Books and Gardens

A-Len and KCAP Architects&Planners designed for Voronezh a housing complex, inspired by Ivan Bunin and the landscapes of the central part of Russia. The result looks modern and fresh.

author pht

Written by:
Alyona Kuznetsova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov

22 October 2019

A-Len does a lot of designing for the Russian regions, but Voronezh is a city where the company did more projects than anywhere else. Together with VDK, this Saint Petersburg-based architectural company has already built two housing complexes – “Pyat Stolits” (“Five Capitals”) and “Russky Avangard” (“Russian Avant-Garde”) – with another two complexes, “Bunin“ and “Grand Prix”, on the way. A few projects are also in the design stage; there are plans for developing the city’s social infrastructure, and inviting planners from overseas. The mastermind of the process is the developer Evgeny Khamin, whom Sergey Oreshkin characterizes as a “mover and shaker”, a visionary businessman who wants to make a difference to his home town.

It was also Evgeny Khamin’s idea to devote the future housing complex to Ivan Bunin, who was born here in Voronezh. The first planning idea was based on the simple rectangular shape of the land site situated at the entrance to the city from the Moscow side and surrounded by apple gardens, and literary associations of the “silver age” that the client named: stacks of books, rosewood table, and a green lamp – the architect shares. The first sketches by Sergey Oreshkin were approved, and later on many of his ideas were developed and can now be traced in the final project.

“Bunin” housing complex
Copyright: A-Len, KCAP Architects & Planners
A-Len, KCAP Architects & Planners
Copyright: A-Len, KCAP Architects & Planners

Then the client invited the Dutch company KCAP Architects&Planners. A-Len has already had an experience of collaborating with this firm, which is known in Russia, first of all, for designing the master plan of the city of Perm – and currently, A-Len, KCAP, and Orange are working together on a housing project named Golden City that is being built on the washed-up banks of the Vasilyevsky Island in Saint Petersburg.

The partner of KCAP Architects&Planners, Edward Schuurmans, is sharing: “When our colleagues from Saint Petersburg invited us again to work together on a new project – now in Voronezh – we agreed at once because the project task was unusual and interesting at the same time. It was unusual, first of all, because the sheer scale of construction turns the architectural task into a town planning one. Second, we could not help but accept the challenge of designing a landmark building at the entrance to the city. And, last but not least, we were thrilled at the prospect of using the name and the creative work of Ivan Bunin as the basis of the project’s marketing concept”.

After a joint brainstorming session, KCAP came up with about 15 models demonstrating volumetric solutions. Then the whole team, together with the client, gathered together in Rotterdam and chose the best one. When asked about how the roles were distributed, Sergey Oreshkin answered that it was “parallel work, very much like ping pong, a creative process that’s hard to define”, but nevertheless one must remember that KCAP are more of urban planners, while A-Len chiefly designs buildings.

“Bunin” housing complex. Birds-eye view
Copyright: A-Len, KCAP Architects & Planners

So! The form shaping is based on the theme of books: shelves, stacks, covers, and pages. Hence the combination of vertical and horizontal buildings, shifting of volumes, cantilevered structures, height differences from 26 to 9 floors, and a combination of “hard” and “soft” construction materials.

“Bunin” housing complex
Copyright: A-Len, KCAP Architects & Planners

The “stacks of books” on either side of the complex are essentially the “statement” towers, with yet another “stack” standing in the middle, where the road will run. Thanks to the use of different facade decorating materials, the vertical units are divided into several slim “volumes”. Their “pages” are indicated by light-colored stucco, while the “covers” are highlighted with natural stone, ceramic tiles, and metal.

“Bunin” housing complex. Facade 1
Copyright: A-Len, KCAP Architects & Planners

“Bunin” housing complex
Copyright: A-Len, KCAP Architects & Planners

In addition, there are also “wraparaounds” or “slipcovers” – colorful inserts with pixel fragments of Boris Kustodiev’s painting “The Apple Garden”. Yielding to the temptation of naively “painting” the facades was the easiest thing in the world, while finding a balance between such different colors and materials was no easy task – Sergey Oreshkin confesses. However, “Bunin” once again confirms A-Len’s interest for unconventional color design solutions – a similar design technique was applied in the housing complex “Russian Avant-Garde”.

“Bunin” housing complex
Copyright: A-Len, KCAP Architects & Planners

“Bunin” housing complex
Copyright: A-Len, KCAP Architects & Planners

Thanks to the ledges and shifts, examining the voids becomes just as exciting as examining the buildings themselves – thanks to their sheer scale, the step-like arches look pretty impressive, while the details add to the dramatic look of the complex: for example, KCAP draw huge street lights on their sketches, which bring associations with both a lampshade above the table on the veranda of a manor house, and associations with the arches of Saint Petersburg tenements with the first electric lights.

The diversity of volumes and colors is brought to one common denominator by the plinth that, according to the original concept, is meant to embody a “writing desk”. The land site is rather narrow – the buildings occupy almost the whole of its width, standing in a string, yet the complex somehow escapes from looking like a “blind wall”.

