​Sergey Oreshkin: our motto is pure architecture that keeps its identity with a healthy share of naivety.

The leader of A.Len Architects Sergey Oreshkin shares about the evolution of his company, working in the regions, and defending his creative ego.

Alyona Kuznetsova

Interviewed by:
Alyona Kuznetsova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov

26 June 2014

– How did it all start for A.Len? 

Sergei Oreshkin:
– 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.

26 June 2014

Alyona Kuznetsova

Interviewed by:

Alyona Kuznetsova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov
Headlines now
Vladimir Plotkin: “Our profession is complex, vulnerable, and sometimes defenseless against...
As part of the editorial project devoted to the high-rise and high-density construction that Moscow is seeing in recent years, we spoke to the leading architect of CU Reserve Vladimir Plotkin, the author of many grand-scale – and high-profile – buildings of this city. We spoke about an architect’s role and his tasks in the mega-construction process, about the drive of the megalopolis, about the strong sides of mixed and multifunctional construction, and about the methods of organizing big forms.
Upping the Stakes
The concept of a housing complex in Samara from T+T Architects: a new landmark in the cityscape, view of the Zhiguli Mountains, and VR technologies.
​Foothills and Peaks
Developed by OSA, the concept of revitalization of the territory of Stankoagregat plant combines two scales: extreme-high towers and relatively “human-friendly” urban villas. In the conditions of ultra-dense construction, this solution makes it possible to vacate territories for public spaces and trees, as well as adapt the project for the conditions of the changing market.
City in the Stream
The books by Genplan Institute of Moscow, published for the Institute’s 70th anniversary and for the coinciding exhibition, are the most amazing three-volume edition that I ever saw: the books are totally different, yet packed in one box. This, on the other hand, is justified by the specifics of each of the volumes, the diversity of approaches to processing information used in them, and the complexity of the material as such: town planning is a multifaceted science, bordering on art.
Stop the [special operetion]!
The collective letter Russian architects was published here the 26.02.2022. Now, 04.03.2022, it's text is edited according the new law of the Russian Federation. All the signatures, more than 6800, are deleted, as well as weblinks. But we coserved the edited text for the history.
​Shape of the Winery
In this article, we are telling you more about the development of the shape and the implementation of the “Skalisty Bereg” (“Rocky Shore”) winery, designed by Alexander Balabin and his company “Severin-Project” in the Krasnodar Territory, and one of the finalists of WAF 2021.
​An Architectural Reality Show
Roman Leonidov, the well-known architect of luxury countryside residences, about which Archi.ru repeatedly wrote, launched a new online project called “Build YOUR House” on his YouTube channel.
​Buyan and the Court Quarter
The news about cancellation of the Tuchkov Buyan park has been stirring the minds of people of St. Petersburg for a week already. In the absence of any verified specific information, we discussed the situation with the architects of the park and the Court Quarter: Nikita Yavein and Evgeny Gerasimov.
​The Possibility of Flight
The project of the airport, which ASADOV Architects developed for the city of Tobolsk, and which won in the architectural competition, was not implemented. However, it is interesting as an example of designing an airport building of a very small scale, where the main challenge is the optimal organization of space and infrastructure without compromising the imagery component.
​The Wavelength
Built in the town of Pushkino in the Moscow area, the “Turgeneva 13” housing complex, while fitting in with the surrounding context, differs from it with the rhythmic austerity of its dual composition, a slight wave of the façade, and the color design, in which one can see two images, winter and summer, both “growing” from the specifics of the place.
​A Shell by the Sea
Designing the Sports Palace that will determine the development of the entire northern part of Derbent, ASADOV Architects turned to the architectural legacy of Dagestan, local lore, and ancient layers of history.
​Christmas Skyscrapers
Karen Saprichyan is wishing everyone a merry Christmas, presenting a series of letter-shaped skyscrapers. The architect has long since been working on this theme, and has calendars of various years in stock. His latest development is a group of towers designed for the city of NEOM, which will be built in Saudi Arabia.
​Parade Order
The three brick blocks of the “River Park” housing complex gaze at the water with their terraces. Each block forms a backdrop and two wings, while the residents-only yards turn into “stages” perceived from the river. The landscaped embankment, accessible to all the city people, complements the hierarchy of private, semi-private and public city life that is formed here.
Pompidou Inside Out
