Oleksandr Gorban: "I fell asleep as an architect on the 23rd, and woke up as a volunteer on the 24th"

"Architects against the war" - that's what we called the series of publications where we talk to real heroes: before the war - architects, urban planners, designers, decorators, artists, and in the new reality - military, volunteers, public figures. We share the stories of these people and express our great gratitude to all those who bring our victory closer.

The words of the hero, which we have included in the title, are striking with their simplicity and completeness. That's probably how most Ukrainians felt then. On February 24, we all woke up in a different reality. Architect Oleksandr Horban is a graduate of NAOMA, founder of the architectural studio "Horban architects". With his direct participation, the concepts of objects were developed, without which, probably, it is already difficult to imagine modern Kyiv: this is a bridge bicycle-pedestrian crossing from Khreshchaty park to Volodymyrska mountain (glass bridge), new stairs on Landscape Alley and Alley of Artists.

Oleksandr is a participant of the Revolution of Dignity and a person who cares about the future of Ukraine, which he continues to prove every day in the conditions of war. In the interview, they talked about his contribution to the defense of the country, about society and Ukrainian architecture - there is nowhere without it.

Fortunately, Oleksandr Gorban was in Kyiv that very week for which the conversation was scheduled. Even under the circumstances that our conversation took place not offline, but on the phone, it was pleasant and warm to realize that he is now at home, and not traveling through dangerous zones, in positions or in the trenches. This gave a special inspiration to talk not only about the realities of war, but also about hopeful and peaceful things - ideas, projects, the future.

Photo from Oleksandr Gorban's personal archive

From the first day of the full-scale invasion of Russia, Oleksandr Gorban joined as a volunteer Aero-reconnaissance, a non-profit public organization founded by a group of volunteers back in 2014, when for the first time there was an urgent need to monitor the movement of the enemy from the air. Many copter operators, who previously participated in this work on a voluntary basis, have now become military and work in their units, but the functions of "Aero-reconnaissance" are the same - it provides the Ukrainian military with reconnaissance drones, helps with their repair or customization for certain tasks. These drones and "orcocopters", as the aerial scouts themselves call them, are not only direct observation and data, but also maps, forecasts, hundreds of destroyed enemy tanks and warehouses, stopped convoys of equipment.

"We fly, scout, shoot down and bomb their equipment," Oleksandr smiles. Without irony, the effectiveness of aerial reconnaissance is difficult to overestimate. The important contribution of our aerial scouts to the defense of Ukraine has been and continues to be written a lot by respected foreign publications, Bild, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Daily Mail, The Sun are just a few of them.

So if you are thinking about how to use your donation in the most effective way, you can help "Aerozrovdka" collect for the next "bird". We urge you to do so immediately.

Oleksandr Gorban in this matter is not alone, but with two architects - his brother Oleksiy and his old friend Oleksiy Shemotyuk.

The architect says: he had no personal experience close to military experience until February 24, and it was in this part of the conversation that the phrase about "fell asleep and woke up" that we introduced at the beginning of the story sounded. But he knew about the realities of war and service from his brother and Oleksiy Shemotyuk, who already had military experience in 2016-2017.

"It sounds wild in the XNUMXst century - that you can simply take and enter a foreign country with troops and infantry, especially one as big as ours"

It was Oleksiy Shemotyuk who woke him up with a morning call on February 24 with one word: "It has begun." Oleksandr Gorban remembers how he went to the window overlooking the river, and then heard explosions.

"All this was already up in the air. A full-scale invasion is highly likely. Of course, I didn't want to believe it, because it sounds wild in the XNUMXst century, that you can just take it and enter a foreign country, especially one as big as ours, with troops and infantry. Therefore, it was not easy to accept everything. But, of course, we were preparing. I even bought a couple of canisters of gasoline, some food for long-term storage, and took my mother to Kropyvnytskyi. That is, it was as if he was preparing something, but he did not believe in it until the end," Oleksandr Gorban recalls his emotions at the time.

