I remember how you congratulated Dominique Perrault on his victory in the competition to design the Mariinsky Theatre. It happened in the bar of the Hotel Astoria; I was sitting nearby at the time. Would you congratulate him today?
Really? I no longer remember. But, of course, there are now fewer reasons to congratulate him. Many people are talking about what happened, but no one knows for sure. And I can only roughly imagine what was the problem. Yes, it’s a very sad story.
Is it easy for foreign architects to work in Russia?
Well, in any case, it is possible to do so. And all the more so in today’s Russia, a country with an amazing range of possibilities. If you compare Russia with England, where I also worked for a long time, I would prefer Russia in many respects.
In which, for example?
English architecture is excessively formalized. The rules are absolutely rigid. If you want to create Avant-garde works in England, you first have to get permission to do so. You’ll never be admitted to the cultural elite on equal terms. Unlike in Russia, which is much more democratic and liberal. Even if there are some particular aspects of Russian life that take getting used to.
What about modern Russian architecture?
For the most part, it’s not bad. Of course, when it comes to what’s built by the developers, Russian architecture could be more cultured, less vulgar than it sometimes seems when seen from a slight distance.
How long have you been observing it ‘from a slight distance’?
I have been visiting Russia from way back, and I’ve lived in Moscow. In 2000 I found Capital Group, the first partner in Russia with which I was able to work.
How did your collaboration begin?
I had an acquaintance, a young Russian architect, who worked for Capital Group. We met, and as a result they offered me a job as their architect. But since I had worked for myself for 20 years under my own name, I made a counter proposal: that I should remain an independent architect, but would work closely with and for them. It’s how I usually work with my other clients. We worked together very successfully for a certain time, and then we went our separate ways. But you know the story of how that happened.
Tell us about it in more detail, though, if you don’t mind.
The situation with Capital Group was quite simple. I came to Russia because I intended to work with them. I set up an office, we created an unusual design, and we managed to get it talked about. This continued from 2000 to 2004, when it became clear to me that they were in fact intending to build something else – not what I had designed. I could have agreed to certain changes that would have allowed the project to remain within the bounds of the logic I had devised, but the changes they made were unacceptable to me. From this moment relations between us soured and we stopped working together. I could never agree to my City of Capitals project being changed beyond recognition without my even being asked.
Has anything changed since you won your case against them in the Stockholm Arbitration Court?
No, their position has not changed in the least. They still think they own the copyright. They’ve even said I was attacking Russia, although I was fighting not against Russia, but for my own rights. And at the same time people from the American firm NBBJ, which completed the project, have come to me to apologize. They say there was a misunderstanding and they realize they were in the wrong. Perhaps it’s easier in Russia to work with state clients rather than private ones?
As in any country with a large state machine, your bureaucracy turns slowly. It has so many different levels and even when you have the approval of the mayor, the prime minister, or even of the president, this is no guarantee that you’ll be allowed to get on quietly with your work. Everything depends on the client himself. I have a project in St Petersburg that is smaller than City of Capitals, and it’s progressing much better. My client there makes much more of an effort when it comes to organizing the work and the quality of construction.
How much does it worry you when your name is used simply in order to increase the sales potential of a project?
It’s not just with me that this happens. This is a problem that involves the entire world and the entire architectural community. It goes back to the early 1980s. And here it’s senseless to curse the greed of developers or architects’ megalomania or folly – or mine, for that matter. It would make more sense to blame the state, whose responsibility it is. You have to understand that when such enormous money is drawn into the game, without any correction being made, without any control by the state, there are bound to be excesses. You need restrictions, state regulation.
But as a Dutchman – and therefore a born democrat – you should find the idea of speculation in architecture repulsive.
But what do you mean by ‘speculation’? Incidentally, Dutch society is not so open and transparent as it makes itself out to be. It is a small society, but it contains as much unfairness as any other. In any case, more than it desires to see. But you are right in that young people in Holland are always protesting against speculation involving real estate. And while young people protest, the developers are hard at work. Even in Holland, my native country, it’s possible to build a house in the centre of Amsterdam that, even before it is completed, sells for several times more than it cost to build. 100% profit. If this is possible in Holland, then just imagine what kind of profit can be made in Russia. This is more money than you could possibly turn down.
Is there a difference between architects’ intellectual-property rights in Russia and Europe?
