Art installation and community space employing nature-based solutions in Vilnius Old Town
Nature’s Library is a circular steel and chain installation designed for a courtyard in an Augustinian monastery in Vilnius Old Town. The structure will channel rain to modular plant beds that form its base, where residents will be encouraged to grow herbs, spices and local plants. The aim is to revive this derelict part of the monastery through community engagement, and make it a living natural library that will change with the weather and seasons.
It refers to a physical transformation of the built environment (hard investment)
As individual(s) in partnership with organisation(s)
First name: Ignas Last name: Kazlauskas Gender: Male Please describe the type of organization(s) you work in partnership with: The Lithuanian Social Innovation Cluster, NGO Age: 26 Please attach a copy of your national ID/residence card:
By ticking this box, I certify that the information regarding my age is factually correct. : Yes Nationality: Lithuania Address (country of permanent residence for individuals or address of the organisation)<br/>Street and number: Zverinciaus st. 28 Town: Birstonas Postal code: LT59203 Country: Lithuania Direct Tel:+370 673 00729 E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
The installation aims to revitalise a historic inner courtyard in the Old Town of Vilnius and reveal its heritage and identity through the involvement of the local community and the use of nature-based solutions. The courtyard is situated in a unique Augustinian monastery ensemble with diverse community groups coexisting within the territory - a university, a gymnasium, a nursery, local residents, a police orchestra and a chapel.
The frame of the circle-shaped installation is constructed using weathered steel components that hold dozens of metal chains, acting as rain downpours and creating a permeable veil around the inner space. The open structure will sensitively blend into the existing space and create a meditative, intimate environment inside it. At the same time, it will serve as an NBS element, collecting rain from the surrounding buildings and directing it to modular plant beds that form the base of the installation. The plant beds would consist of 17 identical modules with perforated bottoms. Top components of the structure, serving as rain collection channels, will be assembled from smaller pieces, aiming to keep the construction process as simple as possible and maximise the mobility of the installation.
The plant beds will be used to grow different kinds of flowers and shrubs, typically used to make traditional local decorations - Easter palms, thus celebrating the authentic local tradition of the Vilnius region. This way the vegetation will not only contribute to managing the rainwater and improving the local microclimate but will also perform an educational function, turning the installation into a living natural library that will be different depending on the time of the year or weather conditions.
The installation aims to involve the surrounding community as much as possible, inviting people to plant flowers, reuse the collected rainwater, and organise educational or other activities in the newly created space.
Revival of a derelict space through community engagement
Education through nature-based solutions
The circularity of stormwater
Sense of belonging through local traditions
The old town is a compact and vibrant part of Vilnius, but like many other old towns in Europe, it has an insufficient amount of quality green spaces and green infrastructure. The school and nursery surrounding the Augustinian monastery ensemble lack outdoor learning opportunities or quieter outdoor activity spaces for children. Also, the residents living around the site complain about the pedestrian areas flooding after heavy rains each year.
One of the main focuses throughout the installation’s development was to respond to the current environmental issues presented by the site by employing NBS and establishing a new, self-sustaining green space, while also paying close attention to the existing historic context and the installation's educational role on the principles of circularity.
The installation will provide a sustainable water management system, which will allow to collect and redirect the rainwater from the adjacent roofs. This will help to lower the pressure on the site's drainage system and subsequently avoid flooding. The rainwater will be directed through several levels of weathered steel arches of the installation, part of it will be collected and used to irrigate tea leaves and herbs grown by the local community. This process will also act as a primary water treatment, after which the water can be diverted to further filtration facilities and used for tea or other purposes by tenants of the church building, taking an important step towards the development of the territory’s circular ecosystem. Plants and water will create new natural habitats, increase biodiversity and regulate microclimate.
The primary objective here is not necessarily to produce tangible change (e.g., managing flood risk), but to help citizens realise the goals they might find worthwhile to pursue. By exploring the space and elements in the installation, visitors will learn the principles of sustainable and circular rainwater management, ecology and green infrastructure.
Augustinian monastery ensemble has gone through many changes in the past, and today the variety of styles, colours and historic layers are still visible and embedded on the site. The church, sitting next to the proposed Nature’s Library, experienced industrial transformation during the Soviet occupation when it was turned into a vegetable warehouse. The installation seeks to reflect this difficult and ruthless industrial period through its materiality, by use of corten steel for the fabrication of the installation’s structure and base modules.
On the other hand, the values cherished by the Augustine monastery - the harmony of the heavenly and earthly worlds and the desire for continuous improvement through learning and knowledge of nature, - as well as the colours and uplifting mood of Baroque, will be conveyed through the installation’s spatial composition and the colourful planting. The layout of the installation is based on a grid of 24 sections, reflecting the radius of the church’s apse. The plant selection and their curated arrangement will reference both the former botanical garden which existed in the middle of the complex and the large Augustinian library that operated in the monastery centuries ago. Thus, the overall spatial intervention will highlight the intangible value of the monastery's mixed cultural identity associated with both its mediaeval and soviet history and will help better represent this juxtaposition on the exterior of the church.
The installation will create a clear focal point in the heart of the site and will invite the community and visitors to come and interact. Natural elements of trickling rainwater and lush vegetation will create a meditative space, pleasant to spend time in, meet people and participate in various informal events. Aesthetical experience is the natural result of this careful design working in synchronicity with the unique historical background of the site.
The development of the project has involved various groups of the society: government, public institutions, Vilnius city municipality, non-governmental and non-profit organisations, educational institutions and other organisations, the religious community, private businesses, local residents and the general urban population. Nature’s Library aims to bring all of these people from various backgrounds and different age groups together through education about nature and participation in creating nature-based solutions.
