Viltė Janušauskaitė ©Julija Tamulevičiūtė

Viltė Janušauskaitė

Interviewed by Agnė Sadauskaitė

Photographed by Julija Rūkas

Translated by Eimantas Budrys

Vilte, You work as a senior architect in “Lithuanian Monuments”, you teach students of heritage-protection studies, you are a PhD student in the Faculty of History: every day, you maintain a continuous and comprehensive relationship with the heritage and the “beneficiaries” of that heritage. From your point of view, is there enough heritage in the life of the society?

First of all, there is a problematic question: what is the society? If we would look for a typical non-existent citizen, there might be no heritage in his life at all.  He probably knows that there is a Gediminas Castle, he might have visited it in his childhood and he no longer intends to get on the cliff, perhaps he sometimes comes to the Old Town for a walk. Is he reflecting these places as a heritage, is another question. Perhaps it is just a live place for him? If we talk gloomy, then yes, there is little heritage in the society’s life. However, the society is heterogeneous: there are many people who care, live about the heritage, not necessarily reflecting that they are constantly there. From the professional point of view, it would be greatly desirable that the heritage, and thus awareness, would be greater. I really hope that the time has passed when people who bought old apartments renovated them from foundation to ceiling, throwing out old doors, old floor, even old-fashioned furniture and installing a new fashionable interior. This is how not often malevolently, but almost always unconsciously, the heritage was destroyed.

Does the heritage seem to be increasingly moving from the state to the people? I mean that perhaps more and more the initiative to take care of the historical environment comes from the bottom (citizens), not from the top (government).

Yes, it does. Earlier Žvėrynas community was very active, now the perfect example of an active community is Užupis. Communities are part of the heritage. They participate in project presentations, meetings and discussions. Community members notice a lot of useful things, they see the problems from inside, raise questions of corruption. Such public control is very important. The most common problem, and I did not apply it exclusively to the community of Užupis, is that some of the comments made by the community members are stereotypical: “Why can a neighbor park his car just outside my window?” And most of the criticism is not even about heritage or heritage conservation and sometimes it is even against development. This is not surprising, because such a position has arisen in the long run due to projects that should not have happened: the reaction is increasing every time, which complicates the dialogue or even, in general, its existence. People are losing confidence in the authority and this is already a major system error.

Like the bureaucracy itself, it is clear. In Edinburgh, Scotland, for the repair of heritage buildings (for finishing and minor construction works), if it is not an object of exceptional value, recommendations are given to the owner of the object. Well, let’s say, the door should be painted black instead of green. In the case of our country, a project must be prepared, and all work must be carried out by a qualified specialist supervised by another certified specialist. Finally, we will pay up to 10 times more than the cost of paint for the door repaint. We are facing bureaucratic horror (laughs)! It’s natural that people start to behave in an illegal way, because this is the only rational way to choose in this situation. Paper control is very strict, and realistically impossible.

2©Julija Tamulevičiūtė

You have chosen the inhabitants, as the main object of the narrative in your anthropological research about the Lazdynai microdistrict in Vilnius. Why did you choose this district and why this exact narrative perspective?

I think that Lazdynai is a cliché district: many have written and spoken about it. My finished research on Lazdynai is already three years old. There was a lot of interest at the time. Some explored Lazdynai from architectural, others from the social side. The district may seem tedious, but from the perspective of people it is possible to find completely different data than previous studies. In the case of Lazdynai, I chose to interview the people who lived there from the very beginning of the building. Most people seem to live in the past and tend to value their region positively. I called this position “defensive nostalgia”. Residents are defending themselves from the public discourse, drawing on experience gained in the Soviet era and formulated phrases used to present and advertise the micro-district, and presenting the former public discourse as an opinion: an extremely green, forest-enclosed area, buildings adapted to landscape, well-developed infrastructure, buildings are not close to each other. This is still important today. Some recall the old times of the deficit nostalgically as an adventure, because we don’t have it nowadays. If you would still have to make a lot of effort, getting a piece of oilcloth, it wouldn’t be so ridiculous like it was at the time. However, what inhabitants think about their living environment is much more important than what it looks like. The district is, in fact, quite scattered, and many of the former inhabitants of the district still live in good old days of the region’s glory – “It’s like living a fairytale”.

After all, the district was even visited by tourists during the Soviet times.

How often came the tourists, I can not tell you, but they were presented just a little piece of the whole area, a part from the Lazdynai pool to the Erfurto café. After a quick walk, tourists normally had lunch in the Erfurto cafe and then the tourists would usually get back to the buses and be driven around the circle of Lazdynai. Urbanist Jurgis Vanagas has said that there were excursions for delegations specialists, who later borrowed the plan sketch of Lazdynai and wanted to build a similar district in their own country. I have not heard about a finished copy of Lazdynai, but there was an intention of making this idea possible.

Recently, I found an advertising from the 1980’s “Building and Architecture” magazine and I found out that such trips were organised for the locals too. Three tours like this were organized in total in the Lithuanian and Russian languages, organized by the Tourism Office. These trips lasted for about three hours, and it included some other objects, not only Lazdynai were visited. The excursion took place in Lazdynai for only half of the time.

You have mentioned that at the time of the construction of the Lazdynai district due to the uniformity of apartments and the great opportunity to get lost, elements of small-scale architecture (fountains, sculptures) played a big role of guide-posts. What significance did small-scale architecture have when designing new residential areas in the Soviet era?

Lazdynai should have been an example of how a micro-district should look like, so to others it was praised: “This is how arranged our environment is, we even have sculptures: we raise the cultural level.” In Soviet times, the “Morning” sculpture was dressed in a shirt, so the government really cared about the sculptures (laughs). However, the most important function of sculptures is being the element of local identification, making a cozier environment and, of course, creating local spirit.

And still, which is a bigger challenge: to convince the student that it is worth learning the history of heritage protection, or to explain to the owner of the heritage object that the building is valuable?

Of course, it’s easier to convince students, because studies are their conscious choice. Meanwhile, if a living object was chosen deliberately, it is not necessarily valued by the owner of the object. While persuading, you try to just exhort till it’s impossible to say no (laughs), motivate, show examples, tell why it’s unique. However, the most often proof of value is a compromise. In one case, we were able to save wooden window frames. When they came to see the object, they said, “Oh God, who came up with such a illogical idea to leave it as it is?” In these type of cases, it is very difficult to come up with a motivational speech. Sometimes you can pretend to be a crazy heritage-saver and then something can be saved.

Viltė Janušauskaitė©Julija Tamulevičiūtė

Paskelbta: December 30, 2017

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