– In the west, it is often the case that an architect makes it big out of the blue, and pretty quick. Many of the famous European architectural companies made themselves known via various competitions when still in the budding years – Bjarke Ingels from BIG, the guys from Snøhetta, to name but a few. Another group consists of large companies that came around after the Second World War: gmp Architekten, Foster, and so on. These were created by people who are well into their seventies now. Russia, on the other hand, is a different matter – we have different ways of growing. For example, we've got architects who made it big after they landed a job at this or that project institute because they quickly secured large-scale serious projects. This is one narrative. The other narrative – and this is how it worked for A.Len – is when a company grows by degrees: you start with designing small private residences, then your orders grow ever bigger until you get to the peak of your career, which I hope is our case. I began studying architecture at 14 (college-work-army-university), and finished at 28; now I am 54. Right after I graduated from the university (probably, I looked mature still at that tender age) I was offered a position of the chief architect of the cities of Vologda and Cherepovets but I opted for the project institute where, it should be said, they valued me very highly. Meanwhile, after I started my own company [A.Len was created in 1991 – editor’s note] at the outset of our career we had to do small-time orders – private residences, little settlements, and we never were out of work. This was a great educational experience for us, and in this connection I often recollect Frank Lloyd Wright whose career was a revelation to me. The path of Wright has something in common with ours, when you know the author for his mature works, and then you learn that he designed private residences in his formative years.
– In which direction does your company evolve, and how would you describe the current stage of your development?
– The question that I am asking myself today most of all is whether we will be able to keep up the further growth of our company in spite of all the economic crises that keep shaking this country. I am also worried if I will have enough health and creative energy to face the new challenges. You grow by degrees – experience comes with years, and only way later on down the line you begin to feel at home with the profession, begin to know what should be done and how, and the difficulties of construction no longer scare you away. Today I have a feeling that we are indeed getting to a whole new level. It’s strange but this economic crisis also brought a feeling of relief to us. Maybe it’s because you cannot make any forecasts anymore: we have work – fine, we don’t – no problem, we will create some ourselves. Today, we design things the way we want. If, at the moment, the client is not OK with what we are showing to him, that’s alright as well because we’ll be able to prove our point later; if the client likes what we do – great! Such attitude helps us to elevate our company to a higher level. If you try too hard to please the client you will hardly be able to get the best result you’re possibly capable of. Luckily, today’s clients have also changed for the better – they are ready to listen to what we say. And as for the projects that can possibly spoil our portfolio and be detrimental to our reputation – we just don’t do them. Right now, we have a great period, and we’ve got some young talent, the guys that really live on architecture. I would say that we are going through a phase of “defending our creative ego”.
– And what is the essence of your creative ego?
– Oh, it’s the classic narrative: when you’re under forty, you want to impress people, but when you grow older and wiser you want to do things that are well-balanced, clear and dignified, and at the same time well-reasoned. But it will be a pity for me if, trying to achieve this clarity, I lose the young straightforwardness and even some certain naivety. I believe this is very important to me. When still in my college years, I was after creating unpredictable things. And today, 90% of the Russian architecture is depressingly predictable. And don’t get me wrong – an unpredictable building doesn’t necessarily have to be all lopsided or eccentric-looking, not at all! Today, we see a lot of young (and not only young) architects that, say, working in the economy-class segment, their only resource a bucket of stucco, come up with the right things. This is practically the way it was in the 1930’s when they had little resource but the architects worked with the volume, town-planning ideas, and, as a result, an unbelievable emotional effect was achieved. So, today our motto is: maturity without losing the well-balanced architecture, pure architecture that keeps its identity with a healthy share of naivety.
– The name of “A.Len” stands for “Architectural Leningrad”. Is it worth our while looking for some little nostalgic notes in it, and how did it come around, anyway?
– Our company was founded in the early 90’s when Saint Petersburg was still called Leningrad. Pretty much any company name was an acronym back then: Lenspetssmu, Lentech, A.Len, for that matter. These companies marketed themselves as regional. Later on, we decided to stick to our name, and I was never into waving my personal name around. Today, our company name clearly states that our company is not a young one.
– Do you have any favorite projects or buildings?
– I stand by my performance, and we haven’t failed a single project. There are things that grow better with time. You do have a feeling of regret from time to time when somebody gets in your way – it is either the approving organization or the construction company that is eager to make its “contribution”, and ultimately leaves the project devoid of any individuality. Sometimes we cannot convince the client that the solution which we are proposing is in fact the best one – but such instances are getting fewer and farther between because we always act in our client’s best interests.
