DNK ag: “Reconstruction is very much like coming up with a new life”.
In this article, we are speaking to the curators of the reconstruction intensive PRO conducted by the MARCH school of architecture about the relevance of this topic, successful cases of reconstruction, and about the benefits of the approach based on the preservation of the old buildings.
Interviewed by: Angelina Utter Translated by: Anton Mizonov
Why has the topic of reconstruction been so popular recently?
Konstantin Khodnev: First of all, the value of the multilayered environment is becoming more and more apparent. Second, there is a growing trend for resource saving, sustainability, and cutting the overall costs of construction and deconstruction. If we avoid tearing down this or that building, this means that we made so much for the nature conservation. This also has to do with restrictions on new construction in historical centers. Sometimes it’s easier to slightly change the building on the outside and significantly on the inside than to bury yourself in the seemingly endless process of getting all the appropriate approvals from the municipality and other public authorities.
In the 1970-1980’s, it was the usual practice to build on new lands, without having to face the challenges posed by the city. However, now that the interest for the city center is back on the scene, a question arises about what we do with the buildings that are already there, and how we can transform them to meet our new needs. The next issue is what do you do with the suburban buildings that fell into disuse. In America, for example, hundreds of shopping malls are closing down and no one knows what to do with them.
Daniel Lorentz: Our culture experiences strengthening of individualization. In addition to custom-designed clothes, we as human beings are considering an opportunity to get ourselves a custom-designed living environment: an apartment or a workplace. Today’s fashion is created by people who don’t stay in one place, who are upwardly mobile, who work from home, and who work flexible schedules. They have a different cultural vision, other points of perception. This also affects the way that historical buildings are regarded – accordingly, there are developers and architects who are ready to reconstruct them and use them as projects with new unusual properties.
Natalia Sidorova: Time leaves its individual mark, even the building materials bear the stamp of time. In fact, this is a ready resource for creating an authentic and unique atmosphere. What is also important is the fact that this is a real value, not something that was artificially invented.
Konstantin Khodnev: Perhaps, reconstruction is so attractive for this specific reason – it allows you to create some quite unexpected things that you simply couldn’t have invented in advance because of the uncertainty of your circumstances.
Natalia Sidorova: Sometimes, reconstruction allows you to use even more interesting solutions; it creates a situation where the clients are ready for new unconventional approaches and typologies. And this is how a synergy of sorts appears: both people and buildings are “ready” to deliver unusual solutions.
And are the clients prepared for that?
Daniel Lorentz: Yes, they are, and this is exactly why it has become a phenomenon. The clients are not the same as they used to be, even though you cannot say that the tables have turned completely because this is a gradual process.
Natalia Sidorova: Some are ready, some are not; with some clients you have to explain things and demonstrate the benefits of the reconstruction approaches.
Do you have your own favorite examples of high-quality interesting reconstruction projects?
Konstantin Khodnev: Let’s take the Cape Town grain elevator reconstructed by Thomas Heatherwick, which now hosts a hotel and a center of modern art – this is just the right example of what Natalia is speaking about, the example of a totally unbelievable typology and forms. Just see how its beautiful context is used, and the unique features of the old structures – a really groovy thing!
Natalia Sidorova: This cross-section of the structures allowed the architect to look at the space of the building from a totally different angle.This is not merely readjusting the building and making it perform new functions but transforming it with a modern vision that should be bold enough, and at the same time produce a stunning effect.
What we want is I think bolder, more original and more modern inclusions into the reconstructed environment.
Again, a recent example: a short while ago, we were able to visit the Kanaal by Axel Vervoordt, near Antwerpen, and it really impressed us. Unlike the acutely conceptual Heatherwick project, this one is all about creating a special atmosphere. Those concrete walls were just poured over the ground, and they became part of the landscape. The landscape design is done there by Michel Desvigne. The new construction was done by different architectural firms: so many buildings, so many authors. The buildings turned out to be different but they are still incorporated into the historical environment, and the entire complex reads like a single world with a unique atmosphere of its own. Every little detail has been taken care of.
Of course, the client played a major role here because essentially it was the client that came up with the whole concept.
