In 1978, the first world-class Soviet water sports complex with an outdoor pool appeared in the Caucasus region. There was nothing else like it in the USSR at the time. It was built on the site of a former “physical culture park.”
The construction of the Laguna Vere complex was agreed in 1965. Georgian architects Shota Kavlashvili, Guram Abuladze, and Ramaz Kiknadze had developed the project by 1967. Construction began that same year but lasted for only 12 months before it was stopped for eight years. It wasn’t until 1976 that construction resumed.
Finally, the opening ceremony was held on October 13, 1978, and the Laguna Vere went on to host both regional and international competitions.
When not hosting competitions, this complex was open and available to use by anyone from any walk of life, and it was the only open-air pool in Tbilisi to welcome those of a lower social class.
In 1982, the complex received an award from the Council of Ministers of the USSR, and it also received the first award for construction quality.
The sports complex consisted of an outdoor area that contained three pools of various sizes, grandstands for 5,500 spectators, a press building, and a three-story building located under the grandstands.
The largest of the three pools was Olympic-sized, with the medium one measuring 25m x 10m (82ft x 39ft), and the third one built especially for diving. Next to the third pool was a brutalist-style tower with diving boards set at five, seven, and ten meters.
The building provided for the press included commentator booths as well as stands for members of the press and athletes. The ticket office and two central entrances were located nearby, with grandstands between them. Also on site were cafes and offices.
Three floors were built under the grandstands. The ground floor consisted of an indoor training pool (only measuring 12m x 8m or 39ft x 26ft), gym, exhibition hall, conference room, and presentation hall. The second floor contained an office of the Aquatic Sports Federation, medical and rehabilitation areas, and a sauna. On the third floor you could find a sports hall.
The interior of the building was painted in a strict color code depending on the function of the particular area. The press and trophy rooms were orange while the stairwell was yellow and the third-floor gymnasium was mint-green.
There is an impressive mosaic facade at the entrance to the complex, created by the artist Koke Ignatov. The mosaic panel is a banner made of stones covered with specks of red, blue, and green, and amazingly it has been well-preserved to this day.
The mosaic is also particularly noteworthy because Ignatov used the smalt glass technique in its creation, a technique which is not currently used in contemporary art.
In 2000, the sports complex was transferred to a new owner as a private business. However, the new owner could not cope with the upkeep of such a large complex, and they received complaints about the outdated equipment and poor water quality.
The complex was seen as obsolete and faded. No attempts were made to update and reconstruct the buildings and, not surprisingly, the new owners failed to make any profit from their venture.
Unable, or perhaps unwilling to maintain the Laguna Vere, the new owners closed the complex down in 2014.
On June 13, 2015, a severe flood occurred in Tbilisi. The city, including this former sports complex, was completely covered with garbage and silt. After the flood, restoration of the Laguna Vere became even more impossible. It is estimated that the flood caused $50 million worth of damage to the city.
In 2015, the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation in Georgia received a request to designate the Laguna Vere as a cultural monument; no decision has yet been made on this matter.
Currently, used cars from a car shop are stored on this abandoned site. Visitors have also seen a plant nursery in the main foyer building.
Since the cost of restoring the complex will be high, the Laguna Vere remains in limbo, awaiting its fate. However, since there is nothing like it anywhere nearby, there is a strong local feeling that the site should be renovated and restored.
A big thanks to photographer Darmon Richter who has provided us with pictures of this amazing place. You can follow his work here www.thebohemianblog.com.