Mathematics of Comfort

  • contemporary architecture

Designing a new residential complex in the Nevsky district of Saint Petersburg, "Studio 44" treated it as a "city within a city", a place that is self-sufficient, comfortable to live in, and complete with all the necessary elements of the traditional city environment.


The land site, upon which the new residential cluster will be built is located between the Oktyabrskaya Embankment and the territory of the plant ZAO "Plastmassy". On its north side, it is limited by the Telmana Street, from the south - by the Novoselov Street, both of the two streets serving as boundaries of sorts between the industrial and the residential areas. Now the city is planning to unite the residential areas by moving the industrial facilities away from the Neva bank but keeping the objects of industrial infrastructure intact, at the same time integrating them into the new residential complex. It was this particular task that formed the basics of the specifications announced at the recently conducted tender - "Studio 44" won it with the concept named "The Perfect City".

Nikita Yavein and his team started their work on this project by analyzing the technical and economic specifications put forward by the customer. In fact, the idea to liken the new residential area to a self-sufficient city sprang out from the commission figures: a total area of real estate of some half million square meters and a population of as much as 13.5 thousand people in fact IS a small city. The incoherent and chaotic planning structure of the former industrial park is changed, according to the architects' proposal, by the classical orthogonal grid that actually serves as the basis for the construction of the "perfect city".

The model that inspired many generations of architects, made the most considerable influence on the planning organization not only of Saint Petersburg but also a number of other European capitals - Rome, Paris, and Barcelona - and Nikita Yavein is convinced of its relevance and applicability even today. The dimensions of the blocks accepted in the project - 95x100 meters - are capable, in his opinion, to give back to the city people the feeling of environment that is proportionate to humans (for reference, the quarters in Barcelona downtown area are 113x113 meters).

Such town-planning module with its grid of streets, though, was chosen not only in token of respect to the historical prototypes but, above all, for its town-building benefits - it is this planning mode that guarantees the future complex a comprehensible logic of movement and the opportunity for its inhabitants to easily find their way around. The meridians of roads that connect the streets of Novoselov and Telmana, will accommodate the traffic flows, while the perpendicular to them pedestrian boulevards will connect the Dalnevostochny Avenue and the Neva Embankment.

The composition nucleus of "The Perfect City" and its centerpiece is the square with a small green park - "Studio 44" designs it as a green area completely free of any buildings. "This will be something like a park in the center of the new city - Nikita Yavein explains the authors' idea - People are tired of artificial "greenhouse" spaces of shopping-malls, so the format of London squares looks a lot more attractive these days. The shopping areas, on the other hand, can be easily dispersed over the first floors of the residential buildings". The "green" theme of the central square will be supported by a few promenades 25 meters wide, courtyards of the residential houses, the green areas around the schools and kindergartens, and a park that will run along the Oktyabrskaya Embankment in the northwest part of the site.

The dimensions of the planning module predetermine the type of the housing, each separate block being occupied by one residential complex. This not only promises to make the whole structure of the new district as clearly understandable as possible but also is the optimum layout in terms of defining the construction priorities and subsequent operations of the buildings.

Into the "cells" of their mathematically calibrated grid, the authors inscribe two types of complexes placing them in a staggered order - one type for the families and one type for the young couples. The first type is a "block-house" with a closed perimeter and a courtyard, the second consists of 4 "isolated" volumes that fix the corners of the block and share a common podium. "They are totally different in their character - Nikita Yavein explains - The "family" houses are introverts, while the houses meant for the young couples and students consist in fact of four independent volumes, which enhance the individuality of its tenants, as well as their openness to the outside world".

From the architectural standpoint, though, the two types of the complex are designed all but alike: in both cases brick prevails (sometimes red and sometimes almost beige), the facades get their share of extra tectonics thanks to the numerous bay windows, while the silhouettes at large are made more dramatic at the expense of their upper floors that are designed as mansards and decorated with the square braces of the window openings. It is clear that the "a-la loft" style was not chosen by accident - the authors seek to stress the industrial "origin" of the land site and create the appropriate frame for the objects of industrial architecture that are preserved here. The latter, it should be said, are quite numerous here: it is planned that at least 6 buildings will be remodeled and fixed to fit the new functions, including the main factory building with its water tower, the coursed rubble storage building, the fire shed, and the former production facility of "Tornton" wool factory.

The architects deliberately design the new houses less tall than the construction regulations allow for (9-13 floor out of the allowed 17). The exception is the two residential high-rises about 70 meters high on the southern border of the site: following suit with the buildings that are designed to be built nearby, they perform the function of "spacial reference" points and the entrance propylaeum of sorts.

Along the south front of the construction and parallel to the Novoselov Street, the architects place eight houses arrayed in a line. United by a pergola and a "casing" of slender columns, they form something like a fence of the new block, quite transparent, yet at the same time quite tangible. In front of these columns, there are "outposts" - two high-rise towers with young studio apartments; these two towers flank the entrance to the block. And, while the picture of the main bulk of the houses clearly displays the influence of industrial architecture, the two towers with their vertical sections and a rather massive base refer us, rather, to the modernist style that prevails in the surrounding districts, the "buffer" stockade of columns playing the role of the transition structure that visually separates the dramatic medium-rise houses of sturdy bricks from the rather bleak and monotonous environment of the 1970 Soviet city. The architects deliberately give this borderline more than a conditional character, though - they treat their "Perfect City" as an integral part of modern Saint Petersburg and hope that the implementation of this project will really make a positive difference in the image of the adjacent territories.

Text by: Nikita Yavein, Anna Martovitskaya
Translated by Anton Mizonov

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