Archi.ru: Your company was founded back in 1999, after a serious economic crisis shook this country. Why did you make such a courageous decision? How difficult was it starting a new company back in those days?
I decided to start my own company while I was at the top of my activity. At that time, I was doing the mosaics for the decoration of the underground crossings at the Pushkin Square in Moscow. This work was scheduled to coincide with the celebration of the 850th anniversary of Moscow. And it was also at that time that I was introduced to Alexander Asadov with whom we immediately started working together on the project for the Central Election Committee of Russia. For its central hall, I created Florence-style mosaic patterns from granite and polished brass. It was an exciting time, crisis or no crisis.
How did your company develop from then on? Which moments would you mark as important ones?
There were important moments still before I founded the bureau. I graduated from the Stroganov College. However, my very first works were already connected with architecture. One of the most notable events for me was my participating in the project of reconstructing the Gorky Street, now Tverskaya. It was back in 1987. The studio of "Mosproject" under the leadership of Victor Gostev, was responsible for forming the outward appearance of the street, while I, in cooperation with the company "Mosinzh" developed the solutions for all the underground spaces. The reconstruction was to cover the Pushkin, Tverskaya, and Manezh squares. The latter was given special attention: it was planned to create there a lot of pedestrian zones, restaurants, museums, and shops - but still in numbers significantly smaller than there are now. The project was approved by the authorities and it got all the required permissions. But, sadly and quite unexpectedly, Victor Gostev died. The project was handed over to another group of architects and then it was implemented in quite a different way.
The next serious stage in my career was the large project that was arranged to coincide with the four hundredth anniversary of the city of Surgut. Then there was a whole layer of work in the city of Khanty-Mansiysk. And still after that, a milestone for me was my participation in designing the Olympic objects.
You designed a lot for the Western Siberia and Khanty-Mansiysk. How valuable was that experience?
It was tremendous. Back in those days, I would not have been able to implement anything of such magnitude in any other Russian city. Later on down the line, a lot of motifs and techniques that I tried out in Khanty-Mansiysk - I used them on my Olympic projects. But the most important thing that work gave to me is the great partners, designers, and manufacturers with whom I've been working up to the present day. To me, implementing a project is as important as designing it - because very often the architectural ideas suffer from the poor-quality construction.
Which projects became your favorite or maybe "milestone" ones for you?
First of all, this is the monument to the pioneers of Yugra in the shape of a tall three-facet pyramid and the square of Slavonic Writing in Khanty-Mansiysk. The pyramid was indeed a unique project for its day and age. Standing atop of a high mountain, on the edge of a steep precipice, it required a great deal of effort to implement. It was at that time that I was lucky to meet Nodar Kancheli, who did a great deal for this project to become a reality. Later on, together with him we built in Khanty-Mansiysk five more projects of such great complexity that other designers were even afraid to start working with them. The shape of the pyramid is also very symbolic. Each of its three facets shares about the conquering this land: first by its native population, then by the Cossacks, and, finally, by the oil miners who came to Siberia. The pyramid looks absolutely sculptural, especially together with the dynamic backlight, but it's also functional, too: in its central part there is an interactive museum, its second floor has a restaurant in it, and on top of it there is a sightseeing platform that commands the view of the whole city. Many times, this tower hosted various international meetings, and even summits of the European Union.
For the Slavonic Writing Square, I came up with the integrated territorial solution: in that project, a land plot with a height difference of 24 meters got a cascade of backlit fountains with sculptural elements. On its very top, we installed the monument to Cyril and Methodius that was executed by me and my team of sculptors, and, as you ascend the temple stairs, we put up the signs with the Bible commandments inscribed on them. The construction work was also done by my construction company here.
Out of my objects that were designed in the contemporary styles or in the style of "hi-tech", I would note the Sport Fame Square where unusual architectural techniques are combined with exceptional functionality. This project was implemented in 2002. Back then, the idea of hanging a glowing torch above the visitors' heads looked very daring.
