Present and future coexist in the Lithuanian capital. Since the fall of the USSR, the development of Vilnius has been linked to significant economic, social, and demographic changes. Today, the most populous of the Baltic countries aspires to become the new European hub for new technologies.
And it’s happening fast, perhaps too fast, for some neighborhoods in the capital that were until very recently still “stuck in time,” witnesses to a vernacular architecture on the verge of extinction. In Šnipiškės, one of the oldest suburbs of the capital, the shadow of the new skyscrapers darkens a little more each day the still-smoking chimneys of wooden homes connected by dirt paths.
Reflecting a vernacular architecture shaped over the years by the hands of its inhabitants, inventing, building, renovating, and repairing their wooden buildings, this neighborhood is a visual marker of the architectural development of the city. For a long time, wood was the primary construction material in Vilnius because it was accessible, easy to work with, and cost-effective. Each of these houses and their layers of materials, colors, and extensions acts as a temporal marker; a tangible architectural testament to the city’s history since the late nineteenth century.
Today, glass towers appear one after another, new rows of residential buildings align, mostly without architectural coherence. The district that now houses the headquarters of startups and technology companies is radically transforming into a “real city” according to our contemporary standards. A similar approach is seen in many capitals around the world, driven by a desire for growth and development supposedly made possible by a deemed profitable and efficient vertical urbanism.
Urban vernacular seems inevitably confronted by these transformations and threatened by projects stemming from a new architectural tradition. But on what criteria does a particular building become an integral part of our heritage and compel us to preserve it? Heritage today emerges as a form of sensitivity and originality in a globalized world where the uniformity of forms is the norm.
In a few years, Lithuanians may still be able to stroll through a few preserved alleys in Šnipiškės, like an open-air museum, in the shadow of skyscrapers and towers, far from the “village” atmosphere of yesteryear.
This photographic work reveals the end of a chapter in the history of a city among many others and the beginning of a new one from the perspective of architecture, the “incorruptible witness of history.”
Né en 1996 dans la banlieue de Paris. Nicolas Duclos se questionne sur l’environnement urbain et les paysages façonnés par l’homme, ainsi que son habitat architectural.
© text and pictures by Nicolas Duclos