In Moscow you have a reputation as an extravagant character; journalists call you ‘the first dandy of Russian architecture’.
That’s their problem.
My point is this. At the same time, you are a committed fan of contemporary architecture, but not of distortion of space or non-linearity but of rectilinear Neomodernism – of structuralist architecture, I would say.
I don’t really know what Neomodernism is. But I could agree to Neostructuralism – if there is such a term.
It’s the kind of architecture in which everything is simple and clear. Here it’s difficult to say something new after the founding fathers of Modernism.
It’s generally the case that a building is something new. An unrepeatable combination of circumstances. And then, contemporary architecture is bound up with progress. There’s always something new appearing.
Yes, I understand: new square metres, new technologies, new functions, contemporary materials, unrepeatable combinations of electricity networks, water supplies, sewerage systems, and radically new management systems. It’s all extremely fascinating. But it’s not exactly where you’d expect to come across dandyism. Aestheticism, that is.
I don’t at all think that technology is what’s most important. Although, of course, you can’t help wanting to be up to standard, in the vanguard of progress. But it’s in this that we encounter difficulties deriving from our economy, the lack of steady knowledge and skill in working with modern materials and components. In our projects technological innovation has not yet become a natural part of the artistic concept. I’m sure this will come in time, but if we today take the view that innovative technology is what’s most important, that means that we Russians shall have to do without architecture. Management is a separate subject, being subordinate to architecture. I don’t consider myself a skilled negotiator, and this is something that holds no interest for me. But what is unrepeatable is form, above all. But what exactly can be unrepeatable here? What new forms have arisen in modern architecture compared with Constructivism or Modernism in general. Respect for context? The contextual approach?
No, it’s not a matter of context either. In general, I think that orientation on contextuality is where we go wrong today. It leads to dullness, stagnation, and, most unpleasantly of all, progressive deterioration of the context. If you try to be more modest, less conspicuous than your neighbour, the next step thing to happen will be that your (very modest) work of architecture will become the context, the next architect will create something even more modest, and so on. Buildings will become increasingly less conspicuous – and worse. I can agree that today’s Modernism, including its superior versions, is based on very, very easily reproducible techniques. Techniques that are so easy that they can be turned into a canon. Or, at the very least we might formulate and classify those persistent techniques and combinations of forms which have become standards over the course of time and which are beloved of absolutely the entire architectural establishment. And it hardly needs to be said that canonicity must contradict the idea of newness…
But where, then, is there room for quest? A canon is like military uniform. Everyone is dressed identically.
No, the exact opposite is true. It’s precisely at this point that you get space in which to conduct a quest. You have to change your point of view. Take, for instance, Classical architecture. I grew up in St Petersburg, and my first architectural impressions relate to Classicism. In Classicism no one looks for new forms. They look for perfection in forms that have already been found. Proportions, relations between masses, textures, and spaces – within the canonical Classical prototypes. Perhaps it would be worth looking at modern architecture from this point of view.
Would it look any different?
In fact, yes! Radically different. Take Constructivism. Strangely enough, Russian Constructivism has never been much of an influence on me. Of course, we are justly proud of it. But the Constructivists were inventors. They invented a new form, but did not manage to find the correct proportions of windows, apertures, columns. Their work is very raw. Apart from Leonidov, who had a real feeling for architecture, but never had anything actually built. [The architecture critic] Khan-Magamedov once wrote that modern architecture is still only beginning and Constructivism and Modernism are like ancient classics. Like the first Doric temples of the 7th-6th centuries BC – they’re very expressive, but very coarse. They established the canon, but were followed by the architecture of the age of the Parthenon. This is a direction that I would consider worth moving in.
Yes, there are still plenty of places to head for. A long journey ahead of us.
