Mission

Research

RE:Ukraine Villages seeks to make the restoration process as respectful to the local context as possible and become a lucrative alternative that does not require any additional research for the homeowner. To do this, we had to research the characteristics of Ukrainian rural architecture and develop an algorithm to transform this information into an online constructor for future users.

The first thoughts about the RE:Ukraine Villages project hit us in March 2022, when fighting was still active in the Kyiv region, and information about the destruction of the surrounding villages and towns was coming in from various sources.

 

War can radically change the appearance of our villages – not only due to shelling but also with post-war reconstruction. We knew that recovery would begin immediately after de-occupation and, for obvious reasons, would happen quickly and according to a standardized script. Our team understood that the restoration of an original and characteristic Ukrainian village house is not the obvious path that would be taken and that the majority would want to use a standardized cottage project.

We decided to simplify the reconstruction process and offer the homeowners a ready-made solution. After all, any repair or construction from scratch is a big deal, especially when the need arises suddenly and in wartime conditions. Often this process will affect generations – children will have to rebuild their parents' houses, and this will, of course, influence their decisions.

The first thoughts about the RE:Ukraine Villages project hit us in March 2022, when fighting was still active in the Kyiv region, and information about the destruction of the surrounding villages and towns was coming in from various sources.

 

War can radically change the appearance of our villages – not only due to shelling but also with post-war reconstruction. We knew that recovery would begin immediately after de-occupation and, for obvious reasons, would happen quickly and according to a standardized script. Our team understood that the restoration of an original and characteristic Ukrainian village house is not the obvious path that would be taken and that the majority would want to use a standardized cottage project.

We decided to simplify the reconstruction process and offer the homeowners a ready-made solution. After all, any repair or construction from scratch is a big deal, especially when the need arises suddenly and in wartime conditions. Often this process will affect generations – children will have to rebuild their parents' houses, and this will, of course, influence their decisions.

Our first attempt to collect information for the RE:Ukraine Villages project was the analysis of ads for the sale and rent of rural houses posted on OLX.ua and DOM.RIA websites. This approach made it possible to take a look at real houses from different areas and determine the most popular planning solutions; however, this wasn’t sufficient for a systematic representation of the rural architecture of Ukraine.

 

At first, we decided to investigate all regions of Ukraine at the same time, but in the process we realized that the amount of information is colossal, and the local architectural features of the regions are extremely different. For high-quality work, it was necessary to move consistently. Thus, the Kyiv region became the pilot stage of RE:Ukraine Villages and, at the same time, the foundation for developing the methodology of our research.

 

Also, a vital stage of the process was the determination of the historical period that shaped the modern appearance of village houses. The vast majority of them were built in the post-war period, and up until about the 1960s, village architecture kept its traditional and characteristic image that we all imagine when we talk about rural Ukrainian. However, during the years of post-war reconstruction, the situation began to change. The key factor was the wide availability of industrially produced building materials – bricks, tiles, and slate. However, even at a regional scale, it can be seen that even when using typical materials, the owners of the houses creatively approached their decor.

After World War II, the planning structure of new buildings became more complex, they were built more compactly, window sizes increased, and glazed verandas appeared. New types of outdoor buildings emerged, primarily summer kitchens. It now became possible to increase the size of buildings with the help of extensions.

 

At the beginning of the project, we collected a small library of thematic literature, but most of the books were devoted to traditional architecture, which was characteristic up until the end of the XIX and the first half of the XX centuries. The ‘People's Architectural Creativity of Ukraine’ by V. P. Samoilovych described the houses with which we are working presently and became our greatest asset.

It would not be possible to implement our ideas remotely – the project required field research. In June 2022, the team went on an expedition to the de-occupied villages of the Kyiv region.

 

We chose the village of Moschun, in the Bucha district, as our first destination. However, this location has undergone such significant destruction that there are almost no surviving houses left in it. Friends from the Kyiv Volunteer project came to our aid. They organized humanitarian aid in the Kyiv region and suggested several locations where we should begin. Affected by the occupation, these locations needed help and, at the same time, could become the object of our research.

 

Once we had identified a set of rural house parameters to capture, the team split into small groups that then traveled individually and shared photos and finds. We took pictures and filmed with a drone – this helped to explore the grounds, configurations and sizes of the houses. Sometimes we chatted with the residents of the houses and listened to their stories.

 

Ultimately, during these travels, the RE:Ukraine Villages team visited 17 villages in the Kyiv region. The Chernihiv region and the de-occupied parts of the Slobozhanshchyna are next, followed by the rest of Ukraine.

