Andrew Gnezdilov: Visions of the Possible Future

An interview with Andrew Gnezdilov, associate director and chief architect of "Ostozhenka" bureau, a long-standing team-mate of Alexander Skokan. On the Big Moscow and Ostozhenka Street; on the trends of city development on a large and on a small scale; on "mystical" intuition that springs from quite rational and no-nonsense work with large amounts of information in a big city.

Julia Tarabarina

Interviewed by:
Julia Tarabarina
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov

09 August 2012

When I came to do an interview with Andrew Gnezdilov in "Ostozhenka" bureau, I was able to see part of the corporate seminar dedicated to the development of Moscow megalopolis area. As is known, the bureau made Russia's top ten list of the teams working on this concept, and on the fourth seminar it won, according to the voting of experts, the honorary second place. I immediately found out that Andrew was actively working on that particular project, so our conversation inevitably started off with the issue of the Big Moscow.



What are your impressions of working on the concept of development of Moscow Megalopolis area?


Andrew Gnezdilov:

Frankly speaking, I am happy to be doing this work. Moscow, together with Podmoskovie (Moscow area) is quite an exciting project for me to do. Moscow is exciting to study, too: I was born here and I used to think that I knew this city fairly well - but over the last few months I've learned lots of new interesting things about my city, which both surprises me and makes me happy.


And what do such panel discussions give you?


Conversation per se is an indispensable part of this kind of work. We always discuss things. We speak to the writer, historian, and architect Andrew Baldin. We speak to Arkadiy Tishkov, associate director of Institute of Geography of Russian Academy of Sciences. We speak to our French colleagues. We do a lot of talking - to find the right way to go in the long run.


The thing here is you do not have to create a project from scratch. Rather, it's like making a diagnosis and suggesting a treatment: it is obvious that this city is unhealthy. A city is an organism rather than a mechanism: a lot of complex systems that are interconnected. What you have to do here is examine these systems separately, send them to different doctors, if you like, and then study the connections between them just as diligently.


Are you an advocate or an opponent of cars?


In some cases I will drive my car, in some - use the public transportation.

Our city is not the perfect place to live in, regardless of whether you are driving your car or use the public transportation. The situation is significantly better downtown but beyond the Third Transport Ring it is a different world with laws of its own. But then again, it is not quite city out there, rather, the proverbial metropolitan area that consists of neighborhoods built in place of the former villages and settlements. The connection between them is rather poor because our city has been developing on a star-like model, just like any single-nucleus megalopolis. Besides, the star shape of the city is very characteristic of the centrally-controlled power that we have here.


Speaking of the powers that be - are you going to literally implement the decision of the city authorities and use in your project the southwest territories recently adjoined to Moscow?


The contest regulations do not contain any specific requirements to build something on this particular territory. Here's how the task runs: development of the joined territories in connection with the old Moscow. There is not a single word about us having to move somebody to live over there or building necessarily residential houses on those territories. One has to view this territory the way we do: like a garden in front of your house. What you ultimately get is bipolar city, with a stone and a green pole respectively. These are the opposites, and they create tension - the green city and the stone city.


Now you are working on the giant project of Moscow metropolitan area, and you started off with planning Moscow's neighborhood of Ostozhenka.  What was most important in that work back then? Can you compare the two commissions?


With Moscow agglomeration, we apply the same fundamentals as we did with Ostozhenka: before you start changing anything you have to understand how this organism functions, how it is wired.


Speaking on the particular subject of Ostozhenka neighborhood, the key idea was that you cannot reorganize the city based on the principles that are aliens to it, that are forced on it from elsewhere. It was then that we turned for guidance to the old "Moscow Statute" that was adopted in the middle XIX century and contained simple but very wise fundamentals, an important rule for a fire wall, for instance, according to which the wall of the house located at the end of a land plot was to be built completely blind so that in case of a fire the neighboring house would not catch. Apart from that, in Ostozhenka case, the main planning module for us was the territory of the historical households - we did quite a bit of research, established their boundaries, and did our planning in accordance with these boundaries.


This was back in 1989 - still living in USSR, we drew and got the official approval for a "capitalist" plotting of the neighborhoods. A few years passed, and the capitalist requirements became a reality. I do not rule out the possibility that Ostozhenka experienced such a rapid growth particularly because of that: everything was ready, the contracts were really easy to draw up, and it was easy to get the approvals for your development concepts - because we carefully planned everything is such a way that the neighbors would not get into one another's way.


But there must be a multitude of layers as well: the medieval city, then the capitalist one, then the modernist town planning...


This is a scar. But it will heal in time.

Actually, there is nothing heroic about humans changing the landscape. The landscape will always ultimately get an upper hand. I am quite the fatalist in this sense.


What is your favorite project?


Well, it's the Big Moscow, as a matter of fact. This is probably the ms exciting project for me. Out of the other projects, it's hard to tell. "Embassy House" promised to be my favorite but as far as the quality of construction work is concerned, especially in the details, it turned unsatisfactory for me. Besides, the critical reviews started to compare it to Melnikov house, which is not correct.


You did not think of Melnikov at all when you were designing that one?


Not at all, and I have always denied that. Our facade with its triangular and diamond-shaped windows is not a formal or decorative "stylistic device" but a solution that sprang out of necessity: the land plot was tight, and we made a pedestrian passage on the level of the ground floor. We also turned the wall above it into an arched girder, very much like a bridge. Here we worked with a great engineer Mityukov who sadly tragically died later on. He had a passion for doing this work and we ultimately got a house that was great from the construction standpoint. I think that all of its artistic merits are based on the successful engineering solutions. So, this house must be my favorite.


So, designing a tiny pedestrian passage running along the house and designing on a megalopolis scale - these two things are of equal interest to you?


Well, yes! Besides, as a rule, I have to do both at a time.


It is a common misconception that architects are the guys that draw the facades. Because we use the urban fundamentals in our work! We work with loads of information, deduce the regularities and consistent patterns in order to understand how we should be developing this or that area.


I recently bought a pair of anti-glare glasses, the kind that is made for drivers or for fishermen. You put them on and they cut off the flares, cut off things that you don't need so you can now see what's important, things you could not see behind the ripples. We do just about the same thing: we try to see how things operate, foresee the development logic, if you like.  There is nothing mystical or mysterious about it, everything is as rational as it can be, if only you might need some intuition.


How did Alexander Skokan influence you?


We really go back a long way; you can say that I grew up by his side: back then I was 30, now I am 55 - I have known him practically my whole life. This man has an amazing intuition. To have a vision of the possible future - I guess he can do it like nobody else can. He is not some sort of medium, of course, just a very intelligent and insightful person. I guess I am really lucky to work with him.

Andrew Gnezdilov. Photo by courtesy of "Ostozhenka" Bureau
Development concept of "Vostochno-Kruglinsky" residential area in Krasnodar city. Photo by courtesy of "Ostozhenka" Bureau
Residential complex on Dmitrovskoe Highway. Photo by courtesy of "Ostozhenka" Bureau
"Capital Plaza" Business Center. Photo by courtesy of "Ostozhenka" Bureau
"Embassy House" residential building. Photo by courtesy of "Ostozhenka" Bureau

09 August 2012

Julia Tarabarina

Interviewed by:

Julia Tarabarina
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov
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