The Old Apartment

There’s a building next to the school I work in that is, like many of the buildings here, just a skeleton. There are quite a few buildings around here that were clearly something before – old factories, old apartment buildings, etc. Some of them have shops on the ground floor, some have car repair places on the ground floor, and some are just empty. But the one next to the school is a special breed of these abandoned buildings here. It’s not an abandoned building, but rather is a building whose construction was abandoned.

I got the story from one of my co-teachers a little while ago. I was interested in it because one day men with hammers and a few trucks showed up and started the process of deconstruction, Georgian style. I asked my co-teacher what the building was. She explained that in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Communists had a number of building projects around the city. This one was an apartment building. But when they left in 1991, they stopped construction on these buildings.

As with the other former Soviet republics, when they split off, Georgia’s economy tanked. Then with many years of civil wars and wars with South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Russia, they had other things on their mind. So it hasn’t been until recent years, with relative stability and an economy on the rise that Georgia has gotten around to doing anything about these empty, partially finished buildings. Or in this case, recent months.

The story behind this building is fantastic. Construction was started in better times. I hear that Georgia was one of the more wealthy socialist republics under the Soviet Union. Kutaisi was an important industrial center. But with the economic collapse, huge numbers left Kutaisi for work elsewhere. So for the past twenty years, all the old factories or old construction sites have just been abandoned. So many of the buildings that are in use, but are not in the city center, are shabby and crumbling. They’re not falling down yet, so little effort is put in to keep them nice. After twenty years, some construction efforts are being made. But it’s not a wealthy city, so the construction crews… well, let’s just say they lack technologically advanced equipment.

I’ve traveled a lot through Eastern Europe, and I like to laugh about the construction crews I see in various places. One guy shoveling or pounding something with a hammer, and three guys standing around drinking beer, “supervising.” Guys operating a jackhammer, but nobody has safety glasses or helmets, just cigarettes dangling from their mouths. Ideally, when dismantling an apartment building like the one next to my school, there would be some sort of crane involved. At least some heavy machinery, right? But this isn’t Tbilisi, this isn’t the big city – only the second biggest city. (Like everything else – oh, no, you’ll have to go to Tbilisi for that.)

There are a few trucks. There’s one to scoop up the rubble, and one to haul it away. But aside from that, it’s manual labor to tear down the old apartment. It’s hilarious to see, really. There will be about five or six men, no safety equipment, no helmets, no harnesses, just a few guys standing on the support beams of the buildings. All with sledgehammers. They then swing their sledgehammers into the center of the floor, banging away on the concrete. And if you know the buildings, you will know that these buildings are all concrete. I was walking past one day when all of the pounding was successful in removing one of the floors. The concrete all fell down at once with a great crash. I half expected to hear the screams of someone who might have fallen with the concrete and lay trapped, three floors down, but thankfully, they were all still on the beams above. Walking along the beams to the next “room,” where they would again pound the floor out.

The problem: There’s an old building. Construction on the thing was never finished, and it’s just been a skeleton sitting there for the past twenty years.

The project: Knock building down. The building has been there for twenty years, enough is enough. Forwards! Progress!

The method: Step one, give a few guys some really big hammers. Step two, tell them to swing the hammers at the building really hard. Go floor by floor, until they are all knocked down.

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