Archi.ru: Last fall, your company took part in the “Eco-Shore” international architecture festival in Kazan. What made you prepare an urban landscaping project when your specialty is actually custom-designed suburban homes?
Participating in festivals and competitions means for us an opportunity to keep our employees’ minds busy when we have gaps in our schedule. To make sure they don’t sleep at their desks, you know. Our working schedule has changed since 2010’s. While before 2014 we had a rush of new clients from October to February, now this period has shifted to January-April, which is actually rather late. And in the late summer and early fall things are pretty slow, and we have an opportunity to do a competition project. In Kazan, we took the third place. We already did a large-scale project in that city, and we have a good knowledge of the terrain at the confluence of the Volga and Kazanka rivers. The competition brief required that we come up with an architectural solution for a problem waterfront that is cut off from the Kremlin by a railroad station. And a railroad station always means a lot of noise, poor landscaping, and so on. They are building a new highway running alongside that railway line but the waterfront still needs to be organized, and recreational areas need to be built.
What was the basic idea of the project that you submitted for “Eco-Shore”?
It was all about providing the access to the waterfront from the Kremlin. What we wanted to do was make a passage to it running from the Kremlin’s sightseeing platform. What we do is we make a pedestrian road, while the highway gets masked by a mound, the way it is done in Barcelona. You cannot see the highway because it runs way down below. Meaning – it is there but it doesn’t stress you out. This solution occurred to us a few hours before the submission deadline.
The current state of affairs in Kazan is as follows: the peninsula has an outlaw marina on it, which looks a mess. There is also a spontaneous bathing beach there. There was a task of breaking it into clusters, thus ensuring the de-confliction of streams of children, cyclists, people of limited mobility, yachtsmen, and others. We had little time and we could not really delve deeper into the matter. Then there is the Kremlin, which is a heritage site. To turn the waterfront into a tourist attraction, you simply need to connect it with the Kremlin by a convenient pedestrian road. And then you also need to place yet another landmark at the end of it. In our case, it is a hanging bridge that draws people’s attention. Currently, such a road already exists but it is very noisy and inconvenient. What we propose, however, is routing this pedestrian road underground. You will go down this road in any case after you see the Kremlin, unless you plan to go shopping in the city center. You only have to add a couple of bicycle and scooter rental shops – and you’ll have a good thing going.
What about the hanging bridge – is this some kind of reference to the hanging bridge in Zaryadye Park?
In a sense, yes, it is, but it is also our way of addressing the architectural context. A semicircle is something that appears here naturally – we continue the line and then take it wherever we want to take it. The bridge will command a view of the Kremlin. Since the bridge is going to be a long one, one will be able to see the Kremlin from different vantage points.
What do you think is the reason for this landscaping boom that we’ve been recently seeing in Russian cities?
Well, it’s important for the local authorities to attract the voters. This is something that you can do quickly and this is an achievement for everyone to see: within half a year you are getting a playground, a bicycle track, and so on. Everybody wants change. What we obviously tend to overlook, however, is the fact that over the last 25 years all we’ve been doing is changing things. Take the quality of our roads, for example: there’s been a huge leap in quality as compared to what we had 25 years ago. Back then, if you drove on secondary roads, you always ran a serious risk of losing a wheel or two. Now many of our secondary roads are of almost European quality. For the authorities, this is the most effective way to show the quick change for the better.
Do you think that authorities are trying to lure people into cities because 25% of the city budget comes from the personal income tax?
No, I don’t think so. Our cities are overpopulated as it is. I think that we are in for some version of the American suburbia. Already today, I spend four days out of seven outside the city. I think that it will soon be here like in American cities: they have park and ride facilities, where a person can leave his or her car and then change to a car in which four people are riding, and only such car has the right do drive on the fast lane. And if you don’t want to leave your car – OK, fine, you can drag at five miles per hour in the right-side lane.
And how do these four people find one another? Through some sharing app like bla-bla-car? Or how?
No, not necessarily. For example, these can be four employees of one and the same company who work at the same office. Plus, you need to pay the toll charge, and if you drive from some suburb of New York to Manhattan, that will cost you around 30 dollars a day. Yes, it does sound like a lot for one person but if there are 5-6 people in the car, it’s not really expensive.
