An architect beyond architecture

Anjar 1939-2019, Rebuilding Musa Dagh in Lebanon’

Interview with Vartivar Jaklian

(April 21st 2020)

Vartivar Jaklian, architect and architectural photographer trained at the IUAV Università in Venice. In 2005, he started his practice with Prof. Michael Carapetian, co-founding Latcol Associates, a multidisciplinary office for architecture, planning, and design. In 2012, he formed vartivar jaklian AAP, which engages practice in the realm of architecture and architectural photography. His interests encompass studies in architectural and urban design, architectural photography and documentation. Jaklian has been on several panels and has lectured at prestigious institutions and universities such as Uppsala Art Museum, Paris Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, Carleton University in Ottawa, and IUAV Università in Venice. Through photography, he has worked on the analysis and documentation of several urban and architectural projects focusing mainly on areas touched by political or social conflict. Among these, the Sanjak Armenian refugee camp in Beirut, Oscar Niemeyer’s International Fair in Tripoli, the Karm el Zeitoun Quarter in Beirut, and Peter and Alison Smithson’s Economist Building in London are photographic projects worthy of mention.

Dear Vartivar,
Thank you for your interest to take part in this interview.
First of all, what do architectural design and architectural photography mean to you? What do you want to capture in your work?

Architecture to me is a means to create order, hence to elevate the quality of our everyday life and the level of its aesthetics. Our daily routine starts at home, then we travel to our workplace passing through an urbanised space. Architecture is constantly around us at every moment of our lives; since most of us are now confined within our home premises due to COVID 19, more and more people are getting aware of this. Architectural Photography, on the other hand, serves as a tool to document and to analyse architecture. Photography is a powerful tool which helps us comprehend and communicate architecture; Viollet-le-Duc, a French architect of the Romantic Period, has written that often in a photographic print, one discovers characteristics that had not perceived looking at the photographed monument in person. The importance of photography to architects was evident as early as the invention itself of photography.

What are the basic aesthetic conceptual properties in your recent project about ‘Anjar 1939-2019, Rebuilding Musa Dagh in Lebanon’?

The foundational act of the city of Anjar is an extraordinary event in the history of humankind but so is the history of its population. The aim was to produce a documentary project, therefore, Hossep Baboyan — who is the author of the film about Anjar — and I constantly reminded one another about the importance of remaining objective in our respective approaches. This I believe was fundamental in allowing the intrinsic aesthetic qualities of the city to emerge in the work rather than us looking for them. Naturally, we are talking about conceptual qualities and virtues related to the response which Anjar was and continues to represent to a humanitarian crisis which is, unfortunately, often more and more recurrent these days.

How do your personal experiences make you feel about beauty? In what way you believe that you contribute to beauty aspects?

Based on my humble experiences, I feel that the concept of beauty has been trivialized a lot, particularly in recent years. We need to learn to distinguish the difference between what apparently seems beautiful (superficial, easy, fashionable) and the beauty which we need to find through searching and understanding (more complex, difficult to grasp, timeless, more conceptual). This second type of beauty, which I believe is the only type of true beauty, requires us to be involved more in its quest, to understand it, and finally to appreciate it.

Photo credit: Vartivar Jaklian, a moment from his everyday life
Photo credit: Vartivar Jaklian, a moment from his everyday life

Could you please inform us about the projects you are currently developing?

Until the advent of COVID 19, Hossep and I were busy organising a series of events aiming at presenting and promoting Anjar 1939-2019 in Italy and Europe in general. Many will need re-planning now. Concurrently, we are working on our broader project which aims at documenting the architecture related to the Armenian Diaspora; Anjar 1939-2019 was the pilot project. In Catania, in Sicily, I am working on the restoration and the redesign of a 1920s flat for a young couple. It is a very interesting project since I think it was one of the very early examples of buildings in Catania using a reinforced concrete structure. Things have slowed down a lot in the past month but we are hoping we will soon be active again. Many are the lessons the world desperately needs to learn and to put into practice after COVID. We shall hope the next steps of humanity bear this consciousness at heart and in mind.

Thank you very much!