Reconstructing a theater building, and not just any theater but one that is aimed at creating a synthesis of tradition and innovation, is a task as challenging as it is exciting but nonetheless making perfect sense for Wowhaus Bureau that has for long specialized in designing public territories.
Written by: Julia Tarabarina Translated by: Anton Mizonov
On the 26th of January, Moscow saw the inauguration of "Electrotheater Stanislavsky". Wowhaus Architectural Bureau reconstructed for the theater a group of buildings at 23, Tverskaya Street on a really tight schedule - approximately within a year since Stanislavsky Drama Theater got a new art director - Boris Yukhananov who at once started rebranding the theater and remodeling its premises. The first part of the new name that Yukhananov came up with is borrowed from "Electrotheater ARC" that had been organized in this very building in 1915 by the jeweler Abraham Gechtman - as a matter of fact, back in those days "electrotheater" was a common term for a movie theater. In the new name, the word "electrotheater" sounds not so much high-profile, as it did back in those days, as playful; just as mysterious an impression is produced by the new logo with the image of Stanislavsky inside an electric bulb - according to Yukhananov, it means that the renovated theater is "a ray of light in the realm of darkness". One of the theater's main tasks is "the synthesis of a radical search with the classical theater tradition", and the renovation "does not violate but tactfully preserves the spirit of the place", as the new press release says. These words refer not only to the troupe that nobody quit but also to the architectural project.
The edifice was built in 1874 and initially had "furnished accommodations" in it. In 1915-1916, the architect Pavel Zabolotsky rebuilt it in the new empire style for Gechtman's "electrotheater": the facade of that time has come to us almost fully intact, while the interiors of the foyers were remodeled in the 1950's when the entire building was moved over in order to broaden the Tverskaya Street. Today, the theater occupies several buildings: House N23 built in 1915 with a later addition of an elongated annex going deeper into the yard, House N25 on the Tverskaya Street, and a few smaller buildings of an auxiliary aspect inside the yard.
All of these structures, joined together in a rather chaotic fashion, by the moment the renovation started, were in a pretty shaky state - the architects and designers, after the work had already started, had to make corrections to the project making extra reinforcements to the historical structures that at some places were holding on a prayer. Again, in the course of work, it became obvious that the heating mains running through the yard needed to be routed underground but that needed the approval of the city council which also impeded the implementation of the project - organizing the yard and the minor stage was to be put off till the second stage of the construction. Meanwhile, the reconstruction process turned out be challenging but nonetheless exciting, as the architects confess: for example, they ran into one of the rails that were used to move the building when the Tverskaya Street was broadened. The architects were able to do the reconstruction work on a short notice through the effort of everybody who was working on the project, as well as because of the fact that it was privately financed.
The main subject of the reconstruction, due to the fact that it was an experimental theater that the architects were dealing with, was, of course, the theater stage. From the box of the main stage, the architects deleted all the spectator seats, turning it into a space that is completely empty, or, to be more exact, open to various transformations. The spectator seats can now be arranged in any possible way you can think of; the spectators can even sit on the wooden floor.
"The auditorium is sort of hovering in space - shares Oleg Shapiro - It has no fly-gallery: up above, there is the rehearsal room and the management offices, and below, there are the foyers and cafes. This is why we placed all the structures that are necessary for suspending the decorations in the upper part of the existing volume of the stage; specifically, the 120 winches installed on the sides of the auditorium box allow for placing the stage structures and decorations virtually in any part of the space. This same framework can have video, audio, and other equipment mounted upon it" - this stage has a lot of possibilities in terms of the modern theater that presupposes a variety of unconventional techniques among which the spectator's participation in the performance is probably the most obvious thing that comes to mind.
The floor space of the box of the main stage is 423,9 square metes, it is long and tall. The walls are covered with white plaster panels of a zigzag shape that is perfect for great acoustic properties; in front of it, with a slight backlash, there is a rectangular grid of slender black pillars; visually it supports the theme of the just as checkered structure of the ceiling, and, from the practical standpoint it serves for mounting the lights turned on to the white walls whose ribbed shape adds to the ethereal light network a palpable note of eccentricity (the project provides for more than three hundred lighting options, including ones with different colors and different dynamics of changing the backlighting).
