Architects are rebuilding Ukraine, even while bombs are still falling – Fast Company
In March 2022, barely a month into the war in Ukraine, Nikita Bielokopytov learned that the home of his grandparents had been destroyed. Its roof and walls had been blown up, turning a quaint village house into a pile of pale bricks and burnt cinders. Immediately, Bielokopytov, who is an architect and partner in the Kyiv firm New Office of Vital Architecture, or NOVA, set out to design his grandparents a new home.
The design is simple but contemporary: a compact two-story building with a slightly off-center pitched roof that blends seamlessly into its dark exterior walls. Cognizant that the homes of many other people were also being destroyed, Bielokopytov decided to freely release the plans for his grandparents’ new home, slashing the costs for people who want to rebuild their land. Those plans are what Bielokopytov considers a modest effort, but they’ve also sparked a broader reconsideration of what it means to be an architect in a place facing an unending barrage of attacks. “It’s difficult to be an architect in a war country,” Bielokopytov says. “You understand that the way you can help is by doing what you do best, and this is to make projects and to share your knowledge.”
““It’s difficult to be an architect in a war country,” Nikita Bielokopytov says. “You understand that the way you can help is by doing what you do best, and this is to make projects and to share your knowledge.”
For a profession so tied to the creation of the buildings and spaces of day-to-day life, architects in Ukraine have seen the war in their country as a direct attack, and a call to action. From the first days of the war, which started February 24, 2022, buildings and urban spaces were repeat targets for the Russian military, with apartment buildings, train stations, civic centers, and even schools under attack.
Formal architecture work stopped almost immediately, with many clients pausing or canceling projects planned for places suddenly being torn apart by bombs, missiles, and mortars. “No one’s buying new apartments right now,” says Bielokopytov. “We haven’t gotten any new projects in Ukraine.”
No new paid projects, that is. Like many architecture firms that have remained in Ukraine during the war, NOVA has found a new and unexpected avenue for its architectural skills through the humanitarian and recovery projects the firm has instigated on its own initiative. Using their own unpaid time, and mostly without any guarantee that their designs can secure the funding to be built at a scale necessary for the recovery of the country, architects are plunging ahead with designs and building projects that lack one of the most important elements of any development: a paying client.
Designing a project without a client is something most firms, especially smaller or younger firms, do to test out ideas, prove their design chops, and, ideally, drum up business. In the context of war, the effort becomes something much more altruistic.