You’re being ironic. In actual fact, there were architects who took decisive steps. Incidentally, for me Le Corbusier is not so much an inventor as someone with unique aesthetic intuition. He is, of course, innovator No. 1, but he nevertheless has an amazing sense of harmony and proportion. And when he began having ideas on the subject of the modulor, this was simply his desire to receive mathematical confirmation of his artistic intuition. There is another person like him – Mies. I adored Mies van der Rohe until I was weak in the knees. I am not at all a sentimental person and always thought that nothing could melt me, but when I first found myself in Barcelona and saw his pavilion, I could no longer understand the point of our doing architecture! Yes, of course, this is aesthetic architecture. Everything in it has been reduced to incredibly elegant formula. And it’s the elegance that’s the main thing; the formula itself is fairly elementary. On this subject I have a question for you. In the 70s criticism of Modernism and the rejection of it were a reaction to this elementariness, to the desire to reduce complexity and contradiction to, as Venturi put it, an elementary rectangular grid. And even the return to contemporary architecture that we experienced in the 90s was based on a rejection of this elementariness. This is where our non-linear architecture comes from. But your take is that all we need to do is merely polish the formulae of the simple Modernist grid?
No. That’s not it. In fact, everything is much more complex. First, not a grid. At least, not for me today – not a grid. A matrix, more like. A multidimensional matrix – two-, three-, or four-dimensional. Function, construction, urban-planning situation, physical space, human behaviour – all this has dimensionality; each element has its own – so you get a multitude of grids with different dimensionalities. The objective is to discover these grids, organize them, relate them to each another, and lay them on one another. The result is a multidimensional object with many different scales – relating to distance, time, function, structural elements. Each unit is a complex number. And it’s very important at this level to find the right scale of proportions to ensure that all units relate to one another harmoniously. These are complex harmonies where a single element fits into several harmonic sequences at the same time. As in classical music.
So you end up with a complex order instead of a simple one. Instead of a multiplication table, you get a table of logarithms. But it’s still a table. As for the essence of the Neomodernist revolution – although you’re not fond of this term, – it lay in an attempt to introduce the principle of indeterminacy, chance, unpredictability into modern architecture. An attempt to step away from the table into the chaos of the non-linear process.
Exactly. I’ve been talking only about what comes first. First, the matrix. But this is not yet architecture. It has neither beginning nor end; it’s the law for constructing a world for a given particular case, but it is not that world itself. There are laws of physics and there is the earth, which exists in accordance with these laws. And, when you know the laws, you can say a lot about the properties of the earth, but you cannot predict what it will look like. It’s the same here. For me the principle of dualism is important. There is both matter and spirit. The matrix is matter, the laws by which matter is constructed. And then there is life itself, which is unpredictable, incidental; this is spirit. It’s how an object lives. First, the matrix, and then life, which is the most interesting part! It’s precisely the unpredictable, unexpected, incidental movement of architectural matter that is the sign of the spirit. It’s important not to lose it, not to drown it in the grid. You have to contain this unpredictability, non-logicality in the rigid logic of the matrix that you have yourself created. Miss out a cell. Permit something not to be part of the matrix, to live its own life. Emphasize the weak beat, as in music. Here there’s a whole host of possibilities; it’s fascinating. When you arbitrarily fill in a proper matrix with various beautiful things, it can lead to unexpected, unpredictable, surprising results. In my projects I always try to surprise. There’s no art without surprise.
Are you a philosopher?
No, I’m an architect. For some reason, critics are fond of defining architects by other professions, seeing them as artists, businessmen, academics, or politicians. I’m an architect. In my opinion, this is the very essence of the architectural profession – to find the laws of life in the space that has been allocated to you, to impart to them the refined precision of the golden section, and then allow life to flow through the space in whatever way it will. This is difficult to describe; but you can see it immediately in the design for a building. Have any contemporary foreign architects been an influence on you?
No, I don’t think so. Le Corbusier, of course, but you’re asking about contemporary architects. I have somehow never needed such influences. I worked for Bofill’s office in Paris, but Bofill has very different tastes from me. I don’t try to create architecture that would resemble anyone else’s, even if a client likes a particular prototype. And I don’t try to create architecture that doesn’t resemble anyone else’s. I simply look for what needs to be done and do it.
So your architecture is your own, Russian?
No, that’s not true either. I don’t try to create specifically Russian architecture. I simply create contemporary architecture. In Russia – although I could also create it somewhere else.
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.
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.