Installation’s users will not be just passive spectators but will become part of its circular ecosystem. They will be able to contribute to the planting and care of the vegetation, pick spices and herb leaves growing on different parts of the installation and use them at home or make tea at the nearby café.
During the construction of the installation, workshops would be held in stages to involve members of different community groups. Plant modules would be implemented together with the local community and children from the adjacent nursery and gymnasium. This includes not only the planting itself but also making decisions on the layout and species of the plants. The exact uses for collected rainwater would also be decided together with the tenants from the surrounding buildings.
The installation will serve as a good example, combining the themes of community involvement, reuse, sustainable development in cities, and education. The facility will encourage different interested parties and the community to regain a sense of belonging to this space and meet in a neutral environment and continue discussions about the future of the Augustinian complex. The created aspects of sharing and cyclicality will help to create a vision of the future taking into account the complex needs of the modern city - social, economic and, of course, environmental. As one of the few small steps, the installation will help the Augustinian complex communicate its aspirations and values, and spread ideas in the city.
The installation will provide these different inclusion and engagement opportunities:
- use of the grown vegetables, spices and herbs for various purposes (residents, church cafe, nursery, gymnasium)
- use of the collected rainwater for different purposes
- developing knowledge of nature and learning how to grow vegetables and plants (nursery or gymnasium)
- learning how to make traditional Vilnius Easter palms and wreaths (local and wider community)
- space for local community to meet and interact, organise communal lunches, yoga, readings and other activities (nursery, gymnasium, church community, residents, university students etc.)
The installation is part of the urban revival strategy of Augustine monastery ensemble that is being implemented by a small NGO, The Lithuanian Social Innovation Cluster (LSIC). Together with its partners, LSIC hopes to reactivate the ensemble, strengthen its local community and make it a vibrant part of the surrounding territory.
The uniqueness of this project is the wide diversity of property owners, administrators, participants and interested parties representing all sectors of society: public governmental institutions, Vilnius city municipality, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, religious community, private businesses and city residents. At the beginning of the project, the most important task for all interested parties was to name their expectations and needs and it was done through a number of workshops, surveys and consultations. In order to collect different opinions and expectations, three creative workshops were organized and an invitation was issued for artists to create ideas for artistic interventions for the activation of the cultural heritage
Even though the concept of the project was mainly conceived through architectural design there was a considerable number of specialists from different fields that contributed to the development of the idea. Experts, representatives of organizations, artists, volunteers, and community representatives actively participated in workshops and other activities.
A significant amount of information that informed the design came from urbanists, heritage specialists and anthropologists. The urban feasibility study which was carried out set the main development strands and rules for the area. It identified that the existing terrain allows the use of the courtyard space to create a small community space with greenery. In this zone, cultural heritage specialists proposed the rules for the restoration: the style, scale, and materials of the newly installed elements must match the style, scale, and characteristic materials of the entire complex. Without the collaborative work of these different disciplines, it would not have been possible to create a sensitive and authentic solution.
NBS and circularity concepts are still little understood by the general society, not only in Lithuania, but in other EU countries too. Despite that, attempts to bring them closer to people and celebrate them in everyday spaces through a combination of different disciplines such as art, architecture and social innovations are quite rare. Nature’s Library attempts to become an example of how this can be achieved by creatively integrating NBS and circular processes into one's environment. By collecting and reusing rainwater in an architectural manner, the installation visibly demonstrates it to be a valuable resource that energises the aesthetic identity of the place, allows to grow plants and provides water for making tea at the adjacent cafe. Such reuse of rainwater has not previously been explored in the fields of arts or landscape design anywhere else in Lithuania.
Through use of NBS, the installation also offers new pathways to reinterpret heritage and make it relevant for today's users. It not only creates opportunities for new communal activities, but also aims to deepen and reinforce its users' connection with the cultural and natural aspects of its setting by making nature based solutions integral to a variety of ensemble’s day to day processes.
In addition, the monastery regeneration initiative is one of the first efforts of this kind in Lithuania by an NGO to set an example for a truly inclusive and sensitive approach to shaping our shared environment. It aims to defy the norms of local citizen engagement practices and encourage participation in which individuals do not limit themselves to being passive spectators, but are motivated to put their skills at work and challenge themselves to renegotiate their relation to a particular place and fellow community members. By engaging many stakeholders, the process invites us to rethink the meaning of the public/private dichotomy.
If realised, the whole process of how the installation has come about and the way its design seeks to create sustainable relationships with its context on multiple different layers - through sensitive reactivation of derelict space, education on the role of NBS and engagement of the community - would present a very important precedent for a more meaningful and refreshing way to shape our environment, not only in the context of Lithuania but also the wider region of Europe.
It’s important to note that while this process of community participation and the use of circularity can be replicated in diverse contexts around the world, each time the result would differ in its architectural expression according to each different context, but would still maintain the core sustainability and inclusion principles described in this project’s methodology.
To protect the health of our planet and our public health, it is crucial to integrate sustainability into our everyday environment and develop it as an educational space. As mentioned before, environmental sustainability, including circularity, has been the driving idea behind the installation's design. By exploring the space and elements in the installation, visitors will learn the principles of sustainable and circular rainwater management, ecology and green infrastructure.
Another big challenge in the current practices of urban development around the world is the lack of inclusive processes ensuring that different stakeholders' needs are met. The project would be an example of derelict urban space revival through the inclusion of the community. Inclusion is the main reason why the installation was initiated in the first place: engagement of the local community and creation of a thriving, self-sustaining shared sense of ownership with its surrounding environment has been the underlying cause and the overarching principle of the wider initiative that is behind the revival of the monastery ensemble.