Oleg Carlson: “After I watched the Hugh Laurie TV series I realized that I am also a doctor, only I treat houses instead of people”
The architect is speaking about his Facebook project in which he shares about frequent cases of “healing” private residences designed with mistakes of various degrees of severity.
Interviewed by: Translated by: Anton Mizonov
04 October 2018
A country residence is a special architectural genre, which, as life shows, is something that not all of the architects can successfully master. A lot of country houses require major adjustments, they need therapy, and sometimes even surgery. Oleg Carlson has come up with an Internet project #ДокторHouse: the materials of the country residence projects that he cured are posted online in a “before-and-after” format on his Facebook page and the page of “ASB Carlson and K”.
How did your “Doctor House” story begin?
Surfing the Internet on long winter evenings, you can find lots of different things, including information about designing country houses. My colleagues post online their floor plans, the developers advertise their projects of country houses, and so on. And sometimes designers come with the project complaining about the fact that they do not understand how to do the interior design for the floor plan that was just thrust upon them.
Regretfully, most of houses built by such projects are subject to major reconstruction or even demolition. However, while the house is not yet in construction, it is not too late to put things right. And sometimes you just examine such a project, then you grab your pencil and start correcting the obvious limitations of the house planning. Or sometimes you just take the geo basis, the house plans, and make over the entire project – let’s say, revert the axis or apply the modular design principle.
This is how I started this “before and after” page on Facebook, where we posted the materials of the original and the revised projects, getting in touch with the authors in order to share our experience, to prove our solutions right, and to teach them the principles of architectural design.
And after I watched the Hugh Laurie TV series I realized that I am also a doctor, only I treat houses instead of people. House, M.D. has been out for thirty seasons (well, here we might want to ask Oleg what exactly he considers to be a “season”). Each year we “cure” from 20 to 30 projects. We have a goal of correcting the limitations of the project before the construction begins, thus saving the client’s time, money, and the customer's nervous system.
What are the main limitations of the projects that you undertake to make over?
The most common mistake is when you have a large total area and lots of useless premises in the house: corridors, some transient zones that are not included in the scenario of the life of the house, gigantic furnace rooms, and such like. Now add to this inconvenient and unsafe stairways – steep or narrow or dark – and incompetently designed bathrooms. A separate subject is the second-level space. You just cannot have second-level space in houses under 300 square meters because it steals the useful floor space from the bedroom. Say, why would you ever want to move from a cramped city apartment into a house of your own with bedrooms 10-12 square meters?
This is what goes on on the inside. On the outside, it is mostly open balconies and entrance groups that get piled up with snow, and flat roofs that start leaking every spring requiring some major repairs.
A lot of mistakes have to do with positioning your house in the site: the living room windows overlooking the fences, and the windows of some stupid mechanical rooms overlooking the gardens. The living rooms may look south, and the bedrooms may look north – and this is in our climate where you may not see the sun for weeks!
Once I was invited by the “Idealny Renont” (“Perfect Remodeling”) TV show on Channel 1 to the house of Sergey Yursky and his wife Natalia Tenyakova. This is where I had the complete set of designing mistakes! Starting from the wrong orientation of the house on the land site, which resulted in the fact that the house was turned to the plot with its rear façade, and the bedroom windows were stopped dead by the fences. There was yet another curious thing that was left off-screen in the TV show: how, with a bedroom on the second floor, the house got an extra outlaw bathroom, and how the stairway was made over in such a way that now the only way to climb it without running the risk of breaking your neck was doing it in groups holding each other’s hands.
What do you think is the cause of such unsuccessful projects?
Our architects are underpaid by their clients. Oftentimes, even very rich people look to pay for their project as little as possible, inviting “architects” who agree to design a house for 10 euros per square meter. So they end up getting what they later on take to us for a fix.
The quality of the project is not guaranteed by the client’s readiness to pay, either. I have had to make follow-up corrections in the projects done by an American firm that designed a house in the Wright style.
Wright houses are all about iron logic based on the modular design principle. But this logic has yet to be adapted to our climatic conditions, starting from organizing the tambour, which is nonexistent in Wright’s projects.
