What for you is the essence of the architect’s 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 what’s 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, there’s simply interaction with other professionals. Conversations, friends, discussions. Second, there’s books and magazines. Then there’s everything that’s 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 it’s 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. There’s 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. There’s no standard that can be used for reference. I’m more inclined to measure myself against history. Rome, Florence, Sienna – that’s all genuine stuff. It can give you a great deal and it’s 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, I’m not a great fan of Russian Constructivism. It’s given me nothing. I don’t know why. For me it’s got too much of the worker-peasant mentality, I suppose. It’s all too neatly ordered. They invented a new form for universal use. But I don’t need a form for universal use; I can’t 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? Didn’t they too invent machines for living in?
Corbusier has given me a great deal. But not his early stuff – not the unité d’habitation or the machine for living in. Why should a house be a machine? A house is a palace. It’s a sculpture. You could say, a good machine is sculpture. For me Le Corbusier is the chapel at Ronchamp – a unique space, unique experience. That’s art for you. And it expresses only art. It’s 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 don’t 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, that’s true. Of course, we don’t operate in a vacuum. There’s a specific site, a specific time, a client. It’s 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 he’s 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 there’s nothing else you’re any good at is the wrong answer. And if I’m 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 don’t 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. I’ve 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 – there’s 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 there’s no creativity involved here; it’s simply a matter of professional proficiency. You’re hardly likely to ask the designer of a Ferrari whether the car’s petrol pump works properly. He’ll 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 it’s your job to reveal this solution. There’s only one such solution; the rest are false moves.
But then it’s not you, it’s the site itself that knows how it should look?
But I’m the one who went there. If someone else had come along, I don’t 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. It’s not a finished image, not a readymade solution; it’s 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 I’ve been unable to create as an architect, I’ve created as an artist. I’ve done hundreds of watercolours. I’ve 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 don’t have the distance necessary for that. They are too personal, too much my own thing.
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.