To take care of his rights, an architect should have a contract with the client; and this in itself implies that since the client agrees to sign a contract, he will build the design – and precisely this design and not something resembling it. So I never rush into agreeing with a client until we have settled everything on paper. In Great Britain the situation is a little different. There you have to come to a special agreement about this. Is it conceivable that in Europe you could have a situation whereby Perrault’s Mariinsky Theatre was being built without Perrault?
It’s for the architect to fight to have his design realized in an undistorted form. And if Perrault has nothing against those who are realizing his project, then there’s no problem. How painful for you was it to see Russian Avantgarde, the street block you had designed, moved to another site? There is a story that there was a meeting at which Luzhkov said the project was fine, but not for the location for which you created it. This was the summer of 2004 and the management of Capital Group was very upset. As for me, I could admit that there were reasons for Luzhkov’s decision. For instance, the site originally proposed was too close to a small church. I asked the authorities to move the project to another site, but to find this site near the Central House of Artists.
What is currently happening with Russian Avant-garde?
There are still plans to build it, it seems. But this is one of the most difficult designs to build even in my experience. I do not know whether my client is prepared to realize it. It is a very large and ambitious project.
As ambitious as your project for an artificial island reproducing the contours of Russia in the sea off the coast of Sochi? The latter project is slightly Arabian, slightly American, and, of course, Dutch in that it involves the creation of new land in the middle of the sea.
Yes, it slightly resembles the currently fashionable projects being realized in the Persian Gulf and America. Such are the fruits of globalization. It’s the done thing to rail against globalization, to say that it leads to loss of national identity and so on, that it allows money to decide everything. But if you look at the history of architecture, you will see that the crossing of state borders and exchange of ideas has been an excellent way to develop national cultures. The best Baroque architecture in Poland was created by a Dutch architect. We have no Baroque in Holland. We were not so passionate in our love of God as to build such lavish churches to Him. I find it fascinating to introduce this kind of international gloss into a setting as interesting as Sochi. Here Russia, the Caucasus, Europe, and Asia meet. It is the crossroads of the world, just like the larger version of Russia. How accurate is your copy of the ‘larger version’? What does your island have where Moscow and the Siberian prisons should be?
When it comes to such details, the model is, of course, not accurate. This is not a geographical map. Otherwise, I would have to reproduce your beautiful rivers, every bend that they make, all your hills and plains. But this is not a copy of Russia. I remember a film called Toy Trains. It began with an announcer saying, “This is a film about toy trains. Toy trains are not miniature copies of trains.” They look like trains, but we use them for playing with. For fantasisizing. This is a toy, a metaphor for a train, and not a model.
You have created a metaphor for modern Russia – perhaps a metaphor for how Russia would like to see itself: small, well looked-after, in the middle of a warm sea in which all its neighbours have conveniently drowned.
Russia stands every chance of becoming a very attractive country. Both the large version and this small one. It may not be 100% right, not 100% accurate. Like all good things that exist, it cannot be completely regulated. It’s a little dishonest, too expensive in places, too cheap in others. There is no artist in the world who could say, “My art is absolutely truthful.” Everyone embroiders a little.
When you are asked what you’re designing or building at the current moment, you usually reply that you’re working on something but it’s too early to speak about it.
It’s not that I’m suspicious of everyone. I simply try to be careful. I learnt my lesson with Capital Group, when I worked with seven designs and some of them were built – only not under my supervision. Currently, there are 17-18 projects on which I’m working in Russia. This evening, I shall present a project to my client from Siberia. We hope to start building by the end of the summer. In Moscow I have four projects, construction of one of which should begin in the middle of year and one of which is currently under construction. Closer to completion, it’ll be possible to speak about it.
Is there a fundamental difference in the way that Russian and Western architects work?
Russian architects are changing fast at the moment. There’s less difference between young Russian and foreign architects than between Russian architects from different generations. Currently, I have several young Russian architects working for me, and I’m very satisfied with them.
Could you define the different schools of architecture in relation to architecture as it is practised here in Russia?
Well, Swiss architects, for instance, have gained their reputation because they are used to providing an extraordinarily detailed project for not just a particular building, but its entire surroundings as well. Such are the requirements in Switzerland. But Swiss architects are, in the context of Russia, too demanding of both themselves and others. The Germans are excellent architects, but a little dull. And the French style of architectural behaviour is likewise not suited to Russia. American architecture is, like the Americans themselves, heavy, large, and noisy. American architects are very energetic and good-natured, but not always elegant and precise. Russian architects perhaps resemble Americans. They are reaping the fruit of the construction boom. They are designing buildings in large numbers, but, on the other hand, they are not very good at monitoring what they are building. They are in a hurry to do as much as they can. Many, I would say, have been spoiled by the current situation. I am relatively optimistic, but would like Russian architecture to be more European and less American or Asian. Otherwise, they’ll turn Russia into Dubai. I don’t know whether the inhabitants of Moscow will be glad if they wake up one day to see that their city has become as modern and as ugly as Dubai.
