Your profession is a very ungrateful one. An architect cannot create on his own; he needs a team to support him. Keeping an office is a minor problem in itself. But then there are clients, builders, civil servants. Instead of creative work you find yourself involved in endless compromises, and the final product is also unadulterated compromise. So why do you do it?
From inside the profession that’s not the way it looks. Architecture is a fascinating process. A project is born and grows, and you help it grow. Your office is your team. Every team has a captain, and then there are all the other team members, and the captain cannot manage without them or they without him. For someone in this team three qualities are important: love for his profession, ability, and ambition. What can be better than to play in the same team as people who are capable, ambitious, and love what they do? As for builders and civil servants, they are a circumstance which has to be taken into account, calculated, and bypassed. With clients, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the situation. I always tell my staff that clients are not our partners. They are an element of nature. And like any element – wind, water, or earthquake – they possess energy, and this energy is something we need to be able to exploit. You can resist it, as a dam does, and it will press against you. Or you can set a sail against it and sail away – close to the wind maybe, but at least you’ll be sailing. Otherwise, you’ll be crushed, or you’ll crush your client, but either way nothing good in terms of architecture will come of it.
But what’s the point of this endless tacking to and fro? What’s so good about it?
As human beings we need to create – to make things which did not exist before us. Architecture is the best way to achieve this. It’s a lifestyle, a hobby, a sport.
But if it’s a sport, who are you competing against? Your colleagues? Space?
No, it’s not the kind of sport where you beat someone. It’s not a game, but sport in the sense of process – when you’re constantly taking decisions, fighting against yourself, against circumstances. It involves strategy and tactics. Like, for instance, sailing. And there’s no need to beat anything or anyone. It’s more like the work that the gardener does. Something grows according to its own laws, and you help it grow.
The project grows of its own accord, rather than out of you? Out of what, then?
There is a set of circumstances – spatial, economic, functional – that give rise to a certain chromosome – a seed, a model of the future. Or to be more precise: these are circumstances in which a particular chromosome can survive. It subsequently grows to become an organism. And your task is to ensure that this organism grows normally.
But how do you know which chromosome is the right one?
Unfortunately, only by natural selection. To begin with, you draw lots of hieroglyphic signs, each of which contains a spatial model – and they die out. And the one that does not die is the normal one. You kind of test their viability.
So it never happens that you arrive at a site, look at it, and a solution occurs to you.
No, that never happens. To begin with, when you see the site, your first feeling is perplexity. Here your only salvation is experience – the knowledge that on any site it’s always possible to build something. This is calming. But you never have the feeling that you must do something a particular way. In general, this first moment, when you have to create a multitude of non-viable chromosomes, is the most difficult.
And how long does it last? Do they take a long time to die?
It’s usually quite quick. Like with a dandelion: there are a huge number of seeds, but then they quickly scatter. The more experience you have, the quicker you learn to distinguish solutions that are non-viable. However, it sometimes happens that you think you’ve found it – the simplest and most effective solution, – but then, when you embark on the next stage, you run into some irresolvable contradiction. You realize that you’re working violence on life and nothing good will emerge. Then you go back and have a look at how the other embryos are getting on. The end result should be a system which satisfies the entire set of circumstances and translates these circumstances into a spatial organism. In architecture I sense a sort of agricultural cycle. First you plough, then you sow, and then the crop begins to grow. At a certain moment you have to let a project go and feel that it is already ripening by itself. And then you harvest. And it’s the same with every project. And that’s what I like most of all. If a project is a chromosome that grows by itself, then how do you know what shape it should take in the end?
There’s no way of knowing. It must grow by itself; all I can do is protect it. There’s a very strong resemblance with a plant. A tree has a morphology. It must have roots, a trunk, branches, leaves; but it lacks a finite external form. It has grown the way it is, and that’s its form. I think that looking for an external form is a kind of violence; form should occur by itself.
So there’s no point, I take it, in asking what form is beautiful.
‘Beauty’ is a category that’s badly lacking in clarity. If someone says he’s seen a beautiful house, that doesn’t mean anything to me; I am unable to picture this building.
But there are certain, say, ideas concerning the perfect architectural form. Proportions, textures, composition, mass. Styles.
Proportions and textures are something that all living organisms have. Trees, cats, elephants. This is important for my understanding of architecture too. But I think you could say that a tree has no composition and its distribution of masses is variable. And this, I think, is the wrong direction in which to look. I don’t like architecture that is dressed in something else. Niemeyer is right to say that a building should be visible in its entirety in concrete. It’s the same as with paintings or graphic art: I prefer minimalist graphic art in which a single line says it all. Like the works of Picasso or Serov. A line should not become overgrown with hatching. A building should not become overgrown with wool. Styles are either for the critics or for epigones. They are a means of classification rather than of art. A hare does not know that it is a hare; it simply is. Buildings should come into existence in the same way. An architect who tries to design a Constructivist building today is just as much a stylist as someone who designs architecture in the Classical style. Initial, a priori forms can be only very general and primitive – you might say, for example, that here, on this spot, there might be something big or long or red. But to say that here there should be a particular style is violence. It’s wrong even to think that way.
