September 26, Singapore's Red Dot Design Museum played host to the prestigious Red Dot Award: Design Concept 2014. The prize-winning list includes two works by the Russian designer Arseny Leonovich. "Red Dots" gave honorable mention to KOSATKI project that was about the design of lights and the city benches Bench House. We spoke to Arseny about architects that are into design, about Italy, and about what things should be taught to today's students.
- What is, in your opinion, the difference between the designer architects from the "pure" designers?
- Arseny Leonovich:
- An industrial designer solely handles his tasks in the format of his or her designer needs. He comes up with the technical specifications proceeding from the scale and magnitude of the model that he designs, be that a chair or a tea glass holder. The architect, by definition, when he is faced with a similar challenge, must handle his task in a broader manner, and, let's say, in a number of different formats... Because from the very start the architect is taught to sum up much more factors than the student of design is supposed to, who is meant to perform rather specific tasks of designing "chairs-tables-bottle-openers". And I am not saying that it's "bad", either. Possibly, out of a hundred designers that do nothing but design chairs, you will be able to pull out an architect or two. But something tells me that in the world's big-time design there have always been a lot of people with an architectural education or at least with an architectural vision.
- In this case, what would you say about the projects by your western colleagues, such as, for example, Piero Lisdini or Antonio Citterio that are architects just like you but that still do successful design projects?
- To me, they will always remain an example of a "designer" nation that has virtually no limits. The Italians were born into the cradle of architecture and design. When an Italian architect, while taking a break from creating some high-profile project, is doing some consumer goods design, it is as easy for him as having a cup of coffee. Generally, Italy has always been the origin of numerous architects. Suffice it to say that today there are several thousand students that graduate from the Turin Polytechnic Institute alone and a whole lot more if we take the whole Italy. Take good old Florence, for example. They will all become unemployed if each one of them claims to build a palazzo or a country house. And it was not by chance, as far as I remember, that still during WWII the Italian government and the lobby circles stipulated design as one of the key development vectors of the country's economy - so as the world and the European mind would clearly associate the very word "design" with Italy. And they really did it. I think you will agree that in comparison, say, to the German design, the Italian design is a lot more recognized notion, and the very word combination is steadier.
- So it seems that you attribute your recent victory in two nominations ‘Red Dot Award: Design Concept 2014’ with the "architectural" character your design outlook?
- Yes, possibly, they saw in my work the "architectural" vision of the design. Take KOSATKI, for example. On the one hand, this project shows a poetic and romantic image but, on the other hand, it is quite technology-friendly. As an object, this lamp is firmly connected with a double-height or a very tall room or hall. Meaning - this clear-cut image has a technical and functional casing to it. The same holds true for the benches BENCH HOUSE that are all about the idea of a country house. I think you will agree that while walking down the street we will be subconsciously attracted by this "house" - simply because it gives us some certain vision, some super idea, the image of a "house". And it is the first thing that people see, only noticing the bench later on.
- What is the greatest challenge for you in industrial design?
- Probably, making the right guess of what the "call of time" must be today... Each challenge already has an answer to it at its very heart. This is why the students must be taught to unravel charades as much as possible. Because the answers are always there and the most beautiful and groundbreaking things are always on the surface, actually. How is our educational process organized? Here we go, guys, here are the technical specifications for you, here is the land plot, we want a seven-story house on it...
But there is also a different approach out there, when the architect comes and starts "listening" to the place, trying to understand just what this place is all about and how he can unobtrusively and gracefully implement his or her ideas here. Meaning - when the posing and solving of spacial and strictly material challenges is influenced by things that belong to a totally different category... The design work could also be measured by this tool: listen to the calls of times, carefully study the location, social needs, and the geometry of the land that you are working with.
Of course, today nobody will permit us to be solely guided by the philosophical or poetic considerations. There are up-to-date building materials, environmental approach, economy reasons, and the minimum possible budget to consider. The best project will be the one that, while still at the preliminary proposal stage, is encumbered with a large number of requirements and conditions. Take our last project of a private residential house in Germany, for example.
