Gyumri Friendship Park
the New Landmark of the City

The reconstructed Friendship Park will become a new modern public venue and will be open all year round.
Gyumri Friendship Park is one of the rare green areas of the city which over time has lost its significance as a public venue. However, it will be fully reconstructed in near future. The design concept has been developed with active involvement of Gyumri residents. By the way, the architects have created the design based on the memories and perceptions of the Gyumri people.
The arks of the Friendship Park entrance. Photo credit: Vahan Tumasyan’s private archive.
The road linking Kumayri – the historical center of Gyumri - and the districts formed after the earthquake passes through an interjacent area. Over the past years, tourists have passed it by. The city's old-timers called it Antar (the Armenian translation for forest) insisting that there were parks and a forest in this place before the construction boom in the 1960s.

Here, in the vicinity of a square linking the 5 streets, a public venue has been formed as a logical continuation of the forest. It has been dubbed with different names. The latest one, the Friendship Park, has been forgotten by the locals.

The park has had different names which evidences existence of different memory strata. It was called the Textile's Park as was adjacent to the textile factory. Then it became the Youth Park – again related to the function of the venue: this is a place of students' leisure. Depending on its role, it was also called the Forests' Park or Antaravan (Forest City), Aznavour Square Park or Round Park, Manushyan Park.

In the 70s, the park has been completely formed and had carousels, an amphitheater and a stage for the progressive youth and rock bands. It was also a venue of dating with the Russian beauties who had been sent to the textile factory as workers.

On the photo: The arks of the Friendship Park entrance. Photo credit: Vahan Tumasyan's private archive.
The official entrance of the park was in front of the former Shirak Hotel. The arks of the park are still there. Unfortunately, we didn't manage to find out their establishment date and the architect. However, the authors of the concept assure the arks will be preserved, and new solutions for the decoration of the entrance arks will be developed by the Gyumri artists every year.
Vahan Tumasyan
President of Shirak Centre NGO
Karen Khachatryan
actor and director
Narine Hambaryan
After the earthquake, the park was one of the places where the makeshift small houses ("domiks") could be installed like in other green areas of the city. N11 general school was temporarily located here. Even until recently one could see the new generations of the Gyumri residents deprived of their homes by the earthquake living in those half-destroyed shacks.

In 2018, IDeA Foundation decided to reconstruct the park and jointly with Aznavour Foundation and Fund for Armenian Relief provided apartments to the remaining 20 residents of the shacks, meeting their demands and wishes, followed by studies, public discussions and activities for development of a participatory design concept of the park.
Gyumri Friendship Park reconstruction project is implemented by Tourism and Urbanism Foundation (TUF) which has been implementing all the tourism and urban development projects of Initiatives of Development of Armenia (IDeA) Foundation since July 2020.

The draft project for Gyumri's complex development and reconstruction has also been one of the 5 strategic directions for tourism and urban development within Armenia 2020 Initiative.
"Working with the local youth, we found out their needs and came up with the idea of reconstructing Gyumri Friendship Park as part of a major project. The locals have always stressed the lack of green areas and public venues. While searching for the future green public place, we also wanted to address a major social issue as a primary goal", says Yelena Muradyan, project manager for TUF's Gyumri Development Programme.

The Friendship Park located in the vicinity of the Charles Aznavour Square will not only become a new public venue for Gyumri residents and guests, but will also symbolize the friendship and gratitude with the countries and individuals who have supported the city's rehabilitation after the devastating earthquake in 1988.

The renovated Friendship Park will also develop the infrastructures of the city bridging the historical center of Gyumri, Kumayri, with the industrial and residential districts. To develop the concept of the design, the locals' memories and needs were taken into consideration. They were also given the chance to take part in the process of designing the future park.
The middle-aged residents who recalled the park before the earthquake were the main target of the anthropological study. Yelena Muradyan adds that it would be impossible to implement an effective project in Gyumri without engaging the locals.

Gyumri locals are actively interested and take part in the process in their hometown. It was important for the team of architects to reveal Gyumri's potential and turn it into a practical plan for major social-economic reforms in the city.
The park lies in 7,2 hectares equal to professional football fields. Only a few trees survived in the large area of the park. The small but lush forest has been cut down during the energy crisis in the 90s. However, the landscape study found that over the past 30 years, species of rare expensive bushes have grown in the park without any special care. It was decided to preserve them at any cost.