Because there’s no way to attain this style?
Because there’s no way of protecting it. It won’t survive.
Protect it from whom?
From the whole set of circumstances. It’s a non-viable embryo.
So a building can grow only from its site and function. And never from the history of art, tradition, from an abstract sense of beauty?
That’s right. And there’s also a criterion of organic architecture. If architecture is organic, then it is beautiful.
But historically architecture was born from an a priori method.
Well, for example, Le Corbusier. Architecture that is created for any site. For Berlin, Marseilles, India. You have a modulor, a clearing and that’s all you need.
It’s a miracle. This architecture is ideally suited to its location; it creates a point of emphasis for the entire space around it. But even this is not the point. There you have a higher form of organicity; Le Corbusier created a perfect organism. Like, for instance, an elephant or a cat. If a cat moves from place to another, you can’t say it has lost its organic quality? It’s the same with Corbusier’s house. You aspire to miracles?
The Energy Family
The housing complex Symphony 34 will be built in Moscow’s Savelovsky district; it will consist of four towers from 36 to 54 stories high. Each of the towers has an image of its own, but they all are gathered into a single architectural ensemble – a fragment of a new high-rise urban space lying outside the Third Transport Ring.
The Fifth Element
The high-end residential development in the Vsevolozhsky Lane features a combination of expensive stone and metal textures, immersing them into a feast of ornaments. The house looks like a fantasy inspired by the theater of the Art Nouveau and Symbolism era; a kind of oriental fairy tale, which paradoxically allows it to avoid direct stylization and become a reflection of one of the aspects of modern Moscow life.
Springboards and Patios
The central element of the manor house in the village of Antonovka, designed by Roman Leonidov, is the inner yard with pergolas, meant to remind its owner about his vacations in exotic countries. The exposed wooden structures emphasize the soaring diagonals of single-pitched roofs.
Adding Up a Growing City
The housing quarter “1147” is located at the border between the old “Stalin” district in the north and the actively developing territories in the south. Its image responds to a difficult task: the compound brick facades of the neighboring sections are different, their height varying from 9 to 22 floors, and, if we are look from the street, it seems as though the front of the city development, consisting from long narrow elements, is forming some sophisticated array at this very moment in front of our eyes.
Agility of the Modular
In the Discovery housing complex that they designed, ADM architects proposed a modern version of structuralism: the form is based on modular cells, which, smoothly protruding and deepening, make the volumes display a kind of restrained flexibility, differentiated element by element. The lamellar and ledged facades are “stitched” with golden threads – they unite the volumes, emphasizing the textured character of the architectural solution.
Polyphony of a Chaste Style
The “ID Moskovskiy” housing project on St. Petersburg’s Moscow Avenue was designed by the team of Stepan Liphart in the past 2020. The ensemble of two buildings, joined by a colonnade, is executed in a generalized neoclassical style with elements of Art Deco.
In Three Voices
The high-rise – 41 stories high – housing complex HIDE is being built on the bank of the Setun River, near the Poklonnaya Mountain. It consists of three towers of equal height, yet interpreted in three different ways. One of the towers, the most conspicuous one looks as if it was twisted in a spiral, composed of a multitude of golden bay windows.
In the Space of Pobedy Park
In the project of a housing complex designed by Sergey Skuratov, which is now being built near the park of the Poklonnaya Hill, a multifunctional stylobate is turned into a compound city space with intriguing “access” slopes that also take on the role of mini-plazas. The architecture of the residential buildings responds to the proximity of the Pobedy Park, on the one hand, “dissolving in the air”, and, on the other hand, supporting the memorial complex rhythmically and color-wise.
Dynamics of the Avenue
On Leningrad Avenue, not far away from the Sokol metro station, the construction of the A-Class business center Alcon II has been completed. ADM architects designed the main façade as three volumetric ribbons, as if the busy traffic of the avenue “shook” the matter sending large waves through it.
Steamer at the Pier
An apartment hotel that looks like a ship with wide decks has been designed for a land plot on a lake shore in Moscow’s South Tushino. This “steamer” house, overlooking the lake and the river port, does indeed look as if it were ready to sail away.
The Magic of Rhythm or Ornament as a Theme
Designed by Sergey Tchoban, the housing complex Veren Place in St. Petersburg is the perfect example of inserting a new building into a historical city, and one the cases of implementing the strategy that the architect presented a few years ago in the book, which he coauthored with Vladimir Sedov, called “30:70. Architecture as a Balance of Forces”.