In other words, the "other-worldliness" of the space of the main stage will be felt by the spectator once he gets inside the auditorium. On entering the hall, we find ourselves inside a giant theater machine: while Meyerhold, for example, placed his turning table (or "drum revolve") in the middle of the stage, in this theater both the spectators and the actors are in the middle, and the revolving machine is actually around them, each of them playing a part of their own in accordance with the director's plan. It's not that this technique is groundbreaking - rather, it follows in the footsteps of today's theater tradition; the mechanization of the theater space around people can resemble, for example, the circus on the Vernadskogo Avenue. And, it's not that all of the machinery is viewable - this will probably depend on the specifics of each particular performance - but the black grille as such, together with the backlit corrugated walls, goes a long way to create the impression of terminal openness and minimum of decoration, to a large extent opposed to the classic theater that is all about the notion of mask per se. It is common knowledge, for example, that the recently-restored baroque plaster decoration in the Bolshoi Theater also served to improve the acoustic properties of the auditorium, while in our case, instead of the golden ringlets and scrolls, we have a space of whiteness, a geometrically simple, although lit in a sophisticated way, structure in front of it, that bears a distant resemblance to the building works, or maybe the guides of a perspective drawing left untouched, that are ultimately the essence of any theater that is inevitably tied to the grid of space structures. Getting into the auditorium, alias stage, the audience finds itself inside a space that, being dissected and prepared for the show in the world imagined by human mind, looks very much like a perspective sketch of a picture. More than that: the spectators get inside this structure once they enter the theater at all but first things first.
The only classical element in the auditorium is the balcony that is officially protected; it is a red thing with an elegant wooden railing.
The rest of the building or, rather the several buildings situated around the nucleus of the stage exist in the following way. The facade has, of course, been carefully restored, including the new doors that still imitate the historical ones; the double glass panes are encased in wooden frames. Inside, on the one side, there is an ongoing interaction between the carefully cleared elements of the "old architecture" and the ostentatiously neat modern inclusions. On the other side, the architects, according to their own words, tried to look at this building through the eyes of the actors that have a habit of calling the lower cloakrooms "hell", and the stage "heaven". Indeed, arranged in the hitherto empty basement, the cloakroom is not devoid of the "hellfire" flavor: the walls are covered with polished copper panels (putting one in the mind of hell's frying pans) and the spotlights are of an unmistakable "warm glow" hue. Still, the subtle humor will only be discerned by an informed or really keen observer; besides, it is hardly appropriate in a theater, after all. Taking this comparison still further, one might imagine black plastic tubes before the theater entrance as a reminder of the archangels' trumpets, even though these tubes look more like a pan flute - which also, strictly speaking, is not quite alien to the theater that is looking to join the classic and the modern under one roof. It cannot be by chance that the first performance that was staged in this building was "The Bacchae" by Euripides - in Annensky's translation and directed by the Greek Theodoros Thersopoulos.
Meanwhile, from the purely architectural standpoint, interesting are not only the references to the Dionysian extravaganzas and their role in forming the images of heaven and hell but also the interaction between the Wowhaus architects with the space and the details of the historic building in the heart of the city. What catches the eye first of all here is the fact that all the surviving classicism decor - and these are the caissons with rosettes on the ceiling, and the banisters of the stairways - were stripped by the architects of the numerous layers of paint and not painted over again but covered with transparent lacquer. It is clearly seen that these decor elements are molded from rock chippings, rather large, the size of a lenticular seed - one can touch it with his or her fingers. Of course, initially this kind of texture would have required at least one layer of paint and, truth be told, was not meant to be in the public eye at all - the architects uncover it making a kind of "archeological theater" for the spectators - and achieve the right effect: the foyer, though not literally, started looking like a museum or maybe some antique ruin, even though the whole decor is not really historically valuable, from the Stalin times. Still, it is classicism - which is quite appropriate here.
The second similar and maybe even more radical move of uncovering the old building to the audience is the pillars in the foyer on the first floor, in the already-mentioned annex that was added to the building from the side of the yard. Originally, the architects planned, treating the image of "electrotheater" literally, make the pillars glow in the dark all along their length. Ultimately, they did a different thing - they completely separated the metal rods of the pillars and left them as they were, painting them black together with the rivets and the welded-on pieces of metal that were in fact meant to support the decorative "skin" of the pillars. In a word, the perfect architectural ecorche! Thanks to which the space of the foyer, being saturated with metal, became looking like a production facility of some ancient factory, and there appeared, yet again, a little theatric, amplified by the sloppiness of the welding, effect of an industrial space turned into cultural.
