We continue the publication of texts of interview to the architects participating in an exposition of Russian pavilion XI Venetian biennial. Interviews will be placed in the catalogue of the Russian pavilion
Written by: Julia Tarabarina
11 June 2008
How would you define the character of your architecture?
I’m neither a Modernist, nor a Neoclassicist. I would say my theme is the intersection of the two styles. The first thing I did on this theme was 20 years ago for the Japanese competition ‘The Style of 2001’. It was a glass prism in which I inserted a stone print of Adolf Loos’s column. I have always thought that Loos’s tower was the most interesting design at the Chicago Tribune competition of 1922. Gropius’s project for the same competition is fashionable, Modernist, but weaker. And in general I consider Loos’s tower to be the wildest and most advanced project of the 1920s.
Because Loos was a very far-sighted man. He was the father of all this Modernist architecture – which he engendered by stepping away from Style Moderne. But in 1922 he was already creating his column. Have you read the explanatory notes to his competition design? He wrote: “It may not be by me, it may not be here, in Chicago, but somewhere else – but something like this will definitely be built.” And sooner or later there’ll be people who’ll understand this theme and will establish a new line in architecture. So when Aldo Rossi asked me straight out what I thought regarding a style for 2001, this was the answer I gave. I was awarded one of the second prizes. It’s rumoured that Aldo Rossi, being a European, did all he could to promote my project, but the Japanese just didn’t get it.
Had you tried joining the two styles before the Style for 2001 competition?
No, up to that point I had been a rather rigid Postmodernist. You could say that everything else I’ve done, all my best things, are a continuation of this theme. I don’t know how to define it: I’m not a critic and sometimes muddle my definitions. But to my mind it’s a continuation of the quests of the early 1930s. It was a phenomenal leap forwards, but it was never completely realized because everything got stuck at the level of ideas and drawing-board projects, and there are very few buildings actually built in this style. You said that you see your task as continuing the formal quests conducted by ASNOVA, the rationalist Association of New Architects …
Naturally, because these people started talking about pure form. But they spent too much time squabbling and arguing with one another. Then Comrade Stalin told them how to draw – and everyone rejoiced and said, ‘Great’! There is a view that the change of direction that occurred in the 1930s was inevitable…
That’s the point of view taken by Khan-Magomedov, and I don’t agree with it. I think you find a more accurate treatment of this subject in Vladimir Paperny’s book Kul’tura Dva [‘Culture Two’]. Paperny thinks that Russian culture in general – starting from Ivan III and perhaps even earlier – is characterized by the cyclical alternation of two ‘cultures’, Culture One and Culture Two. He classifies the 1920s Avant-garde, for instance, as Culture One and Stalinist Classicism as Culture Two. So no one forced anyone to produce Classicism rather than Avant-garde architecture: it was just that people were fed up with the former! Furthermore, it was very profitable to produce the Stalinist Culture Two. The system by which architects in the Soviet Union were paid was by the sheet. Can you imagine how much Chechulin earned? All that detail: it meant dozens of sketches, which were paid for by the sheet. There was such rejoicing! “The more we draw, the more we earn” – and the more they earned. Contrast that with the Constructivist sketch, which was all on one sheet. This had no place in Culture Two; it didn’t fit with the emphasis on hard work. Mel’nikov was too coarse for them. He was unable to draw filigree things like Alabyan. He was too coarse and too orthodox. So Paperny’s right: there’s Culture One and Culture Two. We should take what’s good in Culture One and its followers and what’s good in Culture Two. And these opposing groups should live in peace.
And what do you do, then?
I’m somewhere in the middle.
Do you bring the two into conflict or reconcile them?
I, for instance, bring them into conflict. Sometimes, I boil both cultures together in the same building. But I am right in thinking you have no great respect for Culture Two?
I don’t like the kind of frenetic state whereby today we all run this way and tomorrow that way. I don’t want to run in any direction with anyone. I just don’t want to. I find it uninteresting – to run with the herd this way and that.
There are people who consider you an eclecticist.