Walking on Water
In the nearest future, the Marc Chagall Embankment will be turned into Moscow’s largest riverside park with green promenades, cycling and jogging trails, a spa center on water, a water garden, and sculptural pavilions designed in the spirit of the Russian avant-garde artists of the 1920, and, first of all, Chagall himself. In this issue, we are covering the second-stage project.
A-Len has developed and patented the “Perfect Apartments” program, which totally eliminates “bad” apartment layouts. In this article, we are sharing how this program came around, what it is about, who can benefit from it, and how.
“Architectural Archaeology of the Narkomfin Building”: the Recap
One of the most important events of 2020 has been the completion of the long-awaited restoration of the monument of Soviet avant-garde architecture – the Narkomfin Building, the progenitor of the typology of social housing in this country. The house retained its residential function as the main one, alongside with a number of artifacts and restoration clearances turned into living museum exhibits.
LIFE on the Setun River
The area in the valley of the Setun River near the Vereiskaya Street got two new blocks of the “LIFE-Kutuzovsky” housing complex, designed by ADM architects. The two new blocks have a retail boulevard of their own, and a small riverside park.
Three towers on a podium over the Ramenka River are the new dominant elements on the edge of a Soviet “microdistrict”. Their scale is quite modern: the height is 176 m – almost a skyscraper; the facades are made of glass and steel. Their graceful proportions are emphasized by a strict white grid, and the volumetric composition picks up the diagonal “grid of coordinates” that was once outlined in the southwest of Moscow by the architects of the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Clouds over the Railroad
In the stead of former warehouses near “Lyubertsy-1” station, a new housing complex has been built, which peacefully coexists with the railroad, with the flyover bridge, and with the diverse surrounding scenery, not only dominating over the latter, but improving it.
Towers in a Forest
The authors of the housing complex “In the Heart of Pushkino” were faced with a difficult task: to preserve the already existing urban forest, at the same time building on it a compound of rather high density. This is how three towers at the edge of the forest appeared with highly developed public spaces in their podiums and graceful “tucks” in the crowning part of the 18-story volumes.
The Towers of “Sputnik”
Six towers, which make up a large housing complex standing on the bank of the Moskva River at the very start of the Novorizhskoe Highway, provide the answers to a whole number of marketing requirements and meets a whole number of restrictions, offering a simple rhythm and a laconic formula for the houses that the developer preferred to see as “flashy”.
The Starting Point
In this article, we are reviewing two retro projects: one is 20 years old, the other is 25. One of them is Saint Petersburg’s first-ever townhouse complex; the other became the first example of a high-end residential complex on Krestovsky Island. Both were designed and built by Evgeny Gerasimov and Partners.
The Path to New Ornamentation
The high-end residential complex “Aristocrat” situated next to a pine park at the start of the Rublev Highway presents a new stage of development of Moscow’s decorative historicist architecture: expensively decorated, yet largely based on light-colored tones, and masterfully using the romantic veneer of majolica inserts.
Renovation: the Far East Style
The competition project of renovating two central city blocks of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, developed by UNK project, won the nomination “Architectural and planning solutions of city construction”.
The Istituto Centrale per la Grafica in Rome presents Sergei Tchoban’s exhibition “Imprint of the future. Destiny of Piranesi’s City”. The exhibition includes four etchings, based on Roman architectural views of the XVIII century complemented by futuristic insertions, as well as a lot of drawings that investigate the same topic, at times quite expressively. The exhibition poses questions, but does not seem to give any answers. Since going to Rome is pretty problematic now, let’s at least examine the pictures.
In Search of Visual Clarity
In this article, we are reviewing a discussion devoted to the question of designing city space elements, which is quite complicated for the Russian expanses of land. The discussion was organized by the Genplan Institute of Moscow at the ArchMoscow convention in Gostiny Dvor.
The City of the Sun
Jointly designed by Sergey Tchoban and Vladimir Plotkin, the VTB Arena Park complex can arguably be considered the perfect experiment on solving the centuries-old controversy between traditional architecture and modernism. The framework of the design code, combined with the creative character of the plastique-based dialogue between the buildings, formed an all-but-perfect fragment of the city fabric.
...The Other Was Just Railroad Gin*
In their project of the third stage of “Ligovsky City” housing complex, located in the industrial “gray” belt of Saint Petersburg, the KCAP & Orange Architects & A-Len consortium set before themselves a task of keeping up the genius loci by preserving the contours of the railroad and likening the volumes of residential buildings to railroad containers, stacked up at the goods unloading station.
Lions on Glass
While reconstructing the facades of Building 4 of Moscow Hospital #23, SPEECH architects applied a technique, already known from Saint Petersburg projects by Sergey Tchoban – cassettes with elements of classical architecture printed on glass. The project was developed gratis, as a help to the hospital.