You do change with age, of course: at thirty I would have done it this way, at forty in another – nobody does architecture from nineteen to eighty in exactly the same style. The whole point that I’m trying to make is that, probably, my most favorite works are the latest ones. Because you are into them! The project of the residential complex “Me, Romantic” which we did in the economy class is something that I really like. It was underestimated but I already noticed that some of the ideas that we came up with when we were designing that project have already inspired some of my architectural colleagues.
I would also mention the Gasprom business center on the Varshavskaya Street – its morphology has already been tested by various architectural teams, each one of them doing it in their own unique way: this is a grid shell inside of which we placed a huge ball of volumes. It is a rather mysterious project, just as its client.
Sometimes you have a nostalgia trip and try your hand at Art Nouveau: we are currently doing a house for YIT developers in the Chapaeva Street – it’s the fairy tale sort of a “castle” house, a pileup of volumes and masses, this “knitted” or “lacy” kind of architecture. Then, there is this romanticism of the Petrograd side, and I sometimes feel like working in this line. This is not quite our approach because we associate ourselves more with the avant-garde tradition but I think there is definitely something about the romanticism architecture.
Then there is this house at the Konstantinovsky Avenue – we drew it like an obvious piece of European modernism. We used copper and natural stone, and what we ultimately got was a very lively and picturesque façade. This house even has a fan club of its own because such architecture is rarely to be found in this city. It is mostly drawn by quite young architects that do not even always get to doing the real city projects, while if we are to look for acclaimed architects working in this line, they are only to be found in Moscow: Skuratov, Levyant, Skokan. The modernism of this house is based on the Russian avant-garde and constructivism, 3D design, and working with the form.
Another interesting project is the house in the Graftio Street – it is a “slab” of a house, yet, at the same time, it’s a “cabbage” of a house – it has a lot of layers, each of which slightly peels off and exposes the next one, the depth of the space. It has something from Paul Rudolph, something from Richard Meyer. This house keeps on winning various awards, and last year it was awarded the Diamond Diploma of The Worldwide Club of Petersburgers
– Do you enjoy building your projects in the historical center?
– Yes, of course! This is the place where the magic aura gets straight under your skin. There are two basic approaches here: either you want to stand out from the historical background or you want to merge with it. It’s either contextual or non-contextual work. And it is the non-contextual architecture that usually gets slammed, with the architect labeled as a parvenu, but, on the other hand, you can recall positive examples as well: the “dancing house” by Frank Gehry in Prague, or the “mirror house” by Hans Hollein in Vienna across from the cathedral. There is also another approach: you come to the place and find out if it’s in need of accentuation. If it is, you come up with some sort of a centerpiece, and if the environment is saturated as it is, and you see that building something bold would lead to over-saturation, you try to handle it as delicately as you can. For example, we did this “Egoist” house – there is a really rich environment there, everything is decorated, and we wanted to ultimately get a peaceful house; Leonid Lavrov later on termed it as “eclectic constructivism”. In effect, it was indeed originally designed as a constructivist building but later on in the course of the negotiation with the city officials and the Committee on State Control, Use and Protection of Historical and Cultural Landmarks we had to listen to them and make a few changes so as the house would meet their requirements.
– You work a lot in the regions. What’s different about working in the regions from working in Saint Petersburg?
– We’ve been getting a lot of invitations recently – Saransk, Ufa, Kazan, Yaroslavl, Novosibirsk – and these are the result of our professional acclaim. For the regional clients this means prestige; sometimes they even mistake us for a Moscow company. In the regions, a Saint Petersburg architect gets a lot more respect than he does in his hometown. In this city, the client may start teaching you how to draw façades and do all sorts of nasty stuff; it’s different in the regions.
– What are you working on now?
– Currently, we are doing a large-scale residential area in Ufa; it’s a very interesting project, and I’m sure it will turn out great. We do not get down to actual work until we have studied a whole lot of historical literature in order to find out just what had been going on upon this particular land site in the past centuries. In Ufa, we got a location that for some reason would scare the local architects away. It turned out that there used to be a Kremlin on that spot, a few rivers would bleed into one, a new 3000-strong mosque had recently been built, there is a mountain nearby, everything is pretty odious, and the terrain is just terrible, to cap it all. But we still entered that competition. Ufa has a very progressive atmosphere in it; if the city keeps up the great work it will in no time rival Moscow in terms of architecture. People there draw some really right things. This is the way that back in the day the strong Nizhny Novgorod school was formed which has seen better days, regretfully. Under the governor Boris Nemtsov and the then-main-architect-of-the-city Alexander Kharitonov it was flourishing. Today the bright architectural works in Nizhny Novgorod are ever fewer, and at those days it was brimming with architecture – a comparatively small city with about a dozen of competing architectural companies, five of them being really good. Currently, Ufa is in the same situation as Nizhny Novgorod was about 15 years ago.
