No, as I see it, the architectural profession today is of no fixed address, has no specific attachment to a particular city. I find it interesting to work all over the world. And the view from outside is no less interesting, I think, than the view from inside. In general, I’m against boundaries – whether of cities or of countries and continents. I think this is all in the past, that we are all citizens of the world; whether we want it or not, we find ourselves in a global space and architecture is a global profession. Yes, we have a superior knowledge of the situation in Moscow; yes, we know our old city by touch, down to the very last stone, but I know Venice and Florence just as well and perhaps even better than today’s Moscow. Because Florence and Venice have long since been conserved, while Moscow is developing furiously and changes every month.
But what about the Moscow school of architecture?
I’m not sure there is a specific Moscow school. Probably, there are just particular strong personalities among our teachers, who at a certain moment in time came together at MARCHI [Moscow Architecture Institute], in Moscow. There are, of course, traditions handed down within families and schools, and I’m aware of such traditions all the time. But architecture nevertheless springs not just from tradition, but from something else as well – something seated deep within us and possibly given us ‘from above’. Although I live in my grandfather’s house and am very conscious of this and love Moscow, I get pleasure from working everywhere where there is an opportunity to perfect something using architecture. How do you evaluate the part you have played in transforming Moscow?
I have a kind of guilt complex about this, but we were in the presence of enormous pressure from investors, pressure that we could have resisted only by standing together. It’s a pity that we architects were unable to do so… Our lack of unity, the nuances of the situation at the time, and the fact that we, as architects, were objectively ranged on the same side of the barricades as investors, developers, and clients with, against us, those who were trying to protect the city from us – it would have been very difficult to keep running from side to the other. Many of us at the time preferred to keep out of the thick of it and observe the fighting from a nearby hilltop before turning up, ‘dressed all in white’, once the field was clear. To make a proper assessment, more time has to be allowed to pass. But it’s already obvious that for the last 20 years it’s been impossible to implement urban-planning programmes. Architects have had to emigrate to minor jobs, work on a small, local, scale, and have usually stopped thinking on an urban scale, as was the practice in the preceding age.
Can you identify anyone who is working in the same tendency as yourself?
I feel I’m in the mainstream. In the global mainstream, I hope. The current tendency is technology, and it's one in which we Russians have not been too prominent to date. And yet we’re moving in the same direction as the rest of the world, only we lag behind when it comes to construction technology. The present rules of the game allow maximum results to be attained with maximum exploitation of minimal technological capacity. I have often had to work at the very limit of this capacity and even beyond that limit. There are many other architects who can broadly be called my fellow-travellers. We travel the same road and at the same time. You could say we’re in the same rank. We see the breast of a fourth person, but in the same rank, and this new wave includes architects from the West and East. Does this mean that the present time can be characterized by the transformation of architecture into technology?
As I see it, what’s happened is as follows: with the development of the construction industry, architecture, which was previously perceived as something eternal, began from the 1950s and 60s to be seen as merely temporary. However solidly we build, this architecture is supposed to serve a certain length of time and then be transformed or give way to another architecture and disappear. Like the architecture of theatre sets?
Theatre sets are altogether short-lived, virtual, whereas this is something different. It’s a matter of being built to last a finite period of time. It would be right to compare modern architecture to airplanes, cars, or ships – when these machines have served their useful life, good examples are measured and recycled and the very best are put in museums or are themselves museums, while all the others are replaced with new stuff that meets contemporary requirements. This does not apply to particular works of architecture which it has been decided to leave unaltered and which future generations will probably recognize as an important contribution to the cultural and historical landscape. I could name a number of works from Soviet and post-Soviet architecture of the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s which will perhaps be preserved for ever as monuments of the age in which they were built.
And which of your own works will be preserved?
I don’t know. Of course, I very much hope that all our built projects will perhaps be kept for future generations. That’s what I would like, but I understand that many of my buildings will probably at some point be demolished or altered. But if even a single building survives, that’s great. Do you think Moscow architecture is currently under pressure from the West? And if so, will it withstand this pressure?
No. The division into Russian and foreign architecture is artificial. The two are slightly different shades of the same process. Of course, due to various circumstances foreigners in Russia have been treated obsequiously or with enmity or suspicion. But Russian clients have always regarded foreign architects as a kind of ‘brand’. To fight against influence from outside is the same as throwing oneself in front of a train. The world is global – there’s nothing you can do about it. There aren’t, in fact, all that many big-name foreign architects, and clients want architecture that belongs to a famous brand. In the minds of clients, our architects have yet to attain this kind of brand recognition. Clearly, super-stylish and home-grown things cannot exist on the same shelf. There are two paths for us to go down: either we begin to create our own new brands or we are content to perfect our matryoshki, shoulder yokes, and Kokhloma and Vyatka decorative toys, but in the latter case it’s better not to modernize anything but to follow the canons and traditions religiously.
