Ekaterina Gren: “Architecture is a jigsaw puzzle that consists of tasks and limitations”

Ekaterina Gren, the chief architect of GC «OLIMPROEKT» Ltd., speaks about the formative years of her division, the importance of a dialogue with the developers, and about the architect’s mission.

17 July 2018

The architectural and project division of the company was launched relatively recently – in 2013. Can you please share how you went about organizing your work in the conditions of the cutthroat competition on the market? What was your strategy?

The strategy was based on the high quality of execution, quick response time, and the professionalism of the decisions that we made on every level: from conceptual ideas to actual implementation. Regardless of where my project is situated, however big or small it is, I treat it as the most important and interesting one in my career. I always try to think out of the box and come up with unconventional architectural and town planning solutions. And, of course, an important factor in our company’s establishing itself as an “architect” is our special kind of relationship with developers and marketing experts that we have when we work on our projects. From the very start, we go to the bottom of things to understand what our task is about, find out who they are building this project for, and discuss the budget. A correctly organized dialogue, in which the client and the architect are both hearing each other out, is the unmistakable key to success. It is important to solve the problem that the developer has, and do this with a unique architectural solution, too. You can create an interesting housing project using very simple solutions, and as for uniqueness, it’s not only about expensive façade or interior decoration materials; uniqueness can consist in the organization of space, both on the level of the master plan, and on the level of each of the apartments.

Mikhailova, 31 © GC «OLIMPROEKT» Ltd.

However, I think that our main key to success is our team. I try to foster in our every specialist keen attention to detail and overall quality. My pet phrase that I use when we discuss this or that issue with my colleagues is: “Think of this project as you would think of your future home. Imagine yourself living in this housing complex, walking around it, parking your car here, being surrounded by these façades... Would you want to live here? And if your answer is no, then we will have to search for the solution that will make you answer yes”.

Yes, there are indeed plenty of architectural firms out there, and designer companies, too, and the competition is tough. But I just don’t squander my energy on these thoughts – I don’t even have the time for that. And this is why I never thought about any company as my competition. I just start working and I get involved with the project, I treat it as my child that I have to bring up and to whom I have to give the best of me.

What experiments are developers ready to make in terms of you proposing unconventional architectural solutions?

You know, the more you work on housing stock projects, the more interesting it gets. Due to the fact that there is also a tough competition among the developers as well, the architects have been getting their hands on the tools they once could not get – meaning, high-quality decoration materials, unconventional planning solutions, interesting landscaping ideas. And if the developer is knowledgeable about the market situation, he understands the value of these tools and he is ready to experiment, for example, in the field of landscaping because he realizes that you cannot just “sell an apartment”; what you ultimately want to do is create a comfortable living environment, an important element of which is the yard territory. And currently there is a demand on the market for designing the yards as local public spaces with an opportunity for using various kinds of greenery, custom-designed hardscaping objects, modern European equipment, sport fields and playgrounds.

Residential complex with an underground parking garage, pre-school educational institution, and sports and recreation center. 8, Shushenskaya Street, Moscow © GC «OLIMPROEKT» Ltd.

And it is also important to note that the developers quite willingly make experiments in the area of façade decoration materials and landscaping. Sustainability is the hot trend of today: wooden boardwalks, clinker brick and natural stone are replacing fiber cement and ceramic granite.

Residential complex with an underground parking garage, pre-school educational institution, and sports and recreation center. 8, Shushenskaya Street, Moscow © GC «OLIMPROEKT» Ltd.

What other new trends in architecture can you name in terms of market promotion of housing projects?

Today, developers, designers and architects alike are paying more attention to the pedestrian accessibility and transparency of the environment; more attention is paid to the façade design, plastique, and materials, they try to work with every project on an individual basis. Well, there is nothing exactly groundbreaking about this approach but the very attitude towards the details of a master plan and the volumetric and planning solutions has become more responsible. The competition is ultimately won by the projects that put people’s interests above everything else. It is important for an architect to be able to get across to the developers and their marketing team which solutions will be the best for the future residents.

Residential complex with an underground parking garage, school, pre-school educational institution, and a medical center. Varshavskoe Highway, 170, Moscow © GC «OLIMPROEKT» Ltd.