As we traveled through the villages, we immediately began to see recurring patterns, but at the same time, were impressed by the variety and uniqueness of the decor. Sometimes the difference between villages located nearby was extremely prominent. When we lost count of the modifications of attic windows and eaves, it was decided to settle on the most common options for each of the categories. We singled out the most frequently encountered features, otherwise, the number of configurations of the future online constructor would grow exponentially. The team’s graphic designer drew characteristic elements directly from the photos of the expedition.

 

↳ Roofing
Gable, broken gable, four-gable roofs. The most popular roofing materials:

  • slate
  • metal, sheet metal, corrugated board
  • euro slate, roof tiles

     

   roof.gif

 

↳ Cornice
Almost all houses are decorated with a cornice made of brick or carved wood. Ornaments vary, and simple shapes are popular – rhombuses, triangles, circles.

 

element2.gif

 

↳ Corner elements
Mainly, corner elements are highlighted via color, materials, and decor. Together with the cornice, they form a complete three-dimensional composition.

 

↳ Windows 
The vast majority of window frames are painted white, blue or green. Most commonly, windows are divided into three horizontal segments and two vertical ones.

  element1.gif

 

↳ Decorative elements
Houses of the Kyiv region are rich in decor and ornaments. Among them:

  • rosettes on the gables
  • perforated brick decor
  • decorative glass blocks
  • ornamental cutouts on gables
  • good luck charms
  • carved elements
     

During the development of planning options, our basis became the elongated form that was characteristic of Ukrainian rural houses. The zoning was left optional – the space is divided according to functions without detailed partitions and allows the owners to determine the internal layout of the rooms at their own discretion.

 

We sought to make the project relevant to modern needs and create an online constructor as flexible and adaptable as possible. For this, it was important for us to distinguish, at least intuitively, which construction solutions were dictated by the limitations of time and era, and which are a characteristic feature of a Ukrainian village house. So, while developing the design of the windows, we expanded their sectioning, preserving the original proportion but providing more comfort for modern residents.

 

A separate item in the online constructor gives you the opportunity to add a glazed veranda to the planning, which is an extremely characteristic and functional part of many Ukrainian rural houses. It was also somewhat modernized by changing the slope of the veranda roof, which is now flat with an internal slope.
 

Parallel to the completion of the work on the elements and their blueprints, the development of the RE:Ukraine Villages online constructor continued. Programming its functionality was one of the most technological tasks in the history of balbek bureau.

 

Our 3D modeler created variations of buildings and their components using the Grasshopper visual programming language in the Rhinoceros environment. This approach allows you to change the desired parameter (for example, the width of the house) at any stage of the design, as a result, the remaining elements are adjusted, generating a new version of the model. So, by organizing all the components by categories, we give users the opportunity to customize the houses.

 

The online platform ShapeDiver, with which we were able to connect all the blueprints and plans to the online constructor, gave our team access to their service pro bono.

 

Because this project is non-commercial and experimental for the bureau, and required an unprecedented amount of development, many processes were created on the go during team discussions. The total time spent on the creation of the online constructor was over six months.

 

The Entire Framework development bureau powered the project's technical implementation. They were responsible for the website design, the online constructor interface, backend (Node.js) and frontend (Vue, Nuxt) development, and integrated partner products (ShapeDiver, Queue-Fair) and services (Google Maps, etc.) into the website.

The project's most time-consuming and relatively complex part was creating the right backend architecture: thanks to it, the configurator for each of the following areas can be quickly and comfortably customized, and the system can be scaled. The next most challenging task was to process all possible conditional logic of the steps: what is selected at the current step of the constructor can affect the next ones, limiting or expanding them. These blocks took the most time. The step construction had to be wrapped in a reactive frontend shell, so the user did not have to wait for elements or pages to be updated. 

 

Entire Framework has worked with parametric 3D model processing before, but it was their first time dealing with such an extensive logic of configurator steps. The 3D modeler created parametric models of buildings, which were then loaded into the ShapeDiver part of the project engine and combined with the interface using the backend part. When interacting with the designer's interface, the user "creates" their own data, and the online designer saves and supplements it with visual components (axonometry of buildings). At the end of the process, this data is transferred back to the project to generate a PDF manual.

After embarking upon the first stages of the RE:Ukraine Villages project, our team is now constantly paying attention to the decor in Ukrainian village houses.

