Research trip to Lithuania

11.10.2018

Young scientists conducting research on Europe are regularly supported by the Centre for German and European Studies. This spring, Anastasia Golovneva, affiliated researcher of the CGES, participant of our research project “Co-evolution of Knowledge and Communication Networks: Structural Dynamics of Creative Collectives in European Cultural Capitals”, and PhD student of the University of Amsterdam, received a travel-grant for a research trip to Lithuania.

From March till May 2018, Anastasia was exploring the aesthetic appearance of Klaipeda and the politics of its design. This is what she managed to learn:

“Early March Klaipeda is a city of silence and empty cafes, in which all the attention of museum workers was focused on me and my research questions. Probably, it is a great luck that every walk through the city can be a part of the fieldwork, as my main research interest is the aesthetic appearance of the city, its politics of design. To understand how the aesthetic tastes of different city professionals relate to the urban politics, how an aesthetic assessment of architecture can produce certain hierarchies of what is considered as good/bad, historical/not historical, accessible/inaccessible, modern/old-fashioned urban solution, I divided the research into two stages. At the first stage, I wondered which aesthetic preferences prevail in the city. To address this issue, I conducted photo-elicitation and go-along interviews with the city officials, activists, architects, and planners. At  the second stage, I was interested in how decisions are made during the process of certain buildings renovation; how the materiality of architecture itself can change the plans and intentions of political actors, create new meanings of how urban design is “read” or perceived by the inhabitants of the city. To answer these questions, I conducted interviews and observed some specific practices of renovation.

In Klaipeda, for example, city professionals express a negative attitude towards the architecture of the Soviet period and look with awe and adoration at the German buildings. It is this aesthetic taste that influences the choice of new or renovated architecture design in the city nowadays. What Western Europeans name a “copy” or an “inauthentic”, Klaipeda city professionals consider to be a part of the historical image of the city. At the same time, I don’t want to address such a gap in aesthetic tastes as “kitsch” or “bad taste”, as the so-called “kitsch” plays an important role in the city. It  gathers various political actors and through material characteristics, such as colors and textures, makes them rethink, what the “European image of the city” actually is and why the red color used in plastic coatings of the new architecture is associated with the “historical”. These processes of evaluation, decision making, and compromises were of major interest to me during the trip”.

A paper with the research results will be published in the CGES Working Papers series.

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