That’s not quite true. Eclecticism is the arbitrary mixing of styles to meet the client’s wishes. Its birth coincided with the birth of the wealthy bourgeoisie. You had architects who said, “You want a mixture of Rome and Byzantium? Fine.” In this respect I am absolutely not an eclecticist. My theme is not the mixing, but the intersection of two cultures. And there is no other theme in my work. You began having projects built very early in your career…
Yes, I always dreamed of having stuff built and I’ve produced a great many buildings, but I like by no means all of them. It’s like Meln’ikov’s series of clubs. One is good: the Rusakov Club is an undoubted masterpiece. But the others are worse, by no means up to that standard. I have many buildings which I never publish. But my Blue House on prospekt Vernadskogo is interesting. Ikonikov even published it in his book Tysacha let russkoy arkhitektury [‘1000 Years of Russian Architecture’]. Although there are angles from which it looks good and angles from which it looks bad. I failed to tie it into to its urban context. There’s a lack of volume. I kept stretching it, added on a tower, but still there’s not enough volume. When you’re travelling towards the centre, it looks good. But when you’re going in the opposite direction, it stands in a dip and is almost invisible.
You place considerable importance on the part your buildings play in the urban context?
The point is to, wherever possible, restore the city’s flesh to sense from the point of view of urban planning . In my arch building on Mozhayskoe shosse I think I’ve managed this. For me this building is an important reference point: it responds to the city, and in a very active way. It is a splinter of the Stalinist scale of Kutuzov prospekt, but displaced to the periphery – and at the same time it’s a paraphrase of Bove’s triumphal arch, which stands ten kilometres closer to the city centre. You see this arch when you come out here, then you see it again when you go back to the centre. Furthermore, my arch emphasizes the intersection of classical form and a fashionable glass nose, which passes right through it, literally stringing it together. It’s a show. And I hope that in the next few centuries this thing will influence what’s going to be built around it. It will itself dictate, just as the house in Bryusov pereulok will dictate changes occurring on that particular sidestreet. Because the right answer has been supplied to the urban-planning problem. However, the arch on Mozhayskoe shosse has no cornices, columns, or overt Classical details. In general, its forms are Modernist. But it has a subtext. One that is a reinterpretation, definitely a reinterpretation, but certainly not an explicit one. You know where explicit Classicism ends up? Where does it end up?
With plastic cornices. All these computer mouldings – it’s now all the rage to scan Palladio and order an identical cornice made out of rubbish of some kind. To my mind, a capital is precious precisely and only because it’s handmade.
But in Moscow there were never Roman arches or aqueducts…
Why not? What about all of those Moscow-Empire-Style buildings. Bove’s arch is outstanding; Rome can’t hold a candle to it. We threw Napoleon out of Moscow and built this arch. Nor does Paris have an arch like it. This one is better. It’s iron and beautiful. An iron empire, you see, is indestructible! Let’s develop the theme of the cultural empire…
It’s a good theme, but a very complex one. It’s a separate topic for discussion, but the essence of the matter is that our cultural empire is an endless intersection of Culture One and Culture Two in space and time. A binary system, which, I’m convinced, is a typical and distinctive trait of the Russian cultural space. But you don’t particularly read foreign magazines?
Why not? Of course, I look at them. Everything depends on what angle you look at them from, these magazines. Much of what we see in foreign magazines comes from our own 1920s, and I can produce numerous examples to prove it. I look at the source and the interpretation and see both of them simultaneously – so, when I look at yet another project by Rem Koolhaas, I can see where it comes from. It’s worse when people look at magazines without knowing the original source. This is a very Russian thing – to do our own people down so as to put fear into foreigners. In short, this is a very simple matter: you need to know the history of architecture and the more thorough your knowledge, the better. Copying things taken from trendy magazines is mere foolishness. What has recently made me mad is that everyone’s crazy about commercial architecture. We want nine by nine, they say, like in Europe. But what makes them think that ‘nine by nine’ is Europe? Or America? Where did they get that from?
You’re not very fond of commercial architecture.