– What is your opinion of the architectural competitions and contests?
– For the last two years, we've been actively participating in competitions, no fewer than 10 ones a year. We appreciate this experience: an average competition does not weigh us down at all, we can do whatever we want, and some of the competition projects come out really brilliant.
– You have a Livejournal blog (oreshkin.livejournal.com), why did you decide to start it?
– We process a very large flow of information, some of which, I believe, could be interesting to a large number of people. I make a lot of posts when we do a competition project – this is the first sign that we are up to something; and some of the materials “leak” into our blog. This is a great tool; it is chronologically organized, it is current, and you form the subject with the tags. Our Livejournal blog is also an education tool for the budding architects, and my colleagues read it too. Initially, it was my personal blog about my work in A.Len but now it predominantly covers the materials that serve as the basis for the architectural design. We select the architecture that does not bring about any issues in terms of quality. If somebody is interested, they could read our blog and see where A.Len is going, what we like and what we don’t like.
Polyphony of a Chaste Style
The “ID Moskovskiy” housing project on St. Petersburg’s Moscow Avenue was designed by the team of Stepan Liphart in the past 2020. The ensemble of two buildings, joined by a colonnade, is executed in a generalized neoclassical style with elements of Art Deco.
In Three Voices
The high-rise – 41 stories high – housing complex HIDE is being built on the bank of the Setun River, near the Poklonnaya Mountain. It consists of three towers of equal height, yet interpreted in three different ways. One of the towers, the most conspicuous one looks as if it was twisted in a spiral, composed of a multitude of golden bay windows.
In the Space of Pobedy Park
In the project of a housing complex designed by Sergey Skuratov, which is now being built near the park of the Poklonnaya Hill, a multifunctional stylobate is turned into a compound city space with intriguing “access” slopes that also take on the role of mini-plazas. The architecture of the residential buildings responds to the proximity of the Pobedy Park, on the one hand, “dissolving in the air”, and, on the other hand, supporting the memorial complex rhythmically and color-wise.
Dynamics of the Avenue
On Leningrad Avenue, not far away from the Sokol metro station, the construction of the A-Class business center Alcon II has been completed. ADM architects designed the main façade as three volumetric ribbons, as if the busy traffic of the avenue “shook” the matter sending large waves through it.
Steamer at the Pier
An apartment hotel that looks like a ship with wide decks has been designed for a land plot on a lake shore in Moscow’s South Tushino. This “steamer” house, overlooking the lake and the river port, does indeed look as if it were ready to sail away.
The Magic of Rhythm or Ornament as a Theme
Designed by Sergey Tchoban, the housing complex Veren Place in St. Petersburg is the perfect example of inserting a new building into a historical city, and one the cases of implementing the strategy that the architect presented a few years ago in the book, which he coauthored with Vladimir Sedov, called “30:70. Architecture as a Balance of Forces”.
Walking on Water
In the nearest future, the Marc Chagall Embankment will be turned into Moscow’s largest riverside park with green promenades, cycling and jogging trails, a spa center on water, a water garden, and sculptural pavilions designed in the spirit of the Russian avant-garde artists of the 1920, and, first of all, Chagall himself. In this issue, we are covering the second-stage project.
A-Len has developed and patented the “Perfect Apartments” program, which totally eliminates “bad” apartment layouts. In this article, we are sharing how this program came around, what it is about, who can benefit from it, and how.
“Architectural Archaeology of the Narkomfin Building”: the Recap
One of the most important events of 2020 has been the completion of the long-awaited restoration of the monument of Soviet avant-garde architecture – the Narkomfin Building, the progenitor of the typology of social housing in this country. The house retained its residential function as the main one, alongside with a number of artifacts and restoration clearances turned into living museum exhibits.
LIFE on the Setun River
The area in the valley of the Setun River near the Vereiskaya Street got two new blocks of the “LIFE-Kutuzovsky” housing complex, designed by ADM architects. The two new blocks have a retail boulevard of their own, and a small riverside park.
