21 July 2018, 00:45
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Foundations of Love

Architect and professor Hovhaness Jepitchian talks about the politics of architecture and his love for the people.

One summer afternoon in June, the imYerevan team accidentally had the opportunity of meeting and chatting with Hovhaness Jepitchian, a prominent French-Armenian professor and architect. Jepitchian was born in Marseille, France, to Armenian parents who had fled the Genocide. He later went on to study architecture in Venice, Italy, before returning to Marseille to teach. We took the opportunity to discuss Yerevan’s current architectural and urban development issues, and below is our interview with him:

imYerevan: As an architect, how do you view architecture and urban design in Armenia today? What are some problems you see?

 

Jepitchian: We need to understand that architecture is for the people. If there are no people, there is no need for architecture. Just as if there are no students, there is no need for school. Architecture has no function if it is not for the people, it is all done for them. Architecture for the sake of itself is dangerous, ……….. In your work you need to understand the needs of the people. If I am making a pre-school, I need to understand the needs from a child’s point of view.

 

imYerevan: Are there any streets in Yerevan you feel particularly excited about?

 

Jepitchian: There is no specific spot that my heart longs for, but I do love the small details; things I happen to notice on buildings or in the corners/ These are the small details, not big architectural feats. [In Yerevan] the architecture can be beautiful, but the measurements need to be right. There are a lot of oversized buildings now in Yerevan. During the Soviet times architects worked well. Now we have a broken timeline of architecture, from one era to the other, without the smooth transition of evolution. Yerevan proceeded to build by destroying. For instance, in Venice, you can still feel as though Leonardo DaVinci still lives there, they have been able to save their history. This is not to say that every old thing must be preserved. In Venice they destroyed an old church to create more public space in the square for people to enjoy, as opposed to destroying it and creating something that could not be used for the public good. Obviously you cannot just create the same things they had 100 years ago, but there needs to be an evolution of style in architecture.

 

imYerevan: Currently, there is no body of people to regulate architecture and building in Yerevan, anyone can create any building they wish. If there was such a regulatory body of people, who should it be composed of?

 

Jepitchian: The issue is a lack of culture. Currently there is no place for culture, only for money and corruption. There is no room to regulate in this current system. Before an architectural project is carried out, we must consult our culture as the driving force behind it. This regulatory group should be composed of people who truly love and respect this city, and who represent the people and the culture. It needs to be made up of people from various backgrounds, not just architects, so that they can speak on behalf of the interest of the people, and make sure their voices are heard up at the authoritative level of government. That authoritative level should not be allowed to ignore the requests or suggestions of that body of people, just the opposite, their work should be driven solely by what the people and that regulatory body request.

 

imYerevan: Some while ago, you mentored Nareg Sarkissian (former Minister of Urban Development). Can you describe that time to us?

 

Jepitchian: He came to Marseille as a student at the University, and stayed in my household for a year. I wanted to teach him how to add love into his work as an architect; love and feelings are an a vital aspect of this work. In recent years I met with him in Yerevan, and realized that he had become a servant to the governments wishes, not the peoples. Construction is not the same thing as architecture, this is what I had always hoped he would understand. I have worked on million dollar projects and never have I taken or given even a dollar as a bribe or with a corrupt purpose. Whoever takes that path is not Armenian to me.

 

imYerevan: You come from an Armenian family, and that background has surely influenced your work ethic. Can you speak on that?

 

Jepitchian: My father forced me to study in Venice, and at the time I did not know Italian, so it was very challenging for me. I stuck with it though, for my father, as he thought it was important to help me become a man. In Venice I learned how the value in challenges and difficulty. I always take the longer and harder route, and go against the current. When you go against the flow, you find the source?, when you go with the flow, you fall into the ocean and can get lost. Once, I decided to go to an area in town in which being an Armenian could be life-threatening. I ran through it, truly because I wanted to see what was closed off to me.

 

imYerevan: How and why did you decide to come to Armenia?

 

Jepitchian: One of my most significant memories was the 1988 Earthquake. I decided to come to Gyumri and try to be helpful in any way possible. I couldn’t continue to live in Marseille when I knew they were using candles to heat up milk for their babies. During that time I realized we as Armenians are a great people. In Gyumri I did a lot of work through my organization, and helped create a French school there. Nareg Sarkissian even taught there for a year.

 

imYerevan: What’s Gyumri’s situation looking like now, are things changing for the better?

 

Jepitchian: A little bit has changed, but it’s a shame. Thirty years have passed and there are still so many people there without homes.  The reason is bad policies and a lack of organization. In Armenia, it’s not every city that enjoys beautiful architecture like Gyuri. It’s not just the question of destroying and reconstructing buildings. The whole system needs to be working well so that cities can regain their vitality. The people don’t even know who they can go to with their requests and complaints, as there is no such body of people. There needs to be devotion in this work, not just for constructing buildings, but for every small detail down to each tile. There needs to be a thorough change in the system.

 

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This interview has been translated, edited, and condensed from a larger interview.

 

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