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Book Review
"The Future of Armenian Architecture in North America"
by Prof. Garbis Armen

Armenian News Network / Groong
February 20, 2000

By Antoine Terjanian


Did you ever wonder what future the architecture of a people subjected
to a genocide and now resisting assimilation by the world-conquering
culture of North America could have, so far away from the fatherland?

It is not only the geographical distance between Armenia and North
America that makes this a rather hopeless question, but also the
time-distance between medieval Armenia (in which the classical lines
of her architecture were developed) and this technologically advanced
continent in the third millennium.  One may even wonder whether there
is any point in seeking a future for such an architecture?

The point is that a million strong community on this continent remains
sufficiently reverent and loyal to its Armenian Church, as to keep
building more churches - though unfortunately, not creating architecture.

And that, is the point of this question.

Any culture with strong architectural traditions - like the Armenian
style of church architecture, - if transplanted to a progressive
technological new environment, - like North America - could be expected
to bear some influences and evolve more rapidly than in its original
milieu - the country in which the architectural traditions were
established a long time ago - i.e. Armenia.

Starting with this hypothesis, Prof. Garbis Armen tells us in this new
book that over a century of development in North America, the Armenian
style of church architecture has not changed much in terms of building
forms (the traditional pitched roof, dome and central hall) but it has
changed a great deal in terms of materials used to create these forms
(timber and metal for the roof, concrete for the dome and steel or
reinforced concrete frame for the hall).  In other words, "technology
has been made subservient to traditional Armenian building forms".

Many Armenians would no doubt feel proud of this, as the traditional
style imitated by many of their churches, seeks to re-assert the
national identity and indomitable will to survive, after the
horrendous 1894-1923 genocide by the Turks. Prof. Armen feels however,
that no benefit has been derived from the use of new materials to
develop "new forms and bring the traditional style into the 21st
century". A rigidity has set in, which, according to Prof Armen,
stifles the young generation and does not show Armenian architecture
as a "live, contemporary style, able to respond to current community
needs and trends and meet them with current materials, organization
methods and technology".

Prof. Armen's objective in this study "is to provide a springboard for
the development of new forms in Armenian architecture, by taking due
account of the technology of this continent on one hand and recognizing
the potential for symbolism and abstraction inherent in traditional
Armenian building forms, on the other".

He goes further to suggest that a "natural step in the development of
any traditional architecture in this advanced technological
environment - Armenian, Byzantine or Gothic - would be an abstraction
of traditional forms, towards shapes and concepts which take due
account of the potential offered by new materials - concrete, aluminum,
etc. Account should also be taken of current building techniques like
component prefabrication, use of cranes and novel organizational
methods - like variable price contract - which are available in this
progressive environment".  As a professional architect, and one who
has participated in the competition to build Sourp Sarkis in Yerevan
recently, Prof. Armen is adamant that "abstracting the traditional is
an essential step towards developing new forms and yet maintaining the
national identity of Armenian churches".

In six chapters, 72 pages and nearly 100 diagrams, the author of this
study attempts to substantiate this, and projects an exciting future
for Armenian architecture.  After a 70-year hiatus in the development
of the Armenian style due to an atheistic Soviet regime, he believes
that the place offering the greatest opportunity to bring this style
into the world of today, is North America. With a community of nearly
a million Armenians, determined to maintain and develop their national
culture - in which architecture holds the proudest position -
technologically advanced North America is indeed the most promising
place.

For any given project of an Armenian church or community center, the
author recommends a process of looking at :

a.  Long term trends in the Armenian traditional style;
b.  Related symbols and structures which offer a scope for novel design
    concepts through abstraction; and
c.  Possibilities of using the most appropriate current building
    technology.

Prof. Armen concludes that considered in a synergetic manner, these
factors could help Armenian architects in the USA and Canada, develop
an innovative Armenian architectural style. He offers no magic
solutions, firmly believing that "Style depends on the materials, the
times, the subject and the Man" (P. V. Jensen-Klint).

Garbis Armen holds a Bachelor degree in Architecture, a Master's
degree in Urban Planning and a Doctorate in Social Geography. He was
educated in England, taught Urban and Regional Planning at the
University of Ottawa and currently practices architecture and building
management in Canada. He has published many articles, papers for
learned journals and books in Armenian and English. He is presently
the President of the Armenian Cultural Association of Ottawa - Canada.
His book is not commercially available but for further information or
to obtain a copy, you can write to, or e-mail:

    Prof. Garbis Armen <ei637@freenet.carleton.ca>
    Urban Research & Design Inc,
    84 Sunnyside Ave.,
    Ottawa, On,
    Canada,  K1S 0R1

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Mr. Antoine Terjanian is an active member of the Armenian Cultural
Association of Ottawa and its former president. He is a pioneer in the
field of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and has worked in the
Canadian government in the fields of geomatics, statistics, economics,
and information systems.

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