Danielyan lectures at Haigazian University on Alexander Tamanian

Department of Armenian Studies, Haigazian University
Beirut, Lebanon
Contact: Ara Sanjian
Tel: 961-1-353011
Email: [email protected]


BEIRUT, Monday, 12 July, 2004 (Haigazian University Department of
Armenian Studies Press Release) – On Wednesday, 16 June, 2004, Mrs. Mary
Danielyan, project manager in the Architecture and Engineering Section
of the Holy See of Echmiadzin, gave the second of her lectures at
Haigazian University. This time, her topic was “The Creative Role of
Alexander Tamanian in Armenian Architecture and City-Planning.”

The first part of Danielyan’s lecture was devoted to Alexander
Tamanian’s (1878-1936) early career in Russia. Born in the city of
Yekaterinodar, Tamanian graduated in 1904 as an architect from the
Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg. He oversaw the
reconstruction of an eighteenth century Armenian church in St Petersburg
in 1904-1906. Thereafter, he designed and constructed a number of
private residences and public buildings in various Russian cities. His
most famous work at this stage was probably the private residence of
Prince S. A. Shcherbatov in Moscow, for which Tamanian received a gold
medal from the Moscow City Commission in 1914. Danielyan also mentioned
that Tamanian designed in Yaroslavl in 1913 the square of a small
Russian town as part of the nationwide celebrations marking the 300th
anniversary of the accession of the Romanov dynasty to the Russian
throne. Tamanian was elected a member of the Imperial Academy in St.
Petersburg in 1914, at the relatively very young age of 36. He was
married to Camilla, a Russian lady of French origins, and together they
had two sons and a daughter. His sons, Gevorg and Iulii, would also
pursue their father’s profession.

The 1917 revolutions in Russia brought architectural work to an abrupt
temporary halt. Tamanian was forced, for a short period, to design sets
for theatrical performances, including Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Nevertheless, he continued his active participation in public
organizations and was also involved in efforts aimed at preserving
antiquities and valuable works of art.

Danielyan said that Tamanian moved to Armenia in 1919, where he would
work until his death, except for a brief sojourn in Persia in 1921. From
1923, he worked on the general plans of a number of Armenian-inhabited
cities, among them Yerevan, Vagharshapat, Stepanakert, Leninakan and
Karakilise. He was also the architect of a number of industrial
enterprises, public buildings and educational institutions. Moreover,
Tamanian was active in planning for new roads and the restoration of
Armenia’s irrigation network. He also headed the government’s technical
section, was the Vice-President of the State Planning Committee and the
Chairman of the Committee to Preserve Antiquities. Tamanian had many
critics after his death. He was accused of being a nationalist, and some
of his disciples, like Mikayel Mazmanian and Gevorg Kochar, were exiled
from Armenia at the height of the Stalinist purges in 1937. Danielyan
opined that probably only Tamanian’s early death saved him from a
similar fate.

The lecturer next dwelt on the chief plan of Yerevan devised by
Tamanian. The latter took into consideration the fact that Armenia’s
capital, which then had 75 thousand inhabitants, was surrounded by
mountains, adversely affecting its continental climate. He therefore
envisaged the new Yerevan, designed to have a population of 150
thousand, as a garden city with the newly planted forests acting as its
lungs. Tamanian tried to preserve in his plan a number of Yerevan’s old
streets, although these and the newly constructed ones would all be tied
to the city’s center. The city would have two main avenues. The
industrial enterprises would be situated in the south so that the
north-south winds blowing over the city would assist in the dissipation
of the polluted air. Workers would live outside this industrial zone and
would commute to work using public transport. The students’ and hospital
quarters would be constructed in the north-east. The city would expand
in future in both northerly and southerly directions. Its buildings
should not be more than three or four storeys high, while its roads
should be planted with green. Two bridges would cross the Hrazdan River,
which flows through the capital. However, Yerevan grew faster than
Tamanian and his contemporaries had anticipated. In 1935, he revised his
earlier plan so as to accommodate 450 thousand people in the future.
Some aspects of his initial plan were never implemented. The Northern
Avenue, which he envisaged connecting the Opera House to the central
square, is being constructed only now.

Danielyan next focused on three public buildings designed and
constructed by Tamanian himself as part of his general plan for Yerevan.
She identified the People’s House (currently, the Opera and Ballet
Theatre), the Government House and the Yerevan Hydro-Electric Power
Plant as his three most important achievements, which helped inaugurate
the modern period of Armenian architecture. Tamanian remained
unsurpassed as an architect throughout the twentieth century, stated the
lecturer. However, the Government House, situated on Yerevan’s central
square was not completed according to the original plan. Danielyan said
that Tamanian had first conceived the idea of a People’s House as early
as 1917. He planned to have a giant structure with two (Summer and
Winter) halls, which would share a common stage. This original plan was
also changed later, and the Opera and Ballet Theatre and the adjoining
Philharmonic Hall are today both closed structures with separate stages.
Danielyan said that fellow architect Toros Toramanian, an expert in the
history of Armenian architecture, was Tamanian’s main consultant. Their
friendship resulted in very fruitful cooperation, with Tamanian using in
his work many of the decorative motifs of the medieval Church of
Zvartnots, excavated and studied by Toramanian.

In the question-and-answer session that followed the lecture, Danielyan
referred to Tamanian’s various efforts – as Chairman of the Committee to
Preserve Antiquities – to save a number of old churches in Yerevan from
destruction during the anti-religious campaign in the first decades of
Communist rule in Armenia. She also expressed worry that Tamanian’s
basic principle that older sections of Yerevan should be preserved
during the expansion of the city is not being observed during the
current construction of the Northern Avenue. Some of the private and
public buildings that are being erected along this avenue do not seem to
be in harmony with the already existing structures like the Opera House.
She also described as a crime the turning of the Theatre Square around
the Opera House into a zone of cafés. The Circular Garden devised by
Tamanian is also on the verge of destruction, again because of the many
cafés that have been allowed to function in the area.

Danielyan’s lecture tour to Beirut was initiated by Haydjar, the
Association of Armenian Professionals (Architects and Engineers) in
Lebanon. In addition to her two talks at Haigazian University, she also
spoke to the Armenian public in the village of Anjar.

Haigazian University is a liberal arts institution of higher learning,
established in Beirut in 1955. For more information about its activities
you are welcome to visit its web-site at <;.
For additional information on the activities of its Department of
Armenian Studies, contact Ara Sanjian at <[email protected]>.