Photo from Oleksandr Gorban's personal archive

The meeting of "Aero-reconnaissance" was about a week before - they were also preparing there. They decided who would be able to quickly leave the house and start acting in "Chas Ch". According to the architect, on February 24, he had about 8 hours to make all important decisions.

There were two options where to go to be of maximum use: local ground defense or aerial reconnaissance, and he chose the latter. I used to work a little with drones, about 1,5 years before the events I bought a quadcopter for architectural work and started "flying" it myself.

"First of all, it was interesting to me. Secondly, the drone is very helpful in architecture. And somehow it became useful in the war as well," Oleksandr notes.

Photo from Oleksandr Gorban's personal archive

PRAGMATIKA.MEDIA: Oleksandr, thank you for your time and opportunity to talk. Moving on to the questions, is there anything that can annoy a military person or a person close to military affairs? We civilians know not to discuss locations, numbers of forces, post photos, etc. But maybe there are things that are just annoying.

Oleksandr Gorban: Nothing annoys me at all, absolutely. If something cannot be told to a military man, he will say so - that it is not possible, and I usually say it myself. So everything is fine.

PM: How has your life changed? You travel a lot across the country, it's a completely different function, challenge and risk than before. How easy is it for an architect who designs and builds to see the destruction caused by shelling or during hostilities?

O. G.: It seems to me that the responsibilities of an architect and a soldier are very close to each other. What we, architects, build is designed for 80 years, or even more. If I'm not mistaken, 100 years are laid down in the construction quality standards. Therefore, it is a very big responsibility - buildings and objects will stand and influence several generations of people.

In war, you understand that everything is destroyed - forever. And this is also a big responsibility — to try to preserve, not to cause harm. Do not harm anyone who may be inside. Our army and the Armed Forces of Ukraine make great efforts not to harm our native cities, unlike the Katsaps, which destroy everything in their path and literally demolish cities.

So war is also a responsibility. The responsibility is not to die stupidly - because even if you don't care, there are relatives and friends to whom you are responsible. If you are gone, you will no longer be useful. The efficiency of everything I do is important to me.

Oleksandr Gorban: "It seems to me that the responsibilities of an architect and a soldier are very close to each other"

PM: About efficiency. The state says to the civilian population: your work is important now to work, to be effective in his place, not to let the country slow down. The same goes for businesses. We respond to the reality of a full-scale invasion in different ways. There are people who transfer funds for the needs of the Armed Forces, are engaged in volunteering. There are people active in the information space. There are those who abstract from reality, close themselves off and try to live as if nothing has changed. How, in your opinion, can a person, a citizen, help the country and the army as much as possible, be effective?

O. G.: Donating is a very important thing, especially in relation to such funds as "Return Alive" or "Prytula Fund", they are well done. Carrying something, helping with logistics is just great. But work is also very important. I just arrived in Kyiv, and someone says: "Oh, the city has forgotten what war is." That's cool, if they've forgotten what it is. Because we do everything to make people forget. Not in the sense of making it appear as if there is no war, in the infospace it should always be. But the city has to live its own life! Life goes on and we're all here about life, not death, so that's okay.

We have very cool people, we can learn a lot of experience in self-organization. The majority of Ukrainians invest in the army, help themselves, want to find, look for and find an opportunity to support the front. I see it all the time. This happened both in 2004 on the Maidan and in 2014. In an extreme, dangerous situation, our people begin to unite and behave as one organism. We are already a nation because of this!

PM: In your opinion, given the geopolitical and historical contexts, did we have a chance to avoid Russian military aggression? Could we have prevented this if we had been more proactive in something?

O. G.: I think they could make it impossible. If, immediately after gaining independence, we would start our way to Europe, to NATO, we would start to fight corruption more actively, but...

In my opinion, the path to full independence and self-reliance from Russia would be shorter if we elected Chornovol as the first president. His death put a big cross on all this. Well, in general, we can elect someone to be our head, like Yanukovych or Kyiv mayor Chernovetsky once did. Unfortunately, this happens in a democracy. We took a slightly different path, for which, in principle, we are now all counting. This is already clear. But at least we have democracy, because freedom is the most valuable thing that can be.

