Sergey Skuratov. Interview by Grigory Revzin

  • exhibition
  • contemporary architecture

Sergey Skuratov is one of participants of an exposition of Russian pavilion on IX architectural biennial in Venice


What for you is the essence of the architects profession?

For appreciating architecture man is blessed with a heart, brain, and soul. His heart is a sensual organ that is alive to beauty. His brain is intellectual, for apprehending the truth. And his soul is a moral sense. Now the task is to hear all this and connect it. Artists spend their whole lives accumulating something inside themselves and then giving it back. The real skill is in being able to correctly hear whats inside you. And the more honest, precise, and sincere we are in giving it back, the better the resulting architecture.

And what is the source of this accumulation?

For me there are probably three sources. Or four. First, theres simply interaction with other professionals. Conversations, friends, discussions. Second, theres books and magazines. Then theres everything thats been built. All the different kinds of buildings, both modern and historical. And then there are things that have no direct relation to the profession simply impressions from films, books, memoirs.

So you think its possible to learn from modern architecture? From your contemporaries?

Good modern architecture is very scarce. Even in the West, let alone here in Russia. In fact, in my opinion, we have no good architecture. I mean from the last 10-15 years. Theres not a single building that could be considered successful. There are compromise buildings buildings that are more or less successful, but none that could be called a monument. Not a single one. And this is a problem. Theres no standard that can be used for reference. Im more inclined to measure myself against history. Rome, Florence, Sienna thats all genuine stuff.  It can give you a great deal and its something you really need to absorb. Then you begin to understand what a wall is, what stone is.

What about Russian architecture? What do you like? Constructivism?

Strangely, Im not a great fan of Russian Constructivism. Its given me nothing. I dont know why. For me its got too much of the worker-peasant mentality, I suppose. Its all too neatly ordered. They invented a new form for universal use. But I dont need a form for universal use; I cant stand this just like everyone else. I even want to breathe differently from other people.

You think the Avant-garde in the West is something different? Didnt they too invent machines for living in?

Corbusier has given me a great deal. But not his early stuff not the unité dhabitation or the machine for living in. Why should a house be a machine? A house is a palace. Its a sculpture. You could say, a good machine is sculpture. For me Le Corbusier is the chapel at Ronchamp a unique space, unique experience. Thats art for you. And it expresses only art.

Its usual for Russian architects who, as you do, work with modern forms to turn to Constructivism as a means of national self-identification. In this case Constructivism becomes a variant of the Russian style. Is this important for you?

For me nationalism in architecture is completely unimportant. As a rule, my clients are Jewish; I have builders from Tadjikistan; and the apartments are bought by people of all nationalities so what else can this architecture be but Russian? I live here and I build here so how could I not build Russian architecture? I dont understand why this should be a topic for reflection. I exist: this in itself is sufficient to ensure that the architecture I design is Russian.

So for you architecture is the self-expression of the architect? Like a picture. Not an expression of the site, function, money, the socium but of the architect? Of yourself?

Yes, in the final analysis, thats true. Of course, we dont operate in a vacuum. Theres a specific site, a specific time, a client. Its the same as when a doctor comes to a specific patient who has a specific illness, and must heal him. Is obliged to do so because hes taken the Hippocratic oath. The question is which medicine to use. Architecture is art. You can only heal using yourself. In my opinion, we should all at some point tell ourselves why we work where we do. And here to say that you theres nothing else youre any good at is the wrong answer. And if Im asked why I do what I do, I will say, Because I adore it I adore making something from nothing when a house is born from emptiness, from nothing. I just love it.

But is this birth an act of art for you? And what about function, modern materials, economics, planning approvals? Does all this have no significance?

I dont know what there is to talk about here. All this is self-evident. Yes, of course, I understand how a building will work from the point of view of both function and economics. I understand how it will be built. I have a very good knowledge of construction methods. Ive built so many buildings that I can now teach builders how to do it. And they re scared of me, because if they cut corners I force them to start again. My buildings must last a long time. Yes, I get pleasure from materials, textures, surfaces. A combination of seasoned Canadian oak and Belgian brick can give me genuine pleasure. But I know all this all immediately, from inside theres nothing to discuss. Possibly, this is something that needs to be discussed inside my office, with the architects who work for me to make sure they translate my ideas into reality in a satisfactory way. But theres no creativity involved here; its simply a matter of professional proficiency. Youre hardly likely to ask the designer of a Ferrari whether the cars petrol pump works properly. Hell take offence and walk away.

So architecture is born from something else?

Architecture is born from an attraction felt for a site your attraction. This may be of various kinds warm, cold, passionate, concealed, but it must be an attraction. You have to feel your way towards the right configuration for the site. This is what architecture is born from. You have to understand that in the metaphysical sense there is only one solution. In a sense the site already knows how it should look, and its your job to reveal this solution. Theres only one such solution; the rest are false moves.

But then its not you, its the site itself that knows how it should look?

But Im the one who went there. If someone else had come along, I dont know what would have happened. But the person who came along was me. And so there can be only one solution. This is a crossroads of fate, the quintessence of existence when you merge with a site, this cannot, I think, be a coincidence. Afterwards, you can start drawing.

You think in pictures?

No, there must be something before the picture. Something must grow inside you. Its not a finished image, not a readymade solution; its a kind of impulse that must appear. Then you have to listen to this impulse. I sometimes spend entire weeks walking around a place, looking, thinking, and not drawing anything. And then the impulse appears and the drawings start to flow.

But your drawings look like spontaneous ideas or impulses.

Yes. When Ive been unable to create as an architect, Ive created as an artist. Ive done hundreds of watercolours. Ive drawn since I was a child. But today I regard a drawing not as a finished work of art, but as a stage in the formation of an image. Drawings contain a general idea, a step, a flash.

The drawing is a kind of aesthetic check? A test of masses, proportions, how all this has taken shape on paper

No, all that kind of stuff is found out through models. For me drawings are not a form of test; they dont have the distance necessary for that. They are too personal, too much my own thing.
Text by: Sergey Skuratov, Grigory Revzin

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