Last week, we were stoked to see the architecture of Kaunas featured on Facebook page called Art Deco and Modernism around the World. After a comprehensive blog post called ‘Kaunas Modernism Part One’ by the same author that runs the page we couldn’t help but ask him some questions! Meet Adrian Whittle, a Londoner that took early retirement from work in local government last year and now spends his time on traveling, reading, listening to jazz music and going to concerts. Blogging, too! He has just come back home after a short trip to Kaunas. We think he might visit us again...
Hi Adrian! Before we talk about your trip to Kaunas, could you tell us when and how your interest in art deco and modernist architecture started?
I have always liked architecture from the 1930s due mainly to its enduring modernity, even 80 years after it was built. I became more interested about ten years ago when I began to travel more and realised that there are examples of the style all over the world.
How did you decide to start a blog about it? How much of your time does the Facebook page take?
I began to write my Adrian Yekkes blog at Christmas 2011 when I was bored! It began as a hobby but I have been writing for 6 years now and try to write one piece each week. I like photography and travel and the blog is a good way of recording and sharing experiences. The buildings I write about often have interesting stories attached to them. The stories give the architecture some context and people seem to enjoy them.
The Facebook page is more focussed on photographs of Art Deco and modernist buildings and giving a few details about the architect and dates of construction. It takes perhaps a couple of hours each week to upload the photographs, keep track on the number of hits and to reply to questions and comments. Sometimes people send me pictures of buildings in their own city and I try to include them on the page.
Both the blog and the Facebook page have surprised me by the amount of interest they have received. This has included a few requests to write articles for architectural and cultural magazines which is very nice.
Which regions are you particularly interested in?
Central and Eastern Europe have a lot of great modernist buildings, although many have them have been neglected and are at risk. Belgrade and Bucharest have some wonderful buildings in this style whilst in Prague an entire housing estate was built in the modernist style in the 1930’s and it is possible to visit it today. My favourite city is Tel-Aviv which has about 4,000 modernist buildings, great beaches, fabulous cakes (!) and a great cultural scene.
Do your travel destinations coincide with art deco and modernist architecture-saturated areas?
A lot of the places I visit have a significant amount of Art Deco and modernist buildings but I love travel generally and choose destinations for a number of reasons. I really enjoy photography so opportunities for taking good pictures is important to me. I’ve recently started photographing people more which is very different to architectural photography. Earlier this year I was in Guatemala and Myanmar - both beautiful countries with interesting cultures and examples of modernist architecture!
When and how did you first learn about the interwar architecture of Kaunas?
A couple of years ago, an Australian friend told me about the Kaunas Modernism Facebook group. I had heard that the city had some great modernist architecture but I hadn’t realised the extent of it. I soon added Kaunas to my list of cities to visit!
Was this your first trip to Kaunas? What made you choose the particular time of the trip?
Yes, this was my first visit to the city, although I have been to Vilnius before - some years ago. I wanted to come during the summer to see the buildings in good light. The flight from London is just 2.5 hours so it is easy to get to Kaunas. It is easy to walk around the centre of the city and to fit in a lot of things in a few days.
You mentioned a Lithuanian friend on your blog; how did you meet each other and what routes did he suggest for you?
My friend manages the Kaunas Modernism website, so we met there when I asked some questions about the architecture and he encouraged me to visit. He suggested I look at the buildings on and around Laisvės alėja, the collection of buildings on Putvinskio street and the University campus and Sports Hall on and near Radvilėnų street.
Could you compare your initial thoughts about Kaunas and your feelings after the trip?
I enjoyed my short stay in Kaunas. I wasn’t sure what to expect but enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and the informality of the city. I also liked the fact that Kaunas is fairly compact and that it is possible to see a lot of the city on foot. In larger cities, a lot of time can be spent getting from one place to another, this isn’t the case in Kaunas. I arrived thinking that I would spend two and a half days concentrating solely on modernism but was really pleased to be able to enjoy some time in the Old City and in the shops and galleries.
Which buildings in Kaunas are the most appealing to you and why?
I love the Central Post Office, especially its wonderful facade and the references to Lithuanian folk art in the main hall. I like the way the architect combined modernist principles with local artistic tradition. I also liked the Schneider apartment building on Vaidilutės street. I particularly like the asymmetrical facade, the Bauhaus style balconies and the “ladder” feature on the glazed stairwell. I like to imagine how the building must have looked in the 1930’s and to wonder about who lived there, what work they did and what their lives were like in those apartments.
Is there any city you could compare Kaunas to?
Perhaps Brno in the Czech Republic. Brno also has a lot of modernist architecture, baroque churches and good cafes. The city has also made efforts to promote its built heritage.
Apart from modernist architecture, are there any places in Kaunas you’d recommend for fellow travellers?
I visited several places on the Kaunastic Litvak Landscape map including the synagogue, the Sugihara house and a couple of the former synagogues. I enjoyed the M. K. Čiurlionis National museum of art especially the chance to listen to one of the artist’s compositions in the music room. There is also a small but engaging photography museum in the Old Town.
I am a bit of a patisserie fanatic and Ali Šokoladinė on Laisvės is superb - the cakes are like works of art, are delicious and the service was excellent. However, the thing I like doing most of all when traveling is wandering the streets with my camera and Kaunas is a great place to do this, especially on the main avenue but also in the side streets of the Old Town.
Which history or architecture related blogs / Facebook pages do you follow and would recommend for us?
I’ve already mentioned the Kaunas Modernism Facebook page which is excellent. There is also a really good Romanian site (published in English) called Historic Houses of Romania - the author organises guided tours too. The Shanghai Art Deco Facebook page is also very good and Modernism In Metroland, a British site.