You are Director of Institute of the Master Plan for Moscow – which is to say you’re the manager of the brain that determines strategic lines for the city’s development. What is your view of the current state of Moscow?
In general, a great deal has been done. On the site of the capital of the first socialist state in the world we now have a capitalist megalopolis. This has serious implications for infrastructure. A city with a population of 15 million is, in terms of scale, essentially a modern version of a fair-sized state. Of course, many problems have arisen as a result. But any kind of modernization produces problems.
Let’s talk about these problems. I’ll try to list them. There’s a social problem: Moscow housing has become a financial instrument, but the housing problem has not been solved. There’s a transport problem: Moscow’s traffic jams are a constant headache. There’s a heritage problem: old Moscow has vanished, replaced with architectural dummies. Then there are problems with electricity and ecology. Am I not right?
I won’t argue with you. Yes, Moscow is a city with many problems. As for solutions… You have to understand that we’ve modernized in special circumstances. We’ve been through a difficult period when we’ve had to involve investors in solving our urban problems. The city just didn’t have the money itself. Moscow had to attract money – it had to nurture, teach, attract, and provide conditions for growth. The special circumstances were that 30% of new housing in each project was allocated to the city and 70% went to the investor. Essentially, every urban problem – whether traffic or electricity – was tackled by burdening the investor, and this in turn produced new problems. For instance, a road is built at the expense of the shopping centre which stands on it. The road is built, but then the load on it multiplies many times. We will take the view that this period is already over. Currently, we – not me, but the Government of Moscow – have a policy whereby up to half of any construction going on should be municipal projects. This doesn’t mean that all this will be social housing for pensioners – I’m afraid not. It’s just that the city will act as investor, build the houses, and sell them at a commercial rate.
In what way is this better?
In theory, this is easier to control. In actual fact, the city has no need to build as much as we’ve been building. There’s no need to over-infill a district, to kowtow to the interests of business. The city’s commercial behaviour should be less predatory and more oriented on maintaining a balance in the city. But I should be honest: as yet, this is only a declaration of policy. It’s a policy that has been built into the new master plan for Moscow, but this is only the beginning of the process. And in general, urban planning is a slow thing. Decisions that are taken today will become noticeable in five years’ time at the earliest. And for the moment we shall be looking at what was conceived – designed and given planning permission – five to ten years ago. So for the next five years things will only get worse. Currently, we have a great many problems that will soon turn into an avalanche. You have to understand that a city is always formed through reconstruction and restoration – not of particular buildings, but of the whole city. My experience in reconstruction has given me at least some sort of understanding of Moscow’s city planning. It never happens that you finish reconstructing a city and it simply stands still. A city is always broken and always needs mending. Problems are not an extraordinary situation for a city; they are the norm.
But are there ideas for how to withstand this avalanche of problems?
We’re going to zealously preserve areas of vegetation. Oppose attempts to build on them. There must be changes in workplaces; we have to switch to cleaner forms of manufacturing. It’s not necessary for everyone to work at a factory… We have to try to bring workplaces closer to where people live. In general, these are all well-known measures. It’s the same as with transport: you can think up all kinds of concepts, but in general elementary observation of the existing rules – the parking rules, for example – gives good results. In most areas the existing rules are not bad, and in some cases they’re actually very good. There’s a lot of point in trying to observe them better than at present.
These seem to me to be mainly issues of social behaviour – on the part of the authorities, business, and residents. But are there ideas that relate strictly to urban development? The most recent paradigm to have shaped the development of Moscow is the contextual approach. What is going to take its place?
As a matter of curiosity, what do you have against the contextual approach? You don’t like Ostozhenka, for example.
From the point of architecture, there’s a lot that’s interesting there. From the point of view of urban planning, Ostozhenka is an enormous bank safe encompassing an entire district and containing square metres instead of money. The idea was to create an environment for living in, but there’s no life in the neighbourhood; no one lives there. Only security guards.
