In this article, we are giving a summary of a lecture by Alexander Skokan. The author’s subtitle is a subjective attempt to share about the professional problems.
Written by: Alexander Skokan Translated by: Anton Mizonov
11 January 2019
Why am I an architect?
There were family prerequisites for that. My grand-grandfather, Peter Makushin, a patron of art, a prominent public figure, and an educator of Siberia, who founded the first publishing house in the city of Tomsk with a subsidiary in Irkutsk, and who also opened book stores and the first public library, built in 1916 in Tomsk, at his own expense, the “House of Science” for the public university.
A son of a country vicar, getting an education in the Ecclesiastical Academy of Saint Petersburg, he implemented this idea of his in the best architectural traditions: he organized a competition for the best construction project that was won by the then-young and unknown architect, Andrei Kryachkov.
Possibly, it was this event that influenced the choice of the profession for his grandson – the architect Peter Skokan, who became one of the students of the Ivan Zholtovsky Studio.
Peter Skokan, my uncle, a figure well-known at one time for his various gifts and killer charm, also influenced my professional choice to a large extent. Later on, it turned out that virtually all of the members of my family (children, nephews, and their wives) are architects. I hope that we will be able to save at least our grandchildren from this curse.
In the 1960’s, when I went to the Moscow Institute of Architecture my teachers were the famous avant-garde architects of the 1920-1930’s, Mikhail Turkus and Vladimir Krinsky; parallel classes were taught by Mikhail Barshch and Mikhail Sinyavsky. In an institute corridor you would oftentimes see Gregory Barkhin, the author of “Izvestia”, one of the best buildings in Moscow of the XX century, who would hurry to his class with giant books under his arm. And the son of Gregory, Boris Grigoryevich Barkhin, was the teacher of the group that I was in. It was him who fostered the rudimentary professional skills in us, or, simply speaking, taught us how to work.
After I graduated from the institute in 1966, I was sent on a “postgraduate work assignment program” (there was such a thing back in the soviet times) to work in Mosproject-2. The student romance was replaced by mundane reality. The studio where I worked chiefly designed housing projects for the “Facilities Administration Office” of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which, by the standards of those days, could arguably be considered to be elite housing. I was young, brimming with energy and enthusiasm, but the civil service did not allow me to fully explore my potential, and, this is why, when I was invited to join the “New Element of Settlement” working group, I happily agreed – it was a great honor for me to work alongside Aleksey Gutnov, Ilya Lezhava, Andrey Baburov and other legendary figures. It was at that time that I developed my skills as a team player, which came in very handy for my further professional career – now I see that any kind of successful work is about playing as a team, where you know exactly who plays which part, and where the players are united not only professionally but by friendly ties as well.
One must realize that back in the 1960’s, all the sources of information, for the exception of the official ones, were virtually nonexistent, and this is why communication between people was so utterly critical. Speaking to one another, we would be getting across our knowledge and our subjective points of view. For example, my friend Andrey Baburov noticed, and I remembered that you could only listen to piano pieces by Skryabin if they were played by Vladimir Sofronitsky. Only in that room in the basement you could discuss a new novel by William Faulkner or Max Frisch, and it was there that I was first exposed to jazz music arranged by Gil Evans, and I also made a lot of other discoveries and got a lot of other knowledge there.
Once the term of my mandatory work of the postgraduate work assignment was over, I enrolled at the postgraduate courses at VNIiTIA. My science adviser was Andrey Ikonnikov – a most venerable student and theorist of architecture. And, again, I was lucky because I found myself in what you might call the intellectual epicenter of the university, i.e. in the smoking area underneath the staircase; for two years, every week (the postgraduate students were supposed to show up once a week); I would listen to Andrey Leonidov (the son of Ivan Leonidov), Alexander Rappoport, my friends Andrey Bokov and Vladimir Yudintsev. Also, there were such great people working there as Selim Khan-Magomedov, A.Oppolovnikov, and Nikolai Gulyanitsliy.