There’s no such thing as commercial architecture! It’s the invention of people who cannot create. Take any building; you can either design it properly, or you can simply say, “Back off from me, I’m doing commercial architecture.” This means the author has no artistic programme. As for me, I’ve been implementing an artistic programme for the last 25 years. If it appeals to people and if people approve of my ideas and go ahead and build them, I say, “Thank you to everyone who’s helped.” But when people get in my way, I can be very tough on them. When I see that this city and this country are full of people who altogether lack a programme – whether artistic or otherwise, – I have to insist that I come first and they second. And the same with regard to money. People pay for art. Palladio was paid enormous sums for his artistic programme. And in our time too it’s quite possible to ensure that big money is paid for the implementation of an artistic programme and not for commercial architecture. Skokan and Plotkin, for instance, have an artistic programme; they’re closer to Culture One. Culture Two is represented by Utkin, Filippov, Belov, and Barkhin… Brodsky is in a category all of his own. These are people who, apart from wanting to earn money, also want to say something, to fight a case.
What is your formula for good architecture?
I don’t have one. I’m very fond of Palladio. He was absolutely spot on. I absolutely agree with everything he wrote. It all makes good sense.
His tractate is essentially pragmatic…
Absolutely pragmatic. But look what he did in Vicenza. His houses shape the city’s urban character. Instead of each standing on their own, they are closely connected with the structure of the city; they hold it in place. Do you remember how this happened? Vicenza lost its political independence and was overrun by Venetian bandits, although of an enlightened kind. In as far as they were enlightened, they turned to Andrea Palladio. And said, “Andrew, we really like your take on architecture. Here’s a bundle of commissions, and we also want you to design some out-of-town villas for us.” And so, at the same time as working on the city of Vincenza, he built some villas around it, where his clients could live freely and in safety. This is why Palladio is an architectural phenomenon: he turned Vicenza into an amazing city, set some standards. And not because he used a special Classical order of columns. He could have drawn everything differently.
Is your ideal the architecture of the High Renaissance?
The Middle Renaissance… What’s the difference between the house on Bryusov pereulok and a Florentine palazzo? None at all. Only here the material is aluminium and there’s a canopy of a kind. Well, the Florentine palazzo has a canopy too. Everything’s just as it should be: Classical columns, an inner courtyard. Only it’s been drawn differently. Because I’ve listened and read a great deal. It’s something we were taught at college. They said to us, ‘High Renaissance’ and then they said ‘Russian Classicism’. This is something you can’t forget. You’re one of the few architects who takes the history of architecture seriously.
Naturally, I root around in architectural history. Palladio likewise rooted around in what might have seemed to be nonsense. Renaissance architecture struck people as extremely simplified after the highly complex Gothic style of the 15th century. Gothic architects designed cathedrals so lavish that Norman Foster and his structural solutions can only sit down and weep. But what I really don’t like about these cathedrals is the way they set about frightening people. All their complex constructional techniques are there to hit you over the head, to tell you, “Sit still, fear God, and hand over your money.” This is the Catholic tradition, which has no relevance for us. The Orthodox churchgoer has no right to bargain with God, whereas it’s different for Catholics. You buy your indulgence and that’s it. Orthodox people, though, would likewise build a small chapel of some kind when they started feeling weakness of the liver. And I’ll probably do the same.
Could you design a church?
I find utterly uninteresting the churches currently commissioned by the Orthodox bosses. We have still to reach the moment when Russian architects will be allowed to continue the creative quest in Russian Orthodox architecture.
Do you like the chapel at Ronchamp?
Yes, of course – because, before departing for another world, Le Corbusier made amends for his past works. He rehabilitated himself for his Radiant City and the unité d’habitation in Marseilles. I believe it’s wrong to design houses with such living conditions and minimal areas. The Modernists were designing not for themselves (for themselves they designed villas), but for others – for those who were supposed to build the bright future collectively. Although this theme – commune houses – is currently very fashionable. People come to look at them. Foreigners, for instance, visit Nikolaev’s commune house in Moscow and live there for a couple of weeks. This is all very well as a kind of adventure holiday, or as the second or third home of an eccentric millionaire. But when you design such houses for people to live in permanently, that’s wrong.
Is your artistic programme a form of patriotism?