 

We aimed to show the versatility of Ukrainian rural architecture and the exceptional organicity of its development. To move away from the stereotypical white plastered ‘khata’, because we are separated from it by at least a century of dramatic architectural changes; offer to look at the intricate details and expand our visual associations with Ukrainian rural architecture. To illuminate what was so familiar and perceived as an unchanging backdrop of our lives until a cruel attempt at its destruction. To converse about distinctions and look for patterns – see them with your own eyes and find them in an array of digital data.

 

The appearance of a modern Ukrainian village was shaped by thousands of personal and collective decisions. Behind every decorative element is the taste of the person who built and planned their home. The freedom to live as you see fit is one of the most distinctive features of the Ukrainian way of life.

 

Our efforts will not be in vain if the RE:Ukraine Villages volunteer project succeeds at simplifying the process of rebuilding or repairing at least one village house, making it our personal contribution to preserving the soul and identity of our villages.

Chernihiv region

We began working on the research of the Chernihiv region in mid-April 2023. After working on a pilot study in the Kyiv region, we decided to involve volunteers in the project.

 

Announcing an open call on social media, we received a significant response from interested individuals who wanted to participate in the field study of rural architecture in Chernihiv region. Among them were local residents who were familiar with the characteristics of this region.

 

The volunteer team consisted of 16 people. Among the tasks they performed were information search and collection, field expeditions and logistics, drawings, 3D modeling, analysis, and typology of decorations.

 

Volunteers went on expeditions, took photos, and measurements, described their impressions of the characteristic features of villages and their architectural peculiarities, and analyzed all elements of buildings. Then, volunteers participated in forming the final selection of building elements and created drawings for further processing in Rhino and Grasshopper software.

We began working on the research of the Chernihiv region in mid-April 2023. After working on a pilot study in the Kyiv region, we decided to involve volunteers in the project.

 

Announcing an open call on social media, we received a significant response from interested individuals who wanted to participate in the field study of rural architecture in Chernihiv region. Among them were local residents who were familiar with the characteristics of this region.

 

The volunteer team consisted of 16 people. Among the tasks they performed were information search and collection, field expeditions and logistics, drawings, 3D modeling, analysis, and typology of decorations.

 

Volunteers went on expeditions, took photos, and measurements, described their impressions of the characteristic features of villages and their architectural peculiarities, and analyzed all elements of buildings. Then, volunteers participated in forming the final selection of building elements and created drawings for further processing in Rhino and Grasshopper software.

To determine the routes for our expeditions, we created a database of villages, incorporating advice from volunteers familiar with the area and villages of architectural interest to us. We also included settlements affected by the occupation of Russian forces.

 

Once we had compiled a list of locations, volunteers divided them among themselves, formed teams, and set off on their journeys. KLO, a gas stations chain, partnered with us for the research expeditions in Chernihiv and the following three regions of Ukraine, providing fuel for the volunteers. In total, volunteers visited and documented 31 villages in the Chernihiv region.

 

According to the volunteers' observations, the sparsity of the population in the region presented the biggest challenge to the research. Often, the houses that were of interest to the researchers stood empty, and we were committed to photographing them only with the owners' permission.

 

The volunteer team was unable to access some desired locations on the list. Villages located along the border with Belarus, where columns of enemy forces had entered Ukrainian territory, were closed to visitors. According to the military, only local residents and their relatives were allowed in. Taking photos in border villages was impossible due to safety reasons. When planning their routes, volunteers marked an approximate line on the map indicating the potential range of Russian artillery strikes.

However, the local people were willing to help with information and, at times, were ready to let volunteers inside, which aided in assessing typical housing layouts. Those who had experienced the occupation were pleased with the volunteers' attention to their homes. It was always gratifying to share family history and take a look at the familiar from a new perspective. This once again reminded us of one of the goals of the RE:Ukraine Villages project – to discover beauty in our everyday surroundings and prevent its destruction.

Chernihiv region is incredibly rich in a variety of decor and ornamentation.

 

One of its most prominent features is the widespread use of wood – according to our observations, the ratio with brick reaches 80/20. This prompted us to expand the available options in the constructor. Thanks to the update, users will have a greater choice of wooden elements compared to brick ones.

  

Highly characteristic of the region is the carved wooden decor. Its figures and forms echo the patterns of local embroidery and the embellishments of ceramic pottery. At the core of these elements lie ancient solar symbols and plant ornaments with their own meanings: the zigzag-shaped symbol of water, “bihunok", was placed above the depiction of plants as a wish for a bountiful harvest, the sign of the ancient Slavic goddess "rozhanytsia" – as a symbol of fertility. In Chernihiv's wooden architecture, there are also ornaments depicting ancient Ukrainian musical instruments (such as the lyre), as well as decor common worldwide – palm trees as symbols of prosperity and flourishing.

