A Block on Three Shores

  • contemporary architecture

In the vicinity of Moscow area's Kransnogorsk, "Architecturium" studio is building a townhouse community named "Rizhsky Kvartal" (Riga Block). The classy low-rise houses are positioned around a large forest lake, and for Moscow area this is an example of the rare case when the name actually answers its content.


This settlement is sure some stereotype breaker. It starts surprising you once you take the first look at its master plan. For one, in the spot where usually the neat central square is designed (pseudo "European" style), or some equally neat little creek is there, "Rizhsky Kvartal" sports a huge body of water. Its area is quite comparable to the area occupied by the houses, and, because the architects tried to evenly "spread" the townhouses along the shorelines, the lake's unconditional leadership in the space hierarchy of the settlement is all but obvious. It is the lake that sets the general layout structure, as well as the style of the housing created by the architects.


It should be noted here that the "Rizhsky Kvartal" land site itself looks quite matching on the land map, and has a fish-like shape: its triangular nose is turned south, its wide tail is turned north, and its fin is turned eastwards. The lake of an almost perfectly circular shape is inscribed precisely in the middle of this figure, and, because the developers caught a big and rather slender "fish" this time, only two shores out of four turned to be wide and spacious enough for building houses upon. And while on the east side, the issue is solved by the elongated rectangle of the "fin" that the architects fill up with houses sparingly, the narrow strip of land next to the water on the west side remains virtually vacant. "There has always been a beach here, and we decided to keep its function - all the more so because, according to the planning permission, the developer was to create here the conditions for public water-based recreation - explains the leader of "Architecturium" Vladimir Binderman - Besides, the land here is rather swampy, and you cannot build anything close to the water - not only houses, even a decent quay is impossible here. So what we did was make a choice in favor of light structures - duck-boards, and almost weightless footbridges. So, ultimately what we did was something Scandinavian or Baltic - and this is how we made up our minds about the overall style; it had to be described with the following three words: natural, sturdy, simple".


And, while around the lake there appears the developed pedestrian area, along the border of the land site, the architects run a road that circles the lake in a wide loop and connects the separate housing segments. These are clearly visible on the master plan: one group of houses is situated at the settlement's driving entrance, between the highway and the lake, the second group consists of rows of townhouses that fill in the already-mentioned "fin", and the third one is the residential area on the other side of the lake. Incidentally, this "forced" disunity of the blocks played only into the hands of the developers - it was now really simple to determine the construction priorities: presently, the "North Bank" is already put into operation, the "East Bank" is under construction, and the "South Bank" is expected to be put into operation by the end of 2013.

This settlement has no traditional Main Street as such, the one that is usually pierced with the capillary of the inner driveways and private property - perhaps the already-mentioned promenade around the lake can count as such - no matter what block you exit, you find yourself in the developed shoreline area. At the same time, the layout of each particular segment directly depends on where exactly in the settlement it is situated in relation to the lake. At the "South Bank", for example, the houses are made as open to the water as possible, in fact, they face the water in a single frontline, while at the "North Bank" the houses stand with their side walls turned to the water, and with a little shift in respect to one another. The architects, however, did not want to "cut" the trivial "view corridors" from the entrance area to the lake, and this is why the central promenade near the water is flanked with two houses consisting of six sections each; in the future its perspective will be completed by an elegant fully-wooden volume of the marina. "This solution helps us to let the settlement keep the lake all to itself - it's virtually invisible from the highway - and at the same time the housing that's on the side of the highway takes on a certain depth and multidimensionality" - Vladimir Binderman explains.


The square footage of the houses gradually increases as one gets closer to the water's edge: while the "North Bank" is mainly overbuilt with 200-210 square meter sections, the square footage of the houses on the "East Bank" approaches 240 "squares", and on the "South Bank" it climbs up to 270. At the same time, the architectural solution stays pretty much the same from block to block - on the contrary, the authors strived to achieve the unity of space, and this is exactly why they employed one and the same set of techniques. It is based on the laconic combination of three materials: dark bricks, white stucco, and wood. This theme is set by the entrance group: the massive rectangular arch coated with strips of wood, rests on two square volumes - the light and the dark one. The "mouth" of the Main Street is designed the same way: on one of its sides, there are the sections dominated by white plains, on the other - by dark-brown. In reality, each of the two sections has in it both colors, though - it's just that one of them dominates on the street facade, and the other on the back facade that is turned to the backyard. It is also important to note here that the streets here are positioned in such a way that lets them bypass and thus leave as intact as possible the part of Opalikhsky municipal forest that "breaks into" the construction site. In fact, the pine trees find themselves on the backyards of the townhouses - the architects even enhanced the proximity of the woodland with the fully-wooden partitions. The houses with street facades dominated by sturdy bricks are tuned to the forest with their defenseless wooden sides.


Vladimir Binderman reminisces that over the several years of working on this project his studio has come up with dozens of planning solutions for the townhouses. The architects drew fully-wooden houses, houses that were coated with natural stone, and even lofts - but ultimately the "reserved" Scandinavian style prevailed. The rhythmic shifts of the houses in respect to one another, the alternating of the advanced and recessed planes, balconies, and terraces, the lean-to roofs that look like flat rectangular portals and the flatly cut awnings - all this immediately strikes you as something "Finnish" or "Baltic". But it is not the architecture alone that makes this settlement look like a piece of Northern Europe - the strictly measured combination of materials and stylistic devices that the authors of the project never break away from seems to work to its fullest particularly in conjunction with the pine trees, the waters of the lake, and the generous amount of the public spaces.

Text by: Vladimir Bindeman, Anna Martovitskaya
Translated by Anton Mizonov

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