Farce and Peril Around “Golden Canopy”

ოქროს ჩარდახის რეაბილიტაციის პრობლემები

Authors: Shorena Laghadze and Tamuna Kimadze

In Kutaisi the 17th-century cultural heritage monument known as the “Golden Canopy” is being renovated. The renovation, costing 1.8 million Georgian Lari (GEL), is being carried out by “Mane Lux” LLC. As part of the agreement, the company was mandated to employ art experts, an architect, and an engineer for the project. Although the relevant contracts have been signed, neither the architect nor the engineer has shown up on the site so far.

Presently, the workers are constructing the roof of the building. The company’s director, Dimitri Mkheidze, is optimistic that they’ll complete the project by the end of January. Interestingly, despite the near completion of the work, the engineer and architect hired by the company haven’t inspected it yet.

Our research revealed that the company signed the contracts with these specialists primarily to fulfil the requirements set by the Kutaisi City Hall. In reality, the engineer and architect are not familiar with the project documents.

On December 21, we contacted the architect Giorgi Ghudushauri, who had been hired by “Mane Lux” for the project on September 22. We found his contract with the company in the tender system. Ghudushauri responded: “Who are they? Whose company is it? Mane Lux? I can’t remember.” We clarified that he had signed a contract with the company to work as an architect. After that, he mentioned that although he is supposed to be working with them, they haven’t reached out to him yet. He added that they would contact him if they had any questions.

We had a similar experience with Sergo Rukhadze, a Kutaisi-based engineer. The company had contracted him for consultation services. In a phone conversation, Rukhadze admitted he didn’t have much knowledge about the monument and wasn’t well-versed in the matter. “We have an agreement, our people are there, but the person leading the renovation is different. I don’t know the project so much, only the roof. I am from Kutaisi, but to be honest, I have not been on the site yet. I’m not fully aware, but if something happens, they will call me and tell me,” explained Rukhadze during our conversation.

ჩარდახის რეაბილიტაცია
Ongoing works on “Golden Canopy”, 21 December 2023

It appears ‘Mane Lux’ entered into contracts with these individuals to meet tender requirements rather than out of genuine need for assistance. “The applicant must have at least one specialist with the education of architect-restorer, architect, art expert, and engineer-builder. Copies of ID cards and diplomas of these specialists must be uploaded in the unified electronic system, as well as a copy of the employment contract signed with the mentioned persons, confirming their work with the supplier, must be submitted,” – states the technical requirements of the project established by the Kutaisi City Hall.

On December 21, we visited the “Golden Canopy.” Our goal was to inquire with the workers about who was overseeing the project and if anyone had been monitoring their progress. Unfortunately, we were denied access to the construction area, and no direct supervisor of the works was found on-site. Apparently, the company’s director had just left when we arrived. As we were denied entry into the yard of the building, one of the workers, speaking from the other side of the fence, informed us that a group of five women had arrived recently, although their names were unknown for him.

“[Art experts] come, I don’t know them. Five women arrived, but we did not let them inside. It’s a restricted area, and the only person allowed here is the deputy minister from Tbilisi; only he enters the site, no one else.”

Zviad Berekashvili, a professional art critic, is among the individuals with whom “Mane Lux” has entered into a contract. Our attempt to interview him on December 21 at 14:48 was unsuccessful, as his mobile phone was switched off. However, he later contacted us at 17:03. It’s noteworthy that during this time frame, we successfully conducted interviews with the director of the company and the workers involved in the project. The director was already aware that we had spoken to both the architect and the engineer, and we did not withhold any information regarding their responses from him.

ოქროს ჩარდახი
Rehabilitation of “Golden Canopy”, 14 December 2023, Photo by Nia Kharadze

Zviad Berekashvili told us he visited the project site and provided consulting services to the company. We inquired several times about what kind of recommendations he offered; however, he did not specify. He told us it was New Year’s; he was busy, and we could meet and talk later regarding the details.

While “Mane Lux” has uploaded contracts with these specialists in the tender system, questions arose about how the company substantiates the specialists’ actual involvement in the project. When we posed this inquiry to the company’s director, Dimitri Mkheidze, he explained: “I need specialists for consultation; they come and advise me. Why should they hand over reports to you? Have you asked to be provided with any research documents?”