In 1984 I worked in the architectural studio of Andrey Vladimirovich Ganeshin, where we were involved in contextual reconstruction of the city centre. I still have drawings from those days – it was a time when everyone drew. I was involved in work on Zayauz’e, Petrovka, Sretenko. At that time it was possible to create pedestrian zones, to create a city for the people who live there. But all this has died. Pedestrian zones are impossible when you have continuous fences cutting each lot off from the city. The problem with Ostozhenka is that it was conceived as a city for residents, but functions as a city for property. In this sense, the context is dying. In general, we have missed too many opportunities. The Soviet city was truly designed for the good of its residents. It had streets, courtyards, public buildings. We wanted to create boulevards in the interiors of street blocks and make the ground-floor spaces accessible to the city. I leave out the fact that these streets were designed for demonstrations to pass through, although this was certainly a factor. But in the 1990s we even encouraged developers to build on land which the Soviet town-planners had set aside for public purposes. And this has closed off opportunities for development for the next 100 years. Essentially, we are no longer able to go back to planning the city for human beings.
Is there a new paradigm that is capable of doing something with the city?
In the West today the new paradigm is the eco city, with ecology being understood in a broad sense – not just as reductions in exhaust emissions, although this too, of course, is important, but as the principle of maximum economy of resources. This ideology sees people as creatures who spend useful resources and cause their habitat to deteriorate. This means that ideally people should keep their activities to a minimum. They should work where they live. And their consumption should take place within easy walking distance. There should be no expenditure of resources on transport. Everything should be done by Internet. But then social activity will also be minimal and in my opinion this is a dead end: this means the death of the city. Although perhaps I’m old-fashioned and am unable to live properly in the Internet. And in Russia what ideas are there?
In general, as I see it, new strategies for developing a city are always paper architecture. Strategy is always paper architecture. Someone draws something and there’s your strategy. It might be completely unrealizable ideas that are naïve, impractical, and senseless at first sight. What’s important is the initial thought. This is followed by a long process of making the idea workable; this can take 20 years. But I should say that right now I don’t see any such thought. At all. Russia today has no conceptual architecture or, at any rate, it is very inconspicuous. You take part in decisions concerning planning permission at the Moscow Architecture Committee, so you see most projects that appear in Moscow. And you mean to say that there are no new ideas?
You have to picture this process. It’s not very creative. To continue on the subject of paper architecture, in the 1980s our country had the ‘paper’ architects, who in a certain sense began to realize themselves during the post-perestroika period. Actually, it wasn’t always literally they – and not always literally their ideas – that found realization, but if we mean stadial processes, then we see the following picture: an explosion of ideas in the 1980s followed by their realization in the 1990s. I said that this period was in a certain respect an unhappy one for the city, but this does not mean that it was unhappy for architects. Certain architects were able to benefit because non-standard ideas were in demand. And now Moscow architecture is developing further. Everything is becoming more rigid, precise, uniform. This is not good or bad; it’s just the way things are. As art which is responsible for very large amounts of money, architecture naturally strives for order and predictability. Moscow Committee of Architecture is a machine that gives planning permission to three or four buildings per minute. When the individual planning authorities have no specific comments to make, it’s all over instantly. This flow encourages the average. It’s no place for extraordinary ideas, it’s a machine for manufacturing ordinariness. Don’t expect to catch any new concepts here; they just don’t breed in this river.
Someone – let’s call him Aleksey Miller – was driving through St Petersburg with his eyes on the horizon when suddenly he realized how wonderful a single skyscraper would look here: it would subordinate the entire city to itself. That was how the Okhta Centre project [for a 300-metre-high tower] came into being. Someone else – let’s call him Shalva Chigirinsky – was driving over Krymsky Bridge [in Moscow] when suddenly he realized that if the Central House of the Artist were to be demolished and the Crystal Orange, the dream of Yelena Baturina, were to be built, it would look just great. I’m not talking right now of the quality of these projects; what’s important is something else. Do you not think that given the absence of ideas on the part of architects, it’s business that shapes the agenda in urban planning? It’s business that does the dreaming, that finds a location for this dream, and finds the resources and means for realizing it.
Nice stories, but they’re not true. In Moscow, at any rate, it all happened a little differently. In Moscow there are very sites left for building on. All these locations are serious assets, so they are well known and clearly classified. We know roughly what can be built on them. And what happens next is that various business approach the Mayor and try to convince him that they are the ones who will do the best job of developing these assets. Theoretically, ‘best’ means most profitable for the city. But in practice, it all depends. Then we give the developers specifications for the site and begin working with them. In the process, it transpires that they are not happy with these specifications – because if the function, density, or height can be changed, they can get a much better return on their money. They go to the Mayor and start accusing the urban planners of non-professionalism. And we accuse them of greed and neglect of the city’s interests. Theoretically, we are the law and ought to get the upper hand, but in practice they are money – so there can be differing results. What’s always the same is the conflict of interests. So that’s how the agenda is formed.
