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Viable Unit

A version of a mobile modular house with a protective "shell" of the easily transformable roof and a stunning variety of possible functions - from residential to office

Written by:
Alla Pavlikova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov

16 February 2015
Object
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Last spring, within the framework of the key exposition of "Arch Moscow" named "Kvartaly" ("Quarters"), Totan Kuzembaev Bureau presented an interesting stand that seemed to us at that point to be conceptual and in some ways even ironic: a curious "anti-quarter" of sorts. Its idea was all about dissecting all the vistas of this boundless country into 5x5 kilometer squares placing inside each of such squares a capsule where "a lone hiker can take a test and spend the night". The grid of the live modules was just as attractive as unrealistic and utopian, clearly resembling the set-up of some sci-fi novel and not the real prospect of Russian life. 

"Dividing Russia into such fields is not at all utopian - comments Olzhas Kuzembaev on the regular mode of using his modular houses showcased at "Arch Moscow" - this idea was discussed as early as in the 1920's together with the so-called GOELRO plan, the first-ever Soviet plan for national economic recovery and development; it was at that time that the cadastral development scenario was developed. Over the last year, the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade promoted, in many subjects of the Russian Federation, the adoption of laws about providing the land to people for free, and our plan, though conditionally, reflects this process". Well, a great idea - any side observer will tell you. However, it turned out that the modular house is quite realistic and its first sample/prototype has already been built in Kuzembaev studio and will soon be offered - no, not for the tired hikers - will be offered for sale, and, for all intents and purposes, pretty soon, too. 

As for the historical background of the project, it runs as follows. Two years ago, Moscow Architects Union launched a scholarship program for the young architects who were offered to do a research in environmentally friendly and energy-efficient construction and ultimately come up with an innovation project - although the task was formulated in a general way, without any particular specifications. One of the participants of the program whose portfolio got short-listed was Olzhas Kuzembaev who ultimately proposed a version of the modular mini-house of his own. After that, the idea was developed and turned into a real project in Totan Kuzembaev Studio where Olzhas is now working alongside his father. 

The resulting house, or, to be more exact, residential module named "InstaShell" is remarkably compact and easy to assemble. Six meters long, a little over two meters wide, and two and a half meters high on the inside - the dimensions are made to exactly fit the parameters of a standard transport container - which provides an opportunity to transport this module by truck, by train, or by sea, the extra sturdiness of its construction allowing for hundreds and hundreds of relocations. The module comes factory-made; it is expected that one single person armed with a small crane will be able to assemble it on a basement that is possible to place on the terrain of any complexity: "be that a virgin forest or a mountain slope", as the author comments. In any case, neither heavy machinery nor construction crew is needed. 

Eco house project. Forest bedroom © Totan Kuzembaev architectural studio
Eco house project. Plan of the mini-house © Totan Kuzembaev architectural studio


Eco house project. Bath house next to the lake © Totan Kuzembaev architectural studio


The architecture of the module is extremely simple: this is a parallelepiped, one of whose longitudinal walls is almost completely made of glass and serves as "the main facade" of sorts. Yet the most interesting element of the house is the "cap" of the transformer roof that can be raised or lowered by electricity or by hand-operated gear. When folded, it functions as a protective casing, something like rolling shutters, thanks to which it is possible to preserve the house long-term - the module, like a turtle, hides in its shell, providing for itself a secure protection from the sunlight, rain, and other elements, as well as vandals or aggressive wild animals. And in the fine weather, welcoming its guests, it opens its "shutter" just like a beetle opens its chitinous sheaths. The cap will be made from recycled corrugated metal sheets: on the one hand, they are hard to break or to bite through, and, on the other hand, the use of such material, according to the author, Olzhas Kuzembaev, "increases the ecological responsibility of the project". 

The cap is interesting not only because of the security of its protective properties but also because of its transformation possibilities: if you raise it but partly, for example, at 45 degrees, it forms, in front of the glass wall, a small-sized marquee, and the house's silhouette takes on a semblance of a gable roof that is as winning as it is convenient: the water and snow will not accumulate on the pitches of the roof. And, when it is completely open, the shell makes an open air roof terrace, at the same time protected from the wind and the rain. 