Another reason for these stupid mistakes – and this is something that I totally disagree with – is the belief of some of my colleagues that “the customer is always right”. The client comes to an architect assuming that he is a professional. The architect’s task is to ask his client lots of questions about how he sees his or her house, what kind of family they have, what their lifestyle is, hear the client out, and then propose his own solution, convincing, if necessary, the client of its advantages. The client’s will is no excuse for a bad project.
And what can you say about your own clients? Their wealth and social status alone must be enough of a reason to be intimidated to disagree with them, are they not?
As time goes by, you also develop your own authority, and when really rich clients come to you, they realize that they are coming to an acclaimed professional. These clients know how important it is to listen to the professional opinion.
Could you say that all of the Russian clients prefer some specific style?
Classical houses are definitely more popular in this country because classics is something that our clients understand and are used to. The main problem is that oftentimes you have a land plot of about 30-40 hundred square meters, and the client wants to build on it a manor house or even a palace, oblivious of the fact that a palace, whatever kind it is, presupposes lots of space around it.
It’s not often that the clients come to me asking to design a house in modern style. In order to want to build a “modern” house, you need to have lived in a classical one for a while. The client must get ripe for the modern architecture, learn to appreciate the beauty of its shapes, technologies, and materials. So, most of the time we play classics.
Let’s take our settlement “Sokol” for example – the houses that were built here in the very beginning. Some will say that this is a boring and dull kind of architecture. But in reality, everything was done there in a beautiful, competent, and grand-scale manner.
What kind of advice would you give to those who only begins to design houses on their own? How do you learn to make great projects?
Back in the day, you could only get information from specialized magazines, and those were few and far between. At the university, we could only get them with written acknowledgement of receipt. Today you have the Internet that shows you all the expertise that is out there. Just go for it, take it and use it but don’t forget to use your head as well. Again, because of the Internet, the same mistakes keep popping up in many different projects over and over again. And, again, there are lots of great projects out there – you don’t really have to design anything, everything was designed before you.
Also, you need to learn to explain to your client the benefits of professional architectural solutions, and then you are going to end up getting more great projects to be ultimately proud of.
The Internet is more and more becoming the leading educational resource. Do you plan to further develop your “Doctor House” project?
Today, the knowledge and experience that we accumulated in the course of design and construction of individual residences, as well as our appreciation of the architecture of the perfect house, is only our knowledge and experience, about which we share a little on our “Doctor House” page.
We also have plans for launching our YouTube channel in the nearest future. We are already posting videos online in which I share about the subtleties of making a floor plan for a private residence. We will be posting a new video every two weeks: sharing about our new projects as they are “on paper” and about our visits to our clients. So, we are planning to continue sharing our experience and we hope that in the future Doctor House will not only treat houses but also teach people.
Buyan and the Court Quarter
The news about cancellation of the Tuchkov Buyan park has been stirring the minds of people of St. Petersburg for a week already. In the absence of any verified specific information, we discussed the situation with the architects of the park and the Court Quarter: Nikita Yavein and Evgeny Gerasimov.
The Possibility of Flight
The project of the airport, which ASADOV Architects developed for the city of Tobolsk, and which won in the architectural competition, was not implemented. However, it is interesting as an example of designing an airport building of a very small scale, where the main challenge is the optimal organization of space and infrastructure without compromising the imagery component.
Built in the town of Pushkino in the Moscow area, the “Turgeneva 13” housing complex, while fitting in with the surrounding context, differs from it with the rhythmic austerity of its dual composition, a slight wave of the façade, and the color design, in which one can see two images, winter and summer, both “growing” from the specifics of the place.
A Shell by the Sea
Designing the Sports Palace that will determine the development of the entire northern part of Derbent, ASADOV Architects turned to the architectural legacy of Dagestan, local lore, and ancient layers of history.
Karen Saprichyan is wishing everyone a merry Christmas, presenting a series of letter-shaped skyscrapers. The architect has long since been working on this theme, and has calendars of various years in stock. His latest development is a group of towers designed for the city of NEOM, which will be built in Saudi Arabia.
