“Krupny Plan” architects: “It is important that your form should not be accidental; it must have a meaning to it”
A conversation with Sergey Nikeshkin and Andrew Mikhailov, the partners and cofounders of the architectural and engineering company KPLN “Krupny Plan” (“Closeup”) – about the structure of the company, the history of its development, about its principles, its search for form and the notion of “contemporary”.
Interviewed by: Julia Tarabarina Translated by: Anton Mizonov
By the industry standards, “Krupny Plan” (“Closeup”) is a relatively young company, which has managed rather quickly – within the 11 years of its existence – to establish itself, landing a few large-scale projects, regularly showing up at various Moscow and all-Russia architectural festivals with projects and implementations; this fall, their project of the shopping mall in Moscow’s Teply Stan district was shortlisted for WAF. The company has more than a hundred employees, and an unusual structure, by today’s standards: it consists of a balanced number of architects, designers, and engineers, which allows it to tackle a wide range of tasks, offering turnkey solutions, taking care of both creative and engineering questions, and illustrating the architects’ ideas with attractive-looking sculptural models.
Archi.ru: I have seen the definitions of “Krupny Plan” as a full service company. Could you please elaborate on this?
Krupny Plan is a general designer company that takes on the project from beginning to end, meaning – from coming up with the main idea and the overall concept to completing the working documentation and performing the author supervision on the construction site. One of our key advantages is the use of state-of-the-art technologies, which enables us to implement the full cycle of project work with a maximum efficiency.
We realized very early on that there are not so many companies in Moscow, in which the creative architectural side is backed up by the integrated approach to designing things – such companies are few and far between. On the one hand, there are private architectural offices; on the other hand, there are engineering companies that do not have a “face” of their own. Joining our efforts, we found a successful market niche of our own – and our own clients, who not only wanted to get robust architecture, but also wanted to escape the bother of looking for subcontractors all over the country.
For a while, we also worked with subcontractors, but then we realized that outsourcing serious tasks doesn’t pay because it ultimately compromises the quality of the end product. This is how we started to assemble a full service company, which we have been for a few years now.
When did you start the operations? On your website, I saw two dates at once, 2009 and 2011...
We did not come to the idea of a full service company at once – initially, we planned to work with two individual companies, one engineering and one architectural, and in August 2008 we created the company that was called “Stroyinzhenerproekt” – it is indeed 11 years old. Three years after, however, “Krupny Plan” appeared, and it became the main one. We are the cofounders in both cases.
Did you really embark on an independent career immediately after you graduated from the institute?
S.N.: Not quite. Initially, we worked for a few years in the company named Format 100 – this is where I met Andrey. I worked there for 6 years, starting from my second year in the institute; my skills as an architect were formed in that company. We still keep up friendly ties with its leader – Elena Alipova – and we recall that time with gratitude.
How did you survive the crisis of 2008? A lot of architectural companies closed down at that time, and you just launched your company – how did you stand up to the challenges and grew up to become this big?
A.M.: We always diversified the pool of our clients; we never worked with just one or two. In addition to large companies, we also worked with government contracts, and with private clients who are known to be less volatile. We still stick to this strategy today.
We did not always grow, by the way; in 2015 we cut our staff from 90 to 70 people, and now we have about 140 employees.
How hard is it managing an architectural company of 100 employees without compromising the quality? I heard that the optimum number is from 30 to 40, and if you have more people, some of them are bound to screw up.
S.N.: Pretty hard. However, speaking of that number, we have about 30 or 40 architects in our team, the others being engineers and designers.
A.M.: Yes, when the structure grows too big, you do lose some control, which can affect the degree, to which Sergey and me get involved with each of the projects, our relationship with the clients, and the sheer physical opportunity to be present at every meeting. Today, the number of our employees is reaching the upper limit; we evaluate is as being 150 people or a little bit more. Over that number, the work gets over-bureaucratic, and you lose the opportunity to make decisions quickly. For the time being, we are in the phase of discussing our further growth.
How many projects can you take on simultaneously?
S.N.: That depends on the size of these projects. I think about 10-15 midsize projects, up to a hundred thousand square meters. It is understood that they are stretched in time – often, they take up not just one, but two or three years.
Your website says that you work in the BIM software environment. Why did you decide to switch over to it, and how long did it take you?