However, the most interesting project for me was the multifunctional recreation complex on the embankment of the Moskva River. It was our joint project with Alexander Asadov that we did for "Mirax" Company. We proposed to throw over the river a beautiful pedestrian bridge with a hotel on its top floors that grows from a large recreation area organized along the embankment. And, at the customer's request, when still in the concept phase, we, together with the Central Research and Development Project Institute of Metallic Building Structures, developed all the necessary units, proving that building such a bridge was quite realistic but, regretfully, it was never built.
Also, I cannot help but mention the project proposal on the reconstruction of the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, where we proposed to recreate the lost buildings. Or the project of the stadium in the city of Nizhny Novgorod that reacts to the vicinity with the nearby church and at the same evoked associations with the colorful fairs that this city has always been famous for. All these ideas were really interesting but they were still left unimplemented. As far as the implemented projects are concerned, I would mention the Sochi ones.
Please share more about the single concept for the Olympic Sochi. How was it developed?
This concept was all about developing the motorway network on the territory starting from the Sochi Tunnel to Adler Airport and further on to Krasnaya Polyana. At the same time, the project provided not only for building the road junctions and portals of the tunnels but also the buildings adjoining the highway. For example, the roofs of all the houses standing along the road were substituted with approximately identical ones, designed in a single style - which made the surroundings look like a cozy southern town. We also installed new fences and public transportation stops; landscaping work was done.
We were also able to implement the Olympic Rings. Essentially, they are not even rings but sculptural compositions mounted on a metallic framework and fastened with specially chamfered aluminum panels without so much as a hint at a seam. Inside the rings, there are the beautiful openwork constructions that echo the decoration of the tunnels. Initially, the rings were meant to serve as giant arches through which the roads might actually meander. Later on, however, because of their proximity to the airport runways, we had to significantly diminish them in size - from 22 to 16 meters - and change their location. As a result, it was only the yellow ring named "Asia" that remained an arch - the entrance to the airport's VIP zone. All the other rings remained to be just decorative elements.
As for the entrance portals to the tunnels, I proposed to decorate them with a sophisticated snow-white structure that looked like a cobweb or maybe a hoarfrost. Such "irregular" structure has no analogues in the world, and implementing this project required not just a great designer but the best in the world. We did find a practical solution but we were not able to ultimately implement all of our ideas. Even though it got all the necessary approvals in the highest circles, our concept was drastically curtailed when it came to implementation, shattered to pieces, in fact. Regretfully, in this country you always need to be prepared for this: once it comes to implementation, especially of such large-scale projects as the Sochi one, the original idea is often changed beyond recognition.
How did the idea of decorating the tunnels with such sophisticated structures come about?
The idea came about long before the Olympic building, back in those days when I was working in Sochi with "Avtodor". Back then, I proposed a similar solution but my customer refrained from implementing it. It was only two years later that I got the opportunity to get back to the solution that I had come up with and use it in the Olympic concept. I was only able to implement my sophisticated ideas thanks to my cooperation with Russian Railways but, alas, the project did not go any further.
You said several times that a lot of your projects were done in collaboration with Alexander Asadov. How and why did this creative union come about? Do you work together today?
Like I already said, I met Alexander Asadov a long time ago when I was working on the project of the Central Election Committee of Russia. We found common ground at once, and our further collaboration came naturally. Over the years of our friendship we've done about fifty collaboration projects. We keep working together today as well. For example, we work on the projects of "Spartak" Stadium, the residential building on the 2nd Samarskaya Street, and "Landyshi" hotel.
Who does what in your consortium? Who is ultimately responsible for the concept? For its implementation?
It's always different. Sometimes one of us comes up with the concept and the other one embellishes on it. Inside, we are very similar, we think big, and our perception of the architectural space is similar, too. And, on top of that, we know how to yield to one another, which is, probably, the most important thing.
What is on your studio's agenda today?