Today, your company’s portfolio consists chiefly of high-rise housing projects. How do you solve the problems that usually accompany the typology of mass housing?

Most people associate mass housing with prefabricated houses, standardized planning solutions, high density of population, and lack of parking space.

Our projects, on the other hand, are all about the diversity of the floor plans of the apartments. People will be getting an opportunity to choose the housing that fits exactly their tastes: some people like more intimate confined spaces, some people love open space – we all are different, and our preferences are different. And as for the problem with the parking space, including the parking places for the guests’ cars – well, it has long since been solved by the underground parking levels. This makes it possible to create clean and cozy yards that are completely vehicle-free. Such solutions go a long way to make each of the residents of the complex and their families to feel comfortable. Because everyone remembers very well the yards, sidewalks and playgrounds all clogged up with cars, when you can’t get rid of a feeling that you live in a parking lot – no place to take a walk or just go outside and read a book.

And the greater the construction density of this or that specific land site, the more interesting the architect’s task is! There are various ways to solve this task: you can make it visually lighter by making units with different numbers of floors, gaps in the façade line, different stylistic solutions and the colors that you use.

Residential complex with an underground parking garage, pre-school educational institution, and sports and recreation center. 8, Shushenskaya Street, Moscow © GC «OLIMPROEKT» Ltd.

What does the term “comfortable environment” mean to you?

To me, this is a certain atmosphere that the architect creates for the resident: starting from his way home down to his apartment. The feeling of complete harmony when nothing causes you any discomfort, when you feel satisfaction from the sheer fact of being inside this place… The project must be comfortable for living and at the same time be at peace with the surrounding nature. And “harmonious environment” is not just about the choice of the façade design and floor plans – it is a sum total of various architectural solutions. For example, the territory must be functionally structured in a smart way: the entrance zone to the residential complex and the yard space must be separated from the public zone. The public level must be filled with public functions, and a developed social infrastructure must be there.

Residential complex with an underground parking garage, pre-school educational institution, and sports and recreation center. 8, Shushenskaya Street, Moscow © GC «OLIMPROEKT» Ltd.

Does your company have any plans for going beyond the confines of your “specialty” on multifunctional residential complexes, and, if you do, what direction would be interesting for you to develop?

Our company doesn’t have any “specialty” in residential complexes – rather, this just has to do with the current trends of the real property market. Housing stock is something that is currently being built in tremendous amounts, and there is more demand for it than for offices or even shopping malls. Currently, we have public buildings being designed as well, and I hope that we will have more of such projects, including sports facilities. It is more interesting for an architect to experiment with curvilinear volumes, large grid spans, and everything that you just cannot use in housing projects. But, again, a true professional is inspired by any typology.

Residential complex with an underground parking garage, school, pre-school educational institution, and a medical center. Varshavskoe Highway, 170, Moscow © GC «OLIMPROEKT» Ltd.

Do you use any BIM technologies?

Today, BIM modeling is being developed in every single company. Both designers and developers need it. In our case, BIM facilitates our work with side specialists and divisions. When you’ve got a single model, all of your solutions can be processed quickly and with no mistakes. At a certain stage, the model is handed over to the client, and further on it helps to operate the building more efficiently.

We use BIM in every project but not always 100%. The development of utility lines and a construction set, and the underground part, for example, which is generally the most difficult part, is always done in Revit. We also do some things in AutoCad but there is a general task to switch completely to Revit within one year.

Residential complex, 11th Parkovaya Street © GC «OLIMPROEKT» Ltd.

How would you define your signature style?

The term “signature style” doesn’t mean much to me, and it’s not up to me to define its presence or absence. When I start working on a new project I try to forget everything that I saw before and come up with a solution that I haven’t yet come up with. This is what the creative process and the creative search are all about. I think that each of our projects must be unique, and I definitely don’t want to develop any “signature style”. This is just like a jigsaw puzzle that you have to put together from the limitations and the tasks that are posed to you by the city, the client, and society. The difference is that when you do a jigsaw puzzle you always see the end picture in front of you, and in our profession the real ultimate outcome is only seen in the final stage of construction.

And every time I set for myself a task of making the urban environment more comfortable and interesting, and the city people’s quality of life higher. Becoming a better person and making a positive difference wherever you can is what our life as humans is about. I set for myself this specific task because the work of an architect has a direct influence on the organization and quality of people’s lives.

