- Many historical buildings have been facing the danger of destruction in Armenia’s 2802-year-old capitalYerevan for 2 decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Instead of being rebuilt, some of pre-soviet and soviet-time buildings were demolished without any public discussion, sparking a wave of public protests.
- ProfAl, an Armenian organization and a leader among manufacturers initiated the “ProfEye Challenge”, the aim of which was to preserve the historical features of Yerevan, unite the state, the professional community, the business sector, the media, and the wider public.
- “ProfEye Challenge” has been implemented through various communication tools, involving 500 thousand people.
Problem or Opportunity
- Through rapid economic growth of the 2000s, the construction boom began and covered the reconstruction of the historic center of Yerevan. The process of mass modernization of the city attracted investments. Application of modern architectural trends resulted in changing the former architectural and urban features of Yerevan. The older buildings are still viable and preserve their historical significance. Most of them have to be rebuilt urgently.
- Due to previous unsuccessful attempts and lack of trust, any project that tried to rebuild historical structures was criticized. ProfAl, one of the most reputable local companies in the field of manufacture, organized and implemented the “ProfEye Challenge” campaign, intending to unite different stakeholders on the issue and create a culture of professional and public discussion.
- One of the goals of the “ProfEye Challenge” campaign was to make historical monuments of Yerevan and other cities recognizable, to increase the involvement and participation of the society in their reconstruction process, and draw the attention of investors to the projects aimed at the reconstruction.
- In its 20 years of existence on the Armenian market, ProfAL has participated in the major reconstruction projects, such as Zvartnots International Airport, the Cascade Complex, and Ararat Brandy Factory. Since 2013 ProfAl has been entering the markets of Saudi Arabia, Russia, Georgia, the UAE, Europe and USA.
- ProfAl supported UNDP Global Environmental Fund’s ”Generate Global Environmental Benefits through Environmental Education and Raising Awareness of Stakeholders” project in partnership with the Ministry of Environmental Protection of Armenia. As a responsible business, it has implemented several projects, aimed at development of the sector, and has numerous certificates for its CSR programs.
- Before the “ProfEye Challenge” campaign, media monitoring was carried out, the public media discourse on the reconstruction of historic buildings in the last 5 years was analyzed, the public opinion, the expectations, and demands on the issue were revealed, and potential development opportunities were assessed. One of the goals of the project was to change public perceptions: the analysis revealed distrust and unjustified expectations related to reconstruction programs.
- Previous attempts to reconstruct the historical and cultural buildings have been studied. Most positive feedback was for the projects, which had been carried out with public discussion before the implementation.
- In-depth interviews with urban planning experts, architects and designers have been carried out. They are not only a target audience for the campaign, but also opinion leaders in the society and important mediators of communication for the issue.
- Many historical buildings today belong and are operated by the private sector. To reach the vision of the project, in-depth interviews were conducted with business representatives who are among the target audiences of the project as potential investors.
- As part of ProfEye Challenge, a list of historical and cultural buildings were selected, the first challenge was the Press House, a legacy of Soviet urban planning that united many media outlets under its roof for decades. The justification for choosing the press house was conditioned by the public significance of the building, its architectural solutions, and high-rise buildings, which provide plenty of creative approaches for specialists participating in the challenge.
- Today the Press House functions as a business center with news agencies as the main residents. Therefore, the media had a two-way involvement in this project, being the primary target audience of it and a beneficiary.
- The Double Tree by Hilton Hotel was built in the area of the reconstructed Circus building, which together with the Press House is the most dominant building in the area, but this trio is not in architectural harmony. The task was to preserve the former appearance of the building, the architectural details as much as possible, and offer a new design for the reconstruction of the building in harmony with the modern buildings around.
- Based on the research data and the elaborated program, the urgency and necessity of the campaign were substantiated, and the relevant structures, the RA Urban Development Committee, and the RA State Property Management Committee joined the “Challenge”. The latter also owns the Press House.
- The old buildings of Yerevan, which have the official status of historical and cultural buildings, are included in the list of historical monuments of Yerevan. They are protected by the legislation from demolition or reconstruction. Though the Press House is a significant structure in the public consciousness, it does not have any of the above-mentioned statuses, so it is vulnerable for bold architectural experiments.
