In Ukraine, Architecture Embodies Hope and Resilience

The Center for Architecture sheds light on the short- and long-term reconstruction efforts unfolding within Ukraine, from modular furniture to accommodate the displaced to documenting destroyed buildings in painstaking detail.

A dormitory in Ivano-Frankivsk as part of the Co-Haty pilot project. Photography by Anastasiia Kubert

It’s difficult to grasp the full extent of devastation unfolding in Ukraine, even as Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country pushes into its third year. A recent New York Times investigation revealed that a staggering 210,000 buildings—including 106 hospitals, 109 churches, and 708 schools—have been damaged or destroyed by Russian offenses, and that only represents regions where data is readily available. Despite the ongoing threats against Ukrainians’ lives, ecology, and culture, civilians haven’t lost hope. A rising generation is reimagining ideals of home and employing design thinking to support grassroots reconstruction efforts as an act of resilience, even as their future remains uncertain.

More than a dozen examples are brought to light in “Constructing Hope: Ukraine,” an exhibition at the Center for Architecture in Manhattan. They range in scale from modular furniture and housing for internally displaced people to detailed documentation of destroyed buildings. MetaLab, a Ukrainian NGO that provides affordable housing and community workshops, is spearheading an initiative called Co-Haty that converts unused buildings into homes for the displaced and provides modular, ready-to-assemble wooden beds. “In circumstances of life-threatening danger and uncertainty, it’s especially evident how crucial each persons’s choices are,” MetaLab states on an exhibition placard that accompanies a bed prototype. “What we care about and how we care about it, what we believe in, and where we invest our resources shape a society’s ability to resist and build something meaningful and lasting.”

“Constructing Hope: Ukraine” at the Center for Architecture in New York, featuring a modular wooden bed as part of Co-Haty’s co-housing project. Photography by Matthew Carasella

One of the show’s heaviest components recreates destroyed homes and vanished communities. Artist collective Prykarpattian Theater asked displaced Ukrainians to create detailed maquettes of the homes they were forced to abandon, which fill the central gallery. They act as anguished testimonies of places to which they may never return, yet temper wartime despair with a sense of hopefulness. Places might be erased, but as they archive them, the memories embodied are eternal.

That sense of resilience is echoed in the show’s graphic identity, conceived by Ukrainian illustrator Aliona Solomadina. Since the invasion, Ukrainians have taped their windows—one of the most vulnerable components of architecture—in intricate, crisscrossing patterns to protect them from shattering glass during explosions. Gaping windows render buildings uninhabitable in the winter, and solutions aren’t easy to come by. Production has slumped since Russian offenses have leveled Ukraine’s sheet glass factories, meaning that many rebuilding efforts rely on importing glass from Warsaw. The practical solution of taping windows has become yet another visible symbol of resistance.

“This resilience and mobilization doesn’t come from nowhere,” Sasha Topolnytska, who curated the show with fellow architect Ashley Bigham and artist Betty Roytburd, tells Dwell. “It comes from generations of memories and pain that have been translated verbally and emotionally through people.”

Prykarpattian Theater’s maquettes of abandoned Ukrainian homes and communities. Photography by Matthew Carasella

Constructing Hope: Ukraine” will be on view at Center for Architecture (536 LaGuardia Place, New York) until September 3.

All Stories