We couldn't pass by the most characteristic examples of decor – we photographed them for our collection, but for the constructor, as always, we selected the most typical elements for the region.

  

We saw even more variety in the verandas. More compact than those in Kyiv, they have greater variability – we have included the most typical variations in the constructor.

 

Local houses are also distinguished by bright colors. Yellow, cherry, orange, deep green – among the multitude of combinations, it was difficult to distinguish only four color palettes. The most common colors of local wooden houses are burgundy and green.

An updated dataset has been added to the existing online constructor – now it includes the Chernihiv region and its characteristic decor. Window patterns and their frames, verandas, attics, decorative elements – by following all the steps of the constructor, you can assemble a typical house of the villages in this area.

 

Among the new features is the ability to choose brick decoration for the foundation, which is commonly found in the embellishment of both brick and wooden houses. Additionally, shutters for wooden frames have been added to the constructor. After exploring examples of existing layouts of rural houses in the region, we have expanded the available selection of floor plans by adding more rooms accordingly.

Kharkiv region

The volunteer team approached the expeditions in the Kharkiv region thoroughly, as a part of the region was still in the active phase of the war, and the liberated lands had been under occupation for quite a long time. Planning routes had to be done after consultations with the military, as there were still many uncleared minefields in the de-occupied territories. Traveling there independently without the military and a special volunteer pass was extremely dangerous, so the part of the Kharkiv region turned out to be closed for our research. The list of villages was compiled after consultations with historian Maksym Rosenfeld, who is well-versed in the history of Slobozhanshchyna.

During some of the journeys, volunteers lived in a private house and slept in a bomb shelter in the basement to avoid waking up from air alarms and to stay as focused as possible. Unlike other researched regions, there was constant tension and predictable caution from the locals in Kharkiv Oblast. Also, volunteers hardly encountered elderly people here, who usually shared memories of their own homes. In total, volunteer groups managed to explore 15 villages in the region.

A characteristic feature of the Kharkiv region is its heterogeneity. The historical development of the western, eastern, northern, and southern parts influenced the formation of distinctive and characteristic architecture within the region.

Buildings in the Kharkiv region were mostly constructed with brick. This is due to the rich deposits of red clay and the development of the sugar industry. People here had the resources to build quality and sturdy houses. History also played its role – this multifaceted region was systematically destroyed throughout the 20th century. Wooden houses are found in the northern part of the region, where there are forests – although there are significantly fewer of them, we preserved them in the design to not interrupt this tradition.

The characteristic color palette of the Kharkiv region is a combination of shades of green and blue. Red brick is often adorned with decorative inserts of colored painted bricks – most often white. In general, the decor of local buildings is characterized by simple geometric forms, including diamonds.

The volunteer team approached the expeditions in the Kharkiv region thoroughly, as a part of the region was still in the active phase of the war, and the liberated lands had been under occupation for quite a long time. Planning routes had to be done after consultations with the military, as there were still many uncleared minefields in the de-occupied territories. Traveling there independently without the military and a special volunteer pass was extremely dangerous, so the part of the Kharkiv region turned out to be closed for our research. The list of villages was compiled after consultations with historian Maksym Rosenfeld, who is well-versed in the history of Slobozhanshchyna.

During some of the journeys, volunteers lived in a private house and slept in a bomb shelter in the basement to avoid waking up from air alarms and to stay as focused as possible. Unlike other researched regions, there was constant tension and predictable caution from the locals in Kharkiv Oblast. Also, volunteers hardly encountered elderly people here, who usually shared memories of their own homes. In total, volunteer groups managed to explore 15 villages in the region.

A characteristic feature of the Kharkiv region is its heterogeneity. The historical development of the western, eastern, northern, and southern parts influenced the formation of distinctive and characteristic architecture within the region.

Buildings in the Kharkiv region were mostly constructed with brick. This is due to the rich deposits of red clay and the development of the sugar industry. People here had the resources to build quality and sturdy houses. History also played its role – this multifaceted region was systematically destroyed throughout the 20th century. Wooden houses are found in the northern part of the region, where there are forests – although there are significantly fewer of them, we preserved them in the design to not interrupt this tradition.

The characteristic color palette of the Kharkiv region is a combination of shades of green and blue. Red brick is often adorned with decorative inserts of colored painted bricks – most often white. In general, the decor of local buildings is characterized by simple geometric forms, including diamonds.

