Sergey Estrin: "Ceilings give you the ultimate freedom of expression".
The completion of the work on the ceiling in the synagogue on Bolshaya Bronnaya Street became a newsbreak for us: we met with the author of the project Sergey Estrin and spoke to him about the functional possibilities and the ideological role of the ceiling as the culmination element of the interior design.
Interviewed by: Lilya Aronova Translated by: Anton Mizonov
Archi.ru: More than ten years after the end of its reconstruction, the decoration of the ceiling in the ceremonial hall of Moscow Synagogue has finally come to an end. Does this mean that this project is now complete?
As a matter of fact, no - something always gets fine-tuned and readjusted there. But as for the ceremonial hall, yes, it is indeed complete. It stood "ceiling-less" for long ten years. Of course, the sun tube in the shape of the hexagram star was there from the very beginning but now curvilinear MDF lamellae are running from it in all directions. What we ultimately got was this sort of a large construction element that answers the magnitude and the status of this hall. From different angles - from down below and from the balcony - one gets a feeling of the integrity and cohesiveness of this space. At the same time, such composition lets in a large amount of ambient light and provides easy access to the engineering lines, which is also important.
A complicated thing...
Sergey Estrin: Not as complicated as it might seem at first sight! Out this whole circle, we designed but one twelfth, and then this sector simply repeats itself. But, yes, this "one twelfth" consists of twenty different elements each!
These wave-shaped girders of the sand color - is this the continuation of the theme of the Sinai desert that is set by the ceiling of the atrium?
Sergey Estrin: More or less so. There are different materials and different forms there but, judging by the shade of color, and, more importantly, by the crucial role played by the ceiling, one can say that, yes, it is.
One can see such accents in your projects very often. What do you think are the advantages of the ceilings as a means of architectural expression?
Sergey Estrin: The huge advantage of the ceilings lies in the fact that they are always open - you cannot, say, block them with furniture, and they just don't get trodden upon by the crowds of people. Besides, as one moves around the room, the ceiling can be viewed from every conceivable angle. In short, yes, it is indeed a very dramatic element; probably, one of the main elements that we use in our interiors. For example, in the lobby of "German Center of Trade and Commerce" in the techno park of Nagatino i-Land, the ceiling, being originally and powerfully designed and reflecting in the dark glass, so much as organizes the entire large space of the center. The ostentatiously smooth floors and the ascetic plain walls only contribute to the ceiling setting the theme there.
Recently, we finished the public spaces in "Eurasia" Tower in Moscow City. We were looking to create an effect as if the sun shines through the crowns of the trees. Executing all these hanging plywood elements, by the way, was quite a chore, each petal consisting of four parts, even though you cannot see the seams. We've got a similar theme and pretty much the same decorative elements - only combined with the lamps - in the residential part of the tower, where the entrance to the apartment section is situated. Due to the fact that from the regularity of the bottom part of that space we make a gradual transition to the "freehand" design in the upper part, an association with nature and tree trunks is created...
And this project is more than ten years old. In the entrance lobby of the "Capital Tower" on the 1st Brestskaya Street, we "wrapped around" the entire space but, again, it's all about the ceiling, particularly in the rush hour when people go in a stream, and everything else is inaccessible to the eye. This is why everything that was important was raised to a higher level, and all these wild vortex designs are plainly seen, including from the outside. The structure is rather light - it is all about plasticizers, plaster, and emptiness inside.
In the interior of Schlumberger research center the effect is based on the alternation of mirror panels with open ceilings. In one of the clubs of "World Class" chain we simply took painted mesh, crumpled it, and hung it overhead - and it turned to be quite a success. In the office of the company Enter, we hung umbrellas to the ceiling: this company is young, and their office was in fact cluttered with rubbish, so, the ceiling was pretty much the only thing that we could work with. And for the tobacco company Philip Morris we decorated the ceiling of the meeting room with cigarettes. Of course, this idea is rather on the simple side but we placed these "cigarette" lights into a curious plaster "tub" with lots of curves that reflect the light in a really cool way and at the same time give a really interesting structure.
The main expression element of the office of the C.E.O of "Nordstar Development" is, of course, Moscow outside the panoramic windows. This is why we made the interior pretty neutral but it is, again, the ceilings that "do the job" here. The large circular lamps overhead create the illusion of domes, as if there is a lot more space and light above your head than there actually is. This light is really noninvasive; it is beautifully softened, and the ceiling works in a number of different ways, the velour panels providing for great acoustic properties. Plus - these circles organize the space: there is one zone above the C.E.O's desk, another above the conference table, and yet another above the recreation zone.
So, the ceiling is capable of solving not only the imagery-related tasks but the functional ones as well?
Sergey Estrin: And very successfully, too! For example, you want to get rid of a shadow. What do you do? You make multiple sources of light in the ceiling and you shadow is gone - the way we did in "Eurasia" tower. And in the cafeteria of the Visual Care Institute "Johnson & Johnson" we equipped the ceiling with a curious circular television - luckily, today's technologies permit that. It shows you the relax content: the people have dinner there, some are even studying or working, then they lift their gaze - and their eyes get a chance to rest. It's both pleasant and wholesome.