A few years later, Vladimir Yudintsev and I again ended up working together. This time it was the research and development department of Genplan Institute of Moscow, which a while later was headed by Aleksey Gutnov. Thanks to Gutnov’s organizational and other talents, we had something like a special status and could busy ourselves with what was interesting to us and what seemed to us really important; we also would come up ourselves with the subjects of our design and research projects.
The main motivation for our activities was overthrowing the then-almighty governmental agency Genplan (which translates as “Master Plan”) that would divide the city into a few (seven or eight) independent towns-planning zones, each with a center of its own. The main ideologist of Genplan, Simon Matveev, whom we would inevitably corner in our discussions, would ultimately always extricate himself with an answer to the effect that “better a bad master plan than no master plan at all”. This young urge to do everything “OUR OWN WAY”, look at things at a different angle, allowed our team to make a lot of discoveries and come up with a lot of new lines of research, along which we would work later on.
We proposed to view a city contextually, as a part of a complex system of agglomeration ties, which, back in those days (and sometimes today as well) is obstructed by administrative obstacles that tend to separate the city from its surrounding territory, generally known as “oblast”. We also claimed that a city needed a polycentric structure of multifunctional business centers situated at several transport hubs, instead of just one. Also, right about that time, we discovered yet another promising branch – working with the historical city and its environment, which generally did not comply with any of the existing rules and regulations. “Discovering” this city that we had known for years from our everyday life but knew nothing about from the professional standpoint, we started our research from historical, morphological, functional, and even attempts at social analysis. We saw the problems of the city from a whole number of new different angles.
Back in the 1980’s, although they had to work a lot, the architects did not make much money, while their friends – painters, sculptors and graphic designers – sometimes made decent money when they chanced to land a lucrative contract. This is why the architects were so lured by the prospect of working in “Integrated Art Centers”, where they would enter in a creative symbiosis with artists and designers. Together, they would work on the expositions of museums and exhibitions, design theater stages, community centers, and industrial buildings.
Working together with these artists was a great professional school, an experience of free intuitive creative activity, without the architectural pre-programming.
Here I was taught by: sculptor Nikolai Nikogosyan, the Rukavishnikov sculptor family, and, finally, the sculptor of monuments and painter Ivan Lubennikov, with whom we did a few very important joint projects – the exposition of the Soviet section of the Auschwitz memorial museum, the XVII Youth Exhibition of the “Memorial” society, a few contests, and many other interesting projects.
Speaking of my great teachers, I cannot help but mention Leonid Pavlov, with whom I was looking lucky to work almost for a month in Weimar (Bauhaus) in 1978 within the framework of an international project conference. The clarity, the crispness, and the dramatic quality of his architectural gestures, talking to him in general, and the master’s charming ways really impressed me.
And, finally, 30 years ago, in 1989, the project of reconstructing Moscow’s Ostozhenka area brought about the appearance of our architectural firm, which later got the name of Ostozhenka.
It was on that project that all the experience that I had accumulated hitherto came in very handy, as well as my skills of working as a team player.
After working in Genplan with the territories of Zamoskvorechye, Stoleshnikov Lane, Pokrovka Street, and such like, working with historical environment was habitual and easy. Also came in very handy the idea of parceling that we discovered when still working on the Stoleshnikov Lane – the new buildings started to easily fit in with the historical environment it these historical guidelines were observed. Working with the Ostozhenka Street was also about an experience of working with initially timid clients and developers, who would at first politely ask: “how many square meters can we build here?”, and the communication with the then-forming class of government officials, many of whom had in fact recently been our brothers in architecture.
I also had a very interesting experience of working with overseas architects: Finns, Italians, English, Turks, and Yugoslavs (yes, if you remember, there was such a country – Yugoslavia), Dutch, and French.
Since 2003, it has been the time of major international competition, and our company has been participating in many of them.