Partly, yes. Although I realize that not everything in Russia is in good order. And there is no such thing as everything being in good order. But this is a worthy country and fantastically rich. We need to look around ourselves with more attention, read about Ivan Kalita, Ivan III, there’s a lot we need to read. Right now, it gives me pleasure to trace this chain through from one end to the other and I find it fascinating – it’s a mishmash. The kingdom of Moscow is the golden horde and Orthodoxy. There are books I like and books I don’t. As for my architecture, I would like people to say, “This is a good building and who designed it is unimportant.”
Are you establishing your own architectural movement?
Yes, essentially. I now have some young people working for me. They look around themselves. Who knows, maybe someone will get interested in what I do and there’ll be a continuation. I have no intention of starting a school. That’s all rubbish – imposing things on people. I want to create something that people will look at. Maybe they’ll see something interesting in it, but, if they don’t, that doesn’t really bother me.
The Chinese Symphony
The construction of the Chinese center “Huaming Park” has been a long story that came to fruition relatively recently. The building is adjacent to a traditional Chinese garden, but it is very modern, laconic and technological, and the simple-in-form, yet spectacular, white lamellae promise to someday be incorporated as a media facade. This complex is also truly multifunctional: it contains different types of living spaces, offices, a large fitness center, conference halls and restaurants – all wrapped in one volume. You can comfortably hold international forums in it, having everything you may possibly need at your fingertips, and going outside only to take a walk. In this article, we are examining this complex in detail.
Ensemble of Individualities
Construction of the first phase of the INDY Towers multifunctional complex on Kuusinen Street, designed by Ostozhenka, has started. The project opens new angles of similarity between the column and the skyscraper, and we examine the nuances and parallels.
Black and Red
Kazakov Grand Loft received its name for a reason: responding to the client’s brief and proceeding from the historical industrial architecture of its immediate surroundings, Valery Kanyashin and Ostozhenka architects proposed a new version of a modern house designed in the fashionable “loft” style. What makes this building different is the fact that the bricks here are dark gray, and the facades of the romantic “fortress” towers blossom with magnificent glazing of the windows in the upper part. The main highlight of the complex, however, is the multiple open air terraces situated on different levels.
Mezonproject has won the national architectural and town planning competition for designing a hotel and a water recreation center in the city of Irkutsk. The architects chose hummocks of Baikal ice as a visual image.
The Mastery of Counterpoint
In the sculpture of Classical Greece, counterpoint was first invented: the ability to position the human body as if it were about to take a step, imbuing it with a hint of the energy of future movement, and with hidden dynamics. For architecture, especially in the 20th century and now, this is also one of the main techniques, and the ATRIUM architects implement it diligently, consistently – and always slightly differently. The new residential complex “Richard” is a good example of such exploration, based on the understanding of contrasts in the urban environment, which was fused into the semblance of a living being.
The project of the museum of Aleksey Gastev, the ideologist of scientific organization of work, located in his hometown of Suzdal, is inscribed in multiple contexts: the contest of a small town, the context of avant-garde design, the context of “lean production”, and the context of the creative quest of Nikolai Lyzlov’s minimalist architecture – and it seems to us that this project even reveals a distant memory of the fact that Aleksey Gastev learned his craft in France.
In memory of Jean-Louis Cohen
Marina Khrustaleva – about Jean-Louis Cohen (20.07.1949-7.08.2023), French architect and architectural historian that specialized in modern architecture and city planning.
On the Hills
In the project by Studio 44, the “distributed” IT campus of Nizhny Novgorod is based on well-balanced contracts. Sometimes it is hovering, sometimes undulating, sometimes towering over a rock. For every task, the architects found appropriate form and logic: the hotels are based on a square module, the academic buildings are based on a “flying” one, and so on. Modernist prototypes, specifically, Convent Sainte-Marie de La Tourette, stand next to references to the antique Forum and the tower of a medieval university – as well as next to contextual allusions that help inscribe the buildings of the future campus into the landscape of the city hills with their dominants, high slopes, breathtaking river views, the historical city center, and the Nizhny Novgorod University.
The Magic Carpet
The anniversary exhibition of Totan Kuzembaev’s drawings named “Event Horizons” shows both very old drawings made by the architect in the formative 1980’s, and now extracted from the Museum of Architecture, as well as quite a few pictures from the “Weightlessness” series that Totan Kuzembaev drew specifically for this exhibition in 2023. It seemed to us that the architect represented reality from the point of view of someone levitating in space, and sometimes even upside down, like a magic carpet with multiple layers.