S.N.: It took us about two years. For some time, we debated which software to choose, and then we purchased Revit, which I think was the right choice. In our view, BIM is the best choice for such company as ours, when all the employees work as a single team. However, in this industry things change very quickly, and you always need to refine your competences because the clients’ requirements also grow very quickly, and sometimes they are plain inflated, especially in terms of labor consumption and detailing. To make sure your project stays feasible you have to be on top of things, deciding when you are ready to deliver detailed models, and when detailing is excessive, and you need to negotiate with the client.
Speaking of LEED and BREEAM certificates – have you been able to get them for any of your projects?
A.M.: So far, only in the Skolkovo projects, where we took part as an engineering company, doing the design development phase and the working documentation, and after the construction was completed, BREEAM certificates were obtained. As well as for the Skoltech University, where we functioned as the general designer.
Do you take on any separate design stages like that or do you turn down such “fragmentary” work?
Now, as a rule, we turn such offers down because it upsets our working routine. We can take on a project not from the beginning but, let’s say, from the design development stage, but we do not subscribe to doing engineering work without architecture because we think that one of our key advantages is the fact that all of our departments are interconnected. All employees sit in one and the same room, we have a very friendly environment, and we do not want violate it. We think that this may compromise our reputation and ruin our karma. Besides, there is a large demand for full service projects now. We have been turning down the offers to work with separate stages of outside projects for about two years now.
S.N.: Generally speaking, it is obvious that a client will be more comfortable working with a company, to whose office he can come at any moment and discuss all the issues with all the contractors.
A.M.: Earlier, when we did not yet work full service, we often had to go to the clients’ offices; now they come to us. As a result, the meetings have become very effective.
The distribution of roles between you as the two leaders, has long since been known: you, Sergey, are the architect, you, Andrey, are the engineer. Could you please elaborate on how you two work together and interact with one another? Each on his own, or are you in constant communication?
A.M.: We are two directors, and we have spent our whole life in one office. At one time, we planned to make a partition, yet it never did appear – we understood that even a glass one would be redundant. My responsibility is the administrative and the technical part, while Sergey deals with the creative part. Otherwise, we are in constant communication; we make decisions together, and, most likely, this is what prevents a lot of possible mistakes.
Alright, Sergey, then the next question is addressed to you, about the creative side. How do you work with the idea of the project? Do you trust your employees who are in the status of the chief architect of the project with the visual appearance of the new building? In other words, how visionary is your architectural studio? Or is it like a so-called “project institute”?
S.N.: Generally, I’ve got nothing against any of my architects coming up with an interesting facade design, and I will readily accept it, but so far this is rarely the case... So far, the main solutions remain my prerogative. Probably, I sometimes want it to be the way that you’ve described but so far; we work with significant contributions from my side.
Sometimes, however, we do stage in-company competitions and brainstorming sessions – we announce a specific creative task, then go through all of the proposals, and make a decision by general vote. Then we also award the bonuses. It is a useful experience but it does not always survive into the final project. If I don’t like a proposal, it will not go any further, and I am pretty hard to please.
Were there any projects, in which the ideas proposed for the in-company competitions were indeed implemented?
The most vivid example is the cycling ground that we once designed. However, I thought that the authors of the idea would care about the further development of the project, which somehow didn’t happen, and it was me again who had to struggle with the client for the ideas of the concept and the quality of architecture, which was far from easy because it was a governmental contract.
How often do you take part in competitions?
As for open competitions, we haven’t been participating in any of them since our project of Chelyabinsk airport did not win in that open competition. It’s not that we opted out of it on general principle, but looking at this thing that they ultimately built, you lose what desire was left in you to participate ever again. As for closed-door competitions, where you are invited by the client – yes, we do participate in them because working without them would be impossible.
One of such competitions was won by us fairly recently. This was a competition an office center in Moscow. Currently, we are continuing to improve this project; we showcased it at the “Zodchestvo” festival. Part of the project was reconstructing the refrigerator building that was built in the early XX century – we are preserving it, but we remodel it in the “loft” style, cut new windows, shift some of the inner walls, and add a food court. Behind it, there are three office buildings standing along the driveway. That project is called “The Beetle”.
