From Simple to Complex

  • contemporary architecture

For the contest project of expo and business center on Sakhalin Island, Levon Airapetov and Valerie Preobrazhenskaya proposed two options, the first one being a trailblazing experiment with the process of shape-forming where from one shape of a cone, repeated manifold, the architects build up a complex and unusual kind of space.


According to the contest specifications, the expo and administrative center was to be situated on the territory of a gas liquefaction plant located near the city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. The first version of the expo and business center is in fact a 3D experiment of getting a complex space out of a simple shape taken as the starting point. This basic theme and the shape-determining nucleus is the shape of the cone, i.e., the shape of the reindeer skin tent, so characteristic for these parts. The idea of crossing the overturned cone with the non-overturned one occurred to a young architect of the bureau Egor Legkov who discovered the conceptual connection between the conic shape and the specialty of the plant. The conical shape gave him the idea of an endless centripetal motion, the simplest way of depicting the vortex that appears as a result of the drill rod spinning as well as the image of an oil fountain springing from underground. 

The role of such "fountain" is played by the atrium. Its overturned, downward-pointed cone with its transparent walls made of dissected sharp glass triangles, is located exactly in the middle of the building. It becomes the conceptual and "image" nucleus of the building that connects all of its floors with a spiral staircase that runs along the contour of the "vortex". The crystal vortex is echoed by a multitude of cones of smaller scales and sizes, the "regular" cones alternating with the upturned ones, saturating the insides of the building and becoming in fact the basic cell of its space structure, and even forming a 3D texture of sorts, a particular kind of space that is "emotionally" charged, one that bears the atmosphere that will be totally new to the visitors. All of the inner walls of this building are either slanted or rounded. At some places they are pierced so as to make way for passages and staircases - the openings get parabolic arches on thin slanted legs that meet other arches, counter-slanted to the opposite side. One gets a feeling of being inside a giant sponge with a genetic code that is based not on bubbles but on cones. 

To cut a long story short, apart from the floor and the ceiling, the building does not a have a single straight surface inside of it, while on the layout it looks like it is full of ovals. The ovals meet at various angles, at some places overlapping and at some places bumping into one another. They house: the major and the minor auditoriums, two small double-height atriums with trees and spiral staircases, and even the restrooms. On the layout, the oval contours show yet another peculiarity of the cones that form the building - most of them are horizontally flattened.

At the same time, this stereometry, saturated with the dynamics of curved lines and surfaces, is balanced off with straight lines and planes. The "elephant's legs" of the cone-shaped volumes are bearing the rectangular slab of the second floor. Unexpectedly rectangular, dominated by the planes of the floor and the ceiling, with a glass belt running along its perimeter, it has the appearance of the classic "Corbusier" sandwich (floor layer, glass window layer, ceiling layer). The one exception is that the surface of the facade running over the complex shape of the building becomes the section plane for its complex stereometric insides - as if a piece of Dutch cheese was cut at a random place, and at the cut it shows the truth of what it has inside. 

"The outside shape that functions as the cutting plane, gives the inside shape a formal life, very often random and unexpected. This randomness, however, is strictly "programmed" by the inner determination of the connection between all the elements, all serving the given specifications - in this particular case these are the expo halls, the offices, the meeting rooms, and the technical premises - Valerie Preobrazhenskaya explains - The building that we got as a result, stirred us to further exploration of how various shapes can interact".

Text by: Levon Ayrapetov, Valeria Preobrazhenskaya, Alla Pavlikova
Translated by Anton Mizonov

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