A Copper Step
Block 5, designed by ASADOV architects as part of the “Ostrov” (“Island”) housing complex, is at the same time grand-scale, conspicuous thanks to its central location – and contextual. It does not “outshout” the solutions used in the neighboring buildings, but rather gives a very balanced implementation of the design code: combining brick and metal in light and dark shades and large copper surfaces, orthogonal geometry on the outside and flexible lines in the courtyard.
The Light for the Island
For the first time around, we are examining a lighting project designed for a housing complex; but then again, the authors of the nighttime lighting of the Ostrov housing complex, UNK lighting, proudly admit that this project is not just the largest in their portfolio, but also the largest in this country. They describe their approach as a European one, its chief principles being smoothness of transitions, comfort to the eye, and the concentration of most of the light at the “bottom” level – meaning, it “works” first of all for pedestrians.
Spots of Light
A new housing complex in Tyumen designed by Aukett Swanke is a very eye-pleasing example of mid-rise construction: using simple means of architectural expression, such as stucco, pitched roofs, and height changes, the architects achieve a “human-friendly” environment, which becomes a significant addition to the nearby park and forest.
Ledges and Swirls
The housing complex “Novaya Zarya” (“New Dawn”) designed by ASADOV Architects will become one of the examples of integrated land development in Vladivostok. The residential area will be characterized by various typologies of its housing sections, and a multitude of functions – in addition to the social infrastructure, the complex will include pedestrian promenades, shopping malls, office buildings, and recreational facilities. The complex is “inscribed” in a relief with a whopping 40-meter height difference, and overlooks the Amur Bay.
Agglomeration on an Island
Recently, an approval came for the master plan of the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk agglomeration, which was developed by a consortium headed by the Genplan Institute of Moscow. The document provides for the creation of 12 clusters, the totality of which will give the region a qualitative leap in development and make the island more self-sufficient, more accessible, and less dependent on the mainland. We are inviting you to examine the details.
Ivan Grekov: “A client that wants to make a building that is “about architecture” is...
In this article, we are talking to Ivan Grekov, the leader of the architectural company KAMEN (translates as “stone”), the author of many high-profile projects that have been built in Moscow in the recent years, about the history of his company, about different approaches to form making, about different meanings of volume and facade, and about “layers” in working with the environment – at the example of two projects by Osnova Group. These are the MIRAPOLIS complex on the Mira Avenue in Rostokino, whose construction began at the end of last year, and the multifunctional complex in the 2nd Silikatny Proezd on the Zvenigorodsky Highway; recently, it received all the required approvals.
Grasping and Formulating
The special project “Tezisy” (“Abstracts”), showcased at Arch Moscow exhibition in Moscow’s Gostiny Dvor, brought together eight young “rock stars of architecture”, the headliner being Vladislav Kirpichev, founder of the EDAS school. In this article, we share our impressions of the installations and the perspectives of the new generation of architects.
The White Tulip
Currently, there are two relevant projects for the Great Cathedral Mosque in Kazan, which was transferred to a land site in Admiralteiskaya Sloboda in February. One of them, designed by TsLP, was recently showcased at Arch Moscow. In this article, we are covering another project, which was proposed during the same period for the same land site. Its author is Aleksey Ginzburg, the winner of the 2022 competition, but now the project is completely different. Today, it is a sculptural “flower” dome symbolizing a white tulip.
The architectural company ATRIUM opened a gallery of its own in a metaverse. Inside, one can examine the company’s approach and main achievements, as well as get some emotional experience. The gallery is already hosting cyberspace business meetings and corporate events.
From Darkness to Light
Responding to a lengthy list of limitations and a lengthy – by the standards of a small building – list of functions, Vladimir Plotkin turned the project of the Novodevichy Monastery into a light, yet dynamic statement of modern interpretation of historical context, or, perhaps, even interpretation of light and darkness.