Presently, our top priority is finishing the decoration of the building of the MEDCI Clinic at the Malaya Gruzinskaya Street. Our main task was designing the decorative elements of the building's facades that were developed from my sketches. And, yet again, I must say that this building - which is practically finished now - looked totally different in the original version. This was a house designed in the constructivist spirit - very simple, balanced and wholesome. However, the customer did not approve of that building, so I had to come up with another version.
Just as much effort we are putting now into the project of "Spartak" stadium. This stadium is very interesting for its multifunctionality. Apart from its direct sport function, it can also be used as the all-purpose concert hall for organizing shows of various complexity, up to the performance of Circus du Soleil.
Do you have any architectural preferences or maybe your favorite architectural style?
Regretfully, the contemporary Russian architecture mostly follows the current trends, copying the existing techniques. This is why I have a lot of issues with the contemporary architecture. There was a time when I was saying that the architecture will in fact turn into sculpture, that its plastique will be coming first, and the function will become secondary. And this is the way it happened, actually. Just think of the works by Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid. Lately, this trend has started to abate. No one can tell what will be hot tomorrow. This, however, only holds true for the big architecture. As far as day-to-day life is concerned, things are a lot more on the grassroots level here. Our freedom of choice is very limited: if you see an opportunity to do a project, you just jump at it. And as for the "free creation", it is only possible on paper. It is hard for me to define my style because it all depends on the situation and on the specific project. And each project required a specific approach with its style varying from classic to hi-tech.
It is known that, aside from architecture, you are a well-known artist...
Yes, I have done a lot of drawing and painting, and took part in exhibitions. My works were sold successfully. Most of my drawings were done without any sketches or studies. For example, "Unable to Fly" that was exhibited at Art-Manezh in 1996. In ways, it became a symbol of those days: you have wings but you still are earthbound. Then I was into sculpture. Again, this all started in Khanty-Mansiysk where we created Russia's first Pieta for the Victory Park. There were also many of my other sculptural works, down to my custom-designed wrought-iron fence. Further on, we, together with Nikolai Lyubimov, did the sculptures of Cyril and Methodius. I also worked with Andrew Kovalchuk creating the large sculptural composition named "Yugra".
After you graduated from the Stroganov College you actively participated in Russian and the world's contests and exhibitions. What achievement of those days is the most important for you?
My main reward and achievement is the fact that over 150 of my drawings were bought by the leading galleries of America, Europe, and Japan. Although today I would happily have those drawings back because today I cannot draw the way I could back in those days. In the late eighties, there were a lot of foreigners in Moscow who were interested in my art. Lots of art shows and exhibitions were organized in Europe and America as well. Gradually, however, I put this all by to fully dedicate myself to architecture. Today, I create my works solely for my architectural projects - mosaics, sculptures, and bas-reliefs.
Still, having become predominantly an architect, you do not give up on the fine arts altogether. Is it difficult combining them all?
Back in the soviet times, it was all divided into sections, the monumental artists, the drawing artists, the sculptors, and so on. To me, an artist is a very broad notion that covers such profession as an architect, a sculptor, a painter, and many others. For example, two months ago at the Pushkin Square seven of my mosaics were put up. At the same time, Moscow is now building three buildings upon my projects. These are, in fact, quite different fields of endeavor. But it seems to me that I am somehow able to combine all these activities, not to mention the fact that I implement my projects myself down to the last detail.
Probably, the most vivid example of such "gesamkunstwerk" in your portfolio is the Khanty-Mansiysk pyramid?
Yes, it obviously combines architectural and artistic techniques and means of expression. Under my supervision, the Kaluga Sculptural Factory produced for it over three hundred meters of bas-reliefs, the construction being also supervised by the Academy of Fine Arts. The plastic language of the Sochi tunnel portals is more contemporary; I think it has to do with my early paintings; this is especially true for the shape that is born from the intertwining structures.
The same can be said about the restoration of the substation in Sochi: in that project I, for the first time in Russia, actually, was able to employ perforated facades. Now they are very popular with a lot of architects. There is also a "dark" side to it: both in painting and in drawing I have a lot of "architecture".
Presentation of Karen Saprichyan projects:
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.
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.