A lot of the architecture you see in Northern Armenia today has been built after 1988. This was the year of the devastating Armenia earthquake, which hit on December 7. The historical 6.8-magnitude quake killed 25,000 Armenian people. Thousands more are left homeless as the buildings surrounding them are destroyed. This is thanks to the majority of the architecture at the time being Soviet-era design. These high-rise-style buildings and Brutalist work were not well adapted to survive such large earthquakes. And so, much of the construction in the north of the country came crumbling down during the tremor.
The Armenia earthquake affected a vast area of 80km, including the destruction of the town of Spitak, the earthquake’s epicenter. The neighboring towns of Stephanavan, Kirovakan, Gyumri, and Leninakan also are hit hard. To quickly help rebuild the towns, metal construction rapidly became a popular building concept. Here’s a look at two metal constructions we came across on our travels that still stand today, albeit abandoned: an iron church in Spitak and a fountain just outside Gyumri.
Replacement Metal Church in Spitak
After the Armenian earthquake, not much is left of Spitak. All buildings, homes, hospitals, and churches were destroyed. However, following such a catastrophe, the local people needed a place of worship now more than ever to pray for their lost loved ones. Therefore, a temporary church made from iron was erected immediately after the natural disaster to relieve survivors. It stood in place of the old religious building lost in the disaster, paying tribute to all the lives lost.
Architects cleverly built the church from sheet metal as it allowed for rapid construction. Working with metal is no new concept – it had been used throughout the 1950s as a cheap and affordable material to construct worship facilities from. Affordability was also crucial to the designers’ decisions in 1988. With half of the country in dire need of rebuilding and medical aid, keeping costs down was essential. Today, the church is not used for religious purposes or as a place of worship. However, it still stands strong, towering over the city and a moving reminder of the tragic past.
Surviving Iron Fountain in Gyumri
The nearby town of Gyumri also suffered devastating impacts following the Armenian earthquake, with much of the area being flattened. However, one unique structure was able to survive the blow – an iron fountain located on the outskirts of the town. It marked the Polytechnic University of Gyumri campus center, but all the other university buildings were destroyed. Despite everything surrounding it crumbling, the fountain remarkably remained intact. Survivors of the 1988 quake set up temporary homes around the surviving metal fountain, many of which became permanent. Today, the area remains neglected and run down, with many of the metal shacks surrounding the fountain still in place. The fountain, too, is unmaintained and merely acts as a window into the town’s disastrous past. The fountain itself was the work of Soviet architect Artur Tarkhanyan and was erected six years before the earthquake in 1982. It is an impressive example of Soviet Brutalist architecture and design. It has a modular and geometric feel, made from interesting spiked shapes and a top-heavy structure. Brutalism and Soviet-era design are seen widely across multiple cities in Armenia. This is thanks to the country being governed by the USSR throughout most of the 1900s, and the Russian influence is evident throughout.