Nikoloz Lekveishvili (b. 1986), originally from Tbilisi, Georgia, has left his country in 2004 for his bachelor studies to Istanbul Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University and to get Master of Architecture at Politecnico Di Milano. He then practiced architecture in Italy, Germany, Turkey, and India until 2017, when he was attracted back to his home country by emerging economic opportunities and bustling creative scene in this former Soviet republic in the Caucasus. Nikoloz has started his practice, TIMM Architecture the same year together with his younger sister, Natia Lekveishvili (b. 1989) who has graduated from Georgian Technical University in 2012 and worked in local architectural and design-build firms.
The partners’ studio is located in the heart of old Tbilisi in the same building where their parents, architecture professors and practitioners, lead their own research-based office known for documenting historical monuments in the region. We met with Nikoloz and Natia at their studio which also serves as an architectural salon where young architects and students are welcome. In the following conversation, the architects spoke about a journey of emotions, transitioning from light to darkness, being interested in Kintsugi, traces of time, treating buildings like human beings, and of the importance of being selfish in order to create architecture that’s unique and personal.
Vladimir Belogolovsky: You are brother and sister. Could you talk about your experience of growing up in the family of architects and do you think it was inevitable for you to become architects as well?
Natia Lekveishvili (NTL): It is true that we grew up in our parents’ office and spent more time there than in playgrounds and parks with friends; it was also true that this experience was the reason why we chose architecture as our profession. And now we share our passion for architecture with our own young children, and I would not be surprised if they choose to follow our professional footsteps as well.
Nikoloz Lekveishvili (NKL): If a typical family would have a photo of parents or grandparents on display in a prominent spot at their apartment, in our family we had a huge photo of the Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright above the piano in the living room. So, from the beginning, we were surrounded by all things architectural and by architectural thinking. Yet, subconsciously, I was searching for other potential interests, as I did not like the idea that my choice of a profession was imposed upon me. I ventured into art and philosophy but ultimately it was architecture for me.
VB: How would you define the main intentions of your architecture?
NKL: The most important intention is to open up the maximum potential of each project. Every site has its potential and it is up to the architect to discover it. It is like archeology for us. We like to create stories with the use of light and shadows. To us architecture is like a narrative. We all learn how to write but not everyone can be a poet. We want to learn how to become poets in our field. Most importantly, we want to create emotions that people may not have experienced before. To us architecture is not a goal, it is a language that we use and want to perfect. We are also interested in producing a building that will age well. It is one of our primary concerns. And we don’t like anything shiny and strikingly new. We try to foresee how our buildings will decay.
NTL: We even force our projects into the future by designing a new building with the intention of seeing it as if it were already five or ten years old.
VB: In addition to the words you just mentioned, such as potential and decay what other single terms or phrases would you use to describe your architecture or the kind of architecture that you would like to achieve?
NKL: I would stress the need to construct a sequence of events and moving from light to darkness because you need to be in the dark in order for the light to penetrate you.
NTL: There is no light without darkness. We try to create spaces, in which you can catch this light and even expand it by actively discovering spaces. It is important to mention that we are the children of the dark political and economic period here in Georgia when electricity was gone for so much of our childhood that we learned to cherish light while it lasts. I would also add the importance of a journey of emotions. It is all about creating spaces where you experience and feel things emotionally. We want to be architects of emotions. We don’t want simply to solve problems, we want our buildings to be experienced emotionally. It is not easy, but it is our goal. And we always imagine that we own the project and treat it as our own. It is the most honest way for us to create architecture. It may be our truth, but it is the truth. We are very selfish about our work. We are not interested in absolute truth, we are interested in expressing our truth. And we discovered that this also is what clients like. They see how motivated we are.
VB: Why are you interested in decay? Decay and nostalgia have become fashionable and we no longer seem to be interested in celebrating the future. Instead, we, as architects, stand back and let the traces of time to take over our built environment. We no longer want the presence to be distinguished from the past. Everything is blended together. Time seems to be standing still, not moving forward.
NKL: Maybe because we are interested in Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery. Similarly, we don’t like to disguise traces of history. We embrace that and find it very inspiring. We treat buildings like human beings. Buildings have their own philosophical backgrounds.
VB: Buildings have their own philosophical backgrounds.
NKL: Of course! That’s why the idea that form follows function is not correct. Buildings are created for so much more and they often change their functions because they have this potential to play many functions over the course of their lives. Forms should follow ideas.
VB: You have different perspectives on the current creative climate in Georgia, both from outside and within the country. What are your observations, perspectives, and hopes for practicing architecture right now in Georgia?
NTL: What we know is that it is now our time to create new architecture. Because of the civil war in the 1990s, the generation of our parents could not build. Now it is time for us to act. We have to use our education and feelings to create new architecture. Nikoloz spent 14 years abroad, while I was here. We need to combine our knowledge to benefit from our different experiences and I believe that’s what makes as strong as a team.
NKL: While I was away, I met many Georgians studying in Germany, Turkey, and Italy. But I noticed a few years ago that suddenly, many of them started coming back. I think the situation here is similar to Europe after the World War Two. Our generation is now redefining our values. We have a situation when our generation is fighting against the generation of much older and more established architects from the Soviet times, while the generation immediately before us is not even in the picture; they did not leave their trace. There is a gap. Right now, it is a very important moment. We will either bring the European values here and progressive thinking or we will become the victim of the Russian influence. It is the kind of transitional time when every little thing matters. Everything depends on us. Architecture is a form of a fight for us. This is why we are here. Right now, the creative culture is flourishing here in Georgia. If we see it lost, we will also go. We will not stay here. We are free, and we can live anywhere.
VB: In conclusion, I would like to ask you about the most relevant goals that you have as architects here in Georgia today.
NKL: Our ultimate goal is to create the kind of work that would be identified as local and yet, it would be accepted as part of world heritage. Too often we are pressed by our clients to rely on materials that are used and widely accepted internationally. We want to fight that and find what is local and appropriate, and revive some of the techniques that are more associated with our place and culture. I believe that architects must be free as far as choosing to work with any geometry, but I am convinced that we must find a way to work with local materials. This is a big issue everywhere in the world. Often buildings are not associated with their place and culture; they no longer identify their roots. I particularly more inspired by architecture coming out of non-developed countries where they are searching for their own vision, while the developed countries already have refined their building techniques and standards.
NTL: Also, architects need to embrace the power of digital technology. We see each building as a temple. We are not designing a laboratory, movie theater, school, library, office building, or museum. We need to concentrate on the building’s shell itself. The digital will help us to design each new program. As Nikoloz said, we should get away from the Modernist idea that form follows function. We are interested in ideas, not mere functions.