“Bunin” housing complex
Copyright: A-Len, KCAP Architects & Planners

Due to its sophisticated shape, the complex also got unconventional housing sections and a wide range of different apartment layouts. For about 10 years, A-Len has been working on its “Perfect Apartments” program: the company’s experts have been studying the best Russian, European, and especially – according to Sergey Oreshkin – Soviet apartment layouts, choosing the best ones and improving them with consideration of the realities of today’s housing market. Ultimately, the experts are getting a voluminous catalogue of efficient and ergonomic layouts – there are about 1300 options to choose from, their list including experimental ones, such as the Marseille Unit, or multilevel apartments that back in the day were developed by the Construction Committee of the Russian Federation under the supervision of Moisey Ginzburg. The validity of this method is backed up by the fact that usually the developer’s marketing departments approve the plans within a couple of days – the architect shares. The “Perfect Apartments” program is patented.

The housing complex “Bunin” contains 1438 apartments, their range including an unusually high number of corner and side-end ones, two and even triple-sided. There are also “office apartments” designed especially for those who dreams of coming to work “with their slippers on”.

“Bunin” housing complex
Copyright: A-Len, KCAP Architects & Planners

“Bunin” housing complex
Copyright: A-Len, KCAP Architects & Planners

The “Bunin” image is also fostered by the accompanying landscaping project, which, thanks to the specifics of the land site, also turned out to be very interesting. From the side of the Moskovsky Avenue, a city park will appear that will back up the commercial areas on the first floors. As for the overall spirit of this space that they are ultimately getting, the architects describe it as “Levitan” (another famous Russian landscape painter): the already existing pine grove will be adorned with sculptures and installations that will not, however, disrupt its natural feel. Behind the complex, there will be a garden with playgrounds and sports fields, brighter, more energetic, and less meditative. According to Sergey Oreshkin, the landscaping culture in Voronezh is “head and shoulders above Saint Petersburg not only because of the city’s climate but because of the quality of execution”. Therefore, the architects ventured to enhance “the fifth facade”: the roofs that can be seen from the windows of the neighboring buildings will be turned into operated green ones.

Edward Schuurmans emphasizes: “We believe that if you want your project, situated at the entrance to the city, to become a true landmark, you need to design it as a single-cut ensemble, creating, at the same time, a human friendly environment on the street level. This was a very challenging period of working with a few different scales at once – designing the silhouette of the entire complex and all of the facades at the same time. Our special focus was on the facades of the bottom floors. It is these facades that define the quality of the pedestrian environment all along the commercial front, which also includes the residential hallway entrances. And, of course, an import part of our work was creating an interface between the buildings and the open space: how the commercial function meets the new park from the side of the Moskovsky Avenue, and how the yard on the other side of the ensemble meets the apple gardens”.

Among other things, in the future, “Bunin” may become a part of a circular eco route: the city is planning to introduce a single path that will unite a large number of green areas – a tree nursery, botanical gardens, the central park, natural and archaeological sites on the Voronezh River.


It must be said that Ivan Bunin, books, and the green lamp are themes that are very challenging architecture-wise – not to say dowright dangerous. Working with such powerful, tell-tale, and, let’s admit it, proverbial prototypes, one is inevitably running a risk of ending up with excessive imagery that will make one’s project overly “literary”. However, looking at this specific project one can see that, yes, book are there, and they are quite recognizable from the axonometric drawings of the complex, but the point is that the international team was indeed able to achieve the necessary level of generalization when working with the form and meanings. The volumes resting on the plinth resemble books in a less obvious way than what we can see in the modernist experiments of the seventies, sometimes getting into resonance with the patterns of large volumes, characteristic for the Dutch architecture of the XXI century, with the language of cyclopean protrusions and cavities that oftentimes reminds us about the Cretan and Mycenaean sources of the European culture. This is how the circumstances fell into place, and the theme successfully coincided with the architects’ outlook on the possibilities of making a large form come alive, and the pixel shades – maybe the reflections of the Voronezh pine forests or the reminder of “The Dark Alleys” – turned out to be quite appropriate, recognizable to a decent extent, yet not memetic.

“Bunin” housing complex
Copyright: A-Len, KCAP Architects & Planners

In addition, what is also important is the fact that the “literary” house, whose name and imagery interpret the history of the city, can be considered an input to creating the “brand” of Voronezh, based on its own history – and this is not your Château de Val on the Central Russian Upland – this is our native Russian writer, even if he is buried at Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois. This house, named after Ivan Bunin, a writer bearing the image of a “Russian barin”, who was born here but died in France, is being designed in Voronezh by Russian and Dutch architects – yet, unlike the writer’s fate, the collision is not in the least dramatic because it belongs to this modern age of total reconciliation and is based upon the search for the specifics in generalities: the literary history becomes the starting point for new modern forms to appear.