Renzo Piano and his GES-2 have already been compared to Ridolfo Aristotele Fioravanti and his Cathedral of the Assumption. And for a good reason: GES-2 also stuns you with its grace and loftiness, but ultimately turns out to be the richest collection of recognizable motifs from an early masterpiece by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, the George Pompidou Center in Paris. These motifs are fused into the grid of Shukhov-esque structures, painted white, and they create a dialogue between 1910, 1971, and 2021, built on references (not devoid of a poster-like quality) to the main masterpiece. The basilica-shaped space of the former power station is taken apart virtually just like the museum, in accordance with the concept by Teresa Mavica.
​Next to Lidval and Nobel
The housing complex designed by Anatoly Stolyarchuk in Neishlotsky Alley: tactful change of scale, tribute to the memory of the place, Finnish additions to the functional typology – specifically, saunas in the apartments – and plans for receiving a BREEAM certificate.
​And stabbed it with a knife
The leader of Coop Himmelb(l)au, Wolf D. Prix, presented three projects that he is currently doing in Russia: a complex in Sevastopol, Crimea, which, as it turned out, a western architect could build bypassing the sanctions, because this is a cultural project; a museum and theater center in Kemerovo, and the “SKA Arena”, which is built in the stead of the destroyed Sports and Concert Complex in St. Petersburg – during the presentation the latter was symbolized by a round cake that the architect eventually cut.
​The Thin Matter
The house named “Medny 3.14” (“Copper 3.14”) is composed of two textures, each of which resembles in its own way some kind of precious fabric, and of three units, each of which is oriented towards one cardinal point. The architecture of the house absorbs the nuances of the context, summing them up and turning them into a single rhythmic structure. In this article, we are examining the new, just-completed, house designed by Sergey Skuratov in Donskaya Street.
​Super Pergola
The new business center built in Moscow’s district of Presnya in the 1st Zemelny Lane is all about technology and sustainability. Its streamlined shapes and white facade grid are combined with a new version of vertical greenery: the green of wild grapes, placed at a distance from the facade, instead of arguing with the “pergola” grid, sets it off by contrast.
​Lightness of Being
Blooming Sakura, a campfire party, kids splashing in a swimming pool – no, these are not pictures from a vacation, but everyday life going on in the yards of Kiev’s housing complex “Fayna Town”. In this issue, we are examining how the utopia designed by the architects is wired, and what they did to make it a reality.
​A Triangular Folded Structure
The project of the new terminal of the Muraviev-Amursky airport in Blagoveshchensk offers architecture based on a modular form – endowed with a special imagery, it becomes the basis both for the carrying structures of the building and the plastique of the facade, at the same time reverberating in the interior design.
​The Breath of the East
Designing a residential complex for Tashkent, GENPRO is turning to traditional architecture and modern trends, aiming at emotionality and efficiency: the panjar window lattices and mishrabias are neighboring on vertical greenery and parametric ornaments, while the theme buildings do on a cotton alley and an oriental bazaar.
​The Openwork XX-Construction Set
The yard of the Architecture Museum on Moscow’s Vozdvizhenka hosts an installation by DNK ag. It is timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the company, and was originally presented at Arch Moscow. The art object is expected to stay in the yard of the museum for one year and set a new tradition – a regularly renewed exhibition project called “Modern Architecture in the yard of MUAR”.
The Spinning Vibe
The pavilion designed by Sergey Tchoban for the World EXPO 2020 in Dubai is a bright and integral architectural statement, whose imagery can be traced back to avant-garde graphic experiments by Jacob Chernikhov, but allows for multiple interpretations. The pavilion looks both like a dome temple, a spinning “Planet Russia”, and the head of a matryoshka doll. Still more interestingly, the core of the exposition is a “brain”. In this article, we take a closer look at the interpretations and the subtleties of the implementation.
Tolerant Aesthetics of Terraforming
The World Expo is a gigantic event; it is difficult to give it one definition or cover it at a glance. All the more so – such an ambitious and record-breaking fair as the one that is now open in Dubai despite all the pandemic restrictions. By no means claiming to present an all-rounded review, we are making an attempt to examine Expo 2020, where signs of aesthetic tolerance of a developer project begin to loom behind the imposing-looking “wings” of “star” architects and delights from space exploration.
The Town in the Snuff-box
The new academic building of Cooperation School in Moscow’s Taganka, designed and built by ASADOV Architects, is a compact volume, at the same time filled with functions and impressions. It easily combines classrooms, a theater, a cafeteria, a gym, and a double-height atrium with an open library and an exit to the terrace – virtually everything that you expect to see in a modern school.
​The Northern Versailles
On the bank of the magnificent Vychegda River, in a picturesque location six kilometers away from Syktyvkar, the capital of the Komi republic, the renowned neoclassical architect Mikhail Filippov has designed the town of Yugyd-Choi in the traditional aesthetics inspired by the center of St. Petersburg. The customer Elena Soboleva, the head of the Syktyvkar Housing Construction Fund, sees her mission in making Yugyd-Choi the hallmark of the republic.