The three brick blocks of the “River Park” housing complex gaze at the water with their terraces. Each block forms a backdrop and two wings, while the residents-only yards turn into “stages” perceived from the river. The landscaped embankment, accessible to all the city people, complements the hierarchy of private, semi-private and public city life that is formed here.
Pompidou Inside Out
Renzo Piano and his GES-2 have already been compared to Ridolfo Aristotele Fioravanti and his Cathedral of the Assumption. And for a good reason: GES-2 also stuns you with its grace and loftiness, but ultimately turns out to be the richest collection of recognizable motifs from an early masterpiece by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, the George Pompidou Center in Paris. These motifs are fused into the grid of Shukhov-esque structures, painted white, and they create a dialogue between 1910, 1971, and 2021, built on references (not devoid of a poster-like quality) to the main masterpiece. The basilica-shaped space of the former power station is taken apart virtually just like the museum, in accordance with the concept by Teresa Mavica.
Next to Lidval and Nobel
The housing complex designed by Anatoly Stolyarchuk in Neishlotsky Alley: tactful change of scale, tribute to the memory of the place, Finnish additions to the functional typology – specifically, saunas in the apartments – and plans for receiving a BREEAM certificate.
And stabbed it with a knife
The leader of Coop Himmelb(l)au, Wolf D. Prix, presented three projects that he is currently doing in Russia: a complex in Sevastopol, Crimea, which, as it turned out, a western architect could build bypassing the sanctions, because this is a cultural project; a museum and theater center in Kemerovo, and the “SKA Arena”, which is built in the stead of the destroyed Sports and Concert Complex in St. Petersburg – during the presentation the latter was symbolized by a round cake that the architect eventually cut.
The Thin Matter
The house named “Medny 3.14” (“Copper 3.14”) is composed of two textures, each of which resembles in its own way some kind of precious fabric, and of three units, each of which is oriented towards one cardinal point. The architecture of the house absorbs the nuances of the context, summing them up and turning them into a single rhythmic structure. In this article, we are examining the new, just-completed, house designed by Sergey Skuratov in Donskaya Street.
The new business center built in Moscow’s district of Presnya in the 1st Zemelny Lane is all about technology and sustainability. Its streamlined shapes and white facade grid are combined with a new version of vertical greenery: the green of wild grapes, placed at a distance from the facade, instead of arguing with the “pergola” grid, sets it off by contrast.
Lightness of Being
Blooming Sakura, a campfire party, kids splashing in a swimming pool – no, these are not pictures from a vacation, but everyday life going on in the yards of Kiev’s housing complex “Fayna Town”. In this issue, we are examining how the utopia designed by the architects is wired, and what they did to make it a reality.
A Triangular Folded Structure
The project of the new terminal of the Muraviev-Amursky airport in Blagoveshchensk offers architecture based on a modular form – endowed with a special imagery, it becomes the basis both for the carrying structures of the building and the plastique of the facade, at the same time reverberating in the interior design.
The Breath of the East
Designing a residential complex for Tashkent, GENPRO is turning to traditional architecture and modern trends, aiming at emotionality and efficiency: the panjar window lattices and mishrabias are neighboring on vertical greenery and parametric ornaments, while the theme buildings do on a cotton alley and an oriental bazaar.
The Openwork XX-Construction Set
The yard of the Architecture Museum on Moscow’s Vozdvizhenka hosts an installation by DNK ag. It is timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the company, and was originally presented at Arch Moscow. The art object is expected to stay in the yard of the museum for one year and set a new tradition – a regularly renewed exhibition project called “Modern Architecture in the yard of MUAR”.
The Spinning Vibe
The pavilion designed by Sergey Tchoban for the World EXPO 2020 in Dubai is a bright and integral architectural statement, whose imagery can be traced back to avant-garde graphic experiments by Jacob Chernikhov, but allows for multiple interpretations. The pavilion looks both like a dome temple, a spinning “Planet Russia”, and the head of a matryoshka doll. Still more interestingly, the core of the exposition is a “brain”. In this article, we take a closer look at the interpretations and the subtleties of the implementation.