PM: Do you often see your colleagues now, communicate with them? Do you take part in discussions on the reconstruction of the country?

O. G.: Yes, I keep my finger on the pulse, after all, I am an architect! When we win, I'll go back to architecture. Of course, I am aware of all the movements that are taking place, I communicate with my colleagues when I come to the city.

PM: Share your thoughts and assessments of the planning and concepts of reconstruction, for example, the participation of other countries and the involvement of international specialists.

O. G.: I have a clear position regarding foreign architects — they must necessarily be involved in the reconstruction of Ukraine. This is an important point and I think very useful for our architects. No matter how cool it is, most Ukrainian architects, as I imagine it, take an example from their foreign colleagues. Previously, until 2014-2015, this happened almost on a regular basis. At first they copied Russian architects, I saw how widespread it was. They also copied the European ones. In this way, we copied what was copied. Fortunately, after 2014, the trend changed — we started communicating directly with European colleagues and gaining experience. Therefore, we really need European experience and examples of modern architecture in our territory, in our realities.

I do not judge whether our architects are good or bad. We have different ones. But the exchange of experience, open borders, including cultural ones, must be mandatory. Certain landmark buildings should be built by world-renowned architects, this is absolutely normal practice. For example, when the Sony Center was built in Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall, several architects participated in the project, and not only German. That is, this is a normal experience, and we should accept it. There will be plenty of work in Ukraine for everyone, that's for sure — both for European and Ukrainian architects. We really need world experience in the implementation of the reconstruction of our country.

PM: I don't remember exactly where, but there was such an opinion that foreign experts are professional, but can be more detached from projects. Let's say, putting the mind, but not the soul, because they have not experienced a personal loss. Therefore, it is important to consult with local architects and local historians, because they know better the history of the region and the original data, we are more emotional about what was damaged or destroyed.

O. G.: I can suggest looking at the landscape of any city, for example, at the landscape of Kyiv, built by our Kyiv architects. And in principle, everything becomes clear. For 30 years, they have been building up Kyiv with their buildings, and only in the last eight years have conscious and more or less normal buildings started to appear, which have a modern look and do not dissonate with the environment. Therefore, the attitude depends solely on professionalism. Any professional architect, Ukrainian or not, starts from the context in which he wants to create, from research of the area, from surveys of residents.

PM: You were on the Maidan, now you are defending Ukraine from the enemy. We can also recall your manifesto and the fight against the illegal placement of the MAFA-chapel near the foundation of the Tithing Church (a criminal case was opened against Oleksandr Gorbany at the time, which is currently closed, the legal process of the establishment of the MAFA is still ongoing. — Editor's Note). You give a lot of energy to change the world around you, to improve reality. Can't do otherwise?

O. G.: Generally yes. I try to do socially important, useful things — both from the point of view of architecture and in general. For example, together with the architect Yury Kovalev, we developed the concept of the stairs on Pejazhka, and thanks to this, the general reconstruction of Pejajnaya Alley began later. Of course, I would like to do more, more actively. A great future ahead!

PM: By the way, which project evokes special warm feelings, and which, perhaps, you regret or it was not implemented?

O. G.: My favorite completed project remains the stairs on Artists' Alley, after all, it is my full authorship: I developed both the concept and the project documentation. Thanks to their appearance in front of St. Andrew's Church from above, instead of the backyard of the neighboring building, a pedestrian space with a panorama of the city was formed. An important aspiration was to preserve as much green as possible on the slope, so the stairs were assembled like a LEGO constructor. For installation, large parts were brought - staircases, platforms, and they were mounted directly on the columns. This construction was so "jewelry" that a railing was specially cut under each tree.

The bicycle-pedestrian bridge, in my opinion, remains one of the most spectacular. I worked on it as part of the architectural bureau "Project Systems" headed by Andrii Myrhorodskyi (Project Systems LTD), the project was completed without me. But if you compare the 2 images — my rendering and the built bridge — it has not undergone significant changes.

