​Vladimir Kovalev: “What matters in architecture is the factor of responsibility”

An interview with the founder and president of “Olimpproekt” Vladimir Kovalev about his company being a “smart machine”, its main asset a team of like-minded people.

Alla Pavlikova

Interviewed by:
Alla Pavlikova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov

12 September 2017

– Your company was founded in 2006. Could you please share how it all began?

Vladimir Kovalev:
– Back in 2006, when I was an employee of Gersevanova Institute for bases and underground facilities, I was defending my PhD thesis in the field of foundations and soil engineering, and I also thought of starting my own company. I was young and full of ambition back then and I was sure that every road was open to me. And what’s more, I was prepared to work a lot and work efficiently. We started from technical survey, geotechnical design and monitoring. By degrees, my company established itself as a leader in its field. Today I can safely say that “Olimpproekt” is one of the leading companies in Moscow in the area of geological and technical survey.

– How did the name of “Olimpproekt” come about?

– The moment of founding our company coincided with the time when there was a competition going on for the capital of Winter Olympics. In 2007 it was announced that it would be Sochi. I was inspired by this victory and the name sort of suggested itself. To me, it symbolizes the desire for success through hard work and self-realization.

– How did you come to the necessity of creating an architectural firm inside a company that specializes in geological survey and engineering?

– When in 2010 I took an active part in the actualization of the code “Bases of buildings and other facilities”, it became clear to me that this was a certain milestone after which I had to move on. In 2011, I started to expand “Olimpproekt” with a view of creating a division of architecture and design. First of all, already at that point I was thinking about the advantages of the integrated approach that would allow us to pass all the stages of the technical survey within the framework of one organization. Second, I was always interested in architecture. And at some point I felt that I was ready to take the responsibility not only for the technical part of the project but for the architectural part as well. What matters in architecture is the factor of responsibility because architecture forms the human habitat.

– How important is the architectural design for the overall structure of your company? Who is heading that design division now?

– Our company first debuted as the author of the architectural concept and as the general designer in the project of LoftGarden complex on Moscow’s Third Transport Ring. We had a challenging task of redevelopment which I think we solved. Together with the British firm JohnMcAslan + Partners, we worked on the project of reconstructing the “Bolshevik” complex (“Olimpproekt” was the general designer in this project – editorial note). This was a valuable experience for my team and for me personally.

Vladimir Kovalev, the founder and president of Olimpproekt Group. Photograph © Olimpproekt Group
Loft Garden apartments © Olimpproekt Group

Loft Garden apartments © Olimpproekt Group

Culture and business center "Bolshevik / John McAslan+Partner, Olimpproekt Group

Culture and business center "Bolshevik / John McAslan+Partner, Olimpproekt Group

In the end of 2013 I was asked to develop an architectural concept for the reconstruction of the body-shop building on the territory of the ZIL plant. It is a huge industrial building with a long history. It stands on a very important location next to the major ice arena – I realized that it was a tall order. However, it was a great educational experience that took my team to a whole new level. But the architectural branch really became a full-fledged part of our company after the great and talented architect Ekaterina Gren came to work for us – now she’s the chief of the architectural and project division.

Multifunctional complex in "Park of Legends" on the territory of the former ZIL plant © Olimpproekt Group

Multifunctional complex in "Park of Legends" on the territory of the former ZIL plant. THe apartments © Olimpproekt Group

Multifunctional complex in "Park of Legends" on the territory of the former ZIL plant © Olimpproekt Group

– How is your company organized? What does its structure look like? To what extent are you involved in the design process as the general director?

– Our company has a vertical structure. A lot depends on the leaders and the management of the company. From the very start I tried to surround myself with like-minded people who shared my values and my beliefs. Most of the company leaders have been working with me for eight or ten years. They know my business development strategy and they help me to implement it successfully.

As far as craft workers go we pay as much attention to them. Our main asset is our people. It’s important for us to work with top-class specialists creating comfortable working conditions for them to work in. We invest a lot into our new employees, into their professional training and their growth. It’s a lot more valuable to grow an operations manager within your team rather than invite one from the side.

I take an active part in the day-to-day operations of the company. I always interact with clients who expect me to be an expert in literally everything – from economics to geological survey to architectural proposals and concepts. I have no formal architectural education but I immersed into the profession so much that now I am also involved with the architectural design as well. I get to the bottom of our every project, regardless of its scale or importance. I think that this is a necessary thing to do in order to be sure in the quality of the end product. Our organization is all about quality, efficiency and our desire to provide top-class service to our clients. And although the idea of providing top quality service is not really popular in Russia, it is my firm belief that this is an important part of our work. 

– Your fields of activity are really diverse: architecture engineering, geological survey. What is of primary importance to you?