Do you think this process can be halted?
When I look around me, I see some buildings that I like, but others that are just indescribable. When I spoke to Luzhkov, he asked me why I wanted to build such complex buildings. I replied, “Look at the room where we are now. It is richly decorated, rather than simply painted with stain-resistant paint. We are talking of important things. You are an important person and Moscow is an extremely important European city. The interior design of your office emphasizes this thought – through its décor. I want to do the same with Moscow – through my buildings. If you have a large building, it should be rich in design; it should be complex, so that it appeals to people rather than shocks them.” And in the end Luzhkov said, “Very well. Go ahead.” And still they designed those buildings the wrong way. I fought all I could, but the buildings at Moscow City – there they are, outside this window, in the panorama of Moscow. You must abandon the American path of development. Russia is too beautiful for you to take this path. I feel a connection to this country. I have a Russian wife; my son is half Russian. I’ve been here for the last 18 years and Russia has given me enormous opportunities. There are, unfortunately, some downsides, but, then, which country does not have its downsides? I am very happy here.
Many foreign architects complain that it’s difficult to work in Russia.
That’s strange. Why come to work in a country if you’re only going to complain about it? Yes, I can see a future in Russia. To be honest, I am not worried about how everything is going to develop – whether things will get better or worse. I am very happy in Russia because I see changes for the better, and I am a part of them myself – I do what I can. I am ready to wait, I’m ready to make concessions to my clients and not lean on them. And now I remember what it was I said to Dominique Perrault in the bar of the Astoria.
And what was that?
I said, “Congratulations.” Although I was not glad, of course, that it was he who had won instead of me. “Congratulations! If you can build this building. If you feel you have the strength to build it.”
Agility of the Modular
In the Discovery housing complex that they designed, ADM architects proposed a modern version of structuralism: the form is based on modular cells, which, smoothly protruding and deepening, make the volumes display a kind of restrained flexibility, differentiated element by element. The lamellar and ledged facades are “stitched” with golden threads – they unite the volumes, emphasizing the textured character of the architectural solution.
Polyphony of a Chaste Style
The “ID Moskovskiy” housing project on St. Petersburg’s Moscow Avenue was designed by the team of Stepan Liphart in the past 2020. The ensemble of two buildings, joined by a colonnade, is executed in a generalized neoclassical style with elements of Art Deco.
In Three Voices
The high-rise – 41 stories high – housing complex HIDE is being built on the bank of the Setun River, near the Poklonnaya Mountain. It consists of three towers of equal height, yet interpreted in three different ways. One of the towers, the most conspicuous one looks as if it was twisted in a spiral, composed of a multitude of golden bay windows.
In the Space of Pobedy Park
In the project of a housing complex designed by Sergey Skuratov, which is now being built near the park of the Poklonnaya Hill, a multifunctional stylobate is turned into a compound city space with intriguing “access” slopes that also take on the role of mini-plazas. The architecture of the residential buildings responds to the proximity of the Pobedy Park, on the one hand, “dissolving in the air”, and, on the other hand, supporting the memorial complex rhythmically and color-wise.
Dynamics of the Avenue
On Leningrad Avenue, not far away from the Sokol metro station, the construction of the A-Class business center Alcon II has been completed. ADM architects designed the main façade as three volumetric ribbons, as if the busy traffic of the avenue “shook” the matter sending large waves through it.
Steamer at the Pier
An apartment hotel that looks like a ship with wide decks has been designed for a land plot on a lake shore in Moscow’s South Tushino. This “steamer” house, overlooking the lake and the river port, does indeed look as if it were ready to sail away.
The Magic of Rhythm or Ornament as a Theme
Designed by Sergey Tchoban, the housing complex Veren Place in St. Petersburg is the perfect example of inserting a new building into a historical city, and one the cases of implementing the strategy that the architect presented a few years ago in the book, which he coauthored with Vladimir Sedov, called “30:70. Architecture as a Balance of Forces”.
Walking on Water
In the nearest future, the Marc Chagall Embankment will be turned into Moscow’s largest riverside park with green promenades, cycling and jogging trails, a spa center on water, a water garden, and sculptural pavilions designed in the spirit of the Russian avant-garde artists of the 1920, and, first of all, Chagall himself. In this issue, we are covering the second-stage project.
