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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 <email@example.com> Urban Research & Design Inc, 84 Sunnyside Ave., Ottawa, On, Canada, K1S 0R1 ------------------------------------------------------------------------- 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.