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05.08, People

Ukraine’s First New Architecture School in Decades Charts a Course Towards the Country’s Future

Author: Pawel Wargan

The Kharkiv School of Architecture aims to propel Ukraine’s built space into the next epoch.

In June 2019, the first cohort of students graduated from the Kharkiv School of Architecture, the first architectural school to open in Ukraine since its independence in 1991.

To celebrate the graduation, the school organized two exhibitions. The first was the EU Mies Award 2019, which showcased 383 architectural works from around Europe.

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Images: Erik Herrmann

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Images: Erik Herrmann

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Images: Erik Herrmann

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Images: Erik Herrmann

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The second was curated by the program’s students under the tutorship of American office Outpost. Open/Work featured a collection of items from the program: working models and drawings, sketchbooks and photographs, successes and failed experiments. The exhibition represented the students’ journey through their studies—a scrapbook of the school’s novel approach to teaching architecture in Ukraine.

“The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but the inertia of its system of education appeared to be great,” said Oleg Drozdov, the school’s founder. “Until today, young architects in Ukraine are taught to be cogs in the machine of industrial production of space—a machine that no longer exists. Our ambition is to update the architectural profession and catch up with the changing world.”

The Kharkiv School of Architecture, based in Ukraine’s second-largest city, currently offers students a three-and-a-half-year BA program. It plans to add a two-year MA program in September 2019. Through these programs, the school hopes to realize its mission to “train the new generation of skilled and curious architects who will propel Ukraine’s built space into the next epoch.”

“Ukrainian scientific and educational facilities have remained frozen since the end of the 1980s,” said Oleksandra Naryzhna, the school’s first vice rector. “We need to produce a critical mass of new professionals who will be capable of rethinking our cities.”

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Images: Andrey Yarygin

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Images: Andrey Yarygin

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Images: Andrey Yarygin

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Images: Andrey Yarygin

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The BA program focuses on three elements: working with real materials, working within the realities of the profession, and preparing students to observe the reality around them. The program is split into four core blocks. Studio, curated by Polish architect, Strelka alumnus and former tutor Kuba Snopek, teaches design. Skills, curated by Alexandra Nikitenko, gives students the tools to work like a designer. The Technical Bloc, curated by Drozdov, teaches students to understand the relationship between construction methods, materials, structures, and the outcome of their work. And the Humanities Bloc, curated by AA School of Architecture Professor Lawrence Barth, connects architecture to creative thought and civic action.

“When you start from scratch, you can do many things differently,” said Snopek. “Our students are given the tools from very different domains—anthropology, journalism, etc.—to research and understand the current condition of the city they design in.” The Kharkiv School of Architecture’s approach is as practical as it is critical—it is one where, according to a joint statement by the school’s students, “theory is reinforced by trial and error.”

Through that approach, the Kharkiv School of Architecture aims to move beyond the tendency of contemporary Ukrainian architecture to be reactive to its Soviet past. Instead, the school hopes to push students to live up to Ukraine’s transformative potential today—not just to reimagine the past or react to trends in the West, but to actively shape new architectural norms for Ukraine.

“Due to the history of Ukraine, the diversity of urban cultures is way greater than in any other European country I know,” Snopek said. “I believe that in the near future we will see a plethora of projects coming from Ukraine, which will celebrate the depth of this culture.”

“The Maidan revolution of 2014 brought declarations of thorough political and social changes. They can be brought to life only by the creation of new institutions,” Drozdov said. “Only new schools will create the critical mass of new professionals, ready to fully comprehend the existing condition and create new meanings.”

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