When on our recent travels, we journey out to Armenia’s Sevan Lake. You’d think amidst a National Park that any architecture and design would be quiet and overshadowed by nature. However, along the north-western peninsula sits Sevan Writers House. This is a site you can’t help but notice, both for good and bad reasons. Once a modernist lakeside building that juts out over the waters, it is now an abandoned space with an interesting fragmented history. Here’s a look at the journey from a lakeside retreat to an abandoned hotel and the inspiration behind the design.
Prime Example of Soviet Modernism
Sevan Writers House is a prime example of Soviet modernism, much like most of the architecture in Armenia. The country was part of the Soviet Union through the majority of the 1900s until its collapse in 1991. As such, the landscape is distinctive through Russian-inspired work. During this era, the architectural style was original and imaginative. Designers used a combination of interesting shapes and geometric patterns to create modular structures not seen before. Materials also tended to be affordable and functional, free from ornamental finishes, and monochromatic.
Looking at the Sevan Writers House, we see all these hallmarks of Soviet modernism. Made from concrete, the four-tiered boxy building, and protruding rounded canteen somehow sit harmoniously among the natural landscape. The clever use of paneled glass offers panoramic views of the lake, connecting those inside with the nature that surrounds them. Impressively, the entire wing is balancing on one concrete leg for a futuristic aesthetic. Looking closely, you can also see lines carved into the concrete. The designers have skipped any elaborate detailing, but this subtle touch adds an extra element. Situated overlooking the lake, these lines represent fish scales, adding life to the building.
Remarkable History & Stalinist Repression
The history encompassing the Sevan Writers House is as interesting as the building itself. The hotel consists of two separate structures; both erected at different times during the Soviet reign. Architects Mikael Mazmanyan and Gevorg Kochar in the 1930s first designed it. The duo built the boxy four-tier functional space overlooking the lake, which opened for business the following years. However, both architects have been involved in avant-garde groups that Stalin opposed. Sadly, both men fell victim to Stalin’s purges in 1937 and were exiled to the Arctic Circle. After Stalin’s death, it wasn’t until 1953 that Mazmanyan and Kochar were released and “rehabilitated.”
Following their release, the next chapter of the Seven Writers House began. In 1962, Kochar was commissioned to design a café wing to add to the existing building. The original hotel had been designed 30 years earlier. And, during these thirty years, architectural styles and materials had changed. Although the initial building was modernist, the later addition was more like the avant-garde project Kochar had dreamed of. Its unique style has made it a focal point for tourists in the region. Plus, it was designed by one of Stalin’s victims gives it even more poignancy and visitor appeal.
From Creative Retreat to Abandoned Hotel
Looking at the Sevan Writers House, it’s clear to see how it would have been an innovative and imaginative addition to the landscape at the time. Its unique form, patterns, and use of modernist materials make for an eye-catching finish. Paired with the breathtaking views over Sevan Lake, there’s a feeling of tranquillity and calm among the cold concrete. In fact, this is what the building was intended for when built in the 1930s. It was a “creativity house” and a place for writers and artists to find inspiration and work uninterrupted.
For years, the building continued to operate as a hotel. Throughout its time, it welcomed several renowned intellectuals and artists to space. Yet, as the years passed, Sevan Writers House started to decay. The hotel morphed from its former glory into a sad and shabby version of its previous self. In 2016, the Getty Foundation appeared to answer the hotel’s prayers. The Foundation announced it would be awarding a grant to a team of architects in Yerevan to transform the space back to its former grandeur. However, the hotel stands entirely abandoned today, with no signs of renovation work starting. It is in dire need of refurbishment, currently stuck between its impressive past and ambiguous future.
Still, for anyone traveling to Armenia, the Sevan Writers House is worth a visit. It is a brilliant display of Soviet modernism in history. Besides, the unbeatable views of Sevan Lake are something you shouldn’t miss.