How to rebuild the martyr cities in Ukraine?

In Bakhmout, desolation reigns. The buildings are empty, gutted, blackened by the explosions. The ground is no longer visible under the rubble, the flowers have given way to shell casings, the bushes to the carcasses of burned cars. “You have to understand that in Bakhmout, there is nothing left”, said Volodymyr Zelensky a few days ago. After months of siege, like Mariupol before it, Bakhmout was wiped off the map as it came under Russian control.

Let’s jump back in time to the day after the signing of peace between Russia and Ukraine. Whoever wins, the flag that will fly over the city, life will resume its course once the song of arms and sirens are silenced. These devastated cities, where not a building has been spared, can they be rebuilt? What are the challenges of such a project? How to combine heritage, memory of the war and new city? 20 minutes takes stock with Christine Leconte, President of the National Council of the Order of Architects.

A destroyed city, can it be rebuilt?

Ukraine is not an isolated case. “This is a question that France has already experienced following the Second World War”, recalls Christine Leconte. “Dunkirk, Caen, Le Havre or Saint-Nazaire, for example, were bombed and underwent phases of reconstruction,” she quotes. The major example of the period is located on the other side of the Rhine, in Dresden, almost completely destroyed by an Allied bombardment, and rebuilt under the GDR. Today, the “Florence of the Elbe” still has a flourishing heritage, imposing Baroque buildings and has more than 560,000 inhabitants.

“In France, we have this experience”, with the ability to implement “major national action plans”, underlines the architect, with a “resumption of existing routes, or not”. Several possibilities can be combined, from ex nihilo construction to “inverted architecture, that is to say starting from traces to look at how things were built”. “We have the ability to restore,” adds Christine Leconte, citing the example of Notre-Dame de Paris. “Town planning is not a blank slate, we can draw inspiration from what is done elsewhere, but we have to sound an ambition with a framework at the start so that speed is a guarantee of quality”.

What are the big issues?

Because these are two of the major challenges of reconstruction. It has to be “fast, because there are people to house, and at the same time give them comfort that corresponds to our uses”, balances Christine Leconte. A rhythm difficult to find as long as the fight drains most of the Ukrainian resources, like the village of Boutcha, still under construction a year after being liberated. Another balance to be found is that of “reconstruction with heritage” which takes into account the “modern challenges” of a “sustainable city”. The Bakhmout-Nouvelle could be a “city that emerged from the ground, but which will use raw materials that do not come from too far away to avoid a construction that is too carbon-intensive”. In Mariupol, conquered for several months, the problem is different: the Russians have already unveiled some brand new housing there during a visit by Vladimir Putin on March 18, but are also suspected of razing buildings to cover up war crimes.

Read Also:  Dutch football fans attacked with pickaxe and incendiary device in Munich

In any case, do not expect to see a completely different city emerge in place of the old one. This is not even desirable, because “people need to find their bearings, while projecting themselves into the future”, explains the architect. Last issue, the need to finance these repairs: at the beginning of July 2022, the Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Chmygal already estimated at 750 billion dollars the cost of the reconstruction of the country. Suffice to say that “architectural ambition” will probably not be on the list of criteria.

How to combine the memory of war and the need to rebuild?

“It’s a sensitive and delicate question,” asks Christine Leconte. Between a scarred heritage, marked memories and the desire to turn the page, “it is sometimes difficult to heal the wounds” during reconstruction. Heritage thus becomes a central element in the reappropriation of its identity by the city. “If we have the documentation, we are able to reconstruct the theater of Mariupol identically”, the bombardment of which had been a strong image of the beginning of the war. “We can give back these symbols which allow us to orient ourselves”, insists the architect. Provided that the Ukrainians take over the city, of course.

If heritage allows the city to be re-anchored in its history, it also needs “symbols to move towards the future”. From war memorials to the monumental example of the Ring of Memory, there is “a need for these places of meditation, which inspire for the future”, according to Christine Leconte. Without necessarily “leaving a gaping hole”, like the one built on the site of the World Trade Center for the September 11 attacks. In these martyred cities, it is necessary to find a place for “the memory of men while having a living environment for the inhabitants”.

Recent Articles

Related News

Leave A Reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here