Konstantin Khodnev: Yes, I agree. Continuing the topic of the role of the client, I would note the two most important reconstruction projects in this country. First of all, this is the New Holland Island, which can serve as a model example of the architects’ commitment to excellence when it comes to the material quality of reconstruction.
The second example is the Rem Koolhaas Garage, the first-ever project that reinterprets the Soviet modernist architecture. Here is the thing – when we speak reconstruction, the first thing that comes to mind is brick walls, cornices, and pitched roofs. And making a work of art from some seemingly rank-and-file buildings of modernist architecture is something that nobody did before. This was the first project of such kind. We must also note that projects like this are also few and far between in the rest of the world. And it’s also totally unique in term of the quality of execution.
Natalia Sidorova: And here we are speaking not just about the quality of the buildings themselves but about the quality of the atmosphere as well. When the atmosphere of the events and everything that goes on there is really connected with the building, you get the perfect environment. As a matter of fact, this is the task that we set four our educational course – teaching our students how to create such an environment.
Konstantin Khodnev: And we also want to motivate our students to think beyond the limits of squeezing a certain number of offices into a certain amount of square meters but always set for themselves a task of forming a new living environment, and making a positive difference to people’s lives. Because the meaning of any reconstruction project is for you to make it work. You need to launch a certain mechanism, every part of which matters – the architectural solutions, the program, and the ideas for further uses of this building. Essentially, a reconstruction project is about coming up with a new life.
And what kind of scenario did you come up with for “Rassvet”?
Konstantin Khodnev: There is a step-by-step process going on there; there is a fragment of environment that by degrees becomes less and less of a factory and more and more of a fragment of the city. The possibilities for development are virtually endless.
Natalia Sidorova: The two finished buildings (3.34 and 3.20) on the territory of the “Rassvet” factory became to us a very special experience of interacting with the city through deep immersion into the context. The status of redevelopment and the apartment building function allowed us to experiment with various typological solutions – the building has double-level apartments in it, including the ones that are situated on the bottom floors with individual entrances and little gardens of their own that can allow its residents to work and accept visitors on the first floor and live on the second. Today, Rassvet is full of people day and night, it functions 24/7. Cafés appeared, and new ones are being designed. The project of that territory is still developing, and we will continue working with it.
What do you think are the omissions of the modern architectural education?
Natalia Sidorova: The interdisciplinary approach. It is missed by architecture in general, and by reconstruction in particular. Because of the inertia of the tradition, it is not practiced in our higher educational institutions. But here is the thing – the most interesting solutions always appear at the junction of disciplines. Hence the new program that add to the classical education. We will be trying to attract as many as possible different specialists who are proficient in architecture but who are at the same time capable of addressing non-architectural issues. There are subtleties of working with theoretical bases, and with surveying buildings, and with studying their history. There are also functional and budget issues to be addressed.
Daniel Lorentz: I would also say that when you interact not only with the terrain but also with cultural codes, this poses a challenge of a whole different level. And it’s a do-or-die battle. Either the building gets the best of you or the other was around but the happy ending is when you both survive and benefit from it.
Back to your MARCH architectural course! Was it easy for you to accept the offer and become its curators? Why was it interesting to you?
Konstantin Khodnev: I cannot say it was easy but we made a positive decision from the very start, somehow, we were quick to respond. Teaching students is hard work but it also teaches you a lot: you learn how to systematize things, how to develop your own teaching methods, how to make it all add up and form a single picture. Learn how to move on. This is all very interesting.
And, of course, it is exciting to get your knowledge and ideas that you think are important across to the maximum number of people. Because, after all, we are all looking to make a positive difference. A positive difference to the city and to people’s lives. And the more people share our values, the better.
Natalia Sidorova: I must also say that we were the residents of the first Artplay at “Red Rose”. And there was a wonderful and unique atmosphere over there back then. And now Sergey Dyatlov, the founder of Artplay, got us infected by the new venue named Pluton, where he gave us a green light in terms of working with our students. And we will be able, on the one hand, to address all the subtleties of the real redevelopment territory, and, on the other hand, maybe do some experimenting and look at things from a new angle. Try to find a few solutions that you would never have found within the framework of this or that specific client’s brief or commission. And we will have an exciting time doing this together with our students.
