One of the cofounders of "Ostozhenka" architectural bureau and the chief architect of such projects as the building of International Moscow Bank, a Residential Complex in Odintsovo, and the residential complex "Water Colors" in Balashikha shares about the role of the chief architect of the project and about his personal preferences as opposed to what is considered to be modern and fashionable.
Interviewed by: Lilya Aronova Translated by: Anton Mizonov
Archi.ru: You have worked with this company from the moment of its inception. The story of Ostozhenka is well known in the architectural community to the point of being a classic example. What did this mean to you in the very beginning?
By that time, when we already made the transition from the state-run design bureaus to a free market economy, this country already had the prerequisites for the appearance of such private bureaus. By that time we also had a considerable working experience, and the new economic situation could not exempt us from our obligations before the profession. So, for me a little changed back then. As a matter of fact, greater freedom imposed greater responsibility on us - proportional to our initiative. We started working and soon the team came together. You can put it this way: we took what was most valuable to us from our "previous" life and carried it over to Ostozhenka, the main thing being our commitment to working as a team. This remains the main value for everyone of us up to the present day.
Do you have any specialties within the framework of your bureau?
You know, this always comes naturally when people work together as a team. Sooner or later it turns out that somebody can do something better than somebody else, and this becomes his specialty or the cross that he has to bear. The time may come when the person really dislikes it - I don't want to limit myself with this - I can do more, I can do better! Here is the thing with architecture, however - you only have as many specialties as you have real architects on your team. Look at the real big-time masters - can you ever confuse their works or take them for someone else's? Never! They are the manifestations of their personalities and those manifestations are truly unique. You cannot really give up your personality, but then again, you don't have to.
And what is personally closer to you?
Here is the thing - the chief architect of the project is literally responsible for everything. This work is very hard to do but it's very rewarding at the same time. Any work consists of analysis and construction. The broader is your vision of all the prerequisites and constituent parts of this work, the more vectors of influence you can see before you get down to it - and not only in the narrow professional sense - the more exact your solution will be. And it is only further on down the line that some of your personal preferences - or should I even say "sympathies" - may come into play. Some people like working with planes, some are into structures that appear in the process of work. I know my toolbox. Most of all, I am interested in the space, the plastics, and the interaction with the context. What is an architect's material? An artist has his canvas and his paints, a sculptor has, say, a piece of clay in his hands, and we as architects get to work with the space, the void, the emptiness! I once asked myself a question - what's my job about? I am a space packer. I pack spaces. I pack the emptiness in accordance with economic laws, in accordance with the existing rules and regulations, but, above all else, in accordance with the laws of harmony - something that we had drummed into our heads back in the school of architecture...
And if we are to speak about Ostozhenka on the whole - does it have a market niche of its own?
The architectural genre that Ostozhenka is into has long since been formed for us. We, of course, try to push these limits and avoid burying ourselves inside this shell - but we are still aware what is ours and what is not. For each of us, designing a private residence is a lot more challenging than a two thousand apartments residential complex. One way or another, this gets broadcast to the world outside, and we get "our" commissions - as a rule, these are large-scale urban projects. Simply because you are always a hostage of your initial success!
Do you have any particular stage of your working process that you like better than others?
The most fascinating experience for me is when you are one on one with the uncertainty in the very beginning. This is the moment when you can lose yourself completely in the face of the vistas of the possible solutions that spread before you. I sometimes even have dreams about this stage. And sometimes I catch myself thinking: how long has it been since I had this feeling of weightlessness, this beautiful feeling that maybe kids get when they are anticipating a new and exciting game. And this fleeting moment of intuitive solution is followed by long design and implementation.
Did you ever regret things that you did or did not do? Or did you ever look at one of your already implemented projects thinking that had you had the chance to start all over again you would have done it in a different way?
I think that the very idea that you can redo something is pretty naive in the first place. Generally, I always anticipate the moment between the end of construction and the beginning of distortions done to my project - because it is at that period of time that I have to find the time to explain at least to myself just what and where I did wrong. This is when the realization comes. By the way, I've already been through a situation when a building that I designed got torn down - with all the good things that it had inside and all the soul I poured into it. A different function was required in this place - and they tore it down. Oddly enough, I don't really have a problem with it. Probably, you just want to take it philosophically - it's just another lesson that life teaches you. The longer you live the more temporary everything around you becomes. While back in the good old days things were made to last forever, now it's almost a public disgrace if you don't change your old television-car-smartphone with a new one. And this applies to architecture as well. Nowadays, you can change the facades as easily as you put on a new set of clothes - which used to be unthinkable. But then again, this must be the sign of our time and you have to live with it.
I am sure that in your career of chief architect of the project there were occasions when you ran into these or those unexpected obstacles and had to get around them somehow...
What you are speaking about is called "anecdote", a real-life story, funny, or pathetic, or both. Once a customer comes to me, all excited, and he goes: "Look, the top floor is selling so well! Let's add another one on top of it!"
Or, for example, the well-known story of the glass "pocket" fenced by the terrace of Moscow International Bank (now UniCredit bank)?
Oh, yes, this is also an "anecdote", I mean, in a good way. A proverb. But this is not my story altogether. And I know rather many interesting people who can share with you a lot of such stories from their life. Or, maybe, from mine...
Ok, then I will ask a more serious question - do you have any style preferences in architecture?
Quite a lot depends on what values we believe in and what we appreciate from the reality that was there before us. The 1920's, for example, when this country was at the cutting edge of the world's avant-grade architecture. We were lucky to learn from the masters who had created a new picture of the world back in those days. Just imagine how much they were through only to hand us down the legacy that the whole world now values so much! The dramatic history of Russian architecture, thanks to my teachers, became to me something personal when I was still in college. And it defined, just as any truth or revelation should, my priorities in life and profession.
Could you put your creative principles in a nutshell?
Probably, they are still in the making. Of course, I have some certain beliefs; they come from my own practice and appreciation of everything that goes on around me. To me, it's very important that I create something new in the process of my work. All that we do is search for something that never was there before us. At the same time, what we try to do is avoid creating the so-called "fashionable" stuff. Because what is "fashionable", after all? It is something that is easily swallowed, easily copied and, ultimately, easily mass-produced. It is a lot more exciting if you can work at the level of typology of spaces, remembering that there is Heaven and Earth as God created them.
What else is crucially important for you in your work?
It is very important to build up the right kind of dialogue. First - with your customer. Then - with your colleagues. And ultimately there is a dialogue between your project and its context, and the project itself starts to dictate what is necessary for it. And if the city accepts what you've built, and your customer is willing to cooperate again - then you may say you've done a great job. But if something goes wrong at any of the levels, you cannot so much as pass the blame to anyone. All you can say is: "It's me who is the chief architect of the project. I take the responsibility!"
Aren't you afraid of that?
As a matter of fact, no. You know, architecture is no place for cowards.
Thank you very much for this conversation. Of course, I would like to ask what is there on your desktop at the moment. What are you working on now?
More of the same, I guess. The good old space and their packaging. I think I will be doing this for the rest of my life. At least I sincerely hope I will.
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.
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.