Mikhailova, 31 © GC «OLIMPROEKT» Ltd.

17 July 2018

Headlines now
The Big Twelve
Yesterday, the winners of the Moscow Mayor’s Architecture Award were announced and honored. Let’s take a look at what was awarded and, in some cases, even critique this esteemed award. After all, there is always room for improvement, right?
Above the Golden Horn
The residential complex “Philosophy” designed by T+T architects in Vladivostok, is one of the new projects in the “Golubinaya Pad” area, changing its development philosophy (pun intended) from single houses to a comprehensive approach. The buildings are organized along public streets, varying in height and format, with one house even executed in gallery typology, featuring a cantilever leaning on an art object.
Nuanced Alternative
How can you rhyme a square and space? Easily! But to do so, you need to rhyme everything you can possibly think of: weave everything together, like in a tensegrity structure, and find your own optics too. The new exhibition at GES-2 does just that, offering its visitor a new perspective on the history of art spanning 150 years, infused with the hope for endless multiplicity of worlds and art histories. Read on to see how this is achieved and how the exhibition design by Evgeny Ace contributes to it.
Blinds for Ice
An ice arena has been constructed in Domodedovo based on a project by Yuri Vissarionov Architects. To prevent the long façade, a technical requirement for winter sports facilities, from appearing monotonous, the architects proposed the use of suspended structures with multidirectional slats. This design protects the ice from direct sunlight while giving the wall texture and detail.
Campus within a Day
In this article, we talk about what the participants of Genplan Institute of Moscow’s hackathon were doing at the MosComArchitecture booth at the “ArchMoscow” exhibition. We also discuss who won the prize and why, and what can be done with the territory of a small university on the outskirts of Moscow.
Vertical Civilization
Genpro considered the development of the vertical city concept and made it the theme of their pavilion at the “ArchMoscow” exhibition.
Marina Yegorova: “We think in terms of hectares, not square meters”
The career path of architect Marina Yegorova is quite impressive: MARHI, SPEECH, MosComArchitectura, the Genplan Institute of Moscow, and then her own architectural company. Its name Empate, which refers to the words “to draw” in Portuguese and “to empathize” in English, should not be misleading with its softness, as the firm freely works on different scales, including Integrated Territorial Development projects. We talked with Marina about various topics: urban planning experience, female leadership style, and even the love of architects for yachting.
Andrey Chuikov: “Optimum balance is achieved through economics”
The Yekaterinburg-based architectural company CNTR is in its mature stage: crystallization of principles, systematization, and standardization helped it make a qualitative leap, enhance competencies, and secure large contracts without sacrificing the aesthetic component. The head of the company, Andrey Chuikov, told us about building a business model and the bonuses that additional education in financial management provides for an architect.
The Fulcrum
Ostozhenka Architects have designed two astonishing towers practically on the edge of a slope above the Oka River in Nizhny Novgorod. These towers stand on 10-meter-tall weathered steel “legs”, with each floor offering panoramic views of the river and the city; all public spaces, including corridors, receive plenty of natural light. Here, we see a multitude of solutions that are unconventional for the residential routine of our day and age. Meanwhile, although these towers hark back to the typological explorations of the seventies, they are completely reinvented in a contemporary key. We admire Veren Group as the client – this is exactly how a “unique product” should be made – and we tell you exactly how our towers are arranged.
Crystal is Watching You
Right now, Museum Night has kicked off at the Museum of Architecture, featuring a fresh new addition – the “Crystal of Perception”, an installation by Sergey Kuznetsov, Ivan Grekov, and the KROST company, set up in the courtyard. It shimmers with light, it sings, it reacts to the approach of people, and who knows what else it can do.
The Secret Briton
The house is called “Little France”. Its composition follows the classical St. Petersburg style, with a palace-like courtyard. The decor is on the brink of Egyptian lotuses, neo-Greek acroteria, and classic 1930s “gears”; the recessed piers are Gothic, while the silhouette of the central part of the house is British. It’s quite interesting to examine all these details, attempting to understand which architectural direction they belong to. At the same time, however, the house fits like a glove in the context of the 20th line of St. Petersburg’s Vasilievsky Island; its elongated wings hold up the façade quite well.
The Wrap-Up