Stairs on Artists' Alley, Kyiv. Photo from Oleksandr Gorban's personal archive

As for the projects that were not implemented, I think every architect has many of them. I will mention one: a multifunctional office-hotel-residential complex in Kyiv, which seems to have a lot of everything, but at the same time it is very compact and, in my opinion, nicely complements the surrounding space. I hope that we will implement it, and how successful it is will be evaluated by society, it is active in our country.

I consider it correct to express my thoughts and discuss. It is very useful for an architect to not close himself in his shell. We have such a profession that we can close ourselves off from everyone and design something. It is very important to constantly be in contact with the world, to hear the opinions of the community. By the way, returning to the topic of European architects, as far as I know, they have this contact with the public all the time.

Bicycle and pedestrian "glass" bridge in Kyiv, fragment. Photo: Max Bovkun/Unsplash

Despite the fact that the surrounding "scenery" is far from relaxing, and the amount of personal free time is limited, Oleksandr Gorban really keeps his finger on the pulse of today's architectural events. Discussing the latest discussions, the recovery conference that was held in Lugano, he states: there will be a lot more discussions. Permanent specifics, in his opinion, will begin only after the end of the war. Before that, strategies should be discussed.

According to Oleksandr, there is only one condition under which any reconstruction will become possible: it is the victory of Ukraine. But here too there may be options: whether it will be a full-fledged liberation of all territories within 1991, or whether the territories of Crimea and Donbas will remain temporarily occupied, and then the process will be longer. And a new military conflict with Russia may happen again. Based on this context, strategies must be developed and they must be flexible.

«"Do not start designing "houses", although perhaps somewhere in the liberated regions the necessary housing has already run out, but in general develop a global strategy for the reconstruction of Ukraine, starting with the concept of how to do it in different cases," says the architect.

"We understand that there is only one option for us - victory. But Russia will not collapse, we understand that. The context of the aggressor and the context of the victim, which will constantly torment us, is also a factor of influence. If all these factors are put together, it becomes clear where we are and what we are doing next. Do we need bomb shelters, fortified residential areas, houses? How will we build, will we follow Israel's scenario or another. Are we going to evacuate the population if there are rocket attacks... There are many points that need to be discussed first, discussed, and only then start planning," states Oleksandr Gorban.

He also calls the high level of corruption in state contracts an aggravating circumstance. According to the architect, it is in the interests of Ukraine that these hierarchies and non-competition informal agreements with communal structures become a thing of the past, and access to orders and budget design is granted not only to "pocket architects", as it happens, according to Oleksandr, in 80% of cases.

"There is no need to divide architects into high-quality and low-quality because it is not clear how to do it. But, for example, if you design in BIM, then you already understand something about architecture."

Oleksandr Gorban: "Architects should now openly say that there are holes in the system, that it needs to be changed. There should be public hearings, exchange of experience, quality control is needed. Expertise is ok, electronic documentation is also important. In the draft law No. 5655 ("On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine Regarding the Reform of the Urban Development Sector." — Editor's note), despite its scandalousness, there are also normal things — the transition to BIM standards, electronic document management, which enables create a higher quality product. It is necessary for experts to understand modern technologies, at least not only in engineering, but also in design. And everything will automatically move to a new quality level.

There is no need to divide architects into high-quality and low-quality ones - because it is not clear how to do this. But, for example, if you design in BIM, then you already understand something about architecture" (laughs).

PM: Corruption, abuses have not gone anywhere yet, and now they are being destroyed "with noise" historical buildings, because people's attention is fixed on something else. What do you think, can war teach to treat heritage more carefully and honestly?

O. G.: A certain percentage of people will learn, and some will not. For example, ... (Calls the name of a well-known public and media person. — Editor's note), it definitely won't teach him what he was like — and will remain so.

