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
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 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.
A Comfortable City in Itself
The project that we are about to cover is seemingly impossible amidst human anthills, chaotically interspersed with old semi-neglected dachas. Meanwhile, the housing complex built on the Comcity business part does offer a comfortable environment of decent city: not excessively high-rise and moderately private as a version of the perfect modern urbanist solution.
Moving on the Edge
The housing complex “Litsa” (“Faces”) on Moscow’s Khodynka Field is one of the new grand-scale buildings that complement the construction around it. This particular building skillfully tackles the scale, subjugating it to the silhouette and the pattern; it also makes the most of the combination of a challenging land site and formidable square footage requirements, packing a whole number of features within one volume, so the house becomes an analogue of a city. And, to cap it all, it looks like a family that securely protects the children playing in the yard from... well, from everything, really.
Visual Stability Agent
A comparatively small house standing on the border of the Bolshevik Factory combines two diametrically opposite features: expensive materials and decorative character of Art Deco, and a wide-spaced, even somewhat brutal, facade grid that highlights a laminated attic.
The Faraday Cage
The project of the boutique apartment complex in the 1st Truzhenikov Lane is the architects’ attempt to squeeze a considerable volume into a tiny spot of land, at the same time making it look graceful and respectable. What came to their rescue was metal, stone, and curvilinear glass.
The Union of Art and Technology
His interest for architecture of the 1930’s is pretty much the guiding star for Stepan Liphart. In his project of the “Amo” house on St. Petersburg’s Vasilyevsky Island, the architect based himself on Moscow Art Deco - aesthetically intricate and decorated in scratch-work technique. As a bonus, he developed the city block typology as an organic structure.
The project that Evgeniy Gerasimov and Partners developed for Moscow’s Leningrad Avenue: the tallest building in the company’s portfolio, continuing the tradition of Moscow’s Stalin architecture.
In the project that they developed for a southern region of Russia, OSA Architects use multilayered facades that create an image of seaside resort architecture, and, in the vein of the latest trends of today, mix up different social groups that the residents belong to.
Just a Mirror for the Sun
The house that Sergey Skuratov designed in Nikolovorobinsky Alley is thought out down to the last detail. It adapts three historical facades, interprets a feeling of a complex city, is composed of many layers, and catches plenty of sunlight, from sunrises to sunsets. The architect himself believes that the main role of this house is creating a background for another nearby project of his, Art House in the Tessinsky Alley.
Part of the Whole
On June 5, the winners of Moscow Architectural Award were announced. The winners list includes the project of a school in Troitsk for 2,100 students, with its own astronomy dome, IT testing ground, museum, and a greenhouse on the roof.
Yet another project of a private school, in which Archimatika realizes the concept of aesthetic education and introduces a new tradition: combining Scandinavian and Soviet experience, turning to works of art, and implementing sustainable technologies.
In the “Parallel House” residence that he designed in the Moscow metropolitan area, the architect Roman Leonidov created a dramatic sculptural composition from totally basic shapes – parallelepipeds, whose collision turned into an exciting show.
In the Istra district of Moscow metropolitan area, the tandem of 4izmerenie and ARS-ST designed a sports complex – a monovolume that has the shape of a chamfered parallelepiped with a pointed “nose” like a ship’s bow.
Stairway to Heaven
The project of a hotel in the settlement of Yantarny is an example of a new recreational complex typology, and a new format that unites the hotel, the business, and the cultural functions. All of this is complemented by 100% integration with nature.
Cape of Good Hope
In this issue, we are showing all the seven projects that participated in a closed-door competition to create a concept for the headquarters of Gazprom Neft, as well as provide expert opinions on those projects.
The Outer Space
Honoring the 300th anniversary of the Kuznetsk coal fields in 2021, a new passenger terminal of the Aleksey Leonov Airport in the city of Kemerovo will be built, designed by GK Spectrum and ASADOV Architectural Bureau.
The Pivot of Narkomfin Building
Ginzburg Architects finished the restoration of the Narkomfin Building’s laundry unit – one of the most important elements of the famous monument of Soviet avant-garde architecture.
The housing complex “Respublika” is so large that it can be arguably called a micro-town, yet, at the same time, it easily overcomes most of the problems that usually arise with mass housing construction. How could Archimatika achieve that? We are examining that on the example of the first stage of the complex.
The Flowing Lines
The five houses of the “Svoboda” block belonging to the “Simvol” residential complex present a vivid example of all-rounded work performed by the architects on an integral fragment of the city, which became the embodiment of the approach to architecture that hitherto was not to be seen anywhere in Moscow: everything is subjected to the flow of lines – something like a stream, enhanced by the powerful pattern of the facades akin to “super-graphics”.
A City by the Water
The concept of a large-scale housing development at the edge of Voronezh, near the city reservoir, or “the sea”, as it is locally called, uses the waterside height difference to create a sophisticated public space, paying a lot of attention to the distribution of masses that determine the look of the future complex if viewed from the opposite bank of the river.
