Hybrid Highrise


The Hybrid Highrise in Tibilisi has been on quite a journey from conception to completion. The glass block clad in tessellated and blurring cubes is first major building by an international architecture practice after Georgia's Rose Revolution in 2003. German architects Wandel Hoefer Lorch & Hirsch negotiated the building's construction process through the economic crisis and then the South Ossetia war to produced a sustainable, 'performative' office building for the city. One that responded to the twin demands of a design that gleams with western appeal desired by the client and the social and physical tension of the city that drew the architects towards it in the first place.

"The brief sounded rather generic and seemingly unpolitical," said Nikolaus Hirsch. "Yet, the political and its repercussions on the production of space occurred in three aspects: the phenomenon of globalization in architecture, the national and international real-estate crisis, and the war between Georgia and Russia in 2008."

Approached by developers in Tbilisi, Hirsch explains how he and the team were struck by the potential of post-revolutionary Georgia: "..Its strategic position between oil-supplying and oil-buying countries; its exposure to the imperial ambitions of both the United States and Russia. Since most of our works (such as the Dresden Synagogue or the Hinzert Document Centre) were deeply involved in politics, we felt attracted by the context."

Behind the aesthetic qualities of a mirage of hundreds of glass Rubik's Cubes lies a clever engineering device. A double façade, containing a system of box-type windows of varying depths that offer protection from the sun and between the inner and outer windows, cooling units are installed. The system offers effective noise-proofing and allows the individual rooms internal temperatures to be controlled separately. The building has three cores and a series of light holes on the façade that allow natural light to penetrate the core of the building.

The architects' are putting forward a notion of sustainability that can both adapt to change and that is tailored to use. Hirsch says it was the lack of clear criteria from the client regarding the future use of the building drove their agenda. For them, sustainability is just a name for defining the long term application of the design. The combination of individual units and a deep plan of 45x45m is unusual and a case study maximum autonomy in the short term and ability to adapt different scenarios in the future.

These future design scenarios didn't imagine coping with the drastic change in the political situation in Georgia in 2008. In an interview with Markus Miessen, Hirsch describes the atmosphere as the building went onsite. " 2008 changed everything. It was a unique combination: not only the dramatic subprime crisis in early summer, which moved the global economy on the verge of collapse, but also the catastrophe of the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008. The Russian army stood 30 kilometers away from our construction site in Tbilisi. Contractors and construction surveyors fled to Turkey and Armenia. After three weeks, construction could commence again – but the rhythm of work slowed down."

"The political and economic context of the project changed. Georgia shifted from a democratic model state to a dangerous one. The potential foreign clients were gone. The building with its main structure, its façade, and its technical equipment was finished – just the inner partitions were missing. The partition of the office building became a long process, and actually a process that will never really stop since the user structure will be constantly changing."

The notion of context and the relationship between the static object and its fluid internal and external worlds is sharply in focus in this building. "A design is never really a solution of a given problem - it also produces a new reality." Muses Hirsch. "But what the building does is a way to redefine the issue of "context" in our work. It is a context that is not reduced to material and typological references but a context that is both micro and macro. A material strategy and a reaction the political and economical instability."