So the Crystal Orange is not going to be built?
Theoretically, it’s impossible under any circumstances.
You’ve sketched an exceptionally unhappy picture. Excuse me for saying so, but I have the feeling that it’s not you who’s giving this interview. We got to know each other ten years ago and I know you as an exceedingly ironic person. You remember how we met?
I remember very well: on the ‘Manilovsky project’. Together with the Mitki group of artists, we held a utopian tea party in the Toko Bank Tower. The idea was that at the time you called the architecture of Moscow a realization of the dreams of Manilov, the character in Gogol’s Dead Souls. We gathered in the Toko Bank Tower to drink tea and talk about the fate of Moscow’s urban planning from the point of view of Manilov. Manilov’s estate included an underground passage, a bridge over a pond – on the bridge there were traders (under the Moscow way of thinking they should probably have been co-investors in the bridge), – a Temple of Solitary Reflection, and so on.
I recall this with pleasure. It was this – and then working with the Mitki on Gostiny dvor – that marked the beginning of a new life for me. Lev Melikhov introduced me to photography, which I’m still very keen on and which I then took up professionally. All in all, this was a direction in life which really did partly shape my involvement with Moscow. When your egg house and Patriarch house – buildings that caught the public imagination – appeared, it occurred to me that this was a continuation of the same line. They are buildings with a very noticeable irony. A combination of dream and naivety with a keen interest in history. Manilov, I think, would have been very taken by them. You remember, he had children called Alkid and Femistoklyus. Egg and Patriarch.
Irony is one of the aspects of architecture, but architecture, alas, is never reducible to this. Architecture is something in which people or the state invest stupid amounts of money. Such people are not inclined to joke. This is the kind of money which those who actually create this architecture will never have. But there is still room for manoeuvre. And the deeper the architecture, the more aspects and levels of various kinds it should have. Also possible is a plane of irony, history, subconscious meanings, and dreams. From my point of view, a building’s image is more interesting if this is present. This can touch people, and can irritate them too. People may take a strong dislike to something they see. And then, even on leaving the country, they may be unable to forget a particular building. This means that the architecture has a special quality. When people – not necessarily specialists – look at a building and cannot immediately decide what to feel about it, but see a wide range of different things, this is interesting. It creates a multi-level structure.
But such an approach is hardly possible in your current work.
At the time we were euphoric because certain things had become possible. Now planning permission for such designs would never be given. The Manilov project is pure dreaming. It could have been realized in certain buildings in Moscow, but would now be impossible.
You would not build the egg house now?
Well, you’d have to use a tank to get permission to build half an eggshell.
And this is why you’ve abandoned ‘pure dreaming’ for bureaucratic urban planning?
I told you in all honesty how the planning-approvals machine works. Three to four projects a minute. It’s a conveyor for manufacturing standard items. Here it’s very important who has the power to stop the conveyor. To get a non-standard project passed. Who has the right to act outside the system. Today you’d have to be Foster or Zaha Hadid to build the egg house.
So dreaming is something that only foreigners are allowed to do?
Everyone’s allowed to dream. But tickets to realize your dream are now sold only at the window for foreigners. However, as was always the case [in the Soviet Union] with these ticket-windows, Russians can get served there too if they have the right administrative support. And that’s roughly what I do. I understand only too well that without my current administrative position I would be unable to realize designs such as the house in Khlynovsky tupik which we’re currently just finishing building.
And this is why you’ve become a planner?
No, not just for this reason, of course. Urban planning is interesting in itself. But the opportunities which it opens up genuinely give me great pleasure. I love my studio, I like the chance to talk to people directly. I like discussing projects, talking them through, drawing them, seeing how all this springs into life. I like architecture as art, and in art there should always be something unmediated, something that comes directly from the author. You know, Matisse did his decoupages – compositions made from cut-up coloured paper – but he coloured the paper himself. This is technologically inefficient, it doesn’t fit on the conveyor. So you have to create special conditions in order for this to happen. And I’ve created them.
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.