Modernism in Avant-Garde
The contest proposal that Studio 44 made for the Krasnoyarsk Opera and Ballet Theater is bright in all senses, and in many ways even provocative – just like a modern theater performance should be. Being in context with modern culture, it even shocks you in some respects. At first, you are amazed at the red color that is present all around, and then you gradually make sense of the picturesque congregation of volumes that share a multitude of functions. And it’s only later that you realize that this conglomerate conceals a modernist building, most of which the architects save intact.
The Black Mountain
The project of reconstructing the Krasnoyarsk Opera and Ballet theater developed by Wowhaus, which won the competition, proposed a total demolition and new construction, as well as considerable expansion (up to 8 floors) – and transformable multifunctional spaces. The new project, however, does retain the recognizable elements and the image of the old theater. As for the main spectator hall, it is turned – figuratively speaking, of course – into a semblance of a black volcano.
Recently, Moscow saw the presentation of a project by Yuri Grigoryan, devoted to turning the truck garage on Novoryazanskaya Street, designed by Konstantin Melnikov, into the Museum of Moscow Transport. The project involves restoring the monument of architecture, adding a new underground floor and a new entrance, as well as a whole park. The implementation is already underway.
Houses by the Lakeside
Approvals came for the project of a housing complex that DNK ag designed in Kazan. The complex is low-rise; its sections are designed as separate volumes united by a common podium. Everything is very much like DNK: delicate and sometimes even lyrical, especially where the yard meets the lakeshore.
In Novosibirsk, the construction of a school has been completed, whose project is standing every chance to set a new standard for the nation’s educational institutions. SVESMI Architects and Brusnika company started by developing the brief that would answer the modern teaching practices, and then they proposed the optimum plan, versatile classrooms, and reserved, yet expressive, image in the spirit of this Amsterdam alliance.
An 800-room hotel complex, designed by Ginzburg Architects, offers the seaside city of Anapa a fragment of well-organized urban environment that keeps up the cultural spirit of the place. The architects break away from traditional white facades, turning to the antique and even archaic periods of the history of this land, and drawing inspiration in the color of red clay and simple, yet lightweight, shapes.
In Plumage Colors
Working on the facades of a mid-rise residential area in Odintsovsky district, GENPRO architects “adjusted” a number of features of the volumetric composition, which they received without the right to make any changes to, by purely “decorative” means, such as ornamental brickwork, including glazed bricks and the rhythm of the windows. Interestingly, the starting point in the search for the color code was the plumage of birds that are found in the Moscow region.
Julius Borisov: “The “Island” housing complex is a unique project – we took it on with...
One of the largest housing projects of today’s Moscow – the “Ostrov” (“Island”) housing complex built by Donstroy – is now being actively built in the Mnevniky Floodplain. They are planning to build about 1.5M square meters of housing on an area of almost 40 hectares. We are beginning to examine this project– first of all, we are talking to Julius Borisov, the head of the architectural company UNK, which works with most of the residential blocks in this grand-scale project, as well as with the landscaping part; the company even proposed a single design code for the entire territory.
A Balanced Solution
The residential complex “Balance” on Moscow’s Ryazansky Prospekt is one of the large-scale, and relatively economical (again, by Moscow standards) housing projects. Its first phase has already been built and landscaped; the work on the others is in progress. Nevertheless, it has an integral internal logic, which is based on the balance of functions, height, and even image and space composition. The proposed solutions are recognizable and laconic, so that each of them was reduced by the authors to a graphic “logo”. To see everything, you have to flip through the pages and look through to the end.
In the city of Omsk, ASADOV architects took on a very challenging task: they are developing a concept of a public and residential complex, which involves reconstructing the city’s first thermal power station standing right next to Omsk’s first fortress. This territory has already seen a lot of projects designed for it, and the residential function of this land site has been the subject of heated debate. In this article, we are examining the project in question, aimed at developing a mid-scale city fabric suited for the historical center. We also examine the above-mentioned debate. Seriously, will this project save this place or will it bring it to ruin?
A Multi-Faced Grotto
This building, seemingly small, unremarkable, semi-ruined, and not even very ancient – the Grotto in the Bauman Garden – was restored by the “People’s Architect” architectural company with all the care applicable to a heritage monument. They preserved the romantic appeal of the ruins, added multimedia content, and explored the cascading fountain, which, as it turned out, was completely preserved. Brace yourself for a long story!