Eco house project. Section view of the house © Totan Kuzembaev architectural studio


Eco house project. Section view of the dining room © Totan Kuzembaev architectural studio


The standard residential module with a floor deck of small wooden terrace before the entrance includes but one room and a bathroom and is designed, rather, for temporary residence - during the fishing or hunting season, for example. As a permanent residence, the double version that is 12 meters long can be used. It has quite enough room for all the spaces and objects necessary for living. However, the authors position the module as quite a self-sufficient thing, proposing to use it not only as a temporary residence but also as a shop or a cafe - with little tables standing around it and on the roof as well, accessed by a steep roof. Inside of it, one can organize even a small office or a small gym or a rehearsal studio. A few separate capsules can be scattered around the forest: the bedroom can be placed in a thicket, the dining room - on a sunlit lawn, and the bathhouse - next to a river. The authors propose the idea that the people who will live in such houses will move between them by the most eco-friendly type of transport - the bicycle. 

Eco house project. A cafeteria or a cafe © Totan Kuzembaev architectural studio


The video demonstrates logic of the mini-house's working process: 




The house is designed to be fully self-supported, it consumes very little power and can virtually take care of itself, the authors proposing, just like with the module function case, to combine various options of alternative energy sources, from wind-powered generators and solar batteries to the regular wood furnace. 

This Olzhas Kuzembaev project definitely belongs to the genre of compact transformable mini-modules that hitherto was presented in Russia by the board quick-mount dacha houses, kiosks, and the ubiquitous makeshift barracks that are really convenient to place back-to-back at the construction sites - all of the above bored the people to death, probably, still in the soviet era. So, it is only in the recent years that the Russian architects started designing various modern options of mini-houses. Some of them are unique and original, some claim the status of a fully-edged family residence; there are also houses that are into the possibility of transforming per se. What makes the Kuzembaev project different? Probably, the fact that it combines a few small-sized prototypes all rolled into one: a barrack, a kiosk, and a cabin in the woods with a slight "luxury" twist to it that is still quite discernible thanks to the glass wall - it turns out that all this can be squeezed into one module with a whole bunch of operation modes. As a matter of fact, it really thrills me imagining the Taiga or some large forest "tamed" with the help of such autonomous modules - but still, the most original idea of their area of employment is turning then into offices. 

Currently, the first sample of the mini-house is virtually complete. For the time being, it will be an exhibition specimen, but further on down the line everybody will be able to afford to buy the module fitting his it her needs in order to broaden the range of his or her notions of the houses that this life can be lived in.
Eco house project. Options of placing the house in different kinds of environment © Totan Kuzembaev architectural studio
Eco house project. Options of placing the house in different kinds of environment © Totan Kuzembaev architectural studio
Eco house project. Options of placing the house in different kinds of environment © Totan Kuzembaev architectural studio
Eco house project. Options of placing the house in different kinds of environment © Totan Kuzembaev architectural studio
Eco house project. Options of placing the house in different kinds of environment © Totan Kuzembaev architectural studio
Eco house project. Options of placing the house in different kinds of environment © Totan Kuzembaev architectural studio
Eco house project. Plan of the dining room © Totan Kuzembaev architectural studio
Eco house project. Plan of the doible-room module © Totan Kuzembaev architectural studio
Eco house project. The option of office planning © Totan Kuzembaev architectural studio
Eco house project. Section view of the office © Totan Kuzembaev architectural studio


16 February 2015

Written by:

Alla Pavlikova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov
Headlines now
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
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​Architectural Laboratory
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​“Architectural Archaeology of the Narkomfin Building”: the Recap
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​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.
​Celestial Tectonics
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
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​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
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​Renovation: the Far East Style
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​The Contact
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​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
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​...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
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​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.
Health Constructor
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.
​The Aperture Effect
For a housing complex built in the town of Pushkino in the Moscow metropolitan area, KPLN Architects designed facades that adjust the stream of light by using the wall geometry.
​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.
Color and Line
The new successful techniques developed by A.Len for designing a kindergarten under budget constraints: the mosaic of irregular windows and working with color.
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 Countdown
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.
White Town
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.
Pedagogical Architecture
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.
​Rational Arrangement
In this article, we are examining a complex of buildings and interiors of the first stage of the project that has recently become extremely popular – the Kommunarka clinic.