Three towers on a podium over the Ramenka River are the new dominant elements on the edge of a Soviet “microdistrict”. Their scale is quite modern: the height is 176 m – almost a skyscraper; the facades are made of glass and steel. Their graceful proportions are emphasized by a strict white grid, and the volumetric composition picks up the diagonal “grid of coordinates” that was once outlined in the southwest of Moscow by the architects of the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Clouds over the Railroad
In the stead of former warehouses near “Lyubertsy-1” station, a new housing complex has been built, which peacefully coexists with the railroad, with the flyover bridge, and with the diverse surrounding scenery, not only dominating over the latter, but improving it.
Towers in a Forest
The authors of the housing complex “In the Heart of Pushkino” were faced with a difficult task: to preserve the already existing urban forest, at the same time building on it a compound of rather high density. This is how three towers at the edge of the forest appeared with highly developed public spaces in their podiums and graceful “tucks” in the crowning part of the 18-story volumes.
The Towers of “Sputnik”
Six towers, which make up a large housing complex standing on the bank of the Moskva River at the very start of the Novorizhskoe Highway, provide the answers to a whole number of marketing requirements and meets a whole number of restrictions, offering a simple rhythm and a laconic formula for the houses that the developer preferred to see as “flashy”.
The Starting Point
In this article, we are reviewing two retro projects: one is 20 years old, the other is 25. One of them is Saint Petersburg’s first-ever townhouse complex; the other became the first example of a high-end residential complex on Krestovsky Island. Both were designed and built by Evgeny Gerasimov and Partners.
The Path to New Ornamentation
The high-end residential complex “Aristocrat” situated next to a pine park at the start of the Rublev Highway presents a new stage of development of Moscow’s decorative historicist architecture: expensively decorated, yet largely based on light-colored tones, and masterfully using the romantic veneer of majolica inserts.
Renovation: the Far East Style
The competition project of renovating two central city blocks of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, developed by UNK project, won the nomination “Architectural and planning solutions of city construction”.
The Istituto Centrale per la Grafica in Rome presents Sergei Tchoban’s exhibition “Imprint of the future. Destiny of Piranesi’s City”. The exhibition includes four etchings, based on Roman architectural views of the XVIII century complemented by futuristic insertions, as well as a lot of drawings that investigate the same topic, at times quite expressively. The exhibition poses questions, but does not seem to give any answers. Since going to Rome is pretty problematic now, let’s at least examine the pictures.
In Search of Visual Clarity
In this article, we are reviewing a discussion devoted to the question of designing city space elements, which is quite complicated for the Russian expanses of land. The discussion was organized by the Genplan Institute of Moscow at the ArchMoscow convention in Gostiny Dvor.
The City of the Sun
Jointly designed by Sergey Tchoban and Vladimir Plotkin, the VTB Arena Park complex can arguably be considered the perfect experiment on solving the centuries-old controversy between traditional architecture and modernism. The framework of the design code, combined with the creative character of the plastique-based dialogue between the buildings, formed an all-but-perfect fragment of the city fabric.
...The Other Was Just Railroad Gin*
In their project of the third stage of “Ligovsky City” housing complex, located in the industrial “gray” belt of Saint Petersburg, the KCAP & Orange Architects & A-Len consortium set before themselves a task of keeping up the genius loci by preserving the contours of the railroad and likening the volumes of residential buildings to railroad containers, stacked up at the goods unloading station.
Lions on Glass
While reconstructing the facades of Building 4 of Moscow Hospital #23, SPEECH architects applied a technique, already known from Saint Petersburg projects by Sergey Tchoban – cassettes with elements of classical architecture printed on glass. The project was developed gratis, as a help to the hospital.
Park of Sentiments
The project of “Romantic Park Tuchkov Buyan”, which was developed by the consortium of Studio 44 and WEST 8, and has won an international competition, combines sculptural landscape design and wooden structures, variety of spatial features and an eventful agenda, designed for diverse audience, with a beautiful and complex passeist idea of a palace park, meant to evoke thoughts and feelings.
Architecture as an Educational Tool
The concept of a charity school “Tochka Budushchego” (“Point of the Future”) in Irkutsk is based on cutting-edge educational programs, and is designed, among other things, for adapting orphaned children for independent life. An important role is played by the architecture of the building: its structure and different types of interconnected spaces.