- As a result of transition from the planned economy to market economy, many customers emerged with their interests and ambitions. The former public commission system was divided into many smaller entities. For objective and subjective reasons, the design method, the legislative field and the regulatory framework, the relations between the designer and the customer have not changed.
- “ProfEye Challenge”’s goal is the creation of a new culture of dialogue between the public, governmental agencies, project implementers, companies, and professionals. It emphasizes the need for public sector representatives to raise their image as public opinion leaders.
- ProfEye Challenge by ProfAl was an unprecedented campaign. It was the first step in shaping the culture of presenting architectural ideas to public approval.
- The main emphasis was on motivating the professional community, activating them and raising their reputation, as the ProfEye Challenge is a unique platform for them to bring ideas to life, to re-introduce themselves to the public with their architectural vision and have their voices in reconstruction projects.
- The Challenge started with a joint press conference of “ProfAl” and the RA State Committee on Urban Development, with the participation of the State Property Management Committee, media and architects. The press conference was unprecedented, as the professional community and representatives of state agencies were available for the media. This was also an exceptional opportunity for the authorities formed as a result of the velvet revolution (2018) to establish a ground for the public discussions on such important issues and make a platform for the decisions based on the consensus of all stakeholders.
- As the media had a double engagement: as a target audience and stakeholder, its response to the project was quite large. The media also had the right to vote and to have a media-approved project nomination, which emphasized the role of the media in public discussions. Each editorial office had one vote. 84 media organizations took part in the voting (more than 70% of media outlets operating in Armenia).
- 14 leading architectural companies, individual designers and architects took part in the project. The results were officially summarized in a special event with the participation of all participants, winners and media representatives. The first 3 winning projects were the projects selected by the public through open voting, the other two were the projects approved by the Urban Development Committee and the media.
- ProfAL’s website served as a tool where the ProfEye Challenge platform was created. There the wider public had the opportunity to vote in favor of the project, seeing the drawings and descriptions of the projects. The wider audience was involved in the voting through the media, mobile tools (Viber notifications, SMS) and social networks.
- All the winners were awarded a business trip to Alumil, one of the world’s leading organizations in Thessaloniki, where they had an opportunity to get acquainted with the latest technologies, share their experience and discuss their projects with leading professionals
- “ProfEye Challenge” Integrated communications campaign brought more awareness, raised the issues of preservation, restoration and modernization of the historical and cultural features of Yerevan, together with all stakeholders, including public organizations, individuals, businesses, media and the general public.
- For the first time, such an integrated program was implemented in Armenia in the field of urban development, and it is a unique case to be driven by a private company, not by the government. ∙ Today, the government is actively looking for potential investors for the reconstruction of the Press House, which is presented in a public discussion with 5 projects that have already been approved by a coalition.
- The project received great response from the Diaspora. One of the most famous Armenian architects in the USA offered a prize for the next campaign.
- Integrated use of traditional and new media helped reach over half a million people, 85% of which were from Yerevan and 15% from the regions. There was also involvement from the Diaspora, for which the theme is very sensitive and can include potential investors.
- After the project was completed, one of Armenia’s largest businesses offered ProfAl the renovation of its Shopping Gallery in one of the busiest and most crowded parts of Yerevan’s small center. As the landscaping area was not a historical site, the new “ProfEye for the Business” project was created.
- The attitude of society towards the professional community is changing, the level of public awareness about local architects is increasing, which is measurable by the number of offers of the companies and individuals who have actively participated in the Challenge.
- From the Media’s perspective ProfAl is now viewed as the newsmaker and is considered an “expert” in reconstruction of historical buildings and the reflection of architectural themes.
- After the campaign, the professional community was united around ProfAl and formed the architects’ and designers’ club, which will deal with the development of the sector, implement educational projects, raise the issue of the preservation of cultural heritage and increase the involvement of the professional community in these issues (67 professionals have joined the club)
- The follow-up projects after the Challenge, the formation of the Club, which creates a community vision that respects the prudent use of historical heritage and ensures the integrity of the professional community, gave sustainability to the project.