– Our company offers practically a full cycle of survey and design work. This is a fairly rare combination for Russia. And creating such an operational model, I was inspired by the experience of one famous project institute in China that I visited for the exchange of experiences. And architecture was of course of primary importance there. But at the same time it could not effectively operate without the other constituent parts, such as engineering, geological survey, and structural design. This integrated approach is our main comparative advantage that ensures the steady growth of our company. In addition, this helps us to significantly optimize the time of implementing our projects. Our clients are sometimes amazed at how soon we issue the project documents without losing the project quality.

– What specifically helps you to minimize your design period so dramatically?

– Our architects geologists designers engineers and other specialists all the work in one office; we have efficient communication between the divisions, and they are on great friendly terms with one another. This facilitates communication, coordination, and data exchange. People here trust one another, and they don’t spend time having to double-check the information they get. This is why all the questions are quickly solved. And this is what modern market requires from us – quickness, quality, and reasonable prices.

– Which of your implemented projects do you consider the most successful? Which projects are important to you?

– Our design bureau was created not so long ago – five years ago, in fact – a rather short term for an architectural company. This is why currently we have few implemented projects. Among the large-scale ones are LoftGarden and Bolshevik. 

A lot of our projects today are close to completion, though. The multifunctional complex “Park of Legends” on the territory of the ZIL plant was supposed to be put into operation still in 2016 but because of the economic crisis the project got frozen several times. The time shifted to 2018. Soon the façades will be ready. The structure is already complete. Next year, a housing project on the Ozernaya Street will also be complete – it a small but really well thought-out residential complex. The construction of a residential complex on the Mikhailova Street is underway. They’ve already built the fourth floor there. So I hope that in the nearest future people will be able to see and appreciate our architecture. 

Multifunctional complex in "Park of Legends" on the territory of the former ZIL plant © Olimpproekt Group

– Your projects are mostly multistory housing complexes. Is this your specialty?

– The volume of construction of public buildings as opposed to housing projects is relatively small. Chiefly for this reason we chose for ourselves the segment of multistory housing construction. Today this indeed has become our specialty. We have accumulated formidable experience having designed dozens of housing projects. We are professionals in this field we know how to and we love to design quality housing projects. We quickly and efficiently prepare plans and layouts that satisfy both the developer and the end consumer. If you take that same residential building on the Ozernaya Street, for example, it’s interesting to know that for this project alone we came up with seven types of studios, thanks to which the sales skyrocketed. But this, of course, doesn’t mean that we won’t be able to do as good a job of developing a public building project.

– Which of your current projects do you consider to be the most important?

– There is an interesting housing complex at the crossing of the Varshavskoe Highway and the Moscow Ring Road. This place is very picturesque in terms of its natural surroundings. There is a forest that steps right up to the border of the land site, and we proposed to “route” this forest right into the yard. As a result, the yard started looking pretty much like a park, while the territory of the complex took on the countryside quality. Of this in spite of the fact that the buildings are rather tall, up to 75 meters.

Still another project is a house on the 11th Parkovaya Street. It is relatively small, its floor space being under 30 thousand square meters. The land site is surrounded by greenery, next to a residential area and a derelict kindergarten. The dense construction and the insolation restrictions did not stop us from being able to offer to the future residents convenient apartment layouts and a full-fledged public territory before the building. Regretfully, this project has been stopped but we hope it will be resumed one day and our client will get back to it.

In addition, “Olimpproekt” works a lot in the field of developing project documents. This is a huge amount of work, considering the scale of the projects. One of the examples is a housing complex situated on the territory of a former flour mill. Its area is just under 150 000 square meters, its height is 53 floors.

But our most important and cherished projects are “Park of Legends” at ZIL and the housing complex on the Mikhailova Street. These are the most complex projects and therefore the most expensive ones. The multifunctional complex on the territory of the ZIL plant was designed virtually by me alone. This project changed drastically from the first tentative concept to the final project proposal – thought-out and multilayered. As far as the complex on the Mikhailova Street is concerned, I must mention the invaluable input from Ekaterina Gren in this project. For her, just as for the the whole company, this project became the symbol of an architect fighting for architecture. And it was on this project that we realized that we have a right to exist as an architectural firm, and we can successfully develop in this direction.

– How would you describe the goal and mission of “Olimpproekt” for the next few years?

– To me, Olimpproekt is not just a company – it is a sophisticated mechanism, a machine that consists of talented and goal-oriented people. And the quality of work of this machine must constantly grow. This is our main goal because together with the improvement of the efficiency of the company operations we improve the quality of the end product. The construction market is different, and the economics of the projects is also different. The laconism of our works is to a large extent determined by their economics. Before the crisis, the investor was ready to invest virtually any money into projects with a great location. Now the investor is compelled to count his money, and we have to achieve top-quality results under any conditions.

12 September 2017

Alla Pavlikova

Interviewed by:

Alla Pavlikova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov
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