Villas in the Park

  • contemporary architecture

For the downtown area of the city of Ufa, Bureau of Vissarionov has developed a project of reconstructing the residential block between the Lenin Street and the Soldatskoe ("Soldier") Lake - project under the self-explanatory name of "Park Housing".


The land site that is going to be completely renovated is located in the very heart of the city of Ufa. It neighbors both on one of the city's main streets on the one side, and a park on the other, the latter arguably being Ufa's most famous public territory - this is the Park for Recreation and Leisure named after Ivan Yakutov, that made Russia's top ten parks in 2004. Naturally, this vicinity could not but leave its mark on the project - developing the architectural concept for reconstructing the site, the architects designed the new block as a balanced union of man and nature.

An important starting point in designing the new architectural image was the history of the place, as well. The street, since the mid 1930's bearing the name of Lenin, appeared at the turn of XVIII-XIX centuries, and once it was this particular street that served as the dividing line between the place where the residential area ended and the place where the cemetery began. Back in 1903, looking to use the wasteland to the benefit of the city, the Ufa City Duma (the Russian for "city council" - translator's note), designated it for "laying out a park" that soon became a favorite place for townspeople. A little later between the park and the street there was built a two-story building with a fire tower (1907), while from the rear side its corner was adorned by a protestant church (1910). Both these buildings survived into the present day and were to be included into the composition of the new block "recreating the spirit of the historical place in the renovated environment".

The three-story residential house that was built in the soviet times and that stretched along the Lenin Street with its numerous hallways will also be kept intact. As for the garages and utility premises situated between the house and the park, they are to be taken down, so the site with "city" boundaries fixed by several preserved volumes, faces the lake and the woodland with a fully vacated territory. And, while the streets frame the future block into an austere rectangle, from the side of the park it is only limited by a picturesquely bending foot walk which makes the proximity to the nature even closer. To the architects it was obvious that they had to make use of this situation and at least at the stage of the master plan treat this block more like a villa community rather than a densely built residential cluster.

The only catch was the already-existing residential building - the elongated parallelepiped simply would not be in harmony with the aesthetic of the city summer home, so it had to be at least visually separated from the new block. What helped to solve the problem was the commissioner's request to build, within one block, houses of different class. The architects broke the required quantity of "economy class" square footage into four one-hallway towers that they arrayed into one row parallel to the long residential building. In order to prevent these towers from overhanging above the old building too obviously, the architects make large square courtyards in between them, while along the existing building they run a smaller park of similar elongated layout.

Thus, the only corner of the block that faces the crossroads of two streets is in fact a fragment of a strictly urban environment with traditionally densely placed buildings. The architects deliberately build the towers with different numbers of floors - the rhythmic alternation of height, according to their idea, will give the skyline some visual lightness and will enhance the recreational character of the block that begins directly behind them. The facade solution also serves the same purpose - the window openings of various width are superimposed upon the wall surfaces in a seemingly random, even chaotic, way; some of them even overlap with the corners of the buildings - which does not, of course, dissolve the verticals in the air but visually takes away some of their excessive massiveness.

The compositional and the "environmental" centerpiece of the block, according to the architects' plan, is the diagonal that connects the fire tower and the longitudinal axis of the church running parallel to the Lenin Street. This solution allows, on the one hand, for marking the boundaries of the residential clusters of different class, and, on the other hand, for avoiding the trivial splitting the site into two parts. In the place where the two pedestrian routes cross, the architects plan to build not only a landscaped square but also an open-air amphitheater meant for accommodating public events. The architects build the amphitheater in the shape of an acute triangle, turning the stands to the fire tower and the two non-residential buildings skirting it on both sides and accommodating the public and commercial activities of the block with offices, shops, and cafes. 

These volumes, in turn, are designed as curvilinear braces, one of them looking as it were lightly hugging the fire brigade building, and the other one looking, conversely, as if it were turning away from it and serving as a curious sort of "pocket" for the preserved residential house. Thanks to such placement, the architects get the opportunity to protect the yards of the residential houses from the direct access to the offices, while the corner of the block gets an entrance portal of sorts - it looks as though some kind of vortex sucks in the people flows inside. The dynamic structures serve as a peculiar "theater decoration" that adorns the territory around the historical building of the fire brigade but the fire tower itself rather looks like a visual reminder of the past: the complex is being restructured for different functions, and its low-rise part is covered with a rectangular transparent prism - the "showcase" of the future business, community, and cultural center.

The bigger part of the land site that faces the park is filled with 4 and 6-story houses that the architects place predominantly parallel to the set diagonal of the pedestrian promenade. Such layout allows for giving almost all the buildings the view of the lake and making all the housing of the new block as permeable for the park as possible. Thanks to the abundance of green plants in all the building surrounding grounds, one gets a feeling as if the forestland stretched its green protuberances into the residential block. The official name of the concept - "Park Housing" - is justified, though, not only by the proximity to the in-city woodland area but also by the architectural treatment of the buildings themselves. The architects developed several design options for the houses - stones, bricks, and wood - but what they all have in common is the intimacy of the form and their closeness to the genre of city villas.

Taking the existing park as the key territory- and style-forming factor, the architects were able to integrate into the new block all the diverse features of the adjacent territories - the historical legacy, the residential housing, and the urban community center. It was this comprehensive approach to renovating an important fragment of the city and creating here a diverse and comfortable environment that earned the concept "Park Housing" a Silver Diploma at the contest "Archnovation-2013".

Text by: Yuri Vissarionov, Anna Martovitskaya
Translated by Anton Mizonov

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