But investment activity and architecture may develop in different ways. There’s Prague and Warsaw, where the pressure of Western big-name architects is not so great but there is plenty of opportunity for doing things and these opportunities are exploited by modest local schools of architecture. And there is Shanghai, where there are plentiful stars but this doesn’t prevent local creations from growing up alongside. What’s going to happen here?
The rapid transition to capitalism has produced a layer of extremely wealthy people, and it’s they who are creating an interest in brands. For them this is, above all, a matter of status. And currently we’re at the peak of this trend: there’s clearly spiralling demand for foreign architects. Of course, it’s sad that our own architects are ignored, but you have to understand that we too have problems: you can’t be secondary, you have to be among the leaders, you have to set the tone, possibly you have to try to exploit the Avant-garde past, the 1920s. But at the same time, you should never be only led, should not take only paths that are well-kept; architecture is always partly a field for experimentation, and if you take no risks, then you’ll never get the best results. So we need more experiments, more innovation at the outer limits of possibility. And we should be grateful to the wandering architectural team that can now be found designing buildings for all over the world, from Dubai to Patagonia, for the fact that the tastes of our boss class, our investors and clients, tastes which were initially shaped during Soviet times, have now taken an abrupt turn ‘to the left’ and have become almost Avant-garde.
And are we going to be able to create something of our own?
Yes, of course. Radio was invented simultaneously in two completely different parts of the world. Approximately the same thing happened with steamships, steam locomotives, and rockets. The age itself sets certain requirements and poses questions that need answers and solutions. Undoubtedly, the traditional handmade line in architecture will remain, and let it flourish. But in my opinion, it’s much more difficult to try to put innovative machine technology in the service of that great art which is architecture. This will be no easy task. We were more or less taught to shape and sculpt and decorate ‘boxes’. But when it comes to finding systematic solutions to enormous urban-planning problems and to working with a scale of a different kind – industrial, gigantic, – that is something that we have to learn from scratch.
Given this kind of technical aesthetic and this kind of scale, is it possible to set one’s sights on creating a masterpiece?
An architect never knows which of his numerous designs will go into the wastepaper basket and which will actually be built. In our workshop it’s the done thing to believe that a design will definitely be built and so we must try to make it as architecturally perfect as possible. But there are many different approaches. There is a moderately commercial line, which is what I see in Moscow. This is very strongly supported by developers and results in excellent, extremely rational packaging for various functions. This is architecture that is convenient, economic, well-built, but it’s as dangerous for the city as the five-storey Khrushchevki [houses erected under Nikita Khrushchev]. Although both types of housing seem to be ways of tackling important and even sometimes noble tasks. Standardized houses did society an honest service, but had a destructive influence on the way cities looked. And today’s ‘characterless’ developer-driven architecture has largely already become a destructive force – due to its anonymous nature, anaemia, and averageness.
What is your method for getting to know modern architecture? Do you read magazines, make trips to look at new buildings abroad, or are you acquainted with one of the leaders of modern architecture?
All three. I know almost all architects whose work appeals to me. If I don’t actually meet them, I at least know what they’re doing. But that’s not the point. The energy that’s needed to create new forms comes from life. From one another, from architects, undoubtedly, too, but this is not the main thing. Like many of my colleagues, I can’t help feeling awkward about other people’s achievements: if someone has already done something, then it’s best to take another route. Although it’s often the case that new ideas, forms, and techniques appear simultaneously. It may be difficult, but you have to try to keep up with the times and outstrip them. Happiness for an architect is being able to turn one’s ideals into reality, and until you’ve done this, there is a feeling of not having said everything, of not having realized everything.
And can you name your ideals?
I believe that architects in any day and age have a chance to change the world for the better, to make it more perfect and more human. Each new generation stands on the shoulders of the previous one, earning at one blow all the experience, both negative and positive, of its predecessors. A highly important factor is the energy, the vital force which should ideally be present in architectural designs. Is there anything special you would like to design?
I would like to build something in the open countryside and from scratch. Mont Saint Michel…
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.
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.
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.
The Flying One
Expected to become an analogue of Moscow’s Skolkovo, the project of the High Park campus at Saint Petersburg’s ITMO University, designed by Studio 44, mesmerizes us with its sheer scale and the passion that the architects poured into it. Its core – the academic center – is interpreted as an avant-garde composition inspired by Piazza del Campo with a bell tower; the park is reminiscent of the “rays” of the main streets of Saint Petersburg, and, if watched from a birds-eye view, the whole complex looks like a motherboard with at least four processors on it. The design of the academic building even displays a few features of a sports arena. The project has a lot of meanings and allusions about it; all of them are united by plastique energy that the hadron collider itself could be jealous of.
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.