Tamanian was born in Krasnodar (Northern Caucasus). He graduated from the Arts Academy of St. Petersburg in 1904. His first work was the reconstruction of the Armenian church of St. Catherine in St. Petersburg in 1904-1906. Following the excavations of Nikolai Marr in Ani, he projected the museum of Ani in 1908, which was not realized.
He would develop a very successful career as architect in Russia. His blueprints for different building in various cities of Russia from 1907-1913 (the house of Scherbatov in Moscow, in 1911-1913, won the golden medal of the City Duma) applied the forms of classicism and Russian architecture of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He was elected full member of the Russian Art Academy in 1914 and became president of the Council of the Russian Art Academy, with status of vice-president of the Academy, in 1917.
The independence of Armenia in 1918 opened a new page in his life. He moved to Yerevan in 1919 to serve his country. He designed the coat-of-arms of the Republic, together with painter Hakob Kojoyan, which was restored as Armenia’s national coat of arms in 1992. Following the sovietization of Armenia, he left for Iran in 1921 and accepted the invitation of the Soviet Armenian government to return in 1923.
Thereafter, and until his death on February 11, 1936 in Yerevan, he developed a very active professional life. In 1923 he was designated deputy chairman of the State Planning Committee. He became chairman of the Committee for Conservation of Monuments in 1924.
In the same year, he created the master plan of the city of Yerevan, which signaled the beginning of Soviet city construction in Armenia. It was conceived for a city of 150,000 inhabitants (Yerevan had 25,000 at the time of the first Republic) and became the basis for the subsequent blueprints of the city. In 1934 he started the project for “Great Yerevan” (500,000 inhabitants), which remained unfinished.
He also designed the plans for various cities between 1925 and 1933, including Gumri, Vagharshapat, Stepanakert, Gavar, and Hrazdan among others. He designed and built in Yerevan the morgue of the Medical Institute (1926-1933), the astronomical observatory (1930-1933), the National Library (1932-1938), and others, and his talent as a great architect was recognized particularly with his master plan of Yerevan, and the buildings of the Government House (1932-1941, State Prize of the USSR in 1942) and the Opera and Ballet Theater and Concert Hall (1926-1953).
These two buildings predetermined and conditioned the architectonical solutions for
the most important urban points of Yerevan: the ensemble of the Republic Square (State Prize of Armenia in 1970), the area adjacent to the Opera Theater (the blueprint won the Great Golden Medal of the World Exhibition of 1937 in Paris), and the construction of the Northern Avenue, recently executed. Tamanian’s creations reinterpreted the principles of classical Armenian architecture with new quality, and opened new ways to develop their traditions in what has been called the “Tamanian School.” In 1936, Poet Yeghishe Charents wrote his poem “Vision of Death,” the third one with this title, in memory of the recently deceased architect. He started with the following lines:
“He saw a solar city...
As a sundial, drawn upon the blue side of pure marble,
here is the map of the city.
Avenues, streets, extending in circles,and in the center, a granite altar reaching to the sky.”