We were faced with a lot of challenges: we could not move anything a single inch. Still, however, within the limits of these "sliced empty spaces" we were able to do everything that was required of us: economically, efficiently, and with good taste.
In the field of design I value really high our collection of the work tables for Nayada company. What we did was we just violated every typological boundary you can think of: there used to be tables with four legs, and there used to be separate partitions, so we went ahead and cast away everything that we did not need. As my professors would say, all the new discoveries are made at the junction of the typologies, at the point where they bleed into each other. So it is not by chance that today a bench bleeds into an armchair, an armchair - into a table, a table - into a closet, and so on. Your working furniture flows into the furniture that you will use for taking a rest. Today these processes are ever brighter and more and more significant.
- Your designer work often win prizes at international and Russian contests. At a minimum, they make the short-lists. What does participating in such contests mean to you - is it about your vanity, your talent, or just your drive?
- I think that with time I really became a driven person, so now these designer contests are much of a sport for me. As a student, when I heard about participating in the contests and tenders, I thought that this was for some super people, and I was too young and inexperienced to do that. With experience, this fear grew into motivation and drive. Now I avidly spring at every such opportunity - I wish I had more time for that. But if we are to put the sport or charismatic motivation aside, any contest for me is all about discovering something new. For example, back in 2003 I got a task of designing a door handle in the design contest organized by the Italian company Valli&Valli.
Had it not been for this, I would have lived on unaware of the fact that there is an opportunity of designing a door handle: this thing seemingly so clear, so routine, and so day-to-day but one that inscribed a lot of architects and designers into the context of the world fame. I really enjoy remembering this project. The very shape was found so many years ago, and now it has become popular and recognizable. Today there are lots of similar models out there...
- In the perfect world, what is your ideal of design, icon of style?
- Well, the first things that come to mind are the works by Aalto, Imzov, Jacobsen. Also, Ico Parisi, Carlo Mollino, Gio Ponti. Ponti's every work is high-profile. His modernism is deeply rooted in the centuries-old Italian culture. It's amazing how the simplification of shape, the "open" color - everything that is related in one way or another with the modernist tradition - is beautifully superimposed on the designer's drawing talent, his deep knowledge of history of arts... Each name on this list is a peculiar human icon to me, the quintessence of embodiment of designer genius.
The Energy Family
The housing complex Symphony 34 will be built in Moscow’s Savelovsky district; it will consist of four towers from 36 to 54 stories high. Each of the towers has an image of its own, but they all are gathered into a single architectural ensemble – a fragment of a new high-rise urban space lying outside the Third Transport Ring.
The Fifth Element
The high-end residential development in the Vsevolozhsky Lane features a combination of expensive stone and metal textures, immersing them into a feast of ornaments. The house looks like a fantasy inspired by the theater of the Art Nouveau and Symbolism era; a kind of oriental fairy tale, which paradoxically allows it to avoid direct stylization and become a reflection of one of the aspects of modern Moscow life.
Springboards and Patios
The central element of the manor house in the village of Antonovka, designed by Roman Leonidov, is the inner yard with pergolas, meant to remind its owner about his vacations in exotic countries. The exposed wooden structures emphasize the soaring diagonals of single-pitched roofs.
Adding Up a Growing City
The housing quarter “1147” is located at the border between the old “Stalin” district in the north and the actively developing territories in the south. Its image responds to a difficult task: the compound brick facades of the neighboring sections are different, their height varying from 9 to 22 floors, and, if we are look from the street, it seems as though the front of the city development, consisting from long narrow elements, is forming some sophisticated array at this very moment in front of our eyes.
Agility of the Modular
In the Discovery housing complex that they designed, ADM architects proposed a modern version of structuralism: the form is based on modular cells, which, smoothly protruding and deepening, make the volumes display a kind of restrained flexibility, differentiated element by element. The lamellar and ledged facades are “stitched” with golden threads – they unite the volumes, emphasizing the textured character of the architectural solution.
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.