And we did not win in another closed-door competition, about which we recently learned – this is a terraced house in the Kaloshin lane. Too bad, I liked that one.
I have heard a lot about your studio works, could you please share about them? Are they part of the search for a form or are they rather a presentation of an idea that has already taken shape?
Me and my wife, we like to live in our country residence, we have a studio there, we enjoy making things with our hands, we make furniture ourselves. And we also enjoy making models from natural materials: wood, metal, ceramics, both baked and unbaked. These works are not involved in the form search. So, yes, finalizing the project and making its presentation.
At various industry events, I saw the model of the already-mentioned Chelyabinsk airport – a metallic building with a curvilinear facade. How did this shape come about, and how do you generally come up with shapes?
For me, it is important that my form should not be accidental; it must have a meaning to it. As for the Chelyabinsk airport concept, see here, we’ve got two portals – one is concave, as if it responds to the passenger flow in the departures, and the other is bulging, which is arrivals.
Which projects can you name as your milestone or signature ones?
The project that I like a lot, which got shortlisted for the WAF festival, is the shopping mall in Moscow’s Teply Stan. I believe that its solution turned out to be very balanced and contextual, in lines with the trends of development of modern architecture. Luckily, we had quite a lot of time to design it, and we are also happy with how it was built.
In this project, you proceeded from the limitations, in Chelyabinsk, you interpreted the passenger streams – what else do you use to motivate your plastique?
There are lots of factors, and it is different every time. Every time you want to make the most of your architectural idea: reflect the history, address the limitations imposed by the land site, and the customer’s requests – and make sure that all of the factors play together in a single orchestra. All tasks are different, and you cannot really unify them. The only steady criterion that you can hold on to is the high quality of architecture.
So what does this high quality or architecture mean to you? What properties must it possess?
I think that the key word here is appropriateness. For each specific case. Sometimes your project just has to be flashy – if it is a public building, it has to be a stunner. Sometimes, on the other hand, the building must be all but unnoticeable, neatly drawn and tactfully inscribed into its context. Sometimes the building must be invisible, dissolved in the landscape, so as not to obscure something that is more important. Everything depends on a specific task and specific circumstances.
To me, the work of art in general, and the work of architecture in particular, must be as contemporary as possible and it must correspond to the world level of cultural and aesthetic development. There is a whole bunch of factors: architecture that’s modern, appropriate, convenient for the client and for the end consumers. After all, we don’t design these buildings for our own selves.
Let me take you up on that – what does contemporary mean personally to you?
Not postmodernism, in any case.
And what does postmodernism mean to you?
Postmodernism is a rather broad notion, which covers a lot of areas, including literature and philosophy. Coming up with a quick definition is quite a tall order but I am going to take such liberty. To me, this is first of all, the esthetic eclecticism, the mass culture.
But can you get historical allusions as well? For example, if the building reacts to the genius loci?
Sadly, I am not guaranteed against that because that’s what the customers often want – some “quoting” and other “literary” effects. There is an arch in this building nearby, so, let’s make an arch in our building as well. Such direct allusions are almost always totally misplaced.
Because you can highlight the context with modern means, making the old building sparkle with bright colors from the sheer vicinity with the new one. And your solution does not have to be flashy at all – this can be done in a very tactful manner. You can highlight your modern building and be honest with the context without imitating it, getting an equitable dialogue without any fakes or mimicry. Achieving such dialogue isn’t easy, but that what the architect’s work is all about.
Andrey, my next question will be addressed to you – how hard is it working with an architect?
A.M.: Over these years, we have developed a methodology [laughs]. I think that Sergey also has to constantly find a balance between commercial success and the creative side. Of course, it is clear that a sophisticated project is consumes more labor than a regular one does. Then we evaluate the complexity and look for a compromise – we search for a solution that will allow us to make the project look sophisticated but implementable from the engineering standpoint.
I remember, when we just started, Sergey was more adamant, but now both of us have simmered down; we have learned to go for a reasonable compromise. Sometimes It happens that we would be happy to build something super-expensive but the client simply does not have the money. And we again have to look for a win-win solution.
S.N.: Here is an example: the tower of a housing complex. Making the whole thing consisting of standard floors resting on top of one another is boring; if you make various floor plans, this may yield some interesting plastique. But, of course, designing each floor individually, we make it harder for ourselves because we need to tie these floors together and convince the client – but for the sake of architecture you have to work and you have to insist on your solutions.
