Archi.ru: - You use term ‘cultural artifact’ when you are talking of historical buildings meaning that they are multi-layered products of the past. In this sense, your buildings and building by your colleagues are products of past and contemporary culture. But the language of your architecture is a language of modernism. So the modernism is still relevant today, isn’t it?
Tony Fretton: – Yes, absolutely. The Modern Movement was as significant as the Renaissance, and it still influences the thinking of architects and planners today, but we have forgotten the great things it achieved and what it replaced. Before modernism the predominant architectural style was Beaux Arts classicism, which had several centuries of class distinctions built into it. The house of a worker would be plain utilitarian while that of a rich person would be decorated like a wedding cake. A government building would be a palazzo while a factory would be a shed. The architects of the Modern Movement found an abstract and functional architecture that was appropriate to new democratic society, in which class distinctions were not present, an amazing achievement. Some of the most important buildings of the early stage of modernism are here in Russia – Melnikov’s house and clubs, Ginzburg’s Narkonfim.
Modernist buildings have not always been appreciated because they lack conventional familiar meaning. London where I live part of the time is full of familiar meaning, which is both wonderful and stifling. In Rotterdam, a thoroughly modernist city where I live for the other part of the time the lack of familiar meaning gives a kind of freedom. As a designer I am interested both in familiarity and abstraction.
If we take a wider view of modernism that includes painting, literature and music as well as architecture we can see that Picasso, James Joyce, Stravinsky and Le Corbusier freely used motifs from the past in combination with the new possibilities of modernism to make work that was appropriate to the present époque. It seems to me that as a modernist architect today it is still possible to do this, as you can see from the Red House, the British Embassy and the Fuglsang, and to do this with integrity and social relevance in a way that is completely free of post-modern irony.
- Actually you have answered my next question about engaging people with the works of modernism because here in Russia when someone sees buildings by David Chipperfield, for example, they say that they are like late Soviet times, and it’s true because we have here in Moscow some buildings from 1970s that really look……
– Like buildings by David Chipperfield?
– David, my friend, they are saying in Moscow that your works are Soviet in style. If it were me I would be flattered. I find buildings from that period very interesting, particularly the Russian Academy of Sciences building in Moscow by Yuri Platonov. From an external perspective many interesting things occurred in the Soviet sphere that gave strength to people of the left in the rest of the world. We are in a situation now where economic liberalism prevails unchallenged and its greed, individualism and social carelessness are visible in the built environment, both in Russia and the West. Like an increasingly large number of people, in the face of this situation I have to show in interviews like this and other means that I am politically aware of the present and the need to develop alternatives.
- Of course, nobody argues that architect should not be socially responsible. But don’t you think that something like social responsibility is in vogue now, everyone has to work in the developing countries and so on?
– I think that it is a more concrete tendency than a vogue; certainly my students in London are increasingly socially minded. I do not have experience in working in developing countries, just the UK (which sometimes can feel like a developing country) and Northern Europe.
- You work in the United Kingdom but also a lot of your buildings are realized in the Netherlands. How did it turn out this way?
– At the time Holland was experimenting with different perspectives and interested in foreign architects, a little like having a holiday romance with a hot Italian, or in my case a cool Englishman. Dutch society and English society are quite similar. Despite their current viciously conservative regimes they are fundamentally socially democratic. Local inflections exist and in relation to them our buildings probably seem slightly strange, but actually cities are better if they have slightly strange parts.
- I remember David Adjaye saying at the opening of this building that he liked to work in Russia and he would like to build something else in Moscow. But you know his Skolkovo school is still a single building by the prominent foreign architect in Russia.
– I am sure that what he said was completely altruistic and not in any way intended to advance his career. In answer to the second part of the question Russia has very good architects, as good as any in the world so I am not sure it needs many foreign architects.
- And you say that you are friends?
– David and I are friends. He calls me the godfather of architecture in London, so I think I am allowed to tease him a little.