The Energy Family
The housing complex Symphony 34 will be built in Moscow’s Savelovsky district; it will consist of four towers from 36 to 54 stories high. Each of the towers has an image of its own, but they all are gathered into a single architectural ensemble – a fragment of a new high-rise urban space lying outside the Third Transport Ring.
The Fifth Element
The high-end residential development in the Vsevolozhsky Lane features a combination of expensive stone and metal textures, immersing them into a feast of ornaments. The house looks like a fantasy inspired by the theater of the Art Nouveau and Symbolism era; a kind of oriental fairy tale, which paradoxically allows it to avoid direct stylization and become a reflection of one of the aspects of modern Moscow life.
Springboards and Patios
The central element of the manor house in the village of Antonovka, designed by Roman Leonidov, is the inner yard with pergolas, meant to remind its owner about his vacations in exotic countries. The exposed wooden structures emphasize the soaring diagonals of single-pitched roofs.
Adding Up a Growing City
The housing quarter “1147” is located at the border between the old “Stalin” district in the north and the actively developing territories in the south. Its image responds to a difficult task: the compound brick facades of the neighboring sections are different, their height varying from 9 to 22 floors, and, if we are look from the street, it seems as though the front of the city development, consisting from long narrow elements, is forming some sophisticated array at this very moment in front of our eyes.
Agility of the Modular
In the Discovery housing complex that they designed, ADM architects proposed a modern version of structuralism: the form is based on modular cells, which, smoothly protruding and deepening, make the volumes display a kind of restrained flexibility, differentiated element by element. The lamellar and ledged facades are “stitched” with golden threads – they unite the volumes, emphasizing the textured character of the architectural solution.
Polyphony of a Chaste Style
The “ID Moskovskiy” housing project on St. Petersburg’s Moscow Avenue was designed by the team of Stepan Liphart in the past 2020. The ensemble of two buildings, joined by a colonnade, is executed in a generalized neoclassical style with elements of Art Deco.
In Three Voices
The high-rise – 41 stories high – housing complex HIDE is being built on the bank of the Setun River, near the Poklonnaya Mountain. It consists of three towers of equal height, yet interpreted in three different ways. One of the towers, the most conspicuous one looks as if it was twisted in a spiral, composed of a multitude of golden bay windows.
In the Space of Pobedy Park
In the project of a housing complex designed by Sergey Skuratov, which is now being built near the park of the Poklonnaya Hill, a multifunctional stylobate is turned into a compound city space with intriguing “access” slopes that also take on the role of mini-plazas. The architecture of the residential buildings responds to the proximity of the Pobedy Park, on the one hand, “dissolving in the air”, and, on the other hand, supporting the memorial complex rhythmically and color-wise.
Dynamics of the Avenue
On Leningrad Avenue, not far away from the Sokol metro station, the construction of the A-Class business center Alcon II has been completed. ADM architects designed the main façade as three volumetric ribbons, as if the busy traffic of the avenue “shook” the matter sending large waves through it.
Steamer at the Pier
An apartment hotel that looks like a ship with wide decks has been designed for a land plot on a lake shore in Moscow’s South Tushino. This “steamer” house, overlooking the lake and the river port, does indeed look as if it were ready to sail away.
The Magic of Rhythm or Ornament as a Theme
Designed by Sergey Tchoban, the housing complex Veren Place in St. Petersburg is the perfect example of inserting a new building into a historical city, and one the cases of implementing the strategy that the architect presented a few years ago in the book, which he coauthored with Vladimir Sedov, called “30:70. Architecture as a Balance of Forces”.
Walking on Water
In the nearest future, the Marc Chagall Embankment will be turned into Moscow’s largest riverside park with green promenades, cycling and jogging trails, a spa center on water, a water garden, and sculptural pavilions designed in the spirit of the Russian avant-garde artists of the 1920, and, first of all, Chagall himself. In this issue, we are covering the second-stage project.
A-Len has developed and patented the “Perfect Apartments” program, which totally eliminates “bad” apartment layouts. In this article, we are sharing how this program came around, what it is about, who can benefit from it, and how.