A.M.: As one of our colleagues says, during an operation, the doctor puts his client in narcosis, but nobody does that during construction.
Let’s take NPK Krunit as an example – did you have to insist on anything during that project?
S.N.: Here the client accepted our work surprisingly quickly, and was happy with us, as opposed to the previous designers whom we didn’t know... But then again, that project did not have that many subtleties about it – maybe the small bearing columns, common for the four floors, and the sunken-in entrance underneath a cantilever, if anything. I don’t like canopies that stick out – I prefer to make my entrance groups as concave spaces.
And can you please recall some cases when you had to struggle or argue with the client?
S.N.: It was with the housing complex “31 Quarter”, which is now in construction in Pushkino. It consists of four towers on a podium, and the client wanted us to make this podium a residents-only area, and visually separated from the city. It took us quite a lot of effort to convince him to make this yard open to the general public – and now the podium has to broad staircases on its sides descending to the street and to the river.
How do you plan to develop your company? Do you plan to expand the range of your typology by designing a theater or a park?
A.M.: Today, we are interested in educational complexes, we deliberately started to take more of school and kindergarten building projects in order to master that typology. Theaters, of course, are an interesting subject, but it’s a rather private field, and you cannot really get your foot in the door there. Sergey has a dream of designing an airport, and I support him in that.
S.N.: Speaking of educational projects, we have a concept of a campus on the Sakhalin Island; it is already six years old. It was put in a state of suspended animation, but now it seems to be developing again.
What makes it interesting is the fact that it combines a park and a rather large educational institution, and they interact with one another. I would say that the landscape inspires us not so much per se, as part of our task, part of the architectural solution. Then it becomes interesting. And, of course, we want to work on those projects that let us explore our full potential – we want to get more effect from our work, more users of our architecture, and a bigger audience.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Watched by the Angels from up Above
Held in the General Staff building of the Hermitage Museum, the anniversary exhibition of “Studio 44” is ambitious and diverse. The exhibition was designed to give a comprehensive showcase of the company’s architecture in a whole number of ways: through video, models, drawings, installations, and finally, through a real-life project, the Enfilade, which the exhibition opens up, intensifies, and makes work the way it was originally intended.
A New Version of the Old City
The house at Malaya Ordynka, 19, fits in perfectly with the lineup of the street, looking even as if it straightened the street up a little, setting a new tone for it – a tone of texture, glitter, “sunny” warmth, and, at the same time, reserved balance of everything that makes the architecture of an expensive modern house.
Stepan Liphart: “Standing your ground is the right thing to do”
A descendant of German industrialists, “Jophan’s son”, and an architect, speaks about how studying architectural orders tempers one’s character, and how a team of just a few people can design grand-scale housing projects to be built in the center of Saint Petersburg. Also: Santa Claus appearing in a Stalin high-rise, an arch portal to the outer space, mannerism painting, and the palaces of Paris – all covered in an interview with Stepan Liphart.
Honey and Copper
In the Moscow area, the architect Roman Leonidov designed the “Cool House” residence, very much in the spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright, spreading it parallel to the ground, and accentuating the horizontal lines in it. The color composition is based on juxtaposition of warm wood of a honey hue and cold copper blue.
The Ring on the Saisara Lake
The building of the Philharmonic Hall and the Theater of Yakut Epos, standing on the shore of the sacred lake, is inscribed into an epic circle and contains three volumes, reminiscent of the traditional national housing. The roof is akin to the Alaas – a Yakut village standing around a lake. In spite of its rich conceptual agenda, the project remains volumetrically abstract, and keeps up a light form, making the most of its transparency, multiple layers, and reflections.
Architecture of Evanescence
On the Vernadskogo Avenue, next to the metro station, appeared a high-rise landmark that transformed the entire area: designed by UNK Project, the “Academic” business center uncovered, in the form of its architecture, the meanings of the local place names.
The Theater and Music Circles
The contest-winning ambitious grand-scale project of the main theater and concert complex of the Moscow area includes three auditoriums, a yard – a public area – a higher school of music, and a few hotels. It promises to become a high-profile center for the classical music festivals on a national scale.