Landscaping projects oftentimes consist of small forms and wooden pavilions with a limited lifespan. What does an architect think of such “temporary” architecture? Is it OK with him that his work will be dismantled in 20 years’ time?
Any architecture is temporary, especially if we are talking about housing projects, and not about some sacral architecture (in the broad sense of the word), like a temple or a museum, that stands a chance of living a relatively long life. A lot of buildings that I designed were resold. Some of them were reconstructed, and for some, they forwarded the reconstruction commissions back to me – I expand these buildings and adjust them to serve new functions. And, no, it won’t be a problem with me if they tear them down. It’s one of my secret dreams to watch one of my buildings being destroyed.
Isn’t a house like a “baby” for an architect?
At first, yes, and then no. The house is built for 7 years, and you don’t really see the process, but they tear it down really quick, and you can see how everything is wired. A painter sees the result of his creative process at once, while for us as architects, this process stretches for years, and you can only see the structure of the house when it is broken. I would even take part in the demolition process. This is the only time when you can actually piece it together in a dynamic single picture. The longevity of the building doesn’t mean that much to me. To me, my soul work on the house stops the second I’ve done its pencil sketch. This is the moment when creativity gives way to painstaking work. Keeping the feel of the first sketch and take it through the project is a difficult thing to do. Each house has a fate of its own. Some are born within two years, and some spend a lot of time in the making, trying to break the egg shell. For example, the ZEPPELIN house was built for ten years, and now the customer is going to build a few additions to it because their family has grown.
Don’t you want your house to stand for 500 years, like the Palladio villas?
What difference will it make in comparison to the architecture that is 5000 years old? I am really impartial to this subject. I think that some of my pencil sketches will outlive some of my houses.
In the 2000’s, there was this concept of attraction nonlinear architecture; then the environmental orientation replaced it with a more modest type. Could you please comment on this trend?
This trend is dictated by the challenging economic conditions. Today, buying a ready-made house on a land plot is less expensive than buying an empty plot. The main task of today is to convince the client to tear down what’s already in it because any reconstruction of such houses is plain hell for everyone: architect, builder, and developer. This is a path of compromise that ultimately leads you nowhere. Besides, it’s inefficient from the economic standpoint. If you tear down an old house and build a new one instead, the client saves at least two years of construction and from 15 to 20 million rubles. There is such a thing as “reconstruction coefficient”. Reconstruction is always more expensive, half again as expensive on average. On the other hand, tearing down your old house may cost from zero budget to 1.5 million rubles. If you reconstruct a house, you need to take measurements, then you need to do a fair bit of research because we always change something inside, and you don’t always know who this house was built for, from what specific materials, or maybe your measurements will show that it’s all skewed now. Then you discover that ventilation was not originally designed at all, and now you sort of want it – but the height of the intermediate floors in insufficient for that. Then you run into difficulties with the utility lines. If you expand the house, joining the foundations together is always a difficult thing to do, and sometimes even dangerous.
Consequently, this increases the period of preparing the project documents. And the costs increase not by half, but by two or three times. But the most interesting things begin when we finally hit the construction site, chip off some of the stucco from the façades and virtually any unexpected difficulty may come up you can possibly think of. And then we are in for on-the-fly corrections of the project and extra belated research. While I can build a new house within a season, and do all the decoration work within the following season, in the case of reconstruction, it will take forever. It will take three to four years at least. And over that time the children, for whom we designed the children’s rooms, will have grown up.
Still, can we say that, due to the economic situation, the overall style has shifted from an individual author’s gesture towards reserved wooden architecture?
No, this is a parallel narrative. Today, we have both. Wooden houses is some average idea, an attempt to satisfy some average requirements, addressing them in the correct and professional manner, at the same time making sure that the image of the house is clearly readable.
Does the image of a standard wooden house have any connection to the archetype that’s characteristic for this or that specific area? What should the architect pay most of his attention to when designing such a house?
