National Archives of Georgia

საქართველოს ეროვნული არქივი

Architect Valeria Hajibeili – “Sakqalaqmshensakhproekti”, second studio

Civil Engineer N. Meskhi

Design 1952-66 Construction (first phase) 1961-1967

Status built

Original function Central State Archive of the October Revolution of the Georgian SSR and the Central State Archive of film and photo documents

Current function National Archive of Georgia

Condition renovated, partially changed

Address 1. Vazha-Pshavela Ave, Tbilisi
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The National Archives of Georgia at the intersection of Vazha-Pshavela Avenue and Peking Street was designed by Valeria (Leli) Hajibeili. In the drawings preserved in the National Archives the chief engineer of the second studio of the “Sakqalaqmshensakhproekti” N. Meskhi is also named as the second creator of the project. The documents and plans for the archive date from 1952 to 1966.

In the early 1950s, the existing Building of Archive of the Georgian SSR could no longer accommodate the growing volume of materials, and it did not meet fire safety standards. Additionally, the archive for film and photographic documents was housed in a residential building – which was not permitted due to safety concerns. At that time, the archives contained half a million documents, with another two million waiting for storage due to lack of space. The expected annual volume of documents was estimated at one million units. The Archive of Audio-Visual Documents stored 15,000 photo negatives, 40,000 photo positives, 72 photo albums and 3,300 glass negatives. The collection aimed to preserve 4 million meters of film documents, including negatives and positives, from the pre-Soviet and Soviet eras. In the audio collection 550,000 minutes of material were preserved.

The decision to build a new archive was made in 1952. The project brief was approved by the Main Archives Department of the USSR Ministry of the Interior in the same year.

By 1953, the project task, along with visual materials, prepared by Hajibeili was submitted and handed over to “Sakkomunproekti” for further processing. Simultaneously, a plot of land spanning 1.79 hectares in Saburtalo was allocated for the archive’s construction. Given the project’s complexity, planning was divided into three phases.

At that time, careful consideration was given to the fundamental technical requirements for the archive building and archival work technologies. The organizational structure of the archive encompassed various functions, including the reception of archive materials, preventive processing of documents, technological processing of documents, as well as working, storage, administrative, and auxiliary rooms. Two main schedules were essential for effective archive management: one for the receipt of documents into the archive and another for visitor access.

The layout of the buildings on the site was a crucial aspect, with orientation to the north or northeast preferred to protect storage rooms from direct sunlight. Additionally, prevailing wind directions were taken into account, and provisions were made for possible future expansions of the archive buildings. Stringent fire protection requirements mandated the use of dry extinguishing methods, with water jet extinguishing permitted only in stairwells.

The archive storage facility should have sufficient capacity to accommodate the documents for the next 10 years and ensure long-term preservation. In order to maintain a stable temperature and enable the use of dry extinguishers, the standards prescribe separate storage rooms with maximum dimensions of 300 m2 and up to 700 m3 in volume. These storage facilities required to be heated, equipped with regulated air supply and ventilation, air purification and humidification, with a constant temperature of 16°-18°C and a humidity of 50-65%. A separate building was required for film, photographic, and audio documents, ensuring a constant temperature of 12° ± 2°C and humidity of 60 ± 5%.

Shelves equipped with metal brackets should be installed and all wooden materials treated with a fireproof solution. Sufficient space should be provided between shelves to allow air circulation.

As the chief architect, Hajibeily managed this multi-year project from the first to the last day, and all these requirements and many other intricate details were realized with meticulous precision. Another interesting aspect was that the government’s technical requirements were additionally accompanied by architectural requirements:
“- The archive building should be monumental
– The appearance should correspond to the content
– It should reflect our time and decorate the city like our other administrative buildings.
– Since the building is to be erected on the main square of Saburtalo, high demands are placed on the main façade, which should therefore be clad in natural stone.”

Leli Hajibeili has fulfilled these requirements – a strong, tall tower makes the archive truly monumental. This massive tower on all four sides shows that we are preserving something there and emphasizes the significance of archive’s function: preserving the past and, as a symbol for the future, marking the beginning of the largest street on the map of the new district of Tbilisi. The facades of the archive are indeed covered with Eclar stone and tastefully decorated with several ceramic reliefs.

The terms “monumental architecture that represents the era and adorns the city” had a completely different meaning for the author of these requirements and the architect in 1953 than what the state demanded soon afterwards.

Looking more closely, the Archive, like the Sports Palace, reflects its era – it is one of the best examples of Georgian architecture from this interesting, transitory and uncertain period. It shows no signs of the socialist realism of Stalin era or emerging modernism. Finding the way out like that of the labyrinth in such a way is probably the greatest art of this period. As can be seen on the plan for the future development of the site, the next construction phase began later. The historical archive and the archives department building were added to the tower along the Peking Street (today it houses the administration, the exhibition and conference hall). The drawing of the façade (or a panel photo) preserved in Hajibeil’s personal archive is an example of Soviet modernist architecture, which blends in very well with the buildings of the first stage.

Unfortunately, the one-storey building of the Film, Photo and Audio Archive was completely destroyed by a fire in 2023. The building itself had no architectural value, but the records kept there are an irretrievable loss for our country. Nevertheless, many documents have been digitized, even if we do not know the exact number. (ntch)

Images: National Archives of Georgia, Valeria Hajibeili private Archive