LVIV, Ukraine — To stand in the cobbled square that is this city’s historic marketplace is surrounded by the influences captured in brick, stone, and plaster of intersecting cultures and of rising and falling empires.
The layout of the streets and squares in Lviv’s city center is just as it would have been in the Middle Ages, giving it a designation as a Unesco World Heritage Site. However, it is through the architecture of the city that Eastern Europe borders on Italian and German heritage, which gives Lviv its distinctive visual identity.
Amid war with Russia, the city’s challenge is to integrate tens of thousands of residents displaced by the fighting in eastern Ukraine without sacrificing Lviv’s aesthetics or its efforts to become a sustainable, livable European city. to derail.
The displaced are housed in schools and sports arenas that have been converted into shelters, first in open rooms with mattresses on the floor and then separated by Japanese-style wooden walls developed during the Fukushima earthquake. Recently, hundreds of families have moved into container homes in parks and empty lots.
But with permanent housing costing the same as container housing — the equivalent of about $70 per square foot — Anton Kolomeytsev, the city’s chief architect, said Lviv would turn to apartment construction, building low-rise buildings in multi-use areas that would include residential and commercial units. combined with greenery and recreational facilities.
“When we build a building, we have to think that it was built not for months, not for years, but for decades, centuries,” said Kolomeytsev, 35, who studied and worked in Vienna but says his work is being formed by growing up in Lviv. “We are in a very rich cultural environment.”
He said the city would build five- to seven-storey apartment blocks for displaced persons that would combine beauty and practicality while preserving the compact nature of this city of 400,000 inhabitants.
Lviv is the furthest city Ukrainian evacuees are able to escape the battlefields in the east of the country and are still in their homeland. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have traveled through Lviv, many crossing Poland about 65 kilometers away. But city officials expect about 50,000 of the displaced to remain.
“Now we understand that we are the city that guarantees the opportunity for people from other cities and other regions to stay in Ukraine,” Kolomeytsev said.
The most vulnerable, including those injured in the war, would be able to make the minimum monthly payments after 20 years and own their apartments.
The city is also tackling much more fundamental problems. New building codes require every new structure to have a bomb shelter and every apartment to have a security room with reinforced concrete walls and protections against chemical attack.
One recent afternoon on the outskirts of town, along a winding lane lined with walnut and cherry trees, a small group of construction workers drove iron stakes into the ground of a wire-fenced field.
An image of the completed structures shows white metal-clad buildings so delicate they almost seem to float on the lawns. The vertical lines of the siding flow into gabled roofs over large rectangular windows, while the asymmetrical entrance features floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the interior with natural light.
The opening is planned for two months and will accommodate 120 people, initially pregnant women and their children.
The new building is part of the planning of Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi, who said he envisioned a new, more resilient Ukraine after this war and is refurbishing his city’s infrastructure to prepare for a near-constant state of conflict.
“We have to be ready for the next Russian invasion,” he said. “We have to put a lot of time and effort into improving the country.”
After being elected for the first time in 2006, Sadovyi banned cars from the cobbled squares and streets of the historic city center, turning them into pedestrian walkways with sidewalk restaurants and cafes. Before the Russian invasion, Lviv hosted more than 100 festivals a year, including a major international jazz festival.
Known as the cultural capital of Ukraine, Lviv has had different names over the centuries. Over the years, the city came under Polish, Austrian, German and Soviet control, before Ukraine regained its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
How the war in Ukraine affects the cultural world
The city this month commemorated the 776th anniversary of its founding. Festivities were canceled this year and instead of city dwellers and foreign tourists being entertained by street performers, it was mostly displaced Ukrainians strolling the main market square and sitting in outdoor cafes.
The buildings in the historic city center include cathedrals, castles and buildings full of Renaissance and Baroque details. Even the more modest buildings have striking ornamentation, and some are simply stunning, such as the House of Scientists, a neo-Baroque extravaganza with a huge wooden entrance flanked by two atlases holding up the balcony.
Even outside the historic old town, hundreds of humble apartment buildings have entrances where statues of Greek gods hang out and balconies decorated with wrought iron curved into Art Nouveau arches.
For new construction for those displaced by war, Kolomeytsev envisions something much less decorated, but no less graceful.
The low-rise apartment buildings would be modeled after an existing apartment complex of interconnecting multi-storey buildings with courtyards and cobbled pedestrian walkways intersecting elevated lawns. The airy apartments have a balcony and large windows.
“We know how to build and we can build,” he said, adding that funding must be secured.
In parts of Lviv with a less attractive architectural heritage, such as the remote neighborhoods dotted with dull gray Soviet-era high-rises, Kolomeytsev said the city had also tried to embrace at least some of that heritage. He said that in some cases they have replaced colossal factories next to residential buildings with parks, while in others they have carried out renovations while retaining a building’s best features.
The city recently held a competition to renovate an outdated Soviet-era landmark, the Premier Hotel Dnister, where one of its most famous guests, Hillary Clinton, stayed in 1997.
The winning design retains the imposing Soviet architecture, but illuminates it with narrower vertical elements and more open space around the building.
“Their main idea was to preserve the architecture as much as possible,” Kolomeytsev said.
Back in his office, full of light streaming in through huge windows overlooking the square, he flipped through models of approved but unbuilt projects – one of them a modern development around the Art Nouveau train station.
“Of course everything is on hold now,” he said. “But let’s say that after the return of normality, we will resume these projects.”