Preservation Issues

Exporting Preservation: New York City to Tbilisi, Georgia

Lena Kiladze, Peg Breen, Tara Kelly, and Mary Kay Judy

Peg Breen, Lena Kiladze, and Tara Kelly

Lena Kiladze, a Tbilisi architect who heads The American Friends of Georgia in Tbilisi

Crowd at General Mechanics Society Library

Crowd at General Mechanics Society Library

Church of the Virgin / Gelati Monastery in Tbilisi

Tbilisi, Georgia

Marusya Chavchavdze - AFG; David Lordkipanidze General Director National Museum; and Conservancy President, Peg Breen

English language Tbilisi newspaper

Mother Church, circa 1029

Grand Synagogue, circa 1895

Tbilisi ICOMOS Volunteers

UPDATE: May 28, 2015

The Conservancy and the Friends of the Upper East Side presented a joint program at the General Mechanics Society Library detailing how New York’s preservation laws and programs are helping to guide preservation efforts in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Photos from event

Georgia is an ancient country struggling to reclaim and preserve its unique heritage following its independence from the Soviet Union and also battling large developments that threaten to overwhelm Tbilisi, the capital city. Conservancy President Peg Breen and Friends Executive Director Tara Kelly were in Tbilisi last fall on separate trips sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

Breen and Kelly both praised the U.S. Ambassador Richard Norland, who helps fund Georgian preservation efforts and who sees preservation as key to the country’s economic future.

They recounted their experiences last night, joined by conservator Mary Kay Judy, who did several preservation projects in Georgia in the late 1990s, and Lena Kiladze, a Tbilisi architect who heads The American Friends of Georgia in Tbilisi.

Both Kelly and Kiladze showed pictures of existing high-rise buildings that are out of place in the older sections of the city and proposed developments on the high cliffs on either side of Tbilisi that would dominate the rest of the city, which was founded in the 4th century. Like in New York, some Georgian elected officials think that large buildings are necessary to attract tourists and development.

Kelly also showed large public protests against some of the projects. And every speaker said they urged the public to speak out and demand protection of their heritage.

Breen detailed meetings with preservation oriented elected officials. Municipal Assembly Member Tamar Taliashvili brought together representatives of the various embassies in Tbilisi to urge multinational laws and mutual respect of heritage. Breen spoke to the group about how the Conservancy puts together private and public funding on restoration projects and detailed federal and state reports on the economic benefits of preservation.

Kelly noted that New York’s 50 year old Landmarks Law has always been a model for other American cities and now it is helping to shape preservation overseas.


October 2014
Conservancy President Speaks in Tbilisi as Guest of U.S. Embassy

Landmarks Conservancy President Peg Breen spent last week in Tbilisi, Georgia discussing architectural preservation as an economic development tool and urging Georgian officials to protect that country’s unique cultural and architectural heritage. She was a guest of the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi and worked closely with the American Friends of Georgia.

Click here to view Tbilisi photo album.

U.S. Ambassador Richard B. Norland said cultural preservation “holds considerable significance not only for Georgia’s economic development but also its further democratic evolution.” He added that he looks forward to “building on your visit.”

Tbilisi sits at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. It has monuments and churches dating from the 4th and 5th centuries, a medieval Old City, Islamic architecture, and Art Deco and Classical style homes and public buildings built during the Soviet occupation of Georgia. While Tbilisi’s “Grand Synagogue” was built at the end of the 19th century, the City is currently celebrating 2600 years of Jewish life and culture.

With all its incredible history, Tbilisi is also experiencing development pressures for new hotels, office buildings and homes. Tbilisi residents are fighting a proposed hotel development in a major park and are very concerned about a privately funded proposal for three new high-rise office complexes in different sections of the City to be connected by gondolas.

“Citizens in Tbilisi want a say in how their City is developed and preserved,” Breen said. “New Yorkers can understand that.”

Breen met with local and national elected officials, architects, students, local ICOMOS representatives and residents eager to learn about our preservation laws and the public participation built into our preservation and development statutes. She addressed a cultural heritage meeting at Tbilisi’s Assembly—the equivalent of New York’s City Council—met with the heads of banks and private investment firms, and gave public speeches at the National Museum, National Library and School of Architecture.

Local ICOMOS architects are focusing on the Betlemi Quarter of the Old City, organizing residents and training craftspeople on restoration techniques. The World Monuments Fund, Kress Foundation and UNESCO have helped them in the past with planning.

Nato Tsintsabadze, an architect who volunteers for ICOMOS, greeted us holding preservation economist Donovan Rypkema’s manual on community organizing. She explained that there is an “official protection zone and buffer” for the Old City that was created in the 1970s and expanded in the 1980’s. But she said that, in one section, the City demolished old homes and replaced them with new construction made to look old. Many people expressed a desire for their preservation laws to be updated and include a specific process for community input.

Under Ambassador Norland, the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation is helping to support the architectural preservation of the Church of the Virgin at the Gelati Monastery, a major cultural World Heritage Monument three hours west of Tbilisi. The most recent project there is the study and conservation of the mural painting within the dome of the Church. The World Bank is helping to fund the rehabilitation of the stone surface and structure of the Church.

Gelati developed from the 12th to 18th centuries on a high hillside overlooking the old Georgian capital of Kutaisi. The view includes a broad valley and snowcapped peaks of the Caucasus Mountains in the distance. It continues as a popular destination for Georgians and tourists alike.

Since 2001, the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation has supported more than a dozen preservation projects that have conserved frescos and icons at ancient churches, an archaeological site with ruins dating from the 4th century BC, medieval manuscripts and museum collections, and created a database of historic sites in the Historic Center of Tbilisi.

The American Friends of Georgia initially suggested Breen’s visit to the Embassy. The non-profit group was founded by the late New Yorker Constantine Sidamon-Eristoff and supports numerous social, medical and educational programs in Georgia. Architect Lena Kiladze, head of AFG in Tbilisi, has wide connections and is a major voice for Georgian heritage conservation.

At AFG’s suggestion, the U.S. Embassy also has invited Tara Kelly, executive director of the Friends of the Upper East Side, to visit Tblisi in early November and discuss educational programming.