A-Len has developed and patented the “Perfect Apartments” program, which totally eliminates “bad” apartment layouts. In this article, we are sharing how this program came around, what it is about, who can benefit from it, and how.
“Architectural Archaeology of the Narkomfin Building”: the Recap
One of the most important events of 2020 has been the completion of the long-awaited restoration of the monument of Soviet avant-garde architecture – the Narkomfin Building, the progenitor of the typology of social housing in this country. The house retained its residential function as the main one, alongside with a number of artifacts and restoration clearances turned into living museum exhibits.
LIFE on the Setun River
The area in the valley of the Setun River near the Vereiskaya Street got two new blocks of the “LIFE-Kutuzovsky” housing complex, designed by ADM architects. The two new blocks have a retail boulevard of their own, and a small riverside park.
Three towers on a podium over the Ramenka River are the new dominant elements on the edge of a Soviet “microdistrict”. Their scale is quite modern: the height is 176 m – almost a skyscraper; the facades are made of glass and steel. Their graceful proportions are emphasized by a strict white grid, and the volumetric composition picks up the diagonal “grid of coordinates” that was once outlined in the southwest of Moscow by the architects of the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Clouds over the Railroad
In the stead of former warehouses near “Lyubertsy-1” station, a new housing complex has been built, which peacefully coexists with the railroad, with the flyover bridge, and with the diverse surrounding scenery, not only dominating over the latter, but improving it.
Towers in a Forest
The authors of the housing complex “In the Heart of Pushkino” were faced with a difficult task: to preserve the already existing urban forest, at the same time building on it a compound of rather high density. This is how three towers at the edge of the forest appeared with highly developed public spaces in their podiums and graceful “tucks” in the crowning part of the 18-story volumes.
The Towers of “Sputnik”
Six towers, which make up a large housing complex standing on the bank of the Moskva River at the very start of the Novorizhskoe Highway, provide the answers to a whole number of marketing requirements and meets a whole number of restrictions, offering a simple rhythm and a laconic formula for the houses that the developer preferred to see as “flashy”.
The Starting Point
In this article, we are reviewing two retro projects: one is 20 years old, the other is 25. One of them is Saint Petersburg’s first-ever townhouse complex; the other became the first example of a high-end residential complex on Krestovsky Island. Both were designed and built by Evgeny Gerasimov and Partners.
The Path to New Ornamentation
The high-end residential complex “Aristocrat” situated next to a pine park at the start of the Rublev Highway presents a new stage of development of Moscow’s decorative historicist architecture: expensively decorated, yet largely based on light-colored tones, and masterfully using the romantic veneer of majolica inserts.
Renovation: the Far East Style
The competition project of renovating two central city blocks of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, developed by UNK project, won the nomination “Architectural and planning solutions of city construction”.
The Istituto Centrale per la Grafica in Rome presents Sergei Tchoban’s exhibition “Imprint of the future. Destiny of Piranesi’s City”. The exhibition includes four etchings, based on Roman architectural views of the XVIII century complemented by futuristic insertions, as well as a lot of drawings that investigate the same topic, at times quite expressively. The exhibition poses questions, but does not seem to give any answers. Since going to Rome is pretty problematic now, let’s at least examine the pictures.
In Search of Visual Clarity
In this article, we are reviewing a discussion devoted to the question of designing city space elements, which is quite complicated for the Russian expanses of land. The discussion was organized by the Genplan Institute of Moscow at the ArchMoscow convention in Gostiny Dvor.
The City of the Sun
Jointly designed by Sergey Tchoban and Vladimir Plotkin, the VTB Arena Park complex can arguably be considered the perfect experiment on solving the centuries-old controversy between traditional architecture and modernism. The framework of the design code, combined with the creative character of the plastique-based dialogue between the buildings, formed an all-but-perfect fragment of the city fabric.
...The Other Was Just Railroad Gin*
In their project of the third stage of “Ligovsky City” housing complex, located in the industrial “gray” belt of Saint Petersburg, the KCAP & Orange Architects & A-Len consortium set before themselves a task of keeping up the genius loci by preserving the contours of the railroad and likening the volumes of residential buildings to railroad containers, stacked up at the goods unloading station.
Lions on Glass
While reconstructing the facades of Building 4 of Moscow Hospital #23, SPEECH architects applied a technique, already known from Saint Petersburg projects by Sergey Tchoban – cassettes with elements of classical architecture printed on glass. The project was developed gratis, as a help to the hospital.
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.