In the 11th century, David IV, a medieval king, forged a unified state of Georgia. To this day, he is revered by Georgians as “David the Builder.”
Almost 1,000 years later, Georgia’s newly elected leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, took his oath of inauguration at the tomb of David the Builder.
Since then, President Saakashvili has had mixed success bringing wayward provinces under Tbilisi’s central control.
But he has had more success putting his architectural stamp across his nation in the Southern Caucasus.
Georgia’s American-educated president is shaking up a complacent country, a place that seems like a patch of rural Greece transplanted 1,500 kilometers east to the far shores of the Black Sea.
In Tbilisi, the capital, he has plopped into the city’s ancient heart, an oddly successful, glass and neon “Peace Bridge.”
On a nearby hillside, he has erected a Greco-Roman Presidential Palace, a new city landmark because of its tall, egg-shaped glass dome.
Near the airport, visitors drive past a wavy, all-glass Interior Ministry.
For Kutaisi, Georgia’s second largest city and future legislative capital, President Saakashvili is building a $35 million new Parliament building that looks like a concrete and glass armadillo.
In Batumi, Georgia’s tourist capital, so many zany shaped buildings are rising for hotels and restaurants that some critics cry kitsch.
And strung along an east-west highway joining these cities is a series of see-though police buildings. By using glass for government buildings, the Georgian leader seeks to put into three dimensional form his drive to bring transparency to a nation long ruled behind closed doors.
Generations hence, Georgians may remember President Saakashvili as the nation’s “architect-in-chief.”