V. Nation-building through YEREVAN- Was the Utopia realised?

The sensitive Social-political context

Tamanyan’s initial master plan has visualised Yerevan was developed during pre-Stalinist Bolshevism. Through the incorporation of the Mount Ararat, new axis, vernacular materials and building styles as well as legacy monuments, Tamanyan has reduced Yerevan’s stance as merely a socialist project under the control of USSR but showed his utopian desire of the Armenian nation via the city relief. The cultural-national representations were tolerant by the Soviet leadership to certain extent due to the Soviet’s policies of repatriation instigated in the 1920s. 

However, the situation has changed after Stalin,who strived for uniformity and repetition under his dictatorship, stepped up and took over the USSR. At that point of history, Transcaucasia nations were each seeking their own nationality. Take Georgia’s ‘intelligentsia’ as an example, they were influenced by European radicalism and Russian populism and have assumed themselves as the nationalism cultural leader of the people. They were suppressed later by the USSR. (Jones,1988,624-625) These situations were common in Transcaucasia at that time. Stalin’s attitude towards such kind of nationalism could be observed in his address to the Tbilisi party organisation :

‘…the former solidarity [between Caucasian people] is no longer evident. nationalism has awoken among peasants and workers greater distrust for other people’s. This nationalism remains a strong obstacle to the United work of the Caucasian republics…’ 

Tamanyan’s attempt to incorporate nationalism into the city planning and architectural design was not welcomed by Stalin. He, along with some other Armenian elites who shared the same utopian vision of Yerevan, did not receive hostility from the USSR. This could be observed by the aforementioned cases of Aramayis Yerznkyan who was arrested and killed for encouraging the adornment with grapes.

The initial urban fabric laid out by Tahmanyan was too idealistic. From the perspective of Armenian, he had accomplished a breath-taking relief for Yerevan and had laid the foundation for the rise of the long-lost national identity of Armenia. His careful reference to the theory of Garden City, the meticulous design of the traffic network and the composition of the urban space is still very much impressive today. Yet, his plan was altered so much during his later years and death. In my opinion, the reason behind this phenomenon is because he always tended to design from the perspective of an Armenian. As an Armenian who has seen their nation being tortured by warfare for a long time, he had so much passion to do his part to rewrite a national narrative for the Armenia and his people, encouraging them to stand up and thrive. This is extremely respectable for us, but not the Soviet. The strong nationalism he expressed through the architectural gestures in the plan has caused suspicion in the Soviet leadership. Hence, Tamanyan had to alter his plan according to the command of the Soviet leaders during his lifetime and his plan was modified by the Russian architects after his death.

In the Russian architectural magazine Leningrad (1938), it is pointed out  that Tamanyan’s plan has two disadvantage:

“One of the core disadvantages of Tamanian’s plan was the wrong perspective development of the city as by the time he was planning the city the industrial development of Yerevan had not been discussed. Yerevan had been presented as the capital of an Agrarian country (an administrative center). Thus, industrial sites had not been designed…Based on mentioned facts the second disadvantage of Tamanian’s plan was the absence of engineering foundations for the city wellness. “

Left: Master Plan of Yerevan (for 150.000 inhabitants), Author: Aleksandr Tamanyan, Approved in 1924 Middle: Master Plan of Yerevan (for 300.000 inhabitants), Author: Aleksandr Tamanyan, Approved in 1936 Right: Model of the Master Plan. 1971.

Unlike the romantic national text Tahmanyan had fabricated for the nation through the plan of Yerevan, a capital that is prepared for industrialisation hence could strengthen the power of the Soviet Union is what the Stalin desired.  The city would need to be able to provide land for industries and the settlements for the  expansion of population the industrialisation brings. The first version of Tamanyan’s plan, which was approved by Lenin’s Soviet Leadership could not satisfy the need. It has been designed by Tamanyan’s narrative of building Yerevan as a symbolic city for Armenia. The urban blocks in the radial city was mainly for administrative and cultural purpose and the expected population for the city was only 150.000habitants. In the late 1930s, the population of Yerevan has risen to 300.000 people . Hence, the second version of Tamanyan’s plan which has developed  a region outside the cultural circle for industrial purpose and expanded the expected population to 300,000 habitants was proposed by Tamanyan upon the request of Stalin. The second version was approved in 1936.  In the same year, Alexander Tamanyan past away.

The project was handed over to a Russian group,  Giprogor State Planning Company, to to proceed the planning after Tamanyan’s death. From the last master plan Tamanyan has left us, we could observe that the expected population of the new city still is just enough to contain the current population, without expanding too much. He had tried to prevent the extension of the boundary of the city, as it could reduce the quality of life that a small-scale garden city offered and it is hard to reinforce a plan that could deliver the national narration on such a large scale. A symbolic city should be concentrated.