When pressed about the public nature of these documents and where one could access them, Mkheidze responded, “Why should research be public? Where should I publish them? I haven’t submitted a single report to the City Hall; I am not accountable in that respect.”

When we brought up the statements made by the contracted specialist, Giorgi Ghudushauri, who mentioned not having visited the project site and initially couldn’t recall “Mane Lux,” Dimitri Mkheidze responded: “He is mistaken, is he reporting to you now? How he would have responded is up to him; it is his opinion if he had said it. Leave that person alone.”

Emphasizing the importance of having specialists on-site and actively participating in the project, Mkheidze reiterated the company’s commitment to meaningful engagement. In an interview with “Kutaisipost” on October 6, at the project’s outset, he stated, “This is how the process of building this monument was going; it was unthinkable to do it like this. It was completely losing authenticity, but now we got involved. Currently, the project is the same as it was before; there are constructors and architects on the ground; we have brought our specialists and offer our opinions.”

How did the Rehabilitation Process Go?

Two years ago, Kutaisi City Hall decided to renovate the Hall of the Kings, commonly known as the “Golden Canopy,” through a competitive tender. “MN Project” LLC prepared the restoration-rehabilitation project for 49 thousand GEL. The company enlisted art historian Lali Andronikashvili for historical-architectural research of the project.

ჩარდახის რეაბილიტაცია
Rehabilitation of “Golden Canopy”, 14 December 2023, Photo by Nia Kharadze

Art critics, cultural researchers, and architects criticized the project. An initiative group to save the “Golden Canopy” was also created. Specialists believed that carrying out the rehabilitation according to the proposed project would significantly alter the monument’s character. They contended that the roof design lacked historical appropriateness, and the project authors failed to provide a clear rationale for choosing this particular style, especially concerning the placement of stone parapets around the tiled roof.

Following the project of the “MN Project” LLC, JSC “Construction Company Ivertmsheni” started restoration-rehabilitation works of the “Golden Canopy” in the spring of 2023. Kutaisi City Hall signed a 955,000 GEL contract with the company in February 2023, according to which the project should have been completed by December. However, due to the delays, the City Hall terminated the contract with the company and announced a new tender.

After an unsuccessful second attempt to secure a suitable company, in September 2023, “Mane Lux” LLC won the tender. The tender commission meeting minutes reveal two bidders for the project. The initial bidder proposed 3.7 million GEL for the building’s rehabilitation, while “Mane Lux” committed to completing the work for 1.8 million GEL. The City Hall signed a contract with “Mane Lux” on October 13, 2023.

Before this project, “Mane Lux” had the experience of working on two cultural heritage monuments. The company served as a subcontractor for “Dagi” LLC during the restoration of the N1 public school in Zestafoni and contributed to the restoration of cultural heritage monuments along Agmashenebeli street in Poti.

In the end, the parapet, which specialists and citizens of Kutaisi protested, will still be installed on the building.

On October 9, Dimitri Chkhaidze, the director of “Mane Lux” LLC, shared with iFact: “You can’t say anything in advance. When the monument is opened, we’ll remove the roof and assess which parts are authentic, and only then can we determine if the parapet should be built. If it’s not necessary, it won’t be. We can’t decide anything; we are builders.”

ჩარდახის რეაბილიტაცია
Rehabilitation of “Golden Canopy”, December 2023, Photo by Nia Kharadze

However, in a subsequent interaction, Chkhaidze offered a different perspective, asserting the necessity of the parapet for structural reinforcement: “It was necessary because it would bind the building; otherwise, it would collapse on us. Even now, if you put your hand on any stone, it shakes. It has been unattended for so long; the stones and everything are damaged. This building needed a belt to strengthen and tie it together. I don’t decide on the visual side; whatever they tell us, they give us a project, and I execute it.”

“The parapet is intended for the sake of beauty. A stone should be attached to it from the side. It should retain the stone and keep the wall beautiful”, explained the worker in the yard.

Back in May, during our conversation, Nina Grikurova, one of the project authors, also believed that the belt and parapet would add pomp and grandeur to the building.

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