Today, 12 July, the renovation works at the Lukiškės City Square in Vilnius have commenced. The debates about the fate of the square were already going on for nearly two decades—longer than any debates about other public spaces or buildings in Lithuania since 1990. Since 1995, when the general competition to shape the Central Square was announced, five architectural competitions were organised with the aim to redesign it. The latest competition was held in 2011 and it was won by Rolandas Palekas and his team of architects. Palekas’ project was criticised because of the disproportionately huge area that was supposed to be paved. However this was not the reason why this project was not realised.
In 2015 it was announced that the budget of the project will be reduced from the initial 11 million Euro to the more moderate 2 million Euro. The reduced budget was to be spent on only one stage of Palekas’ project. On July 2015 an architect Gintaras Čaikauskas whose project took second place in the competition gave an interview for delfi.lt, where he complained that by allowing Palekas to adjust his project “the the rules of the game” become “unfair” to other participants of the competition. “Accodring to the regulations, if the the winner project was impossible to be carried out because of being too costly, the negotiations between all the other nominees of the competition had to take place. The situation became a bit unusual: the question was, how far the project can be adjusted so that these adjustments would not be regarded as legally binding adjustments. If the Procurement Office is going to buy a project the budget of which is seven times bigger than the one specified during the contest, then I see no logic here,” said Čaikauskas in his interview. He also added that if the conditions of the competition change and if there is no consensus, a new competition must be held where only him and Palekas are allowed to participate.
And yet the negotiations with the winner of the competition did not even start. The architect Palekas told to lrytas.lt: “When the essential things such as the idea of the project and its quality make no difference to anyone, and when the main concern is only the area and type of the paving, one should expect the worst.” Because the consensus with Palekas was not reached, the results of the competition were annulled.
However there was no new architectural competition—instead of that, a competition for the contractors to reconstruct the City Square was announced. On February 2016 there was an announcement that the competition was won by three construction companies: “Infes”, “Ekstra statyba”, and “Pamario restauratorius”. The trio made a commitment to carry out the reconstruction works with the budget of 2.1 million Euro. However, the Chair of Public Committee for the Vilnius City Development Gintautas Tiškus in his interview with Locomotive.press said that it remains unclear how, without there being any concept for a project, it was determined that it was precisely 2.1 million that was the minimum amount necessary for the works. These three companies were intrusted to find an architect who would develop a concept for their reconstruction project. In other words, the whole process of reconstruction was placed on its head. Finally the three companies chose Gintaras Čaikauskas’ project that won a second place in the 2011 competition.
The new project was presented publically on 12 May 2016.1 During the presentation a question was raised about the possibility of allowing the suggestions from general public. The organisers ensured that this possibility will be granted. However, during that officially designated and rather mingy period of 11 days, Dr. Giedrė Guodienė’s query remained unanswered. The comments submitted by Vilnius City Development Commission were unanswered as well. On 23 May the Commission addressed Vilnius City Council with an appeal regarding the procurement procedures for the City Square reconstruction works and the circumstances surrounding the competition. In their appeal the Commission noted that the title of the competition is “Restoration of the Lukiškės City Square and the Supervision of the Technical Execution of the Work Project” (“Lukiškių aikštės sutvarkymo darbai su techninio darbo projekto vykdymo priežiūra”), therefore the contractor (the trio of “Infes”, “Ekstra statyba”, and “Pamario restauratorius”) can only restore the Square without making any structural adjustments and changing its architectural form. The Commission also requested that “the public should be involved when discussing the questions about the reconstruction of the Square, the expectations and demands of the citizens should be taken into consideration and turned into guidelines for the new architectural competition for the renovation of the Square.” According to the Commission Chair Gintautas Tiškus, Vilnius City Mayor Remigijus Šimašius confirmed the acknowledgement of this appeal only on 8 July.
According to the architect and theoretician Tomas Grunskis who participated in the previous competitions for the restoration of the square, this situation “devaluates the values of the youngest political conjuncture. . . . The representatives of this new political ideology are moving towards a radical commercialisation by managing the society as if it was a Joint Stock company.” In his interview for Locomotive.press, the Public Commission Chair G. Tiškus said that such an opaque process is extremely disappointing because of the inability to set the priorities and take the public into consideration. “The competitions are constantly held for almost 19 years, but maybe it is good that the Square remained untouched? It means that we still had a chance to do the work properly. However, this Monday the chance has been lost.”
In their public statements City officials emphasise that the discussions are taking too long and that the main thing now is to complete the reconstruction process until 2018, the centenery commemoration of the restoration of Lithuanian Independence.
Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius and Vilnius City Mayor Remigijus Šimašius argued that the City Square will become a democratic public space open to citizens.
- A group of architects—Šarūnas Kiaunė, Asta Kiaunienė, and Ramūnas Raslavičius—who participated in one of the aforementioned contests, made an appeal to the Palace of Architects of the Republic of Lituania asking to investigate the possible violations of professional ethics during the preparation of the project. Asta Kiaunienė raised a question about the suspicious similarities between the projects of Čaikauskas and Š. Kiaunė.