“Architectural Archaeology of the Narkomfin Building”: the Recap
One of the most important events of 2020 has been the completion of the long-awaited restoration of the monument of Soviet avant-garde architecture – the Narkomfin Building, the progenitor of the typology of social housing in this country. The house retained its residential function as the main one, alongside with a number of artifacts and restoration clearances turned into living museum exhibits.
LIFE on the Setun River
The area in the valley of the Setun River near the Vereiskaya Street got two new blocks of the “LIFE-Kutuzovsky” housing complex, designed by ADM architects. The two new blocks have a retail boulevard of their own, and a small riverside park.
Three towers on a podium over the Ramenka River are the new dominant elements on the edge of a Soviet “microdistrict”. Their scale is quite modern: the height is 176 m – almost a skyscraper; the facades are made of glass and steel. Their graceful proportions are emphasized by a strict white grid, and the volumetric composition picks up the diagonal “grid of coordinates” that was once outlined in the southwest of Moscow by the architects of the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Clouds over the Railroad
In the stead of former warehouses near “Lyubertsy-1” station, a new housing complex has been built, which peacefully coexists with the railroad, with the flyover bridge, and with the diverse surrounding scenery, not only dominating over the latter, but improving it.
Towers in a Forest
The authors of the housing complex “In the Heart of Pushkino” were faced with a difficult task: to preserve the already existing urban forest, at the same time building on it a compound of rather high density. This is how three towers at the edge of the forest appeared with highly developed public spaces in their podiums and graceful “tucks” in the crowning part of the 18-story volumes.
The Towers of “Sputnik”
Six towers, which make up a large housing complex standing on the bank of the Moskva River at the very start of the Novorizhskoe Highway, provide the answers to a whole number of marketing requirements and meets a whole number of restrictions, offering a simple rhythm and a laconic formula for the houses that the developer preferred to see as “flashy”.
The Starting Point
In this article, we are reviewing two retro projects: one is 20 years old, the other is 25. One of them is Saint Petersburg’s first-ever townhouse complex; the other became the first example of a high-end residential complex on Krestovsky Island. Both were designed and built by Evgeny Gerasimov and Partners.
The Path to New Ornamentation
The high-end residential complex “Aristocrat” situated next to a pine park at the start of the Rublev Highway presents a new stage of development of Moscow’s decorative historicist architecture: expensively decorated, yet largely based on light-colored tones, and masterfully using the romantic veneer of majolica inserts.
Renovation: the Far East Style
The competition project of renovating two central city blocks of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, developed by UNK project, won the nomination “Architectural and planning solutions of city construction”.
The Istituto Centrale per la Grafica in Rome presents Sergei Tchoban’s exhibition “Imprint of the future. Destiny of Piranesi’s City”. The exhibition includes four etchings, based on Roman architectural views of the XVIII century complemented by futuristic insertions, as well as a lot of drawings that investigate the same topic, at times quite expressively. The exhibition poses questions, but does not seem to give any answers. Since going to Rome is pretty problematic now, let’s at least examine the pictures.
In Search of Visual Clarity
In this article, we are reviewing a discussion devoted to the question of designing city space elements, which is quite complicated for the Russian expanses of land. The discussion was organized by the Genplan Institute of Moscow at the ArchMoscow convention in Gostiny Dvor.
The City of the Sun
Jointly designed by Sergey Tchoban and Vladimir Plotkin, the VTB Arena Park complex can arguably be considered the perfect experiment on solving the centuries-old controversy between traditional architecture and modernism. The framework of the design code, combined with the creative character of the plastique-based dialogue between the buildings, formed an all-but-perfect fragment of the city fabric.
...The Other Was Just Railroad Gin*
In their project of the third stage of “Ligovsky City” housing complex, located in the industrial “gray” belt of Saint Petersburg, the KCAP & Orange Architects & A-Len consortium set before themselves a task of keeping up the genius loci by preserving the contours of the railroad and likening the volumes of residential buildings to railroad containers, stacked up at the goods unloading station.
Lions on Glass
While reconstructing the facades of Building 4 of Moscow Hospital #23, SPEECH architects applied a technique, already known from Saint Petersburg projects by Sergey Tchoban – cassettes with elements of classical architecture printed on glass. The project was developed gratis, as a help to the hospital.