There are two archetypes out there, actually – a birdhouse and a little house with a chimney drawn by a child. Based on this, we manipulate the details. There is an inevitable terrace with an awning but the balcony is not obligatory. Judging from the practice of living in a country house, the balcony on the second floor is hardly ever used – if only to go for a quick smoke at night. You just don’t need a balcony, even though it comes in really handy when it comes to selling houses.
The main factor in designing homes is the horizontal – so that you might at once get the idea of the human-proportionate scale. You also need to articulate your floors and keep in mind the tripartite composition. What makes good architecture different is the fact that it adheres to all the compositional laws that were discovered a thousand years ago. And your style has nothing to do with it. In whatever age you live, you as a human being have a body, hands and legs. It’s the same way with houses. Its legs are its basement floor. Its body is the floors, and its head is the space under the roof, or, rather, the attic and the roof taken together.
What are the distinctive features of the traditional Russian northern and southern cottages? Are they reflected in the modern townhouses?
The country houses of the Arkhangelsk region are known for their balconies with mermaids that were supposed to chase off bad luck. Above the balconies, there were so-called “skies” – vaults decorated with stars. But this is something that is difficult to carry over to modern architecture. Back in the good old days, everyone would build a house of his own, at the same time adhering to a certain tradition. Now this tradition is gone, and everybody builds everything, ruining the scenery. The configuration of the house also depended on its residents’ lifestyle. In Arkhangelsk, there were no gaps between the buildings of the manor estate, everything was covered with a roof: the home, the stockyard, and the barn, because people could be trapped in snow for weeks. And in the south, in the Stavropol region, for example, it’s very hot, so they would close the patio and the entrance to protect it from the sun and the winds blowing from the fields. In winter, people would decorate their house – the peasant would take his tools and he world carve on the wood. Today, of course, nobody does that because people come here from towns.
And how are things with archetypal houses in the western world?
A lot of traditions survived into the present because of rigorous country-specific requirements. In the South, it is the traditional brick-and-stone architecture without any small details, and in the North, let’s say, in Norway, grass roofs are very popular. But then again, this technique has been around since the IX century.
What are the hot trends of today’s author architecture?
There is a generation of young architects growing because the older generation is more attracted by the big architecture. But still, the number of author houses is still smaller than I would like it to be. People still cannot tell between good and bad architecture, and they rarely go to an architect when they plan to build a country home. Because today you can simply find ready projects online – but most people don't do even that.
Because of the economic situation, the sizes of country houses are shrinking – are we getting closer to the European standards?
The market segment of large-scale country houses has always been narrow but it has survived. Rather, you could say that out went such excesses as a huge house with thousands of square meters of floor space on a tiny strip of land, or huge land 150 kilometers away from Moscow that are really inconvenient to drive to.
Can you say that the generation shift among the customers brought about more modernism than classics in the author houses?
No, just as before, it’s about 50-50 percent of both. There will always be conservators and innovators.
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.
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.
The Outer Space
Honoring the 300th anniversary of the Kuznetsk coal fields in 2021, a new passenger terminal of the Aleksey Leonov Airport in the city of Kemerovo will be built, designed by GK Spectrum and ASADOV Architectural Bureau.
The Pivot of Narkomfin Building
Ginzburg Architects finished the restoration of the Narkomfin Building’s laundry unit – one of the most important elements of the famous monument of Soviet avant-garde architecture.
The housing complex “Respublika” is so large that it can be arguably called a micro-town, yet, at the same time, it easily overcomes most of the problems that usually arise with mass housing construction. How could Archimatika achieve that? We are examining that on the example of the first stage of the complex.
The Flowing Lines
The five houses of the “Svoboda” block belonging to the “Simvol” residential complex present a vivid example of all-rounded work performed by the architects on an integral fragment of the city, which became the embodiment of the approach to architecture that hitherto was not to be seen anywhere in Moscow: everything is subjected to the flow of lines – something like a stream, enhanced by the powerful pattern of the facades akin to “super-graphics”.
A City by the Water
The concept of a large-scale housing development at the edge of Voronezh, near the city reservoir, or “the sea”, as it is locally called, uses the waterside height difference to create a sophisticated public space, paying a lot of attention to the distribution of masses that determine the look of the future complex if viewed from the opposite bank of the river.