- Well, your work and his are from different parts of the spectrum…
– David’s work is in the polychromatic part of the spectrum… I have been influential on the younger generation, they say, but we each have our own voice and respect each other.
- From the outsider’s point of view it seems there is a strong group of modernist architects in Britain now, stronger than in Germany, for example – you, David Chipperfield, Keith Williams, Terry Pawson…
– Include Sergison Bates, Steven Taylor, Jonathan Woolf, Ian Ritchie and a lot of others in that list. It was really surprising to discover that the world is interested in our work, because being an architect in the UK can feel like rowing upstream against a strong current. That is why Chipperfield, Stirling, Foster, Rogers and I have had to work in other countries. It is a pleasure to hear we are a movement. Recognition is good and you try to be responsible with it. So coming to Russia I’ll try to talk in a particular gentle way about possibility of ideas to make an open offering to people rather than imposing another stylistic position.
- It’s also a question for me because you and David Chipperfield in your interviews criticize the English attitude towards architects and architecture, architecture production and so on. Why is that – because from the Russian point of there is a paradise for architects everywhere in Europe.
– It’s proper for architects to point out to politicians and bureaucrats in their culture where things could be better. I admire David because he is completely outspoken. Other architects in his position would be diplomatic, and ‘starchitects’ would say what the other person wants to hear. David is a very valuable critic and his work consistently extremely good. I learned a lot from it and I get my students to study his work. He is a great designer, builds so well, understands materials so well, and understands how to produce large volumes of high quality work.
We need lots of different architects in the society, architects like David with a large productive capacities and architects like me producing a smaller amount of intense work. And we have to think beyond our own time by teaching future generation of architects and helping them to get started.
So it’s a happy but precarious situation in London, one that we should keep criticizing. It looks much harder in Moscow. If I can say this, greed and ignorance are ruining Moscow as they have done in London. Two days ago Mikhail Khazanov showed me his building for the Moscow Regional government. There was intense pressure on him to get rid of the atrium, but he was right not to, because in the next decades people will become accustomed to the idea of communicating freely in this public space and Mikhail will be proved to have been ahead of his time. Architects have to be difficult, to be unwilling to compromise, because often they are the only ones that make these forward steps. The Constructivists demonstrate that very clearly.
- That’s true, but you know that their buildings now are in very bad condition.
– That’s a tragedy and actually monstrous because their buildings were central for the development of the European Modernism, as central as those of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. There is a cultural duty to Russia and Europe to restore and care for them in a scholarly way. Market forces will not do this. Now that the full extent of the Thatcherist experiment can be seen there is a dawning awareness in the UK that blind faith in market forces has not delivered a sustainable society or city and there is a need for intelligent, cultured planning. Developers in Moscow might like to think about the type of city they leave to their children and grandchildren.
- I am afraid that they are just going to send their grandchildren to the US…
– …or to London.
- Or to London, where a lot of them already live. So, speaking of the younger generation: you have an extensive experience as a teacher, you’ve come here also as a teacher. Have your teaching methods changed over the years?
– I think they have, but I could not say how, because it has been an evolving process. The continuity of older ideas in contemporary society interests me. I do not mean as history, but as long established ways of doing things that remain relevant in the present. In that respect I can say is that in my experience, architecture students have not fundamentally changed. They remain instinctively humanistic and socially minded. So I am very confident in the present generation both in London at the Cass school where I am now teaching and the students in my workshop this week at Strelka.
- So what is the main advice that you give your students when they are graduating?
– I try to give them advice cumulatively before they graduate. I think that the present situation needs many different points of view working together, as in the development of open source software. Like many other teachers I acknowledge that students can make a contribution to architectural thinking. I show students how to recognize the value of their ideas and take them into a course of action. I could be accused of being uncritical, but that is a small price to pay for giving younger architects confidence combined with a sense of social responsibility.
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.
In the Istra district of Moscow metropolitan area, the tandem of 4izmerenie and ARS-ST designed a sports complex – a monovolume that has the shape of a chamfered parallelepiped with a pointed “nose” like a ship’s bow.