I traveled a lot in Kyiv region, then we came to Mykolaiv region, and I understood more deeply what a beautiful and diverse country we have. I thought so even before this, but the map of my travels was dotted: the Carpathians, Kyiv region, Odesa region, formerly Crimea. There was no way to visit every village. Many people have felt it now. Those who evacuated, like my relatives, for example. They say: we love this Kyiv so much. My children, who were in Kyiv during the first active phase of the attacks, and then went to the Carpathians for a while and really wanted to return home, I call them "my heroines."

We begin to appreciate what we have again. Therefore, yes, the attitude will be more awe-inspiring, I would say so. And the majority of the active population will protect what we have.

As for abuses by officials or business, all these individual people, officials, have been bitten by the "scoop". As I said at the beginning of the conversation, we followed a longer, but still democratic path. And that is why we cannot simply remove all officials with Soviet and post-Soviet education. At the age of 37, I also, for example, consider myself a person with a Soviet upbringing. So we have to follow the democratic path that we have, washing out all the junk from power, from life, and this, unfortunately, is a long process. By the way, it is going quite well here. If you look at it from a historical point of view, then with a very rapid progression.

PM: If you think about "after the war", most likely, there will be a request for new monuments, commemorative memorials, urban art. The impetus for creation will come from the state, and there will be private initiatives. How to protect cities from raw projects and ideas or even bad taste? If a topic is very popular, can it be compromised?

O. G.: Contests will help. I had a certain experience after the Maidan, when the relatives of the victims and their friends, each of them, wanted to erect a monument, brought an offer. Sculptors painted all these monuments literally "on their knees". It was arranged only thanks to the announced competition. The reaction of these people is understandable: it is an echo of their grief. They seek to honor the memory of the fallen, and this reaction deserves respect. But it is necessary to understand that it is about public space, therefore such situations should be resolved only through the organization of contests.

PM: Soviet heritage is among the destroyed objects and monuments. What should we do with it as part of reconstruction?

O. G.: It should be something like "leave in single version". The Soviet heritage was designed according to the Soviet worldview, where a person nothing, but power is everything. And I would keep it to a minimum. There was a great idea, but for some reason no one implemented it: to make a nature reserve for these monuments, for example, at VDNG it is absolutely ideal. An open-air museum of Soviet terror could be made on this territory. And in general, I would treat buildings more unitarily.

We are now building a new one, because everything old was taken from us: Ukrainian culture was battered by Soviet culture for 80 years. What remains of Soviet architecture is very little, and if it is neutral, does not hint at "Sovietness", perhaps it can be left. But Stalinist themes must be removed. I don't broadcast the idea that everything should just be taken and demolished, but this architecture cannot be in such quantity as it is now. It's not normal, I think.

And in general, for example, this "Motherland" of ours is the Motherland, not the Motherland. Our motherland is Ukraine, and the homeland is the Soviet narrative.

Monument "Motherland" in Kyiv. Photo: Denis Zalevskiy / Unsplash

PM: We have not been looking for "good Russians" for a long time, but we understand that we will have a common border, and this may further affect Ukraine in the longer term. Do Russians have a chance to free themselves from propaganda and understand the real state of affairs? Do several generations have to change for this to happen?

O. G.: I think they don't want it themselves, and haven't for generations. On the contrary, they want to be driven by them: "Give us a king, the king knows what to do." This happened for centuries, and it seems to me that it cannot be changed. It can change only if Russia breaks up into many small countries. Maybe their children or grandchildren will understand something, someday, when the regime changes. Or it will really cease to exist, because it is not a nation, but a formation of different people who have neither motivation nor ideas at all. They were zombified by televsion and ordered to go somewhere and fight. In many people, the brain will work according to the Soviet narrative until the end.

PM: So we should do our own thing and not think about the future of the "neighbor"?

O. G.: Yes, we must throw them away, push them out of our border. We ourselves do not need to run anywhere - neither to that Belgorod, nor to that Moscow. Build a moat, trenches, a concrete wall, in short - fence off in any way and go about your business. To have a strong, classy army, to have an awesome air defense system, to have a lot of ammunition, and for them to be confused at the word "Ukraine". Then everything will be fine. So it really should be. Time to live your life.



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