The Gallery Approach
In this article, we are covering the concept of a Central District Clinic for 240 patients, designed by Ginzburg Architects, which won at a competition organized by the Architects Union and the Healthcare Ministry.
In this issue, we are publishing the concept of a standard clinic designed by UNK Project, which took second place in the competition organized by the Union of Architects of Russia in collaboration with the Healthcare Ministry.
From Foundation to Teaspoon
Based on the taste of their friendly clients, the architects Olga Budennaya and Roman Leonidov designed and built a house in the Moscow metropolitan area playing Art Nouveau. At the same time, they enriched the typology of a private house with modern functions of a garage loft and a children’s art studio.
Continuation and Development
The second “office” stage of Comcity, the most popular business park of the “New Moscow” area, continues the underground street of the already existing part of the complex, responding to its architectural identity.
The Flying One
Expected to become an analogue of Moscow’s Skolkovo, the project of the High Park campus at Saint Petersburg’s ITMO University, designed by Studio 44, mesmerizes us with its sheer scale and the passion that the architects poured into it. Its core – the academic center – is interpreted as an avant-garde composition inspired by Piazza del Campo with a bell tower; the park is reminiscent of the “rays” of the main streets of Saint Petersburg, and, if watched from a birds-eye view, the whole complex looks like a motherboard with at least four processors on it. The design of the academic building even displays a few features of a sports arena. The project has a lot of meanings and allusions about it; all of them are united by plastique energy that the hadron collider itself could be jealous of.
A Comfortable City in Itself
The project that we are about to cover is seemingly impossible amidst human anthills, chaotically interspersed with old semi-neglected dachas. Meanwhile, the housing complex built on the Comcity business part does offer a comfortable environment of decent city: not excessively high-rise and moderately private as a version of the perfect modern urbanist solution.
Moving on the Edge
The housing complex “Litsa” (“Faces”) on Moscow’s Khodynka Field is one of the new grand-scale buildings that complement the construction around it. This particular building skillfully tackles the scale, subjugating it to the silhouette and the pattern; it also makes the most of the combination of a challenging land site and formidable square footage requirements, packing a whole number of features within one volume, so the house becomes an analogue of a city. And, to cap it all, it looks like a family that securely protects the children playing in the yard from... well, from everything, really.
Visual Stability Agent
A comparatively small house standing on the border of the Bolshevik Factory combines two diametrically opposite features: expensive materials and decorative character of Art Deco, and a wide-spaced, even somewhat brutal, facade grid that highlights a laminated attic.
The Faraday Cage
The project of the boutique apartment complex in the 1st Truzhenikov Lane is the architects’ attempt to squeeze a considerable volume into a tiny spot of land, at the same time making it look graceful and respectable. What came to their rescue was metal, stone, and curvilinear glass.
The Union of Art and Technology
His interest for architecture of the 1930’s is pretty much the guiding star for Stepan Liphart. In his project of the “Amo” house on St. Petersburg’s Vasilyevsky Island, the architect based himself on Moscow Art Deco - aesthetically intricate and decorated in scratch-work technique. As a bonus, he developed the city block typology as an organic structure.
The project that Evgeniy Gerasimov and Partners developed for Moscow’s Leningrad Avenue: the tallest building in the company’s portfolio, continuing the tradition of Moscow’s Stalin architecture.
In the project that they developed for a southern region of Russia, OSA Architects use multilayered facades that create an image of seaside resort architecture, and, in the vein of the latest trends of today, mix up different social groups that the residents belong to.
Just a Mirror for the Sun
The house that Sergey Skuratov designed in Nikolovorobinsky Alley is thought out down to the last detail. It adapts three historical facades, interprets a feeling of a complex city, is composed of many layers, and catches plenty of sunlight, from sunrises to sunsets. The architect himself believes that the main role of this house is creating a background for another nearby project of his, Art House in the Tessinsky Alley.
Part of the Whole
On June 5, the winners of Moscow Architectural Award were announced. The winners list includes the project of a school in Troitsk for 2,100 students, with its own astronomy dome, IT testing ground, museum, and a greenhouse on the roof.
Yet another project of a private school, in which Archimatika realizes the concept of aesthetic education and introduces a new tradition: combining Scandinavian and Soviet experience, turning to works of art, and implementing sustainable technologies.
In the “Parallel House” residence that he designed in the Moscow metropolitan area, the architect Roman Leonidov created a dramatic sculptural composition from totally basic shapes – parallelepipeds, whose collision turned into an exciting show.