U.S. State Department asks UVA architecture students to help rebuild Ukraine
When Professor Suzanne Morse Moomaw got a call from the State Department, asking if her students could help rebuild Ukraine, she was delighted.
“It’s one of the most exciting things I’ve done," she says. "We want to do good work, beautiful work, important work, but we want this work to make a difference for the people who have been under siege.”
The word went out that Moomaw would offer a semester-long lab to research and offer ideas for rebuilding Izyem – a city in eastern Urkaine that was heavily damaged by war.
“I planned only to accept twelve, and I finally accepted 24, but could have accepted many more," Moomaw recalls. "They saw this as the same opportunity I saw – to actually apply what they’re learning in the classroom to a real live situation – that people need their help, and they have embraced it beautifully.”
Students were divided into groups. Those assigned to work on housing faced a dilemma. Many people had lived in Soviet-style apartment buildings, and while the aspiring architects might have preferred something more attractive, Juliana Jackson says residents liked the feeling of equality that those dwellings conveyed.
“A lot of the apartment units have the same layout, so it’s not giving preference to one unit over another,” she explains.
Still, Polina Andreeva says her group proposed improvements to the old tower blocks.
“They added more green space, added insulation, because it gets cold in the winter, and we are trying to make everything more accessible, because our expectation is that a lot of people are going to come back with certain disabilities after the war is over.”
And student Benjamin Edlavitch says preserving the past is important when it comes to some iconic buildings in town.
“So we’re doing research on how to bring back some of those more traditional, elegant, local styles -- you know those very ornate churches with those onion-domed rooves.”
Sydney Sloat’s team is focused on the issue of sustainable energy. Solar panels on rooftops might be good, but wind power is not an option.
“There’s just not a lot of wind in the area on average, so we’ve turned to a mix of solar – where we take energy from the sun during the summer, and we put it in the ground," she explains. "The ground retains that heat and energy, and in the winter – when there isn’t as much light for solar panels -- we extract that heat and use it to heat the homes and whatever building would need it, and we’re also kind of working on decentralizing the grid -- spreading out the energy throughout the city so it can’t just be bombed in one spot.”
Other groups explored ways to rebuild schools, industries and parks while preserving space for memorials in a city that lost a thousand people during the Russian invasion. In every case, Erin Bentley says, they recommend building materials that are available and affordable.
“We’re looking at re-using rubble from buildings that have been destroyed, as a way to look at sustainability and also bring the past into the future.”
Professor Moomaw says it’s been a challenge for students to come up with plans when they are unable to visit Izyem or to speak with former residents.
“We are dependent on photographs, so what we are providing for them is given what we see in this photograph, here’s a way to think about rebuilding that."
But some designs are already on display in Campbell Hall on UVA’s campus, and later this year the students will visit the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington to present their ideas.