A Journey to the Country of Art Deco
The “Little France” residential complex on the 20th line of the Vasilyevsky Island presents an interesting make-believe dialogue between its architect, Stepan Liphart, the architect of the New Hermitage, masters of the Silver Age, and Soviet Art Deco, about interesting professional topics, such as a house with a courtyard in the historical center of Saint Petersburg, and the balance between the wall and the stained glass in the architectonics of the facade. Here are the results of this make-believe conversation.
A House in a Port
This housing complex on the Dvinskaya Street is the first case of modern architecture on the Gutuevsky Island. The architectural bureau “A-Len” thoroughly explores the context and creates a landmark for further transformations of this area of Saint Petersburg.
Balance of Infill Development
Anatoly Stolyarchuk Architectural Studio is designing a house that inadvertently prevails over the surrounding buildings, yet still tries to peacefully coexist with the surrounding environment, taking it to a next level.
The Precious Space
Evolution Design and T+T Architects reported about the completion of the interior design project of Sberbank headquarters on the Kutuzovsky Avenue. In the center of the atrium, hovers the “Diamant” meeting room; everything looks like a chest full of treasures, including the ones of a hi-tech kind.
Big Little Victory
In a small-sized school located in Domodedovo in Moscow metropolitan area, ASADOV_ architects did a skillful job of tackling the constraints presented by the modest budget and strict spatial limitations – they designed sunlit classrooms, comfortable lounges, and even a multi-height atrium with an amphitheater, which became the center of school life.
The Social Biology of Landscape
The list of new typologies of public spaces and public projects has been expanded yet again — thanks to Wowhaus. This time around, this company came up with a groundbreaking by Russian standards approach to creating a place where people and animals can communicate.
Watched by the Angels from up Above
Held in the General Staff building of the Hermitage Museum, the anniversary exhibition of “Studio 44” is ambitious and diverse. The exhibition was designed to give a comprehensive showcase of the company’s architecture in a whole number of ways: through video, models, drawings, installations, and finally, through a real-life project, the Enfilade, which the exhibition opens up, intensifies, and makes work the way it was originally intended.
A New Version of the Old City
The house at Malaya Ordynka, 19, fits in perfectly with the lineup of the street, looking even as if it straightened the street up a little, setting a new tone for it – a tone of texture, glitter, “sunny” warmth, and, at the same time, reserved balance of everything that makes the architecture of an expensive modern house.
Stepan Liphart: “Standing your ground is the right thing to do”
A descendant of German industrialists, “Jophan’s son”, and an architect, speaks about how studying architectural orders tempers one’s character, and how a team of just a few people can design grand-scale housing projects to be built in the center of Saint Petersburg. Also: Santa Claus appearing in a Stalin high-rise, an arch portal to the outer space, mannerism painting, and the palaces of Paris – all covered in an interview with Stepan Liphart.
Honey and Copper
In the Moscow area, the architect Roman Leonidov designed the “Cool House” residence, very much in the spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright, spreading it parallel to the ground, and accentuating the horizontal lines in it. The color composition is based on juxtaposition of warm wood of a honey hue and cold copper blue.
The Ring on the Saisara Lake
The building of the Philharmonic Hall and the Theater of Yakut Epos, standing on the shore of the sacred lake, is inscribed into an epic circle and contains three volumes, reminiscent of the traditional national housing. The roof is akin to the Alaas – a Yakut village standing around a lake. In spite of its rich conceptual agenda, the project remains volumetrically abstract, and keeps up a light form, making the most of its transparency, multiple layers, and reflections.
Architecture of Evanescence
On the Vernadskogo Avenue, next to the metro station, appeared a high-rise landmark that transformed the entire area: designed by UNK Project, the “Academic” business center uncovered, in the form of its architecture, the meanings of the local place names.
The Theater and Music Circles
The contest-winning ambitious grand-scale project of the main theater and concert complex of the Moscow area includes three auditoriums, a yard – a public area – a higher school of music, and a few hotels. It promises to become a high-profile center for the classical music festivals on a national scale.