The competition project proposed by Treivas for the first 2021 competition for the Russian pavilion at EXPO 2025 concludes our series of publications on pavilion projects that will not be implemented. This particular proposal stands out for its detailed explanations and the idea of ecological responsibility: both the facades and the exhibition inside were intended to utilize recycled materials.
Birds and Streams
For the competition to design the Omsk airport, DNK ag formed a consortium, inviting VOX architects and Sila Sveta. Their project focuses on intersections, journeys, and flights – both of people and birds – as Omsk is known as a “transfer point” for bird migrations. The educational component is also carefully considered, and the building itself is filled with light, which seems to deconstruct the copper circle of the central entrance portal, spreading it into fantastic hyper-spatial “slices”.
Faraday Grid
The project of the Omsk airport by ASADOV Architects is another concept among the 14 finalists of a recent competition. It is called “The Bridge” and is inspired by both the West Siberian Exhibition of 1911 and the Trans-Siberian Railway bridge over the Irtysh River, built in 1896. On one hand, it carries a steampunk vibe, while on the other, there’s almost a sense of nostalgia for the heyday of 1913. However, the concept offers two variants, the second one devoid of nostalgia but featuring a parabola.
Midway upon the Journey of Our Life
Recently, Tatlin Publishing House released a book entitled “Architect Sergey Oreshkin. Selected Projects”. This book is not just a traditional book of the architectural company’s achievements, but rather a monograph of a more personal nature. The book includes 43 buildings as well as a section with architectural drawings. In this article, we reflect on the book as a way to take stock of an architect’s accomplishments.
Inverted Fortress
This year, there has been no shortage of intriguing architectural ideas around the Omsk airport. The project developed by the architectural company KPLN appeals to Omsk’s history as a wooden fortress that it was back in the day, but transforms the concept of a fortress beyond recognition: it “shaves off” the conical ends of “wooden logs”, then enlarges them, and then flips them over. The result is a hypostyle – a forest of conical columns on point supports, with skylights on top.
Transformation of Annenkirche
For Annenkirche (St. Anna Lutheran Church in St. Petersburg), Sergey Kuznetsov and the Kamen bureau have prepared a project that relies on the principles of the Venice Charter: the building is not restored to a specific date, historical layers are preserved, and modern elements do not mimic the authentic ones. Let’s delve into the details of these solutions.
The Paradox of the Temporary
The concept of the Russian pavilion for EXPO 2025 in Osaka, proposed by the Wowhaus architects, is the last of the six projects we gathered from the 2022 competition. It is again worth noting that the results of this competition were not finalized due to the cancellation of Russia’s participation in World Expo 2025. It should be mentioned that Wowhaus created three versions for this competition, but only one is being presented, and it can’t be said that this version is thoroughly developed – rather, it is done in the spirit of a “student assignment”. Nevertheless, the project is interesting in its paradoxical nature: the architects emphasized the temporary character of the pavilion, and in its bubble-like forms sought to reflect the paradoxes of space and time.
The Forum of Time
The competition project for the Russian Pavilion at EXPO 2025 in Osaka designed by Aleksey Orlov and Arena Project Institute consists of cones and conical funnels connected into a non-trivial composition, where one can feel the hand of architects who have worked extensively with stadiums and other sports facilities. It’s very interesting to delve into its logic, structurally built on the theme of clocks, hourglasses and even sundials. Additionally, the architects have turned the exhibition pavilion into a series of interconnected amphitheaters, which is also highly relevant for world exhibitions. We are reminding you that the competition results were never announced.
Mirrors Everywhere
The project by Sergey Nebotov, Anastasia Gritskova, and the architectural company “Novoe” was created for the Russian pavilion at EXPO 2025, but within the framework of another competition, which, as we learned, took place even earlier, in 2021. At that time, the competition theme was “digital twins”, and there was minimal time for work, so the project, according to the architect himself, was more of a “student assignment”. Nevertheless, this project is interesting for its plan bordering on similarity with Baroque projects and the emblem of the exhibition, as well as its diverse and comprehensive reflectiveness.
The Steppe Is Full of Beauty and Freedom