This was the competition for Saint-Petersburg’s Mariinski Theater, the competition “Big Moscow” (2012), and the competition “Moscow River”. As for our last two competition projects, we did them together with our French colleagues (Ives Lion architects). Again, we made discoveries that were very important for us and our city – a railway, a river, a 100 cities and 140 little rivers). In these competition projects we also partnered with geographers, transport experts, sociologists, and one architectural historian, Andrei Baldin. Not trying to say anything final, and not claiming to be holding the ultimate truth, in conclusion of this talk about architecture and architects, I would like to try and formulate a few keynotes that seem important to me:
Keynote one: “APPROPRIATENESS OF ARCHITECTURE”
“Appropriateness” means that your architecture fits in with its place and its properties. At the same time, you must keep in mind that today the very notion of “place” is being constantly diluted, that is, the farther away we are, the bigger this place is, and we are now sort of in a different place.
On the one side, this is a result of our growing mobility – we have visited a great number of places in the world, and now it’s hard for us to stay committed to some specific place, even if it is our “small motherland”.
On the other hand, thanks to smartphones and other smart gadgets that have become an indispensable part of our life, we can be in this or that specific place only physically, while in actuality, looking into the screens of our smartphones, we can be in quite different geographic locations and life situations.
That is, thanks to digitalization, “gadgetization”, and other “smartphonization”, the properties of your physical location, from which you go online, for the obvious exception of sitting comfort, are no longer that relevant, after all.
In this connection, it will also be appropriate to touch upon another relevant topic: architecture and design.
Who are we? Architects or, rather, already designers? Designers of perfect objects, including buildings, their outward shells and interior spaces?
Design is exterritorial and cosmopolitan, it is not context-sensitive. A designer object (which you cannot say about architecture) will look great everywhere if it is perfect from the technical and aesthetic standpoint. Design is global. Globalism is partially a child of design.
An architect is by default more local, more “down to earth”. As a rule, the fruits of his labor are firmly rooted in the ground – even though they do talk about the architecture of ships, for instance, or about the architecture (and not design) of some institutions, like European Union, nothing more nor less, and quite recently, come to think of it, we had “architects of perestroika” and so on.
Not delving deeper into this discourse, I believe that with a fair share of certainty we can refer design and everything that is related to it to the class of global phenomena which exist with a certain contextual time frame – design by default is current. And architecture is something that is APPROPRIATE for a specific place, something that is inscribed into it, something that corresponds to its genius loci, its taste, its smell, and its history.
Keynote two: “EVERYTHING HAS BEEN DONE BEFORE YOU”
Meaning, you don’t have to invent anything – you only need to see what is already there, something that has been around for ages: as the historical traces of property boundaries, old streets and roads, buried little rivers and ravines, derelict industrial parks and railway lines that would entwine large cities in the first half of the XX century – all of this is already there or was there, and this is something that any urban researcher worth his salt will never overlook.
Such “discoveries” are essentially nothing more than one’s ability to see the seemingly habitual things from a different angle or ability to reinterpret the existing contexts in the light of “newly emerging circumstances”. A textbook example of a stupid or malevolent “coming up with something that nobody else did before” is the 2011 annexation of new territories by Moscow, instead of searching for new hidden resources for further development within the city. At that moment, by the way, the smart urban designers did propose a concept of recycling the redundant city territories, which lay unused, as well as the land adjacent to rivers and railroad lines – the so-called “forgotten city”. This would have been an example of recycling the land, of reusing the city substance with consideration for the changes in its meanings and functions, a natural and inevitable process (Lizin Pond – Tyufeleva Coppice – AMO – ZIS – ZIL – ZILART).
The real problem only lies in our attitude towards the remnants or the traces of the previous use of this land – is it curious, disdainful or is it respectful? This is a test of how cultured we are, and therefore, the demolition of the Khrushchev five-story houses within the so-called “renovation program” is not just an architectural problem.
And, finally, the keynote that I would call “DIFFERENTLY”
This means doing things not the way everybody does them or not the way that is usually done here and now. Not jumping on the bandwagon but trying to do your own independent thinking. That is, trying to be not just inside the process but also outside of it – then you will have much more chances to see what goes on, and what forces are at play.
The trick obviously is to be able to switch between being inside and outside the process.
Your “different” position, your ability to see things from a different angle will also allow you to see and even predict the future.