A Journey to the Country of Art Deco
The “Little France” residential complex on the 20th line of the Vasilyevsky Island presents an interesting make-believe dialogue between its architect, Stepan Liphart, the architect of the New Hermitage, masters of the Silver Age, and Soviet Art Deco, about interesting professional topics, such as a house with a courtyard in the historical center of Saint Petersburg, and the balance between the wall and the stained glass in the architectonics of the facade. Here are the results of this make-believe conversation.
A House in a Port
This housing complex on the Dvinskaya Street is the first case of modern architecture on the Gutuevsky Island. The architectural bureau “A-Len” thoroughly explores the context and creates a landmark for further transformations of this area of Saint Petersburg.
Balance of Infill Development
Anatoly Stolyarchuk Architectural Studio is designing a house that inadvertently prevails over the surrounding buildings, yet still tries to peacefully coexist with the surrounding environment, taking it to a next level.
The Precious Space
Evolution Design and T+T Architects reported about the completion of the interior design project of Sberbank headquarters on the Kutuzovsky Avenue. In the center of the atrium, hovers the “Diamant” meeting room; everything looks like a chest full of treasures, including the ones of a hi-tech kind.
Big Little Victory
In a small-sized school located in Domodedovo in Moscow metropolitan area, ASADOV_ architects did a skillful job of tackling the constraints presented by the modest budget and strict spatial limitations – they designed sunlit classrooms, comfortable lounges, and even a multi-height atrium with an amphitheater, which became the center of school life.
The Social Biology of Landscape
The list of new typologies of public spaces and public projects has been expanded yet again — thanks to Wowhaus. This time around, this company came up with a groundbreaking by Russian standards approach to creating a place where people and animals can communicate.
Watched by the Angels from up Above
Held in the General Staff building of the Hermitage Museum, the anniversary exhibition of “Studio 44” is ambitious and diverse. The exhibition was designed to give a comprehensive showcase of the company’s architecture in a whole number of ways: through video, models, drawings, installations, and finally, through a real-life project, the Enfilade, which the exhibition opens up, intensifies, and makes work the way it was originally intended.
A New Version of the Old City
The house at Malaya Ordynka, 19, fits in perfectly with the lineup of the street, looking even as if it straightened the street up a little, setting a new tone for it – a tone of texture, glitter, “sunny” warmth, and, at the same time, reserved balance of everything that makes the architecture of an expensive modern house.
Stepan Liphart: “Standing your ground is the right thing to do”
A descendant of German industrialists, “Jophan’s son”, and an architect, speaks about how studying architectural orders tempers one’s character, and how a team of just a few people can design grand-scale housing projects to be built in the center of Saint Petersburg. Also: Santa Claus appearing in a Stalin high-rise, an arch portal to the outer space, mannerism painting, and the palaces of Paris – all covered in an interview with Stepan Liphart.
Honey and Copper
In the Moscow area, the architect Roman Leonidov designed the “Cool House” residence, very much in the spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright, spreading it parallel to the ground, and accentuating the horizontal lines in it. The color composition is based on juxtaposition of warm wood of a honey hue and cold copper blue.
The Ring on the Saisara Lake
The building of the Philharmonic Hall and the Theater of Yakut Epos, standing on the shore of the sacred lake, is inscribed into an epic circle and contains three volumes, reminiscent of the traditional national housing. The roof is akin to the Alaas – a Yakut village standing around a lake. In spite of its rich conceptual agenda, the project remains volumetrically abstract, and keeps up a light form, making the most of its transparency, multiple layers, and reflections.
Architecture of Evanescence
On the Vernadskogo Avenue, next to the metro station, appeared a high-rise landmark that transformed the entire area: designed by UNK Project, the “Academic” business center uncovered, in the form of its architecture, the meanings of the local place names.
The Theater and Music Circles
The contest-winning ambitious grand-scale project of the main theater and concert complex of the Moscow area includes three auditoriums, a yard – a public area – a higher school of music, and a few hotels. It promises to become a high-profile center for the classical music festivals on a national scale.
The Line of a Hardened Breakthrough
Designed by Stepan Liphart, the housing complex “Renaissance” continues the line of the historical center of Saint Petersburg, reinterpreting the Leningrad Art Deco and the neoclassical architecture of the 1930-50’s in reference to the civilization challenges posed by our century.
The Regeneration Experience
The housing project “Metsenat”, which occupies the area next to the Resurrection Church in Moscow’s Kadashi, has a long and complicated history, full of protests, victories, and hopes. Now the project is complete: the architects were able to keep the views, the scale, and a few historical buildings; we can examine the end result now. The project was developed by Ilia Utkin.
The Terraces of the Crystal Cape
Proposed by Nikita Yavein, the concept of a museum, educational, and memorial complex to be built in the city of Sevastopol avoids straightforward accents and over-the-top dramatics, interpreting the history of this place along with the specifics of its landscape, and joining the public space of the operated stairway and amphitheaters with an imposing monument.
Evgeny Podgornov: “You need to make your projects visible”
The leader of Saint-Petersburg’s architectural company Intercolumnium explains why his company’s portfolio includes projects ranging from hi-tech to historicism, discourses upon high-rise landmarks, about the clients, and about the sources of the drive that the city needs.