The goal of the exhibition “Dikoe Pole” (“Wild Field”) at the State Historical Museum was to move away from the archaeological listing of valuable items and to create an image of the steppe and nomads that was multidirectional and emotional – in other words, artistic. To achieve this goal, it was important to include works of contemporary art. One such work is the scenography of the exhibition space developed by CHART studio.
The Snowstorm Fish
The next project from the unfinished competition for the Russian Pavilion at EXPO 2025, which will be held in Osaka, Japan, is by Dashi Namdakov and Parsec Architects. The pavilion describes itself as an “architectural/sculptural” one, with its shape clearly reminiscent of abstract sculpture of the 1970s. It complements its program with a meditative hall named “Mendeleev’s Dreams”, and offers its visitors to slide from its roof at the end of the tour.
The Mirror of Your Soul
We continue to publish projects from the competition for the design of the Russian Pavilion at EXPO in Osaka 2025. We are reminding you that the results of the competition have not been announced, and hardly will ever be. The pavilion designed by ASADOV Architects combines a forest log cabin, the image of a hyper transition, and sculptures made of glowing threads – it focuses primarily on the scenography of the exhibition, which the pavilion builds sequentially like a string of impressions, dedicating it to the paradoxes of the Russian soul.
Part of the Ideal
In 2025, another World Expo will take place in Osaka, Japan, in which Russia will not participate. However, a competition for the Russian pavilion was indeed held, with six projects participating. The results were never announced as Russia’s participation was canceled; the competition has no winners. Nevertheless, Expo pavilion projects are typically designed for a bold and interesting architectural statement, so we’ve gathered all the six projects and will be publishing articles about them in random order. The first one is the project by Vladimir Plotkin and Reserve Union, which is distinguished by the clarity of its stereometric shape, the boldness of its structure, and the multiplicity of possible interpretations.
The Fortress by the River
ASADOV Architects have developed a concept for a new residential district in the center of Kemerovo. To combat the harsh climate and monotonous everyday life, the architects proposed a block type of development with dominant towers, good insolation, facades detailed at eye level, and event programming.
In the Rhombus Grid
Construction has begun on the building of the OMK (United Metallurgical Company) Corporate University in Nizhny Novgorod’s town of Vyksa, designed by Ostozhenka Architects. The most interesting aspect of the project is how the architects immersed it in the context: “extracting” a diagonal motif from the planning grid of Vyksa, they aligned the building, the square, and the park to match it. A truly masterful work with urban planning context on several different levels of perception has long since become the signature technique of Ostozhenka.
​Generational Connection
Another modern estate, designed by Roman Leonidov, is located in the Moscow region and brings together three generations of one family under one roof. To fit on a narrow plot without depriving anyone of personal space, the architects opted for a zigzag plan. The main volume in the house structure is accentuated by mezzanines with a reverse-sloped roof and ceilings featuring exposed beams.
Three Dimensions of the City
We began to delve into the project by Sergey Skuratov, the residential complex “Depo” in Minsk, located at Victory Square, and it fascinated us completely. The project has at least several dimensions to it: historical – at some point, the developer decided to discontinue further collaboration with Sergey Skuratov Architects, but the concept was approved, and its implementation continues, mostly in accordance with the proposed ideas. The spatial and urban planning dimension – the architects both argue with the city and play along with it, deciphering nuances, and finding axes. And, finally, the tactile dimension – the constructed buildings also have their own intriguing features. Thus, this article also has two parts: it dwells on what has been built and what was conceived
New “Flight”
Architects from “Mezonproject” have developed a project for the reconstruction of the regional youth center “Polyot”(“Flight”) in the city of Oryol. The summer youth center, built back in the late 1970s, will now become year-round and acquire many additional functions.
The Yauza Towers
In Moscow, there aren’t that many buildings or projects designed by Nikita Yavein and Studio 44. In this article, we present to you the concept of a large multifunctional complex on the Yauza River, located between two parks, featuring a promenade, a crossroads of two pedestrian streets, a highly developed public space, and an original architectural solution. This solution combines a sophisticated, asymmetric façade grid, reminiscent of a game of fifteen puzzle, and bold protrusions of the upper parts of the buildings, completely masking the technical floors and sculpting the complex’s silhouette.