Another example - in the office of the law firm "Baker & McKenzie" we were to decorate the air ducts, at the same time hiding the sensors. What we did was the following: we took the maps of the cities where they had HQ's, and selected one of the areas of the city the size of the air duct. This technique, by the way, allowed us to combine the sensors with this or that prominent building or a monument.
And what are the technical requirements for the materials that are used for the ceiling decoration? They are not supposed to be too heavy, I guess?
Sergey Estrin: Actually, "not too heavy" isn't much of a requirement because there are many ways that you can even out your load over the ceiling. In "Eurasia" tower, these petals were pretty heavy - but there also was a lot of suspension points there. From the fire safety standpoint, these must be materials of some certain fireproof properties - but that's about it when it comes to restrictions. That's the beauty of it - ceilings give you the ultimate freedom of expression. Once we were doing a project for the Novolipetsk Metallurgical Plant, and one of the design options included suspending a huge metallic beam from the ceiling. As for wood, we also used it - take that same synagogue, for instance. In its atrium, the hard ceiling is made of spruce, and what's interesting, we would simply cut it; we were not interested in the seams; this was part of our design. And in the penthouse of the residential complex "Sokolinoe Gnezdo" ("Hawk's Nest"), the ceiling (being also the floor of the top level) is partially made of glass. Concrete, gypsum - there materials are also quite appropriate on the ceiling. I do not like stone so much, but then again, it can always be easily simulated.
Nowadays, more and more projects are designed without a ceiling at all - what do you say to that?
Sergey Estrin: When I was on the judging panel of Office Next contest I paid attention to the fact that about eighty percent of the offices were indeed designed "ceiling-less", like it was today's aesthetics or something. But this has long since stopped being the "hot stuff", and, besides, it is more expensive that actually having a ceiling! Because covering up all the engineering lines and stuff is a lot easier than trying to figure out how to run them through the walls and partitions... If we are to take that same company Enter, for example, in its waiting lounge we made a printed design on the ceiling - which was both artistic technique and something that covered up all the communications.
Traditionally, a ceiling is the place where sources of light are fitted. Do you have any preferences in this area?
Sergey Estrin: After this "LED Revolutuon" happened, literally everything became possible. While earlier you used to have to try and figure out how you would maintenance your lights, and how soon they would burn out, now a lot of such issues are solved for good. Heat removal is no longer a problem, these lights require very little maintenance and they serve a long time. So it is really a pleasure now creating some large lights compositions. However, you have a very hard time searching the catalogues for really large-scale lamps that could become the defining elements of the interior design. The architectural solutions, however, that are created with the help of these LED bands are quite a different thing. Here the architect's hands are completely untied; he can let his fantasy go wild, and he can implement things totally changing one's perception of the architectural space. In the conference hall of Johnson & Johnson we used totally standard lights but if you organize them in the right way, they look anything but "standard". Besides, they did not "eat up" the height here, and they yield a very comfortable shadowless kind of light, perfect for the conference halls.
And can a ceiling perform any construction function in today's interior design?
Sergey Estrin: In all the projects that I showed here, this is basically about decoration. In modern construction, ceilings that are the continuation of the bearing structure are few and far between - if for no other reason then simply because you first build a house and then you do the interior design. If there is an opportunity to combine these two, you get such things as Oscar Niemeyer's temples in Brazil or Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp in France or Santiago Calatrava's projects... But as for this country, I cannot recall any projects that would be about structural bearing elements bleeding into the interior - that is, of course, barring the Olympic projects.
Are there any specific techniques that make an individual raise his gaze towards the ceiling? Because when you enter the room, staring at the ceiling is not always the first thing you want to do?
Sergey Estrin: Of course, there are! If we are to take the gothic style, for example, there is this whole vertical stream of columns that pulls your gaze upwards. If we are to take our projects, in "Eurasia" tower, the "petal" theme - that is to be seen mainly on the ceiling - first appears as a hint on the floor, and then manifests itself a bit more on the walls... In "Capital Tower", the space is first spun down below, and then it shoots upward. And in the office of BinBank, we simply took the walls and made them merge with the ceiling. As a matter of fact, most of the time, when a person goes to visit some office, he first enters a building that is designed and decorated in quite a different style. He comes through the entrance group, and ascends to the floor, totally unprepared for the place that he is going to. And when he opens the door - this is the moment that you have to do something to take his breath away! And what does he see first in the perspective? The ceiling!
So, does that mean that the ceiling is actually the climax point?
Sergey Estrin: Yes, the ceiling as such is one of the techniques that allow you to foster the climax for the individual that is walking through this or that space. For example, a person goes from a dark room over to a light one or from a small room over to a larger one: ceilings work just great in this case creating an emotional contrast. You've just been to a place with many little details and then you find yourself in a room with only one detail - but one that's large and bright. Where can you place such a dramatic detail? If we are to speak about something other than a museum - about a regular residential or office or retail store space, for example - then the ceiling is pretty much the only single undivided element there. It can even determine the hierarchy of the premises - this territory is important because it is, say, the leader's office, and this is the main meeting room, for example... Nobody gets tired of it, it is always there for you, and, if it is possible to move the furniture, change the exposition, and arrange the tables in the hall in a different way, the ceiling in any situation will "hold" the composition and create the character of the interior decoration.
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.
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.