gathered. Finally, last autumn Kaunas interwar modernism was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. All this led to the fact that Kaunas’ pride in the architecture of the time of the temporary capital grew.
“It is important for a person to feel such pride. This is one of the most important motivations to preserve that building, instead of demolishing it and building a completely different new one. In addition, it is important that the residential houses that have become heritage objects should be taken care of not only by the state and the municipality, but also by the people who live in them”, pointed out V. Petrulis.
Looking for uniqueness
The architectural historian noticed another optimistic trend: the attitude towards wooden architecture in the city is also changing. More and more residents start to consider these buildings as valuable, they don’t think about how to sell them as soon as possible and move them to a block of new apartment buildings.
Perspective: V. Petrulis did not see a big problem that the “Pažangas” palace is standing empty – he had no doubt that new models would emerge that would allow this and other exceptional buildings of interwar modernism to be put to use. Photo by A. Barkauskas, Vilmantas Raupelis, Regimantas Zakšenskas.
“For a long time during the Soviet era, as well as after the restoration of independence, even now, a part of society sneers at wooden architecture as something that is more characteristic of the village than the city – they say that those buildings do not reflect the urban character of the city. However, if we look at global trends, wood is now used together with new technologies, and old wooden houses are becoming significant elements of urban life. The new generation, those people who are not only looking for square meters and a roof over their heads in buildings, but also for inspiration, point out that wooden buildings in the urban environment are unique, worthy of attention”, – in the words of the interviewer, there are more and more people who tend to preserve such buildings , not destroy.
“There has been a change in mentality, it has been realized that everything is fine with the trees that arose between the wars – you can live in them. Of course, we still encounter isolated cases where valuable wooden houses are destroyed – demolished. But there are also wooden buildings arranged in such a way that they are pleasing to the eye”, remarked V. Petrulis.
According to him, the more such cases there are, the faster their good example will infect others.
There is a growing view that authentic interwar buildings are a value worth investing in, worth protecting.
“The view that authentic interwar buildings are a value that is worth investing in and that is worth taking care of is getting stronger. International recognition seems to strengthen that sense of value, an additional responsibility arises, obliging all of us to preserve those buildings”, the interviewer reminded us of our duty.
The architectural historian emphasized that the buildings of interwar construction not only contribute to a more diverse architectural, but also social character of the city. In other words, there is no longer any threat, or it is diminishing, that certain neighborhoods will become closed, inhabited only by the rich.
He did not see the big problem that two outstanding objects of interwar modernism, located in the very heart of Laisvės Alley – “Pažangas rūmai” and “Pienocentras” – are standing empty.
“I don’t see a particular problem with a heritage building sitting unused for a period of time, unless the roof is leaking and it’s physically collapsing.” I am completely calm that both “Pienocentras”, “Palace of Progress” and other prominent buildings of interwar modernism will find their function”, V. Petrulis had no doubt that new models will appear that will allow them to be put to use.
He gave the example of the Kaunas Central Post Office: after the 2019 Lithuanian Post employees moved out, this building stood empty. Only individual events were held here. in 2022 the palace was taken over for public needs, and at the end of December the Government approved the proposal to establish the National Institute of Architecture here.
Understands the value of authenticity
Saulius Rimas, the head of the Cultural Heritage Department of the Kaunas City Municipality, seconded V. Petrulis that recently there are more and more people who understand the value of old authentic buildings, who no longer want to demolish them, but on the contrary, want to live in them.
“There is a specific category of people who are close to it, and they, realizing the value of those buildings and their uniqueness, either look for such buildings specifically, or after inheriting them, they want to manage them. They are interested in technology, materials, attend seminars where information is shared on how to properly renovate such buildings. We are looking for ways to help such people”, said S. Rimas.
One of the means of financial assistance for such homeowners is the heritage management program of the Kaunas City Municipality. A couple of years ago, the municipality’s financing share was increased – now the municipality can finance up to 75% under this program. management of facades of such private buildings. According to S. Rim, this tool is mostly used by young families.
Finishing: one of the most beautiful interwar wooden villas in Panemunė is being resurrected for a second life. Photo by A. Barkauskas, Vilmantas Raupelis, Regimantas Zakšenskas.
He also noticed that the inclusion of Kaunas’ interwar modernism in the UNESCO World Heritage List affected real estate prices.
“A well-known real estate broker confirmed that after this recording, the material value of interwar modernist architecture increased – such buildings become prestigious. There is such a segment of people, and it is growing, who are looking for housing in the so-called “smelling” architecture. They understand its uniqueness, its value. They are looking for housing with preserved authentic details”, S. Rimas hoped that in the future more and more people will understand the value of interwar architecture.
According to him, although such examples of bad housekeeping do occur, they are decreasing. On the contrary, the number of examples of good management is growing.
Gives a second life
One such example, when, taking into account the requirements of the heritage, a tree from the interwar period is given a second life – in Panemunė, Gailutės st. Wooden villa of exceptional architecture marked with number 28. Built in 1926, the villa of the famous interwar pedagogue Liutaurs Kairiūnaitis was one of the most beautiful in Panemunė during the interwar period. However, during the Soviet era, as the owners of the building changed several times, it was completely inhabited. Destroyed by fires more than once, the building that was run by the homeless has become an emergency. After recognizing that the supporting structures of the building are unsafe and dilapidated, the heritage conservationists allowed the building to be demolished, and a building of exactly the same volume and other architecturally valuable properties was rebuilt in its place, using the same building material – wood – on the outside.
This is a house with an aura, not a concrete box among other high-rises.
“The inside will be modern, and the outside we have restored completely authentic – the way it was between the wars.” We do everything according to heritage requirements. Even the roof and window sills are made of the same galvanized aluminum sheet as used before. It had to be brought from Germany – we couldn’t find one closer. The boards are made according to a special order – cut using the old method. They are nailed to the facade, not tightened. The former old paneling pattern has also been restored. Windows with wooden frames, their division into segments has also been preserved. We also restored the authentic volume of the building, the turrets and balconies that give the building its splendor and uniqueness”, said Aurimas Dailydė, director of the construction company “Ramiga”, which manages the building.
Between the wars it was an apartment building – and now, according to the interviewer, it will be a ten-apartment apartment building with garages for residents’ cars in the courtyard.
“The authentic reconstruction of the building costs much more than the so-called box made of glass and metal, but the future residents of this house will be able to be proud of the unique housing that decorates Panemune. This is a house with an aura, not a concrete box among other high-rises”, A. Dailylė is convinced.
Photo by A. Barkauskas, Vilmantas Raupelis, Regimantas Zakšenskas.
The house on Gailutė street is the second interwar wooden villa of the company “Ramiga” to be renovated according to heritage requirements. The company restored the first three years ago in Palanga, on Birutė avenue.
After finishing the maintenance of the villa in Panemune, the company promises to take on another cultural heritage object – to restore the wooden building of the Aleksot manor.
Photo by Regimant Zakšenskas, Vilmantas Raupelis, A. Barkauskas.