Parallel to the rows of the supports, the foyer sports the automatic partitions sliding along the guiding rails mounted on the ceiling, and thus the degree of lighting can vary within a really broad range. Everything is ready for making performances here, as well as mini-skits, for example, warming up the audience before the main show or even fully-fledged ones. Thus, the main foyer does not just precede the stage as a trivial lobby but boosts it to a higher level and in some ways replicates its possibilities; this foyer is also a stage of sorts. There is also an element of almost literal likeness: the caissons are duplicated by a grid of metal drafts with backlighting turned onto the ceiling and highlighting its geometrical logic - it looks like the black stripes with the backlighting reflected by the auditorium walls. Being the common technique here, the black grid united the areas accessible to the spectators into a single whole - it reminds us of the fact that we all are inside a three-dimensional space that is easier of all to understand being dissected into squares. It also opposes the exuberant caisson to the simple and technology-friendly metal draft with its clear avid simple task (just like the theater's!) - to provide the light.
The entrance lobby of the first floor will be open to the general public, not only to the people who bought the tickets. Even visiting the exhibition that it will house from time to time will be free of charge. The loss of the two restaurants that used to be there on the first floor of the theater will be made up for by the bar Noor; there has already opened a bookstore that is managed by Saint Petersburg's "Word Order" team. Another piece of practical information: the building that stretches along the Tverskaya Street towards the Mamontovsky Alley now houses six rehearsal halls; the theater got its own workshops for producing the decorations and costumes; the building got a new ventilation system and had all of its engineering communications replaced. The dressing-rooms are fitted in a really cozy way; their ceilings sports hints of an old celestial map, and in the corridor, there is one of Yukhananov's sketches of the performances.
Back to the project, though! As was already said, all of the described above is only the first stage. The second stage, the implementation of which was delayed by the circumstances, in particular, because of the hearing main in the yard, provides for placing the minor stage of the theater in a small separately standing outbuilding, as well as for landscaping the yard. The ideas are pretty much the same: the space will be versatile, automatically transformed and multifunctional. Today, the small yard of the theater is in a neglected state (it looks particularly ugly because of the pipes of the heating main) but it presents a characteristic example of the yard territories of Moscow's center. One can enter the yard to the left of the main theater entrance.
It is planned that the yard will be surrounded by a few tiers of metallic galleries - they look simultaneously like fire escape landings and the balconies in the southern towns, and pick up the idea of the metallic structural grille network that we liked so much on the inside. It looks as though the framework of the renovated theater grew not only into the building but also gave offshoots on the outside.
It is planned that the long facet of the box of the minor stage will be moved over to the wall of the reconstructed "barn" building in the yard that is adjacent to the yard territory. And, this wall will be made transformable, capable of opening up. Thus, in the wintertime, when Moscow is cold, the Minor Stage will be a small enclosed space for a small number of spectators, while in the summertime the audience can sit in the yard with the metal galleries (remember?) being the "the gods" and the stage performing its usual functions. The yard can be accessed both from the foyer of the first floor and from the street outside.
The project of such a theater is logical step in the development of Wowhaus that builds neither offices, nor residential houses, nor even shopping centers - but specializes in designing public territories of various degrees of complexity. The architects started their career from "Praktika" Theater on the Patriarshie Ponds; then there was the yard of "Strelka" Institute that became one of the best spaces for concerts and lectures in Moscow and that will, regretfully, soon be closed down; the "Green Theater", and a few other amphitheaters, in particular the one that was recently "inbuilt" into the space of Berlin Architectural Gallery. In a word, the theme of the theater as the ultimate public space (which was known perfectly well still in the Ancient Rome) is close and familiar to Wowhaus. Besides, in this particular case we are dealing with reconstruction of a historical building and here we would like to lay a little bit more stress on the architects uncovering the elements of the old architecture of the building and deliberately revealing the antiques. Having no antique ruin, for which so many theater lovers have such a soft spot, at their disposal, the architects took the path of the Russian empire style: they went ahead and dug out the antiques in the very heart of Moscow, maybe not much and not really antique, but they still were able to deliver the goods in terms of coming up with the classic image of theater decoration.
Oh, by the way, the interiors of the "back office" administrative and maintenance premises are designed in a much more reserved fashion: the smooth color of the walls, the coziness and comfort, the walls slightly livened up by the graphics provide the perfect working and recreation conditions. The spaces intended for the performance, on the other hand, show every sign of what the common mind usually associates with the notion of "backstage". Letting the audience go backstage (figuratively or even literally) has long since become one of the most popular theatric techniques - but what is interesting in this case is the fact that this technique is picked up and amplified by the very architecture of the building that actually "strips it down" taking off more stucco that the restoration purposes require and letting the audience take a peek not only at the inside of the theater but of the architecture too - which is also, to a certain extent, is turned "inside out".
In Three Voices
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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
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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
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.
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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
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The Union of Art and Technology
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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.
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