"The construction company will be assigned a serious task – to operate without major construction equipment in some areas of the park, which means that, on the one hand, we have to fully replace old and obsolete infrastructures under the soil, on the other – we need to preserve the existing flora. 70% of the park will be green", explains Yelena Muradyan.
The panoramic view of the Friendship Park with shacks.
The panoramic view of the Friendship Park after removal of the shacks.
The comprehensive design concept of the park has been developed by Pomp & Circumstance Lab (P&C Lab) bureau of architects which has extensive experience in development of green and public areas.

"The anthropologists of our team were studying the locals living near the park and the very residents of the city to try to create the beneficiary's persona and find out the target of our work. However, it turned out that revealing story of the place is a huge problem as it was lost during the earthquake and we couldn't work with the historical heritage as we did in our previous projects. So, we decided to collect the memories of the period of the park's thriving before the earthquake", says the leader of the team for design concept development of the park, Margarita Asiryan.
The mind map created based on the locals' memories
Due to the pandemic, the project team conducted online discussions with the partners and beneficiaries at the first half of 2020. The information on Gyumri's traditional games and events, Handicrafts and modern art have been reflected in the design concept.

In September 2020, the team developing the design concept visited Gyumri. Through the audio frame and sounds created by Flysound company the residents managed to perceive the environment of the future park. 3-15-year-old Gyumri children took part in a design game creating the kids' playground of their dreams, and the 15-30-year-old young people took part in the designers' game aimed at creation of the sportsground of the park.
"Our goal is to make visitors re-discover the park every time they are here. The park will be multifunctional and inclusive, which means the whole area will be meant for both adults and children", noted Margarita Asiryan.

A part of the park area lies near a children's hospital, the other part is adjacent to the residential buildings. The zoning has been conducted in a way the passive rest area is adjacent to the hospital and the active zone – sports grounds and kids' playgrounds – are located near the residential buildings and are more accessible to the families.
Besides development of the comprehensive design concept, an open international competition was announced for recreational infrastructure elements design of Gyumri Friendship Park in 2020.

Despite the pandemic, the competition received extensive feedback. There were 84 submitted applications from 16 countries and 37 cities including Yerevan, Los Angeles, Montevideo, Dusseldorf, Munich, Teheran, Stockholm, Vilnius, Milan, and Venice. Local architects and 2 consortiums also actively participated in the competition.

The idea of the competition also focused on the symbolic of friendship and cooperation among various nations and countries. As a result, IND Architects won in "Standard Architectural Elements" and "Original Architectural Element" nominations. Based on their proposal, vernissage pavilions and a gardening school will be created and operated in this area. SULIMAN, RAKOVSKAYA & SOFOYAN Studio became the winner of "Urban Furniture" nomination. As a result, they will design special benches in the park.
The Friendship Park will be operating all-year-round, in all the seasons. A guide for international, regional, and local events has been developed which will allow ensuring growth of inbound and outbound tourism in the region. According to this project, Gyumri will host over 200 000 tourists annually.

Despite being home to numerous art schools and a branch of the Academy of Fine Arts, Gyumri doesn't have comfortable exhibition halls. To address this issue, the future park will give the opportunity to artists to showcase their works.
The park will also have specific historical and cultural elements peculiar to Gyumri, e.g., pieces reminding the design of the city's doors and windows and ornaments of benches which will be developed by local artists – Artush Koshtoyan, cross-stone maker Narine Poladyan, and others.

The reconstruction project is implemented in cooperation with public, private, and international organisations as well as with the support of individual philanthropists and partners.

The Armenian government will contribute to renovation of the engineering infrastructures of the park area and adjacent streets, within World Bank's Local Economy and Infrastructure Development Programme. The activities will start in 2021.

The restoration of the Friendship Park will thus introduce a new sustainable model for re-framing and preservation of green and public venues in Armenia. One of the key goals is to create several hundreds of stable jobs and develop new professional skills among the locals.
UPDATE: The Friendship Park construction was officially launched this October.
The first phase of the construction is planned to be completed in September 2022. After this, the park will be partially open for the public.
The park will be fully opened in 2023.