22 October 2019

author pht

Written by:

Alyona Kuznetsova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov
Headlines now
​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 Contact
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.
​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.
Health Constructor
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 Aperture Effect
For a housing complex built in the town of Pushkino in the Moscow metropolitan area, KPLN Architects designed facades that adjust the stream of light by using the wall geometry.
​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.
Color and Line
The new successful techniques developed by A.Len for designing a kindergarten under budget constraints: the mosaic of irregular windows and working with color.
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 Countdown
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.
White Town
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.
Pedagogical Architecture
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.
​Rational Arrangement
In this article, we are examining a complex of buildings and interiors of the first stage of the project that has recently become extremely popular – the Kommunarka clinic.
​Parallel Universe
In the “Parallel House” residence that he designed in the Moscow metropolitan area, the architect Roman Leonidov created a dramatic sculptural composition from totally basic shapes – parallelepipeds, whose collision turned into an exciting show.
In the Istra district of Moscow metropolitan area, the tandem of 4izmerenie and ARS-ST designed a sports complex – a monovolume that has the shape of a chamfered parallelepiped with a pointed “nose” like a ship’s bow.
​Stairway to Heaven
The project of a hotel in the settlement of Yantarny is an example of a new recreational complex typology, and a new format that unites the hotel, the business, and the cultural functions. All of this is complemented by 100% integration with nature.
​Cape of Good Hope
In this issue, we are showing all the seven projects that participated in a closed-door competition to create a concept for the headquarters of Gazprom Neft, as well as provide expert opinions on those projects.
​Waves of Sound
The conceptual design of a music school: proximity to an Alvar Aalto building, expressive organics, and an attempt to draw public attention to a “low-profile” competition.
​The Outer Space
Honoring the 300th anniversary of the Kuznetsk coal fields in 2021, a new passenger terminal of the Aleksey Leonov Airport in the city of Kemerovo will be built, designed by GK Spectrum and ASADOV Architectural Bureau.
​The Pivot of Narkomfin Building
Ginzburg Architects finished the restoration of the Narkomfin Building’s laundry unit – one of the most important elements of the famous monument of Soviet avant-garde architecture.
​Wicker Vitality
Next to the Dubrovka metro station, ADM has designed a Vitality housing complex with a polychrome mixture of Klinker brick on its ridged facades.
​Freedom Factory
The housing complex “Respublika” is so large that it can be arguably called a micro-town, yet, at the same time, it easily overcomes most of the problems that usually arise with mass housing construction. How could Archimatika achieve that? We are examining that on the example of the first stage of the complex.
​The Flowing Lines
The five houses of the “Svoboda” block belonging to the “Simvol” residential complex present a vivid example of all-rounded work performed by the architects on an integral fragment of the city, which became the embodiment of the approach to architecture that hitherto was not to be seen anywhere in Moscow: everything is subjected to the flow of lines – something like a stream, enhanced by the powerful pattern of the facades akin to “super-graphics”.
​A City by the Water
The concept of a large-scale housing development at the edge of Voronezh, near the city reservoir, or “the sea”, as it is locally called, uses the waterside height difference to create a sophisticated public space, paying a lot of attention to the distribution of masses that determine the look of the future complex if viewed from the opposite bank of the river.
A Journey to the Country of Art Deco
The “Little France” residential complex on the 20th line of the Vasilyevsky Island presents an interesting make-believe dialogue between its architect, Stepan Liphart, the architect of the New Hermitage, masters of the Silver Age, and Soviet Art Deco, about interesting professional topics, such as a house with a courtyard in the historical center of Saint Petersburg, and the balance between the wall and the stained glass in the architectonics of the facade. Here are the results of this make-believe conversation.
​A House in a Port
This housing complex on the Dvinskaya Street is the first case of modern architecture on the Gutuevsky Island. The architectural bureau “A-Len” thoroughly explores the context and creates a landmark for further transformations of this area of Saint Petersburg.
​Balance of Infill Development
Anatoly Stolyarchuk Architectural Studio is designing a house that inadvertently prevails over the surrounding buildings, yet still tries to peacefully coexist with the surrounding environment, taking it to a next level.
​The Precious Space
Evolution Design and T+T Architects reported about the completion of the interior design project of Sberbank headquarters on the Kutuzovsky Avenue. In the center of the atrium, hovers the “Diamant” meeting room; everything looks like a chest full of treasures, including the ones of a hi-tech kind.
​Big Little Victory
In a small-sized school located in Domodedovo in Moscow metropolitan area, ASADOV_ architects did a skillful job of tackling the constraints presented by the modest budget and strict spatial limitations – they designed sunlit classrooms, comfortable lounges, and even a multi-height atrium with an amphitheater, which became the center of school life.
​The Social Biology of Landscape
The list of new typologies of public spaces and public projects has been expanded yet again — thanks to Wowhaus. This time around, this company came up with a groundbreaking by Russian standards approach to creating a place where people and animals can communicate.