Sumy region

While exploring the Sumy region, volunteers discovered that most characteristic private houses for the region have been preserved in towns with estate development. From the planned list, volunteers explored 18 villages and towns in the Sumy region during expeditions. Typically, the team chose historical district centers and traveled the surrounding areas in search of authentic buildings.

 

The closer to the border with Russia, and therefore the frontline, the more tension was felt in the mood of the region's residents. However, locals usually allowed photographing their homes but requested not to photograph themselves. The region suffers from regular targeted shelling along the border, so the path often encountered abandoned houses and even entire villages.

The architecture of rural houses in the Sumy region is extremely colorful, with a predominance of shades of blue, green, and dark cherry. Local wooden houses, in particular, stand out with vibrant colors – some walls faded over time, while others are carefully repainted. People also love to decorate their homes: volunteers collected many photos of unique decorative elements, such as voluminous flowers, birds, and intricate carvings. A large number of red brick houses, also adorned with various decorations, usually geometric, are present.

 

In contrast to other northern border regions explored in the RE:Ukraine Villages project, there are fewer noticeable traces of soviet influence in the Sumy region.

While exploring the Sumy region, volunteers discovered that most characteristic private houses for the region have been preserved in towns with estate development. From the planned list, volunteers explored 18 villages and towns in the Sumy region during expeditions. Typically, the team chose historical district centers and traveled the surrounding areas in search of authentic buildings.

 

The closer to the border with Russia, and therefore the frontline, the more tension was felt in the mood of the region's residents. However, locals usually allowed photographing their homes but requested not to photograph themselves. The region suffers from regular targeted shelling along the border, so the path often encountered abandoned houses and even entire villages.

The architecture of rural houses in the Sumy region is extremely colorful, with a predominance of shades of blue, green, and dark cherry. Local wooden houses, in particular, stand out with vibrant colors – some walls faded over time, while others are carefully repainted. People also love to decorate their homes: volunteers collected many photos of unique decorative elements, such as voluminous flowers, birds, and intricate carvings. A large number of red brick houses, also adorned with various decorations, usually geometric, are present.

 

In contrast to other northern border regions explored in the RE:Ukraine Villages project, there are fewer noticeable traces of soviet influence in the Sumy region.

Similar projects

When developing the online constructor, we sought the universal options and used the most common decorative elements. However, we believe that homeowners along with volunteer initiatives that restore old homes will preserve the unique forms of traditional construction. Projects that analyze destruction and damage via public data are also incredibly valuable for reconstruction efforts.

UADAMAGE

A project that analyzes the destruction of Ukrainian cities and villages based on satellite data.

uadamage.info

old khata project

A photo project that explores the architecture of Ukrainian villages and documents the stories of homeowners who survived Russian occupation.

@old_khata_project

Garne Selo

A photo project by Made in Ukraine, which documents Ukrainian villages in order to preserve their identity and history.

@garne.selo

Chernihiv’s Wooden Lace

An online museum and project by a team of volunteers engaged in restoration of wooden decor on buildings in the Chernihiv region.

demer.cn.ua

Repair together

A volunteer initiative dedicated to rebuilding and helping communities affected by the occupation.

@repair.together

Strikha

A project by Craft Story and Ukraїner that combines a documentary series and a series of longreads about Ukrainian folk architecture, its regional peculiarities, and ways to preserve it.

youtu.be

CF Heritage.UA

A charitable initiative that since 2022 has been working to restore rural areas with heritage through the revival of small village houses.

heritage-fund.com.ua

RAYON NOMER 1

A charity project dedicated to the reconstruction of cities and villages affected by the Russian occupation.

@districtone.foundation

RE:UKRAINE SYSTEM

The idea of ​​creating RE:Ukraine arose in the team of the balbek bureau architecture studio during the first days after the full-scale Russian invasion. We sought to join the resistance with our expertise and started work on March 10th, with the first task being the development of temporary housing for internally displaced persons.

Over time, in response to the challenges of war, RE:Ukraine evolved into a network of projects that unites different areas – Housing, Monuments, Villages and Memories. We are looking into the future of Ukraine after its victory, but we are planning and building here and now as the war rages on.

 

Dignity is our main principle – in respect for fellow citizens and their homes, cities, history and collective memory.

Housing

A temporary housing system for internally displaced persons

More details

Monuments

A monument protection system

More details

Memories

A project proposal for the arrangement of memorials

More details

Villages

An online constructor that simplifies the reconstruction of rural houses with respect for their surroundings

Vision

An AR-based application for creating vision of Ukraine’s postwar reconstruction

Charity fund

In order to implement the projects of the RE:Ukraine system, in June 2022 the balbek bureau team established an eponymous charity fund.

Support