Children of THE Concrete Jungle
Author: Ricardas Blazukas
'Children of The Concrete Jungle' is a text written for T-Square architecture magazine in Kuwait based on a theme of Nostalgia. The author remembers his childhood days and compares built environment to a playground.
Growing up in a ‘concrete jungle’ of social estate blocks in Vilnius (the capital city of post communist Lithuania) seemed natural back then... Today, having had an architectural education the memories of my everyday surroundings as a child have a somewhat different meaning. Driving past Kuwait’s neighbourhoods I see similar environments, which remind me of my childhood. The architecture is different, but it shares the same feeling of a ‘concrete jungle’. Some children grow up playing on streets, derelict construction sites and often find ways to entertain themselves by using things they find in this urban environment. In my eyes then and even now, the built environment acts as a substitute for a boy’s playground. As kids, playing in this concrete estate we had an unspoilt chance to explore architecture in real scale. This neighbourhood was our ‘fort’ and we knew every single corner of it.
As children, the places that we were not allowed to go to were the ones we wanted to explore the most. There was a small broken window under one of the ground floor balconies with access to a storeroom in the basement. The storeroom was occupied with a staircase leading down to an underground sewage system. As kids, we had the advantage of being able to slip through small spaces. We would often grab our parents’ flashlights and disappear to explore the dark tunnels located right under our own homes. These dark tunnels were only a small part of the whole tunnel system under the entire city of Vilnius. At the time, this experience of exploring such unusual and forbidden spaces felt thrilling and exciting. However, being an architect and remembering these childhood moments today makes me more cautious and considerate about designing spaces for people.
If I had to grow up in Kuwait, I would probably have had a similar environment around me shaping my childhood. Just like in Vilnius, there are many derelict buildings and abandoned construction sites in Kuwait that are easily accessible and tempting for kids to go and play in. For example, I remember mastic sealant being one of our favourite toys, which we would pull out from in between concrete panels and throw it at our neighbours’ windows. It would stick to the window for a few moments and then slowly peel off as my friends and I watched...
Typical winters in Lithuania are cold, frosty and full of snow, reaching down to -25C. Abandoned building sites often acted as sheltered playgrounds to hide from body shivering temperatures and snow. My friends and I would go there to play with construction tools and equipment. One of the more exciting finds was the styrofoam insulation panels layered with a sheet of aluminium. We used these insulation panels to sleigh down from the neighbouring hills at thrilling speeds.
As a child, I always had the desire to be above – either sitting on my father’s arms, hiding and observing from atop the furniture at home or even enjoying bird’s eye views from rooftops overlooking neighbouring areas. The latter was a popular attraction for local kids to climb up to and hang out. The squeaky ladders that we had to climb would often awaken tenants who would sometimes chase us away. Their main concern was our safety, but also the damage we would do to the asphalt roofing causing rainwater to drip off their ceilings. The rooftops being nine or fifteen storeys up were amazing hiding spots and had wonderful views out. Back then it was all about fun and breaking boundaries to us – children of the ‘concrete jungle’.
Today, working as an architect at PACE and considering various materials for our designed buildings, I often have flashbacks of touching the pebbled surface of precast concrete walls of my childhood estate. Back then it meant nothing to me, but today it somehow feels important. Growing up in a place like that has strongly formed my identity; these memories were always my main architectural inspiration throughout my university projects and professional work. This ‘concrete jungle’ might have been just another residential project to the architects, but to me every single corner of the estate was part of my upbringing. Growing up in an urban environment like this was full of thrills and danger, but I find these memories extraordinary; it is the reality of what architects should consider for better or for worse when designing spaces, places and cities…