Because architecture is always about the future. The beginning of design and the end of construction are always separated by a time lapse – a month, a year, a decade, maybe, even a century. Architectural design is always about a passthrough into the future. Therefore, one of the key tasks of architecture and architects is not just creating appropriate things but also setting the image of the future. Regretfully, today this task is most often performed by people who, out of their calling or job description, are simply “security guards” who fence off things that already exist from the future, in which they only see threats and challenges. Not to mention the economists who calculate how much responding to these challenges will cost, and the lawyers who provide the necessary legal sevices to this die-hard approach.
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.
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.
The Strategy of Transformation
In this article, we are publishing eight projects of reconstructing postwar Modernist buildings that have been implemented by Tchoban Voss Architekten and showcased in the AEDES gallery at the recent Re-Use exhibition. Parallel to that, we are meditating on the demonstrated approaches and the preservation of things that architectural legislation does not require to preserve.
In the Rhythm of Block Construction
Last week, the housing complex “Ty i Ya” (“You and Me”) was presented, built in the northwest of Moscow. By a number of parameters, it exceeds the originally stated comfort-class format, and, on the other hand, fully meeting the city block construction paradigm, popular in Moscow, demonstrates a few interesting features, such as a new kind of public spaces for the residents, and high-ceilinged apartments on the first floors.
Five Nonlinear Ones
Recently, at the Moscow Urban Forum, they announced a large-scale project that Zaha Hadid Architects would do for Moscow – the multifunctional housing complex Union Towers designed for Quarter 82 of Khoroshevo-Mnevniki at the commission of KROST development.
Etudes in Glass
The housing complex, located not far away from the Paveletskaya Railway Station, as a symbol of a sweeping transformation of this area: a composition of towers of different height, ingenious detailing of stained glass windows, and a green lawn in the yard.
A Flyover in Watercolor
For the 100th anniversary of Vladimir Vasilkovsky, the architectural office of Evgeny Gerasimov is reflecting on the Ushakov Flyover, which was designed with input from this artist and architect. In this article, we are showing its watercolors and sketches, including the preliminary ones that were not included in the final project, as well as speaking about the importance of architectural drawing.
Transformation with Multiplication
The Palace of Water Sports in Luzhniki is one of the high-profile and nontrivial reconstructions of recent years, and a project that won one of the first competitions, initiated by Sergey Kuznetsov as the main architect of Moscow. The complex opened 2 years ago; this article about it comes out at the start of the bathing season.
Sergey Tchoban: “I believe it’s very important to preserve this city as a record...
Although originally we planned to speak in this interview with Sergey Tchoban about high-rise construction, the conversation turned out to be 70% about meditation on the ways of regenerating the historical city and about the role of the city fabric as the most objective and unbiased historical record. And, as for the towers, which manifest social contrasts and leave a lot of junk when torn down, the conversation was about the expected construction norms and regulations. We took this interview one day before the Lakhta-2 project was announced, and this is why this newsbreak is not commented upon in any way in this article.
Courtyards and Constructivism
In this issue, we are examining the second major block of the “city within a city” Ligovsky City complex, designed and built by A-Len, and combining several trends characteristic of modern urban architecture.
Inside of a Drawn Grid
Designing the apartment complex PLAY in Danilovskaya Sloboda, ADM architects placed their bet on the imagery of construction. The area where it manifested itself the most vividly was the sophisticated grid of the facades.
Headquarters of the Future
The project by “Arena Group”, which won in an open competition of ideas for the headquarters of the Italian company FITT, combines futuristic forms, an interesting set of functions, energy efficiency, and subtle references to the archetypes of Italian architecture. Particularly beautiful is the “continuous” fountain. In this issue, we are sharing about the three winners of the competition.
The Yard Aesthetics
Organizing the yard of a premium-class housing complex, GAFA architects took care not just about the image that matches the project’s high status, but also about simple human joys, masterfully overcoming the construction regulations.
MasterMind: a Neural Network for Developers and Architects
Created by Genpro, this software allows you to generate within half an hour dozens of development and construction options in accordance with the set parameters. At the same time, however, being more focused on the technical aspects, the program does not exclude creative work, and can be used by architects for preparing projects with a subsequent data export to AutoCAD, Revit, and ArchiCAD.