Tolerant Aesthetics of Terraforming
The World Expo is a gigantic event; it is difficult to give it one definition or cover it at a glance. All the more so – such an ambitious and record-breaking fair as the one that is now open in Dubai despite all the pandemic restrictions. By no means claiming to present an all-rounded review, we are making an attempt to examine Expo 2020, where signs of aesthetic tolerance of a developer project begin to loom behind the imposing-looking “wings” of “star” architects and delights from space exploration.
The Town in the Snuff-box
The new academic building of Cooperation School in Moscow’s Taganka, designed and built by ASADOV Architects, is a compact volume, at the same time filled with functions and impressions. It easily combines classrooms, a theater, a cafeteria, a gym, and a double-height atrium with an open library and an exit to the terrace – virtually everything that you expect to see in a modern school.
The Northern Versailles
On the bank of the magnificent Vychegda River, in a picturesque location six kilometers away from Syktyvkar, the capital of the Komi republic, the renowned neoclassical architect Mikhail Filippov has designed the town of Yugyd-Choi in the traditional aesthetics inspired by the center of St. Petersburg. The customer Elena Soboleva, the head of the Syktyvkar Housing Construction Fund, sees her mission in making Yugyd-Choi the hallmark of the republic.
Analysis and Synthesis
The project of the housing complex “Krasin”, designed for the historical center of St. Petersburg, and situated in a very obliging place – next to the Mining University designed by Voronikhin, yet bordering on an industrial area – became the result of a thorough analysis of the specifics of historical construction on the Vasilyevsky Island, and a subsequent synthesis with avoidance of direct stylization, yet forming a recognizable silhouette, resonant with the “old town”.
Tatiana Guk: “A document that determines the development of the city has to be flexible”
In this issue, we are talking to the director of the Genplan Institute of Moscow about trends that determine the future, about the 70-year history of the Institute, which is celebrating an anniversary this year, about electronic computing in the field of urban planning and about international experience accumulated in this area, as well as about how the Institute is involved with other cities, and about the perfect document for the city development, which has to be flexible and strategic.
The high-rise housing complex MOD, whose construction has begun in Moscow’s district of Maryina Roshcha next to the site, on which the new Russian Railways headquarters will be built, is responding to the “central” context of the future city surroundings, and at the same time is positioned by the architects as a “manifesto of Modernist minimalist principles in architecture”.
A project by DNK ag won in a competition for the science campus of the National Center for Physics and Mathematics in the city of Sarov, conducted by ROSATOM corporation in collaboration with the Moscow State University, Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Kurchatov Institute.
The new terminal of the Leonov Airport in Kemerovo was built in record-breaking time, despite the pandemic. It became one of the important factors for the rapid development of the city, visually reflecting its dedication to the first spacewalk, both in the interiors and on the facades. Its main features are the “starry sky” effect and overall openness.
The Spiral Approach
The school building in the city of Nur-Sultan, designed by Vera Budko and Anton Nadtochiy from beginning to end – from concept to working documentation – became the embodiment of the architects’ method for creating a modern educational environment, which the ATRIUM architects have been developing for years. Its fundamentals include creating an inspiring environment that motivates you to create. This is why the new school received a shape of an ornamental golden spiral that symbolizes ascension to knowledge; on the inside, the building is a compound and multifunctional “city within a city” with multilevel atriums, amphitheaters, and varying routes.
Stream and Lines
Stepan Liphart’s projects of Art Deco villas demonstrate technical symbolism in combination with a subtle reference to the 1930s. One of the projects is a “paper” one; the others are designed for real customers: a top manager, an art collector, and a developer.
On the Bank of a Very Quiet River
The project of landscaping the territory of the residential complex NOW in Moscow’s Nagatinskaya Valley goes beyond the limits of its task and looks more like a modern park: with viewing platforms, an embankment, spaces different in their moods, and thought-out scenarios for visitors aged between 0 and 80.