However, the development was inevitable under the hands of the Soviet Union. After the 1930s, Armenia took a big step towards the industrial and agro development. This has changed the core development perspectives of Yerevan. The city plan designed by Tamanyan for a whole city for the future decades could result in a layout that is rigid and unable to adapt to changes to the socio-political condition of the city over time. It must be changed. Within the first five years of the development of Yerevan, big industrial projects had been initiated and completed. Significant project like the construction of the Sevan-Hrazdan hydro energetic cascade provided a firm energetic foundation for industrial development.

All this new planning of course couldn’t meet the frames of Tamanian’s plan, therefore the architects have to constantly review the concept of the old plan to prevent straying too  far. Yerevan’s relief laid out by Tamanyan was not standardized, making it hard for planning. In the end, the architects has come up with a plan to allows to developing a circle-shaped central town with ladder-type architectural solutions stretching to the peaks of the city.

Giprogor State Planning Company had set up a firm basis for industrial development of the city. With the chemical industry blooming, metallurgy, textile and agro industries started to rise with high steps. Industrial sites (companies, factories) had been planned to create all over the edges of the city in order not to harm the town. Also, the Seven railway was constructed in the suburban areas of Yerevan to include the city into the railway system among the cities.

Another  change made to Tamanyan’s plan was also described in the Leningrad,

“By the time of the publication of this magazine Yerevan had a population of 170 000 people . The development plan design to bring the population up to 450 000 people by the completion of the project. One of the most important questions within the development plan was the settlement. Three settlement versions had been discussed during the planning process. A final centered resettlement plan had been accepted engaging the settlement of people in central districts of the city, by moving industrial sites all along the edges of the city.
Architectural planning concept of development and settlement processes included organic prioritization of overall society needs within the 5 to 10 years of perspective, including as well future development variants.
Initial planning tendency has included Arabkir district and Nor Nork districts. 2 to 3 floor houses planned to be build. Green areas planned to stretch all over the city. Future planning opportunities included the Dalma gardens and the small villages of Malatia and Sebastia. The core development of the city is made of a concept of concentrated development. ” (Leningrad, p.25)

Yerevan’s transportation system has been enhanced throughout the years, allowing it to connect to every part of Armenia. If you tried to explain the relationship of Yerevan in the early 1920s and the USSR using the logic of Garden City, Russian would be the urban city and it will connect the capital of the neighbouring nations that has joined them, such as Yerevan, with via highways. As the connection between Yerevan and Russia proceed to completion, Yerevan started to establish highways that would connect itself with the rest of Armenia to better serve as a capital.

“From all the villages, cities and towns of Armenia transport infrastructure had been connected to Yerevan. Highways and railway became vital to provide traffic and trade opportunities. In as much as most of the highways have a transit roles, it would be a wrong decisions to let them cross by the center of Yerevan. Thus, these highways and railways had been connected to the suburban areas of Yerevan.”

Despite all the adjustment made to the plan, we could still observe from the 1971 model of Yerevan’s city fabric that certain extent of Tamanyan’s ideal city was preserved. Tamanyan had done his part to left a mark on the architectural history of Armenia. He created the vision of Utopian Armenia where the citizens no longer have to suffer in war and would share the honour and proud of being a member of the long-lasting Christian nation all together.  Until recent years, Armenia still could not escape the warfare and the citizens were exhausted. It is hoped that peace would eventually be received by this land and her people, allowing the younger generation to inherit Tamanyan’s spirit. They would bring a new perspective to the city and honoured the nation once again.

Evolution of urban space. Access: https://urban-networks.blogspot.com/2015/04/aproximacion-al-circulo-como-estructura_25.html


  1. Address by Stalin to the Tbilisi party organisation. Comunisti. 12 July 1921.( No. 106)
  2. “City Planning Project Of Yerevan”. 1938. Журнал “Архитектура Ленинграда” №2(Architecture Of Leningrad) p.23-26.Access: https://ru-sovarch.livejournal.com/797314.html
  3. Tamanian, Alexander. Докладные записки академика Александра Таманяна в 1920 г. Academician Alexander Tamanian’s reports in 1920. 1992. Բալիկյան, Օ. Ս. and Սարգսյան, Կ. Ս. (1992) Ակադեմիկոս Ալեքսանդր Թամանյանի 1920 թ. զեկուցագրերը. Լրաբեր Հասարակական Գիտությունների, № 1 . pp. 140-145. ISSN 0320-8117. Access:http://lraber.asj-oa.am/3158/ 




1 Comment on “V. Nation-building through YEREVAN- Was the Utopia realised?

  1. Hello Vivien. The five narratives are indeed well-constructed to focus on the legacy of Tamanyan. This piece in particular examine the plan from both Soviet and Armenian perspective. I find it fascinating to imagine how Alexander Tamanyan managed to integrate Armenian symbols, motifs and architectural styles under the authoritarian regime. If we consider the monolithic towns across the Soviet Union, even those other Union Republics like Ukraine have the same Stalinist design. Why do you think Tamanyan’s nationalist plan was able to get permitted by the soviet leadership? Were the nationalistic ideas hidden or rather subtle when they submitted the plan to the authority?
    It has been a really enjoyable read to see how a city plan revive the national identity of Armenians, who have long been under influences(oppression) from neighboring superpowers.

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